It was barely 10 years ago that the Internet became popular, suddenly intruding into everyday transactions from travel to real estate to shoe shopping.
In those 10 years, the Internet’s use in real estate has skyrocketed, and in turn, expectations have risen as well.
Internet consultant Lynne Ashcraft says nearly three quarters, or 71 per cent, of buyers and sellers use the Internet for information before they ever talk to a real estate agent. But rather than drive potential clients away, the Internet actually sends them right to a realtor. “Buyers and sellers who research on the Internet are more likely to use an agent because the agent has gained their trust, based on what they show via the Internet,” she notes.
For agents, the Internet has been a particularly welcome tool. “The buyers and sellers who use the Internet tend to be at a higher price level than non-users, too,” Ashcraft adds.
That heavy usage means that it is no longer enough for an agent to say they have a web site. The amount of business an agent draws, and the opinions buyers and sellers form while considering the agent, can be greatly impacted by an agent’s web site. As Internet use in real estate has become commonplace, it is no longer a matter of getting your brother-in-law to throw up any old thing, or knocking out a good web site in a spare afternoon.
So what should buyers and sellers look for when perusing agents’ web sites? And what should agents be offering?
The answers to those questions are one and the same, Ashcraft notes, starting with the overall emphasis of the site.
“You want to make sure the site speaks to a niche, or a targeted market. You want to say, ‘I specialize in Alameda older homes’, or ‘I specialize in California bungalows,’ not just, ‘I sell East Bay real estate,'” she explains.
For agents with more than one focus, Ashcraft recommends more than one web site, so potential clients don’t have to wade through information that doesn’t apply to their particular interest.
Agents should also show that they are knowledgeable about the geographic area in question, Ashcraft adds, providing information and links covering local amenities, including schools, parks, transit, and entertainment. “To a seller particularly, this tells them the agent is acquainted with the local area and can easily sell to buyers,” Ashcraft adds.
What tends to turn away buyers and sellers, however, are web sites with too many listings of awards. “You shouldn’t just tell buyers and sellers that you’re the number one seller in the East Bay, but show them why that might be true,” she notes. Likewise, testimonials from clients and current listings add to an agent’s credibility.
Sellers, whose home is likely to appear on the agent’s web site, should pay particular attention to the web site’s overall look and feel, as well as the depth of information provided for each listing, Ashcraft notes.
“The web site shouldn’t look amateurish or cartoon-y. You want to reflect a look that is attractive to your market.”
Even an agent’s email address can add or detract from their credibility, and therefore, from the seller’s chances of receiving top dollar for a home. “The email address should be branded,” Ashcraft says, “and this can be done even if the agent does not have a web site.” By branded, Ashcraft explains, the web site should end with something exclusive to the agent or their agency, such as email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. “This shows that you have made an investment in your profession.
You aren’t doing this part-time,” Ashcraft explains.
Of course, most real estate web sites offer pictures, but web sites that are more likely to entice buyers are those that go beyond a mere photograph. “Pictures, of course, are important, because a picture really is worth a thousand words,” Ashcraft adds. “But if there’s more than one picture, that’s even better.
If you can show, ‘Here’s the front, here’s the back, here’s the picture from the street’, that’s even better,” Ashcraft explains. That gives the potential buyer more information, and reassures them that they aren’t merely seeing the Hollywood-style front to an otherwise run-down home.
“The next step up would be a video uploaded from a handheld video camera,” she notes.
Video may sound a bit extreme, but what actually happens is that everyone saves a lot of time (and therefore money). Sellers have more potential buyers coming through who really want to see their home. Buyers can limit their viewing to the homes they really want to seriously consider. And real estate agents can limit their drive-arounds to the small handful of homes buyers really want to see.
Ashcraft says such web sites help buyers immensely, too, since they can now use the Internet to rule out (or rule in) styles of homes and neighborhoods without traipsing around to hundreds of homes or tying up an agent’s time as they whittle down their selection.
Lastly, Ashcraft says that agents should pay attention to how their web site is listed on search engines. “They may want to call in a professional for this, so their web site is listed as much as possible,” when buyers and sellers are searching for homes they handle. Even the best web site won’t do much for sellers if buyers can never find it in their search.
And attracting buyers is the name of the game. In fact, that explains why the Internet has become such an essential real estate tool. Buyers, like everyone else, are busy. If they can save time choosing an agent and then choosing a home by going to the Internet, they’ll do it.
“Everybody’s so busy. They don’t have five weekends to drive around in somebody’s car to look at properties,” Ashcraft notes. “With the Internet, buyers can streamline their choices.”