In today’s real estate market, more and more agents recognize the benefits of technology and social media to provide high level service to customers and clients. At the same time, technology helps agents improve their efficiency, their productivity and ultimately their bottom lines.
What kinds of technology do agents use? The National Association of Realtors (NAR) REALTOR® Technology Center does an annual survey of technology use in real estate. When asked what they considered to be the three most valuable tools they had started to use in 2011, at the top of the list for most agents were tablets such as the iPad. In second place were mobile and desktop tools followed closely by contact management softwares.
For those yet to purchase a tablet, a large number had intentions of acquiring one in the near future because of their usefulness for keeping in touch with clients. Similarly, many agents referenced a smartphone as a “must have” tool with most intending to purchase one in the near future if they didn’t already own one.
In addition to devices and specialized software, use of social media is way up compared to where it was as recently as 2008. Back then only 67 percent of agents were active on these platforms, whereas today that figure is 90 percent+. The most popular forms of social media are Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.
Agents Build Relationships with Social Media
When done correctly, use of social media is a way to establish relationships and build rapport with people before you meet them.
“Back in December of 09, I recognized the importance of jumping into this area and leading the way,” said Michael Guthrie, principal broker of Roy Wheeler Realty Co. For that reason he got involved with LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. At that time only a handful of his agents were active in this arena. Today 75-80 percent have a presence there.
Guthrie uses his LinkedIn account as an electronic brochure, sending people there who want more information about him. “It’s a good way to establish credibility,” he said. People can go to his site, read about his accomplishments, and review recommendations from others.
Facebook and Twitter are more social, he explained. He encourages his agents to use them as a way to develop conversations with people and get to know them. “Being active in social media is like going to a party,” he said. “Lots of people are there and we can go and join in the conversation. Out of that, if we are sensitive, may come opportunities to conduct business.” He described one scenario in which someone mentions they were up until midnight painting their bathroom. If the agent has established rapport with the person, they may also discover the painting is part of getting the house ready to sell, which could then lead to a listing. “However,” Guthrie concluded, “if we don’t attend the party in the first place we’ll miss the conversation.”
Social media is also a way to establish a relationship before ever having an appointment with someone. Guthrie described attending an event at a restaurant set up via Twitter called a Tweetup. When he arrived he realized 12 of the 20 people had never met face to face, but were chatting like old friends because they had already become acquainted through Twitter. “So when we do meet each other for business, “ he said, “we are further down the road in our relationship as much of the credibility is already established.” He added that no one can attend every in-person networking event, but most people can make time to be on Facebook once or twice a day having the kinds of conversations that lead to relationships, trust, more business and good customer service.
One of Guthrie’s agents, Phyllis Novotny, was not amongst the first to get on board with social media. However, she related that eventually her colleagues talked her into it. Now she uses Facebook as a way to establish relationships with people, including former clients. For example, some of her clients share her interest in gardening and often comment when she posts on this topic. The result is a conversation that can lead to sharing meaningful information as well as more business and referrals.
“It’s marvelous because I get to know these people as individuals,” she said. Recently when she wrote a post about the outdoors, one of her clients replied they were happy to see that she was also a nature lover. All of this helps her understand and better serve her clients.
Novotny also uses social media to advertise listings. She has all of them professionally photographed, and posts virtual tours of the homes on Facebook. In addition, she uses Facebook to let people know when she has just listed or sold a home, and posts information about our area for out of towners. Recently Guthrie gave her a special award for her successful use of social media in her business. He explained that when it comes to social media, “She really gets it.”
Technology Means Better Customer Service
Technology takes many forms. According to Jonathan Kauffmann, principal broker of Nest Realty, his firm’s website is at the core of their technology focus.
“There are many templated systems available,” he said “which would have allowed us to input local data. However, we chose instead to take a different approach.” Instead Nest Realty invested in a custom built website based in part on feedback they received from consumers about what would be most useful to them.
