New Web Tools Empower Homebuyers

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Unprecedented foreclosures. Facebook. Innovative mortgage regulations. Zillow. Green building certification. Twitter. In the midst of a continued recession and the chaos that has rocked the real estate industry in the United States for the past three years, technology has emerged as both a threat and a boon to realtors scrambling to adapt to the opportunities and potential pitfalls of Web 2.0.

Not only has the Internet altered the traditional relationship between realtor and homebuyer, but it has provided a significant opportunity to generate greater volumes of business as well. The seemingly endless online offerings can be overwhelming for non-tech savvy brokers, but homebuyers themselves, the savvy ones at least, now have more tools than ever to take matters into their own hands.

According to the National Association of Realtors, approximately 60% of homebuyers use the Internet to shop for a house, and the majority of lookers use the Internet to educate themselves about a particular neighborhood. They use tools like Multiple Listing Services (MLS) and a plethora of community-level information available online to assume the research component previously reserved for real estate brokers. The shift in responsibility has allowed agents to focus on other aspects of operating and growing their business.

Beth Copenhaver, a veteran realtor with Coldwell Banker in Tampa, Florida, says that technology “has allowed the consumer to become more intimate with the real estate process. Sometimes they prefer to do their own searches and let you know what homes they want to see… and that's fantastic!”

Bradley Kintz, a senior realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate in Alexandria, Va. echoes Copenhaver’s sentiments. “The Internet has allowed me to take on a greater amount of work; my clients and I have become more of a team, both performing research and trading information," he says, adding, "that teamwork has allowed us to expedite the decision making and processes that would have taken former real estate agents a frustratingly long time.”

However, while technology has empowered homebuyers and created a new and mutually beneficial dynamic between real estate agents and their clients, the explosion of web-based tools has disproportionately advantaged younger professionals who tend to be more familiar with these tools.

“Networking through tools such as LinkedIn, and learning how to use MLS syndication services such as Zillow, has really allowed me to get my name out there and expand my exposure beyond the local realm,” comments the 31-year old Kintz. Copenhaver, nearly 25 years Kintz's senior, says that she is “struggling to become more proficient with my Facebook business page” and has gravitated towards organizational tools such as Plaxo, a “smart address book”, and Google Maps, both mechanisms that can aid in efficiency and professionalism, but lack the social component that can help attract profit-rendering clientele.

Regardless of real estate brokers’ attitudes to technology, integrating these tools into their work will be crucial to sustaining and growing a business going forward. As Joel Burslem, a former vice president at Inman News, reiterates throughout his blog, Future of Real Estate Marketing, real estate is a consumer-driven industry.

Since a typical consumer can be expected to be one of the 500 million (and growing) members of Facebook with an average of 130 friends and a presence in a number of other online communities, real estate agents have a responsibility to learn about new Web tools and their impact on their industry.

Copenhaver’s local office offers weekly seminars focused on how agents can positively use technology to disseminate their information and generate sales, while experts such as Tom Flannagan, Director of Information Technology at Inman News, aids agents in determining what tools to use. He strongly advocates the use of MLS syndication services such as ListHub to increase exposure, cloud computing with Google applications to increase mobility and productivity, WordPress and blogging to educate potential clients and demonstrate expertise, and social and professional platforms to network.

At the same time, a real estate transaction is a transaction that occurs between people, and revolves around an inherently sentimental object: a home. New Web tools challenge that human component of the real estate industry, and as Kintz notes, “while it is important to keep up with technology and make sure that you are servicing your client and your business with all the tools afforded you, you can’t forget that you are dealing with real people who have real emotions attached to very real things such as land or a house, and that attention to such basic human traits is crucial to your success.”

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