SAN FRANCISCO — Reluctant to engage in social media? Wary of sharing too much of your real estate data? Camera-shy? Get over it — a successful real estate business plan puts the consumer, not the agent, at the center, said several speakers at this week’s Agent Reboot event in San Francisco.
"The consumer does not care how many awards you have on your business card. They couldn’t care less that you’re No. 1 since 1987 in your service area. They care about the service you’re going to provide. It’s a consumer-centric era," said Sherry Chris, CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate.
"The consumer is king. Case closed. Period. There is no going back."
When Chris first started in real estate 30 years ago, the industry was "very broker-controlled" and then shifted to focus on the agent, she said.
"We told the consumers what they were going to look at. We were trained to show them only three or four houses and then pressured them to make a decision," Chris said.
Now consumers come to agents with a list of homes they want to see and a plethora of information they’ve gleaned from the Internet. That puts consumers in the driver’s seat.
"Our role as a real estate agent has changed. We used to be the gatekeepers of information, and now we’re the collaborators," Chris said.
Echo boomers, the 73 million-strong children of baby boomers, have changed how the world communicates — they share everything, she said. "We’re in a collaborative environment now. There cannot be any more secrets in our industry."
That trend applies to various aspects of real estate, from social media marketing to video to real estate websites.
Because of the explosion of social networks in the past several years, a social media presence is a must for any agent that wants to be "part of the conversation," said Nicole Nicolay, host of Agent Reboot and co-founder and chief creative officer at Agent Evolution, a company that offers social media training and WordPress Web design.
"Who is not part of the conversation? That’s a broadcaster," Nicolay said. A broadcaster is someone she described as expecting clients to come to them, on their terms.
That’s "someone who is agent-centric, not client-centric," she added.
The same applies to video. While the vast majority of homeowners say they are more likely to list with an agent who uses video to market properties, less than 1 percent of agents actually do so, said Darin Persinger, founder of ProductivityJunkies.com, a real estate training company.
Why? Agents say they’re overwhelmed by the technology, don’t know where to start, are afraid the video will look amateurish, or they’re camera-shy, among other reasons, Persinger said.
To that, he responded, "It’s not about you. It’s about you providing better solutions to your clients so they make better housing decisions."
A Web page with video has a 50 times better chance of ranking on page one of Google, Persinger said, and YouTube gets more than 2 billion page views a day — nearly double the prime-time audience of all three major networks combined.
He recommended agents film short (two minutes or less) videos featuring subjects consumers are interested in: property tours, tours of the local community, local real estate market data, and client testimonials.
One attendee, Soledad Garcia, an agent at Keller Williams Tri Valley Realty in Pleasanton, Calif., said Persinger had inspired her to get over her reluctance with putting herself in front of the camera.
"It doesn’t matter what you look like, but what are you delivering to the people out there," she said.
Agents thinking of adopting technology tools also need to keep consumers in mind. Forty percent of email, for example, is read on a mobile phone, said Chris Smith, Inman News’ chief evangelist, in a session about mobile tools.
"Email needs to be mobile-optimized," Smith said, especially when used as part of a marketing strategy.
Tools such as mobile applications are available to consumers and agents alike, so "please don’t let consumers have more information than you," Smith added.
At the same time, some consumers are not as tech-savvy as others. Attendee Denise Dilbey, a broker at Royal LePage Meadowtowne Realty in Ontario, Canada, said most of her clients are over the age of 50 and wouldn’t know where to look for her if she started blogging or marketing on social media.
"Some clients aren’t quite there yet as far as (being) comfortable with technology," Dilbey said.
The most "techie" thing she does now is plug her recently acquired BlackBerry into her laptop to get Internet access while she’s out in the field with her clients.
"That’s more important for right now. It will change," Dilbey said.
On the other hand, fellow attendee Garcia has found electronic signatures a hit with her clients. She recently started using zipLogix Digital Ink, offered as a free member benefit through the California Association of Realtors.
"It’s very useful for me to use with my clients because they work all day and just want to get (the paperwork) signed. They don’t want me to go to their house," Garcia said.
Brad Andersohn, industry outreach manager for property search and valuation site Zillow, offered 15 widgets to "pump up" real estate websites with information most relevant to consumers.
Top 5 content widgets:
1. Local news: twitter.com/about/resources/widgets
2. Photo and video collections: www.cooliris.com/yoursite/
3. Walkability scores: walkscore.com/services
4. Weather.com: weather.com/services/weather-gadgets
5. Translate into 50 languages: translate.google.com/translate_tools
Top 5 social widgets:
1. Share Facebook information: Facebook.com/Badges
2. Go viral: Sharethis.com
3. Combine multiple RSS feeds in a single stream. Include content from your lender, title company, appraiser, stager, home warranty person, etc.: Rssmix.com
4. Share your Web activity: friendfeed.com
5. Allow people to come to your site and subscribe to your content: Feedburner.com
Top 5 contact widgets:
1. Online calling: Google Voice
2. Text messaging: RETechBlog.com
3. Free calling: Jaxtr.com
4. Free contact form: Zillow.com/Webtools
5. Free chatting: Zopim.com