Dec
17

Phoenix: 4 Smarter Ways to Sell Your Home Online

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The Internet has a wealth of tools to help you sell your home, from social media to targeted advertising. The trick is using them correctly.

By Melinda Fulmer of MSN Real Estate

© Simon Potter/Cultura/Getty Images

With a lot fewer homebuyers trolling the market, sellers need to make sure that their homes are getting out in front of the most promising prospects.

Whether the home being sold is a suburban rancher perfect for young families or a move-in ready condo for single urban professionals, a wealth of high-tech tools is available to help sellers target the most likely buyers. Unfortunately, tech experts say, most people are misusing them.

“Fifty percent of the people who are using social media (to sell real estate) are doing it wrong,” says Michael McClure, president and CEO of Professional One Real Estate in Plymouth, Mich., and a frequent guest lecturer on real estate and technology. (Bing: Top social media blunders)

Rather than developing relationships with potential buyers in places where they hang out online, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, most agents are simply slapping up electronic listings and hoping buyers take the bait. That strategy can backfire, turning potential buyers off and away from what looks like spam.

“There’s a culture (in social media) built up around the ostracizing of people who do that,” McClure says. “People will say, ‘We need to unfollow (or unsubscribe from) that person immediately.'”

Owners have a bit more leeway than agents in promoting a home online. But, regardless, McClure says, nine of every 10 pieces of communication on Facebook or Twitter should be something other than a sales pitch.

It’s not about selling, he says. It’s about “engaging and relating” with the people who have a good shot at buying what you have to sell.

  1. 1.   Target your marketing
    While you can’t target specific groups of buyers in the text of your marketing appeal without risking charges of discrimination, you can draw attention to your home in the places where its most appreciative would-be buyers hang out.

A home’s seller can say things on Twitter that might attract the right buyer, such as “#architecture buffs should check this one out” or “my #kids were crazy about this yard.”

If you have an amazing view or the world’s largest walk-in closet, you can tweet about that, too.

“Can you believe the size of this #closet?” the post could read, with a link to photos on your agent’s site.

It’s best to stick with promoting a home’s unique features and simply put the message in places where the buyers you are targeting can’t miss it, such as ethnic, religious or school-related groups or local parenting pages. Likewise, owners of horse property or lakefront homes could try hitting up fishing or equestrian blogs and message boards.

Slide show:  7 tips for first-time sellers

Whomever you’re targeting, experts say, there’s a way to reach them without explicitly singling them out in your listing.

2. Harness the new breed of advertising
One of the most focused ways to target certain buyers without risk of discrimination is through Facebook ads, McClure says.

Even if you can’t advertise that your home is perfect for people without kids, young hipsters or gay and lesbian couples, you can silently target these groups with keywords in the social network’s advertising. You can be even more selective by placing ads in front of Facebook users by age, employers and even ZIP codes to get the most bang for your online buck.

And that means you can call out incentives that may matter most to the groups you are searching for, offering help with closing costs to first-time buyers, proximity to public transportation for young professionals or home warranties for empty nesters.

“I think most people don’t know that this technology is there, but the learning curve (to do it) takes 30 seconds,” McClure says.

He says he finds it much more effective than glossy real-estate magazines and newspaper ads, after spending two decades using those without success. “I’d be willing to bet that digital return on investment (ROI) is 100 to 1,000 times greater” than print, he says.

Digital media also allow you to reach potential buyers who may be relocating, or investors scouring your area for properties, says Ben Kinney, an agent with Keller-Williams in Bellingham, Wash. “It’s important that you do things to market your home to people outside your physical area,” Kinney says. “Consumers might want to think twice about hiring the agent who spends their money on print because they are not keeping up with the market.”

Indeed, Kinney says, you’re better off saving your money and posting your home’s listing on Craigslist as long as you’re willing to update your listing every 48 hours from the day you list until the day you sell.

Many real-estate experts also recommend advertising on the nation’s big real-estate search engines such as Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia, so your home pops up at the top of the search page, rather than on page 15, by which point many potential buyers have stopped looking.