Today their website assists consumers, and also helps agents be more productive. It contains detailed information about the local area and popular neighborhoods including photos and videos. In addition there is up-to-date news about the local market including monthly, quarterly and annual data regarding sales, pricing and trends. This gives agents current information and helps clients make more informed decisions, Kauffmann explained.
Technology also can improve agent productivity by making it possible to do paperless transactions. Kauffmann explained that many of his agents work remotely, but have access to all of the documents they need since the company uploads them to the cloud making them accessible by computer, tablet or smartphone.
In addition, the company website provides systems and checklists. Keeping track of all the details and negotiations surrounding a transaction is one of an agent’s biggest jobs. Now when they submit a signed contract, the system logs in the closing date and all of the deadlines for inspections and other critical events. This keeps the process on track saving time and energy by helping to assure that all the contract terms are met in a timely fashion so that the closing can happen on schedule. With paperwork under control, agents have more time and energy to work directly with clients assuring their questions and concerns are handled to everyone’s satisfaction.
Technology is a time saver in other ways as well. “It used to be that we would receive a contract, pick up the hard copy, drive across town, and meet with the seller to obtain signatures or initial changes,” Kauffmann said. “Today with electronic signatures what used to take two hours might only take two minutes using a tablet or smartphone.” Both agents and their clients appreciate the savings in time and energy, he explained, especially since contract negotiations often demand working at odd hours.
For agents who want to increase their understanding and use of technology, the NAR offers a special designation called e-PRO. Pam Dent, a REALTOR® with Montague Miller and Co.. earned this designation some years ago. The market was changing, she explained, and she looked for ways to differentiate herself from other agents and better serve her clients. Becoming an e-PRO agent increased her appeal to tech savvy buyers and sellers.
With the training Dent learned how to advertise properties and communicate effectively online. She also was one of the first agents in the area to use blogging as a way to stay in touch with clients. “My blogs are a real time saver,” she said. She posts information about the area and her listings and offers answers to frequently asked questions sometimes written and sometimes via video. When people have questions they can refer to her blogs if she is not immediately available to talk to them in person.
As part of being tech savvy, Dent also makes regular use of a tablet, laptop and smartphone. “With these devices I can stay in touch,” she said. “While there’s always someone in the office who can help out, most business these days can be done wherever I am using technology.”
Foreclosures Lead to Creative Uses of Technology
Linda McCauley and Chris Webb are REALTORS® who work for a company called Real Home Services and Solutions, which auctions forclosed properties for banks. In order to keep up with the large volume of homes they deal with daily, the company is very creative in its use of technology.
For example, listings are displayed online and buyers can even make offers directly, although the vast majority work through their agents. A big advantage to their system is transparency, explained Webb. When buyers make an offer, it is posted on the website assuring them it is not being held in a file somewhere in hopes of a better one coming in. The system also posts the amount of the highest current offer on a home and information is updated in real time so buyers and their agents know where they stand.
In contrast, Webb explained, agents who submit offers to other auction sites may feel like they’re faxing them into a black hole, and without transparency about the bidding process, buyers may end up offering more than they need to out of fear of being too low. Consequently, transparency in the process serves both agents and their buyers.
As agents for the seller, McCauley and Webb are available to assist the process and do the behind the scenes work to get a contract to closing. They can also answer buyer agent questions, however answers to the most common ones are posted online which means most information is readily and quickly available.
After an offer is presented, counteroffers, if any are available on line. With other auction sites, the turn around time on contracts may be days, however with this system the response often comes within a few hours. If the contract is accepted everyone can celebrate. If not, the parties can start looking for another house right away, something that appeals to both buyers and their agents. Once the property is under contract the agents use another form of technology to negotiate repairs and keep in touch with the transaction: text messaging.
Celeste Smucker is a writer, editor and author of Sold on Me Daily Inspiration for Real Estate Agents. She lives near Charlottesville.