Armed with the ability to produce professional-looking Websites, real estate agents are utilizing advances in technology to reach more buyers than ever, but do these modern applications generate sales?
“I don’t think that any of it helps to sell,” says one Los Angeles-based agent, “The Internet is great for educating buyers, but for actual closings, I remain skeptical.” But with technological advances on the World Wide Web occurring every day, many real estate folks believe that working the Internet will eventually translate into big dollars.
Creating a personal Website page is the rage among many real estate agents. “The Internet is the new way of reaching clients,” says Beverly Hills agent Lynn Bernstein of John Arroe and Associates, “and agents want their Websites to stand out. One of our agents videotapes her properties, so when you click on to her Website she gives a personal video tour of the home.”
Anita Perrone, an agent for Manhattan’s Corcoran Group, agrees that the Internet is a great new way to attract business because it makes it easier to search for properties, and that means sales.
“All you have to do is punch in a location and pinpoint exactly what you need, and out pops 15 to 20 properties,” Perrone explains. “We have over 700 listings at one time and we update the list every week. We sell an apartment a week just because of our Website.”
ListingLink, a California-based Web publisher that claims 13,000 agents as paid subscribers, aids in developing many of these Websites. ListingLink helps agents create Web pages and links agents’ properties with online buyers.
“We offer audio, newsfeeds and real estate information to the end user, being the home buyer, on the agent’s personal page,” explains ListingLink vice president, Dana Keith. “We take the data from every multiple listing service in California every single night and present it on the Internet.
“If an agent wants exposure, they pay to have their name listed,” adds Keith. “With that name, it clicks to their personal bio and turns to their current inventory. Now if they’re on the program, in theory, they can hand a business card to a client who then can drive straight to the agent’s home page.”
The queen of Silverlake realty, Gillian Swanson, disagrees that agent home pages are particularly effective. “Websites, right now, are basically tools for the agents,” says Swanson. “Very few buyers will go to a particular agent’s Website. The Jon Douglas Website, however, has been great for me for e-mail. People will look up the Silverlake area from the Jon Douglas Website page and ultimately the e-mail comes to me. I’ve made several contacts that way.”
One industry buyer says he thinks the real estate agents “aren’t the best judges of the value of surfing for properties on the web. We found listings that our agent hadn’t mentioned and we found neighborhoods that we hadn’t considered. It’s a wonderful tool to keep the pressure on your agent. Also, if you’re talking Westside and premium neighborhoods, the market is extemely tight. You need every possible listing and you need an edge. If the computer helps you broaden your possibilities by even one listing, it could be the one you buy. We found one great deal in Lake Hollywood that wasn’t an active listing. No sign, no ads, no showings, just a net listing. After we found it, the broker realized that they’d better call the out-of-town seller and tell them that their property was suddenly getting hot. This means we were ahead of the crowd for once. After losing out on three previous multiple offer situations, we
And if any Website is effective it’s Jon Douglas’, which attracts nearly 200,000 visits, or hits, per week.
Malibu agent Don Richstone says he’s advertised his inventory on http://www.Prudouglas.com., and was impressed with the results, but not because it attracted clients.
“My clientele is generally wealthy, older people who don’t touch computers,” says Richstone. “How the Internet helps me is I can pull up information and color photographs on a property and then print it out with a color ink jet, and in a matter of minutes, I’ve got a brochure for zero dollars.”
There are concerns, however, in that people may rely too much on their computers for information. “I’ve seen some appraisers do horrible work,” says Richstone. “What they do is download data from a computer and formulate opinions from what they see on-screen and they’ve never seen the house!
“Due to the downturn in real estate, banks have cut what they pay appraisers. So they’re spending less time on reports to the lender and trying to get computers to do it. Before, the quality of work was a lot better. Downloading has its benefits, but you still need someone as a guide.”
One thing that all agents seem to agree on is that no matter what positive steps the Internet makes in integrating sites, such as online access and downloading ability, computers don’t sell real estate, people do. “No matter what advances technology offers, the buyer inevitably needs to get a feeling from a place,” says Anita Perrone.
“The Internet is a jumping off point. You can find a broker you want to work with and then make contact,” agrees Richstone. “You will always need a broker to tell you what the inside scoop on a place is. Which are the noisy streets? Which sellers are more motivated than others? What were the last sales?”
Swanson says technology will never replace the warmth of personal contact. “Nothing beats being face-to-face with a client,” says Swanson. “To sell, you must overcome the objections and negotiate, if not, you’re out of luck. What ultimately sells the house is the agent.
“The best selling tool I have is me.”