Over the last few decades, the business of real estate has undergone significant changes as to how technology is used to communicate with clients and facilitate transactions. But one thing that has not changed is the mountain of paper required to document the exchange of property. There are close to 40 pages of forms required during the process, and all signed pages must be stored for up to six years as historical and legal records.
By now it should be no surprise that the Internet is the starting point when consumers want to search for a home. With millions of listings at their fingertips, it makes perfect sense to narrow down the group of potential properties without leaving the couch. But for the seller’s agent, it can be challenging to grab the attention of buyers when you
only have a few seconds for your online property listing to make an impression. A 2006 Canadian study suggests that consumers make up their minds about the quality of a website within one tenth of a second. So how long does it take for a consumer to determine whether a property is worth adding to their list if it has a bad visual presentation? You decide.
This article is part two of a two part series on computer security. Part two features network security, online security, and encryption.
Encryption is a way of scrambling data and communications so only the owner, or the authorized sender and receiver, can read the data. Without the ‘encryption key’, which is usually just a password, the information is just jibberish. Encryption is a great way to protect sensitive data on your computer, such as personal documents, income tax software saved files, and other financial information from prying eyes.
How do you know you’re doing your job well? How do you measure your success serving your clients? Think about it; you can’t improve unless you first know what you’re not doing well. To that end, how many agents send out satisfaction surveys after closing a deal, and how many brokers survey clients to assess an agent’s performance? The Internet age has brought myriad ways to reach out to people using new tools, but surveys are still an effective way of getting feedback on your performance and improving upon that data. There are many tools for online surveys, and below are just a few free and inexpensive options that can help you to gain valuable insight for your business.
So what’s the goal of a website? Think about it. Is it just a place on the Internet to store your bio and listings? Perhaps you go a step further and add a list of links to real estate tools and local community resources. Once someone has seen that information, though, what else is there to bring them back? Now think about what’s different on the websites you visit frequently; what brings you back? I’m willing to put 20% down that it’s a combination of new content and a site that actually engages the visitor. Traditional websites with this ability don’t come cheap, but there’s a practically free alternative for those willing to try something different; a blog.
Why do people buy a laptop computer when they’re more expensive, harder to upgrade, and easier to lose than desktops? Because it’s not powerful computing people need, it’s portability. If you haven’t guessed where I’m going with this, I’m asking why only one in five REALTORS® in Massachusetts (according to the 2007 NAR Profile of Members) owns a Blackberry, Treo, iPhone, Google phone, or similar smartphone that can access the Internet from anywhere?
Social networking is still all the rage and, as with any popular technology, scam artists and other unscrupulous individuals will find a way to take advantage of trusting users. Websites such as MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn are particularly susceptible to scams involving social engineering because of the implicit level of trust among the site’s users. For example, you may think that John, a friend from college who is now on Facebook, is who he says he is, but how can you be sure?
One way to demonstrate to clients that you are a true real estate professional is to have your own custom email address. In fact, it might make the average person feel uneasy to negotiate the largest purchase of their life by emailing “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Although you may not know where to start to get a custom email address, it’s actually quite easy.
As REALTORS®, staying in touch with clients throughout their home buying and selling life cycle is critical to repeat business and building your network of referrals. But why do past clients refer friends and family to you? A hint: it’s not the delicious fruit basket you sent after closing the sale, nor is it the free calendar you send every Christmas. They refer others to you because of your reputation as an expert in your field.
Your Menu of Online Options
While there are offline options for maintaining contacts and building your reputation, they cannot compare to the online options: email, message boards, blogs, instant messaging, social network websites, etc. These tools are much more valuable than their traditional counterparts because communications are stored and searchable online forever; you can easily see your social graph (your network of connections) to leverage your social capital (the value of that network), and you can build a quantifiable reputation.
Opportunities for Messaging
There are many online message boards that provide opportunities like these. ActiveRain.com, which provides free blogs and social networking for the real estate community, hosts a Q&A section where consumers (and even other agents) can post questions. Any member of ActiveRain can answer the questions and gain two advantages: a valuable contact with whomever submitted the question, as well as participation points.
One of the easiest ways to get your knowledge online is with a blog, which is a simple tool to create a newsletter-style website; however, blogs are much easier to start than they are to maintain. A recent survey from Carlson Analytics found roughly 70% of new blogs are abandoned in the first month. One strategy to avoid this fate is to start with very defined goals and follow them to the letter. What is your blog about? Who will write the posts and how often? Will you have guest writers, etc.? Most blogs are free and have a few key features, such as: the ease of posting new content; a variety of plug-ins for adding audio; video and other media; a system for submitting visitor comments; and the ability to automatically create a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed. Using an RSS reader you can “subscribe” to a website and be notified when new information is posted so you can quickly and easily find what’s relevant to you. (You can read more about RSS feeds in the July 2008 Technology Tuesday Newsletter on BayStateRealtor.com.).
The Power of Social Websites
Social networking websites like MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn are probably the most visible products of the Web 2.0 revolution. The power of these sites, besides finding long-lost friends from high school, lies in there ability to expose your social graph and leverage those extended connections. These connections are made through “friend requests” where you ask someone to approve you into their networks and, once connected, you can access more information about them, view and connect with their friends and more, depending on which social network site you’re using.
Which Site is Which?
MySpace is the largest social network website in the US. The site is known for an anything-goes approach to profiles and friend relationships; personal pages have almost unlimited branding options and there are no restrictions on friendship requests. Although MySpace can be somewhat visually overwhelming, it is still a valuable Internet property for connecting to clients and posting your photos, video, audio and more.
Now the largest social network site in the world, Facebook has seen explosive growth over the past few years since the introduction of their “apps.” These apps (applications) allow you to add a variety of content like RSS feeds, videos and photos into your Facebook profile as well as play games, send reminders, and even list items for sale.
LinkedIn is about getting business done. The average age is far higher than most social networks and the median income is above $100K. Connections are highly guarded, and highly regarded, on LinkedIn because of the community’s culture and the fact you can only send friend requests to people within 3 degrees of separation. Outside that, you need an “Introduction” or you may connect through LinkedIn’s own message tool called InMail.
What’s the best tool to use?
I would say it is both Facebook and LinkedIn. They are both valuable tools but aim at different audiences and offer different features.
Gerry Bourgeois, Towne & Country Realtors®, Leominster
How do you prospect?
I post frequently to online newsgroups and respond to posts from others as often using a screen name that points out I am an agent and happy to help.
Lisa Johnson, Coldwell Banker, Haverhill
What advice would you give REALTORS® new to social networking?
You don’t have to learn it all or do it all in one day. Choose one site, whether it’s you own personal blog or a large site like TruliaVoices, ActiveRain, or Facebook, and write about topics that interest and excite you.
Deb Agliano, ERA Andrew Realty, Medford