Computer Replacing Car Windows for Home Screening
Not long ago, potential home buyers would grab a real estate listing with thumbnail photos, circle ones that caught their attention and gather up grandma and junior for an exhausting drive around town.
Today, home buyers are increasingly heading to their computer screens before they get agents on the phone or drive across town to narrow down the selection.
That’s why Web sites such as Realtor.com are popular and driving up sales, particularly by inbound relocation buyers who use them to preview selections before hopping on a plane for multiple visits. Not only are buyers tech savvy these days, but any Realtor worth his or her salt is, too.
“Some 70% of all buyers are searching for three to six months on the Internet before ever (actually) looking at a home,” says Landis O. Foy Jr., a managing broker with Crye-Leike, Inc. “Instead of looking at an average of 15-30 homes, buyers are now looking at an average of eight to 12 homes, saving them a tremendous amount of time and frustration in looking at homes which do not fit their requirements.”
Foy says that 80%-85% of all buyers in the greater Memphis area are local buyers searching local firms’ sites. The remaining 15%-20% depend more on a national site like Realtor.com — the most visited site of its type.
The difficulty of a Realtor having his or her own Web site independent of a company site is in directing the buyers to it. It’s difficult for an individual to generate a great degree of Web site visits unless the site is linked into a more broadly seen homepage that is frequently visited, as is the case with a large firm, Foy says.
“Most of our associates have Web sites within Crye-Leike itself, playing on the strength of our company rather than swimming against the tide by trying to do it alone,” he says.
It would be difficult for most to manage even one site, let alone several. To do it properly requires hiring a professional Webmaster or a team, which requires time and money.
But because the average first-time buyer, who is 31 years old, is Internet savvy, the average Realtor, who is 54 years old, is being forced to keep up with technology.
“The Internet has drastically changed the way we market homes in the last few years,” says Linda Sowell, principal broker with Sowell & Co. “Now, we can immediately load digital interior and exterior pictures of the home and the neighborhood. We can e-mail listings to clients as soon as they become available, which is an invaluable advantage. The Internet enables us to reach a much broader market than we could before.”
Sowell’s company has an independent Web site and also markets listings through Realtor.com.
“Out-of-town clients who wouldn’t have been able to find us several years ago discover our listings on Realtor.com, which in turn links them to our Web site,” she says.
Sowell says it is worth the effort to maintain the Web site.
“I think more agents are becoming Internet-savvy,” she says. “As in any competitive market, the Internet is an edge that keeps one from being left behind. Now, the Internet is like my cell phone; I don’t know how I ever lived without it.”
Rip Haney, who’s an affiliate broker with Marx & Bensdorf Realtors, sees a chief use of the Internet as reducing leg work, narrowing things down before buyers get in their cars.
“I think the general public goes to Realtor.com, though, more so for general searches or a basic canvassing search before they go to individual agent sites or company sites,” he says.
Haney thinks users go to company- or agent-specific sites to drill down for more specific information about either a company or agent more than they would be seeking information about an individual property.
“I think those sites are a little bit more for promoting the company, therefore, than the property,” says Haney, adding that such focused sites nevertheless do a good job of promoting the property in another sense.
“I have a great example of how the Internet has helped us in sales,” he says. “We had a listing in Germantown, and there was a fellow moving to town from somewhere in Michigan. He’d spent a couple of days with his Realtor and he was getting ready to get back on a plane to Michigan. Meanwhile, his wife had been looking at Realtor.com and called him. He was hours away from getting on the plane without having identified a house he liked. His wife pulled up a virtual tour of a listing we had in Germantown. She called her husband, and he was in the car with his Realtor. He said, ‘Let’s look at this house.’ They looked at it and bought it.
“That is when we knew that the Internet and virtual tours would become much more than a listing tool,” Haney says. “When it first came out, it was touted as a listing tool. Now, it has totally caught up and is really helpful.”
John Criswell, a managing broker at Crye-Leike’s Arlington office, says his company and the National Association of Realtors both realized early on how vital it is to have listings on the Internet to the extent that both have formal courses on how to create and update online listings properly.
Crye-Leike College has a separate course called I-Pro, where agents gain a designation. Crye-Leike’s Web site has a virtual agent feature where one can register and do searches of local listings with various specific, client-driven criteria imbedded. It will e-mail notifications when homes with those criteria come on the market. NAR’s program called E-Pro is designed to teach agents to become conversant in electronic technology.