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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Old dog learning new tricks...

“If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” (Unknown), from the Jack’s Winning Words blog. This is a variation on the classic definition of insanity, which is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” In a classic self-help sense, realizing that this is true is a starting point for change.

Applying that thought to the current insane real estate market has led Realtors to try all sorts of “out-of-the-box” thinking and new marketing approaches. The rise of auctions for houses that have been sitting on the market is one thing; that, while not new, has certainly increased in use in the last 12-18 months. Realtors are coming up with all sorts of added “incentives” aimed both at the potential buyers and at buyer agents, trying to generate traffic and interest in their listings. As a Realtor, it is possible to get a free lunch almost any day of the week at one “broker open house” or another. So, being a Realtor can be fattening.

Another thing that has changed quite a lot in the last 2-3 years is the use of the Internet as a primary marketing tool. A new saying in real estate is that Web appeal has replaced curb appeal. That’s true because so much of the buying public now do all of their preliminary searching on the Web. That has led most agents (at least the smart ones) to focus more on how their listings are presented on the various Web sites. Multiple pictures and virtual tours are a must. I’ve had clients tell me that they just skip over listings that only have one picture or some small number and spend time looking at the ones that have 10-15 pictures and a virtual tour. Video is the new up and coming thing and will likely replace or supplement the virtual tours soon.

Signs are still a very important element of the exposure campaign for any house and a very important source of leads for the Realtor. The telephone messages that you see advertised on riders on some signs are still providing some results, albeit mixed and not nearly as effectively as the Web. Newspaper ads have declined rapidly as an effective advertising tool, but most companies still do some to keep their names in front of the public. Many agents have stopped doing them altogether or just participate in company ads. Television has also had very mixed results. The fact that your ad may end up scrolling by at 3 AM one day and 7 PM the next makes it a very hit-and-miss thing. Open houses continue to generate some traffic, but they too are down dramatically. I think people spend more time at the “virtual open house” that a good Web presentation provides than driving around randomly to see if there are any homes open. However, a well advertised open house – newspaper and on the Web – in the right location can still draw a crowd.

More changes have been predicted than have actually materialized, perhaps due to the slow pace of the adoption of technology by the vast majority of Realtors. You still don’t see a lot of Realtors out scanning the MLS with handheld wireless devices. More and more agents are taking laptops with them on listing presentations; although, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of that, unless it is combined with on-line wireless access, so that the whole presentation is more dynamic. The widely predicted ala carte method of offering and pricing real estate services has also not taken hold, yet. That requires a different business model and few companies or agents have been willing to experiment in that direction, yet.

One may conclude from all of this that at least real estate professionals don’t meet the definition of crazy, since they are trying new and different things to try to get through the current market malaise. They may be a bit conservative in their acceptance and adopting of many of the new ideas or technologies, but they aren’t fools; so, when they see someone else succeeding by trying something new, they jump on those bandwagons fairly quickly. I’m certainly an example of an old dog who has taught himself some new tricks, with three real estate Web sites, a blog and a Facebook account. I’ve got to replace my old laptop, which gave up the ghost under the strain and demands of Windows XP. I’m in our TXT group at work, but I don’ t currently IM, so maybe that’s yet another frontier that I need to explore. So many things to learn and so little time. It’s great!

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