I know what I would do if I were starting a brokerage today.
There are three areas I wouldn’t ignore as a real estate broker in a consumer-focused market. Whether we are selling coffee, computers, cars or houses, we’re all dealing with the same consumer. Consumers with a high expectation of service, especially for an expensive purchase like a home.
What would I do if someone handed me money and said, “Go start a new real estate company?” Simple — I would start a brokerage focused on meeting consumer expectations.
Online presence and engagement
Looking at the typical online footprint for real estate brokerages (website, social media and so on), it’s clear the consumer isn’t necessarily top of mind. I can’t tell you how many real estate websites I still visit in 2015 that are just plain hard to navigate, that focus too much on the brokerage, and that have outdated features and architecture.
Compare this to truly consumer-focused real estate websites. They’re not only easy to navigate but actually pleasing to visit. There’s nothing better than visiting a website, easily finding the information you are looking for, completing a transaction (in our case, maybe it’s doing a search), being thanked, and then someone following up with the consumer to make sure everything was done to satisfaction.
I would position my brand’s online footprint, including website and social media, as the best place to explore information about communities, subdivisions, condo buildings, actual properties, local businesses, etc. I would make my content fresh with lots of high-end photography, video and modern graphics.
I would have a completely integrated marketing strategy to drive traffic to my Web properties, which means I’m prepared to spend money offline to drive traffic online. Everything would flow seamlessly as I strive for the most consistent visual experience possible. So when someone sees my offline ad, my real estate website, my Facebook page or anything else, they will know my company is the place to go for all local information — not just real estate topics and houses.
Next, I would make sure that the experience they got was consistent, regardless of how they found me. It shouldn’t matter if they’re meeting at my office, surfing my website from their desk, searching properties from home on their tablet or pulling addresses using their phone in the car.
Why? Because if you don’t offer consistency to the consumer, you’ll jeopardize not only your investment, but also the good graces of the audience you’re trying to impress.
Finally, I would respond immediately to any communication originating from any of my online channels. I wouldn’t leave it up to an agent to respond to any inquiry unless someone is calling his or her personal number.
If I’m spending all this money to create a seamless, pleasurable and positive experience that is going to drive traffic and business, I’m going to control the tail end of that experience — and I’ll ensure that the response I give them is even better than their initial exposure to my brand.
Easier said than done? Maybe. Expensive? Probably. Necessary? Absolutely.
A very small percentage of brokerages around the country are actually doing all this right. This is why I always say there is opportunity to jump ahead of the competition for those who embrace and internalize these concepts.
Offline presence and engagement
If you’ve been inside an Apple store, a Starbucks, a hotel or a car dealership lately, you’ve probably noticed the similarities in terms of sleekness of design, use of technology, wireless connections and comfort.
While agents and brokers pay money to stage homes, they don’t pay that much attention to how their office looks.
I’m not just staging homes; I’m staging my office, too. Consumers have a certain expectation about the spaces they transact business in. In my new brokerage, I would have smaller offices, fewer private offices, and more community space. I would invest heavily in interior decoration and technology. Consumers expect it, and it is a great recruiting tool not only for the next generation of agents, but also those older experienced agents who understand the importance of this topic.
My office would have a receptionist and concierge in a very open, inviting lobby area. They would be completely available to clients at all times. The concierge would also be trained to help clients learn about neighborhoods without the pressure of an agent trying to show them their new listing. Maybe the concierge would even offer incentives such as coupons or special pricing to let them try a restaurant or a business in the neighborhood.
And open houses? What a perfect opportunity to differentiate your business. I would make the open house an experience that would be the talk of the town, attracting not only new clients but also agents who want to work somewhere that puts this much thought into what is often a mundane experience.
Besides staging the open house, I’d offer a beautifully produced video running on every TV in the house that showcases the area and the amenities. I’d offer an app that allows the consumer to take notes while they walk through the open house and then emails the information to them.
Nobody is even thinking about most of this stuff — why can’t it be you?
Post-close client retention and homeowner engagement
The homeownership life cycle is about eight years, yet very few agents or brokers do anything to maintain the relationship after the close.
In a world where most agents or brokerages don’t do any post-close marketing — and the ones who do consider cookie recipes and refrigerator magnets the way to a consumers heart — post-close presence and engagement is yet another area where I would differentiate myself.
I want to endear myself to clients, not just because they earned me a large commission, but also because they can refer their friends and family and come back to me again in the future when it’s time to make another move.
So if I were starting a new real estate brokerage, I can assure you one of my top priorities would be client retention and homeowner engagement. I would focus on how my company would deal with consumers whether they were actually looking to buy or sell.
I would be in touch regularly with clients after closing, providing them vital information about their property — information they could share with their friends, information they could use to increase their equity, and information they could use to educate themselves for future purchases.
I would do this both online and offline so that there would be no question where they would start their home sale or search process once they’re ready. And I would have an edge over those who don’t take this approach.
Not an easy journey
I fully recognize how hard some of these suggestions might be to accomplish, especially with a legacy company. That said, even if it’s impossible to implement all of the following consumer-focused ideas right away, it would certainly be worth looking at how you might be able to do some of these things over time.
Jose Perez is the founder of PCMS Consulting.