New Ways To Network
In the “old days” of real estate, most leads were generated through traditional face-to-face networking events and referral efforts. In the midst of the market crash, ZIP code searches by prospective homebuyers and sellers through Zillow and Trulia kept leads coming in, as homes came on the market through foreclosure. Today, third-party websites, portals and aggregators tend to be a huge lead generation source. Andrea Geller, an agent with Coldwell Banker, says that these websites also help with referrals and the careful maintenance of her brand.
“A lot of it is driven by premium positioning through third-party portals for lead generation, exclusively as a result of referral by family, friends and corporations across the company,” she says. “That’s a huge part of lead generation for me. If you don’t have the right Web service, it doesn’t fit, because everybody is going to Google you. If they don’t like what they see when they search you, you’re not going to be able to retain them as a client.”
In 2013, the National Association of Realtors teamed up with Google to release a report titled “The Digital House Hunt: Consumer and Market Trends in Real Estate.” The joint study found that about 90 percent of homebuyers utilize the Internet during their search, while about 52 percent of first-time homebuyers cite the Web as the first step in their search. Leads that come in from online are typically viewed by Realtors as colder, and the study indicates that 40 percent of home purchasers wait at least 120 days from the time that they start online before making a move toward contacting an agent. However, 24 percent take action on the day that they start searching.
Geller believes that the number one mistake made by many Realtors is failing to respond to contacts generated online and not following up on those potential leads. Zillow is her top source for leads that don’t come from her existing referral network. In order to get the most out of those contacts, she makes sure that she has a message going out to those people immediately, thanking them for contacting her and letting them know that she will follow up with them shortly. For cold leads that may take time to develop, she recommends using content management systems that allow a broker to stay in touch with people who may be a year or more away from buying a home.
When Geller first became a broker in 1999, it was easier for potential clients looking for a real estate professional in the Lakeview area to find her through a simple Google search, when she was paying 20 cents per click to generate more Web traffic. Changes to Google’s search algorithms have since made a website’s content vital to where it falls among search returns, and Geller has started writing as a way to bring more traffic to her site. It’s part of a focused approach to maintaining her Web presence and building her online referral network.
Geller uses third-party portals for her listings, but turns to social media platforms as a way to brand herself. She keeps a real estate blog and utilizes search engine optimization strategies to bring more people to her website. She keeps her listings on third-party portals that link back to her contact information. Geller closely monitors these various lead generation streams so that when a prospective client attempts to reach out to her via her contact information, she can reply right away. She also emphasizes the importance of agents posting regular updates to show prospective clients that they have a real presence in the areas they represent, and that they’re up to the job of marketing a property; old content or links that no longer work can make a bad impression.
“They see that and they see what’s great about you,” Geller says. “They see what else you’ve done and you’re active in the industry. And the part of it that is really important is that whatever you do, you maintain it. If you’re going to use a Facebook page, you need to make sure there’s new content on it. If you’re going to use Twitter, you need to make sure that you’re tweeting.”
The low conversion rate on many leads makes it doubly important for agents to generate traffic for their listings through social media, and to keep potential clients interested. Agents can lose prospective clients by simply failing to respond to a request for more information, and can undermine their efforts to generate more leads by neglecting their referral network of past clients, friends and family.
“A lot of the people on the Internet are just starting their search,” says RE/MAX Showcase agent Jeffrey Metz. “They’re looking for basic information. They want to know how much things cost, how good the schools are, more general information. Those people are looking for that information because they will buy. So the key is to nurture those folks.”
Metz keeps his network of about 3,800 followers informed through an approach that integrates several avenues of contact, including newsletters, emails and connections through social media. Metz is deeply entrenched in networking sites and regularly uses Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. Each day, he checks advertisements and messages for information that he can send out to his network, such as open houses, new listings and closed deals.
Metz also brings in leads by advertising on social media, focusing on the areas of southern Lake County and northern Cook County that have become his specialty niche. He uses those ads to drive interest in properties located where demand is high but supply is low.
“What happens is that as those ads are trolling, if someone clicks that they liked my ad or they liked my information, I will friend request that person and follow up with them,” Metz says. “I would never have believed in all of my life that Facebook would generate as much business for me as it does.”
Chat functions such as Google Talk and Facebook Instant Messaging have also become a big part of Metz’s lead generation strategy. When he meets people who have Google accounts, he sends them a request to be included among their Google+ circle of friends so that he can chat with them. The function allows him to update his profile with listings, making that information visible to them when they visit their inbox.