There was a time that having a simple real estate website or web presence was good enough. That time ended around 2002-03 and in the uber-rapid evolution of the web that equates to around the Jurassic Period of the dinosaur era. The "good ol' days" have gone never to return. Competition in the U.S. real estate industry has increased on every possible dimension. Today, new tools and content are needed for you to be found on the web and for visitors to want to work with you as opposed to your faceless competition.
What is a Real Estate Website?
This may seem like a dumb question, but there are at least four reasonable answers. The 2007 National Assocation of REALTORS[reg] Member Profile Survey showed that 61% of members had a website, but failed to distinguish between the following:
Entry in a real estate directory (e.g. realtor.com, realestatateabc.com)
Brief profile with photo and contact details on your broker website (e.g. www.janedoe.broker.com)
Template website with your profile, contact details, your listings and your own unique domain name (e.g. Point2, iHOUSE)
Custom built website
We would humbly suggest that a directory entry or a profile page in your broker website is NOT a robust web presence and never did nor will generate any leads or business to REALTORS[reg].
A robust template or custom website is a good basis and with good key words and content probably did generate visitors and leads 3-4 years ago when real estate websites were less ubiquitous.
The common fallacy amongst less tech savvy REALTORS[reg] is that "Build It and They Will Come". In today's world you have to invest resources in being found and provide content that entices visitors to want to return and work with you!
What Has Changed?
On the positive side, the penetration of computers and access to high-speed Internet access has increased dramatically over the last 7 years. The vast majority of U.S. households now have PCs and Internet access. We can only expect these numbers to continue to rise and therefore it is not surprising that over 80% of homebuyers are using the web to conduct real estate research.
However, several negative forces more than outweigh the positives:
Rise in Number of REALTORS[reg]. From 2000-2006, the membership of the National Association of REALTORS[reg] almost doubled from 766,000 to 1,358,000 - the largest sustained growth in real estate professionals ever recorded. No doubt the current industry climate will shake down the numbers in a healthy manner. However, with low barriers to entry there will likely remain a surplus of agents and brokers for some time to come.
More REALTOR[reg] Websites. Notwithstanding the definition of a real estate website discussed above, the number has undoubtedly risen. In the early part of this decade only a handful of agents and brokers had a meaningful web presence. Then, a Google search for "Berkeley real estate" would have undoubtedly put you on the first page of results. In 2008, you would be lucky to appear on page 10!
Other Websites to Visit (First). Several new websites have launched in the last 2-3 years where homebuyers and sellers will likely start their research, usurping the need to have any interaction with a real estate agent until a later stage. Standout examples are zillow.com, cyberhomes.com, and trulia.com as well as the improved offerings of the major search portals such as Google, Yahoo! and AOL.
What do REALTORS[reg] Need to Do?
If you are one of the lucky few that has been embedded in a neighborhood for 30 years, and every home buyer and owner and his dog knows you as THE real estate agent to work with, you can stop here. If not, read on.
You Need to Be Found. In this crowded space you have to stand out and you have to be proactive.
Pay-Per-Click. Google would probably adhere to the maxim "Organic search is dead. Long live paid search!" To some extent we agree. The only way to guarantee being found on the web as a business is to pay for it. However, it can be expensive and give poor results if you are not careful about bidding strategies and very accurate search terms. It can be a minefield and we recommend using a reputable third party who can navigate the process for you.
Local Search Engines. Real estate is fundamentally a local business. Getting found by a searcher in Europe isn't really that useful. Get yourself on local search engines provided by Google, Yahoo! and specialized services e.g. local.com.
Expose Your Listings. Get your valuable listings on major portals e.g. Yahoo Real Estate, Google Base, Trulia, Craigslist where homebuyers are actively searching. Several companies e.g. iHOUSE, Advanced Access, have developed free automatic processes for submission to such sites if you have a website account.
Non-Web Techniques. With everyone crowding around the web, the boring old telephone has been sadly ignored. Recently, vendors such as Proquest, ConnecTel, have developed toll-free telephone systems which can generate leads by providing an easy way for homebuyers to access recorded information about individual listings.
You Need to Provide Valuable Information. Getting visitors to your website is only half the battle and has no value if they do not find valuable information. Frankly, agents spend a little too much time finding a perfect head shot photo and writing beautiful prose about their capabilities than providing some or all of the following useful content:
MLS Search. This is by far the most useful feature to have on your website. Looking for a home to buy is the number one real estate activity on the web, and if you can provide them a location to view a complete database of listings they will come back for more. Vendors such as iHomeFinder and IDXPro now provide agent branded IDX search where homebuyers can sign up to receive automated updates on properties they are interested in.
Single Property Websites / Virtual Tours. Homebuyers love numerous photos of the home they have interest in and you have to provide them. Your sellers will require you to have such tools also. Many websites have virtual tours from such as companies as Visual Tour, but we believe that they are gradually being usurped by single property websites, which are totally designed to showcase an individual home. They are usually distinguished by having a domain name which is the street address e.g. www.123OakStreet.com
You will notice we have not included neighborhood information (schools etc) or mortgage information. We feel that they are fairly ubiquitous and certainly not the primary purpose for visitors spending time on your website. We have also not included the recent blog phenomenon. We believe that good content with regular new entries is an extremely time consuming exercise beyond the resources of most individual practitioners. Highly trafficked blogs written by individual agents are very rare.
Having just a website with your profile and your listings is a necessary ticket to be a player on the web, but without other tools and features it has become merely a business card floating in the Internet ether. Moving forward, REALTORS[reg] have to invest in new tools to be found and to build subsequent relationships with their website visitors.
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