Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=112901
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Images from: Twitter, Facebook and A. Magill on Flickr.



Agents online: Facebook, Twitter used to market homes

by Kate Shellnutt
Jan 27, 2009




Chicago real estate agents are doing business differently, using YouTube videos instead of flyers, blog posts instead of newsletters, Facebook profiles instead of business cards and Twitter updates instead of—well, no one is exactly sure what Twitter’s meant to accomplish, but they’re using it, too.

In a struggling housing market, it’s not enough to stick with old advertising standbys.  Agents rely on mostly free Web-based technology to offset the industry’s slowdown, gaining new business through online connections.

“I don’t want to sound cocky, but we’ve stayed ahead of the curve,” said John Federici, managing partner of West Town real estate brokerage Krain Corp.  “We’re trying to work smarter.”

Krain’s listings appear on up to 180 sites, including the company’s blog and Facebook.  Federici’s online efforts mirror national, industry-wide trends to use technology as a marketing tool.

"In today’s rather soft real estate economy, real estate professionals have to make extra efforts to explore Web 2.0 tools in order to reach, recruit and retain customers and clients,” said Mike Barnett, vice president of technology for Internet Crusade Inc., in an article for real estate news company RISMedia Inc. “Web 2.0 tools are an excellent way to accomplish our goals and to collaborate digitally.”

Even Web enthusiasts acknowledge, however, that online networking and collaboration may not directly boost sales.  Many see social networking as a contemporary and free way to publicize, rather than a means for bringing in buyers regularly.

“It’s not a primary source of clients, but if it gets you one or two a year it’s worth it,” said Mike Long, of Long Realty Inc. in Westmont, who started blogging two years ago and made his debut on Twitter earlier this month. “It’s like open houses; one out of 100 will lead to a buyer.  The percentages are low.”

Still, nearly nine out of 10 buyers research homes online, according to the National Association of Realtors, and social networking gives agents another way to reach them.

Each week about 50 real estate posts are added to Facebook’s “Marketplace” section, where users can advertise for-sale items for free. The forum of online classifieds includes ads for odds-and-ends, such as a $150 clarinet or a $20 ping-pong table; local leases and sublets, most for several hundred dollars a month; and high end real estate properties, many with six to seven figure price tags.

After Federici posted pictures and descriptions of some of Krain’s properties earlier this month, one of his 250 Facebook friends noticed the listings and referred buyers.

“Now I’m meeting them next week to look at our homes in Ukrainian Village and West Town,” Federici said.

Agents on Facebook use their profiles, which list their recent activities like joining a group named for their company or posting a real estate property on Marketplace, to remind their friends, acquaintances and classmates of their business.

“The Facebook platform evolved as a business networking tool,” said Dean Moss, of Keller Williams Fox & Associates Realtors LLC in Lincoln Square.  “I’m getting a lot of connections, even from people in high school, and it’s been over 30 years since I’ve been in high school.”

Facebook began in 2004 as a network exclusively for college students, but now more than half of its 150 million users are outside of college.  The site helps agents tap into a market of 20-somethings and 30-somethings who will soon be looking to buy.

“It’s skewing my demographic to younger people,” Moss said. “My comrades that are 40, 45 and not doing this, they’re going to be left in the dust.”

Moss also networks through ActiveRain.com, a site with more than 130,000 members in the real estate industry, including nearly 2,000 in Cook County.  On the site, agents can post news about local market conditions, suggest strategies and ask questions. 

Moss uses Active Rain’s extensive, searchable blogroll to drive traffic to his two-year-old Web log, www.blogchicagohomes.com, and his Twitter feed.  Both have helped him link up with fellow real estate agents, he said.  Last month, an agent in St. Louis contact him with a client looking to sell a home in Chicago.

Without online social networking, “I would have never made that connection,” he said.

Moss, who’s worked in real estate for the last 15 years, admits he’s confused by Twitter, but still posts daily with links to local housing news.

Twitter’s the latest in industry efforts to make further connections with clients and other agents.

Kris Kombrink heads up online marketing for the Geneva-based Kombrink Team, a division of Re/Max Excels, and initiated the group’s Twitter feed a few months ago.  He’s since gained 550 followers and regularly tweets back and forth, offering a Chicago-area perspective to others in the industry. 

In addition to news links, his feed includes personal posts: “Lazy sunday, think god was right, we all need one day to unwind” and what-are-you-doing-now updates: “Taking pictures @ 1218 Hall in Sugar Grove, IL.”

Mike Long began his company’s Twitter page just two weeks ago, after hearing about the site in the real estate blogosphere.

“It still feels a little weird,” said Long, who also uses Linked In, Plaxo and Facebook to get his name out to clients. “I picture my 17-year-old cousin telling her friends she’s at Taco Bell rather than me trying to sell a $500,000 condo.”