SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Dollinger, vice president of strategic development for Chicago brokerage @properties, demonstrated the power of mobile and social technology with a simple audience poll.
Speaking during a Thursday session, "Blending Social, Local and Mobile," at the Real Estate Connect conference, Dollinger asked for a show of hands on how many people had used services like Yelp, Foursquare and Facebook to find a restaurant for dinner the night before — and indeed, most everyone in the room acknowledged using one of those services.
"That’s really the power this has given us," he said.
Dollinger said that before traveling to Washington, D.C., he queried Yelp users for their views on things to do in a particular neighborhood. "I had (about) 100 responses. There were all these people waiting to share this information." An online argument even broke out over which eatery had the best empanadas, he noted.
Neighborhood amenities can speak volumes about homes for sale, Dollinger also said. He related that his wife, who works as an agent, has a favorite homework assignment for clients who are selling their homes: Tell me why you love your home and your neighborhood.
And in the end, "It’s not just about the house," he said.
While there are many mobile and online tools to help consumers key in on particular neighborhoods, Matthew Shadbolt, director of interactive product and marketing for The Corcoran Group, a Manhattan-based brokerage, said, "There is no algorithm to show you what it’s truly like to live there. True neighborhood insight is sold offline. It isn’t actually something that’s sold by technology."
Dollinger noted that his wife often instructs clients to do their own neighborhood research by visiting coffee shops — during the day and at night — in a particular neighborhood to get a better sense of the area.
Beverly Thorne, chief marketing officer for global franchisor Century 21 Real Estate LLC, said that mobile and social technologies represent a major shift for the real estate industry.
"The ability for consumers to have access to mobile websites, to listings, to offices, is clearly transforming the way that … homebuyers buy homes," Thorne said.
"With the advent of mobile they’re using their mobile device far more frequently, and it’s just such a natural for this application. Nobody wants to go home to look (at a for-sale property) on the Web — they want to go immediately and get information on that."
Ryan Charles, mobile guru and CEO for product comparison site Cnsmr, who participated with Thorne in a session titled, "Using Mobile Technology to Increase Customer Loyalty," agreed that the immediacy of the mobile experience is a powerful force. "The faster that you can get that information to them, the higher the satisfaction rate."
Thorne noted that Century 21 has rolled out a series of consumer-facing mobile apps across multiple platforms to assist in home searches, and has also launched an app for agents that allows them to personally brand the app.
She shared a conversation she had with a broker in Oklahoma who appeared resistant to mobile apps because he didn’t feel there was widespread interest in apps among consumers in his market.
A bit of research showed Thorne that millions of apps had been downloaded in a period of several days across the state.
"One of the most important things to (know) about mobile is that it is moving mainstream. We clearly see the growth. We see more apps coming out, we see the adoption," Thorne said.
And with that growth, some traditional marketing channels are withering, she noted.
"We’re clearly finding email not to be an effective (marketing) vehicle for us. We see very strong links between social and mobile," and "we’re finding that the social alert is received far more favorably" than an email alert, she noted.
Century 21, she said, has found better engagement in messages to its network by making them more video-based, and it also helps that the communications are coupled with direct phone calls.
Charles said that consumers are still responding to some emails, citing the example of Groupon and Living Social email messages that offer daily deals. "When it’s relevant and when it’s a compelling offer people are still opening up and clicking through," he said.
In the mobile realm, Charles said he sees opportunities for the real estate industry to take advantage of "geofencing" technology, which could use a smartphone GPS to alert smartphone users that they are close to a for-sale home, for example.
During a separate session focusing on augmented reality — which blends a smartphone’s camera view with digital overlays of multimedia information — Tish Shute, co-founder of Notifide and Augmented Reality Event, said that mobile technologies have created a "magical" interface that transcends the office-focused paradigm of desktop PCs.
"Everything on our PC is office metaphors," Shute said, such as the use of "folders" and "files" to organize information.
"We’re moving to this new era where the metaphor of interaction is not the office — it’s actually kind of magical."
And as more information and services go mobile, "The big challenge for you is not to drive people crazy with data. You need to make data a pleasant, easy, pop culture experience," she said.
The simplified representation of immense pools of data is key in the mobile space, she noted.
"What oil did for the industrial revolution — basically, it’s all about data now," Shute said.
Taylor McDonald, co-founder and president of Second Site LLC, an augmented reality tech firm, said he sees the potential for augmented reality to gain traction with real estate consumers.
"The more information I have, the more informed I am, the easier deal it’s going to be for the horse-traders of the world. (Consumers can) make better, informed decisions, and (there’s) less handholding," McDonald said.