It’s all about being in a high-profile position on the sites that buyers frequent most.

“You have to go where your audience is,” agrees Sara Bonert, director of broker services for Zillow.com.

Sue Adler, a Keller-Williams agent in the Short Hills area of New Jersey, advertises on search engine Google using keywords including the handful of bedroom communities just outside Manhattan in which she works. She’s also hired someone to do search engine optimization of her site, so it and her listings are at the top of search results – paid and unpaid — and top of mind for those looking.  

 “Anybody can stick a house in the (multiple listing service). The whole key is to get the right amount of exposure and get people from out of the area in,” Adler says.

3. Sell the neighborhood
One way agents are drawing in more buyers from out of the area is by promoting the selling points of the neighborhoods in which they work, as well as the listings.

Adler had a videographer put together community videos for the towns in which she works, highlighting what’s unique and wonderful about each of them, such as good schools, parks, cultural diversity or a small-town feel.

That’s how Richard Rein, a Manhattan trader, found Adler when he was looking for an agent and a home for his family within a short commute of his work.

“She had tons of information about those markets,” Rein says. “Her website had a lot of resources; it wasn’t just listings.”  

 

Ultimately, Rein bought one of the properties she had listed on her site, a $2 million custom Colonial in Chatham, N.J. The area was not the family’s first choice, but they now say they love it for its quiet streets and newer homes.

A video like this can be made for an individual home, then tagged or labeled with a neighborhood or city so it can be found on sites such as YouTube, which is starting to account for a larger share of real-estate search.

“Video is probably the most effective way to market an individual property,” McClure says. “You can syndicate a video … that says, ‘Check out my amazing view home in (your neighborhood here)”” he says. “I don’t understand why more people aren’t doing it.”

McClure suggests that agents write blog posts about an area and its news, events and issues, with a link back to a real-estate website to draw in potential buyers. Kinney uses these avenues to do giveaways – which are reposted more widely in social media – including raffles of an iPad to visitors who frequent one of his open houses.

Slide show:  6 ways to ruin your home listing

Kinney also monitors conversations on Twitter looking for buyer leads. By creating search columns for specific hashtags (or terms marked with a # symbol in front) such as #moving or specific neighborhoods such as #WestHollywood) he can reach out to prospective buyers and offer help or resources, a strategy that has resulted in sales.

Owners gearing up to put their house on the market would be wise to expand their social media presence, too, agents say. They can add friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter so they will have a built-in audience to tap when they share information about the listing and upcoming move.

4. Tap your agent’s social network
The right agent can you help you decide what and when to tweet or post to Facebook, Bonert says, including links to high-definition photos that will look better on that iPad or mobile phone that would-be buyers are clutching as they drive neighborhoods on the weekends.

Ideally, this real-estate agent will have a huge email database and Facebook and Twitter network. Even agents who don’t post listings themselves on Twitter will often retweet your post, giving it exposure to a broader network of agents and potential buyers.

It also pays to choose someone who has enough of an online presence around your neighborhood to be considered a local expert, because that will help draw more potential buyers to their site and your listing.

Seth Silverstein, a seller who works in digital marketing, chose Adler to list his Milburn, N.J., home last spring, partly because of the high traffic to her site, and partly because he kept getting referred there when he did Web searches.

“People are getting their information about real estate in a lot of ways,” Silverstein says. “Sue wasn’t relying on one or two avenues for people to find out about the listing. She was really thorough.” His house sold within its first week after getting four offers.

Of course, your agent had better stay connected and keep monitoring social media or risk losing leads that could have turned into buyers for your home.

Tiffany Hampton, an agent with Century 21 Samia Realty in southern Maine, says she and her partner picked up a buyer for a $1.1 million home when a competing agent didn’t respond to a referral left on his Facebook page.

“He set up a Facebook page but never monitored it and the lead just set on his page for three days,” Hampton says. “The person giving the lead sent a message (saying he was) disappointed. We immediately acted on it. It is a great Facebook success story.”

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