The Real Estate Online Revolution for 2017

Real estate websites are ripe for revolution.

Information is free. Hoarding property listing details has no value, as the same information is readily available on dozens of other websites.

Availability is universal, and instantaneous. It costs nothing to make property listing information available to any buyers worldwide.

And yet, real estate websites continue to provide the same dreary, flat information, with little to no innovation in how that information is presented. It’s like someone cut a property listings ad out of a 1985 newspaper and slapped it on a webpage, and everyone else followed suit. No one stands out, and most agents almost treat their website like an annoyance, something that ‘takes extra time’ out of their day.

Sure, in recent years, websites let you search a bit smarter. You can go to one website rather than four to look at a variety of properties in context. But that only really helps aggregators, not agents or brokerages. And no matter where you go, when you look at a listing, there’s the same content as ten years ago: a wall of descriptive text, ‘photo 1 of 32’, a picture of the agent. Perhaps now a ‘video tour’, ‘interactive 3D room viewer’, or other fancy name.

All this has correctly led some real estate agents to despondently wonder: where’s our value? How do we differentiate ourselves in a crowded market of everyone doing exactly the same thing—especially when that thing is no longer valued?

The answer, beautifully, requires no new technology. No buzzwords. No long-tail search optimization strategy, social media insight, or dynamic mortgage calculation tool.

The answer is in what every real estate agent does every time they actually meet with a buyer or seller.

  • Listening.
  • Storytelling.
  • Explaining and guiding.

And I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that, even now in 2016, almost no real estate agents do any of this on their websites, let alone do it well.

Agents are no longer agents that happen to have a website. To buyers and sellers, the website IS the agent. Its quality, its presentation, its experience — they all reflect back on the agent.

What an opportunity to differentiate. So let’s go through those three areas in more detail.

Listening

Think of a family looking to buy a home. The husband needs easy access to downtown. Three bedrooms, perhaps 4, in a quiet-ish neighbourhood, close to a good school. Oh and no carpets, because the new puppy would cause havoc on those.

There is a veritable gold mine of data, hidden in all the live property information, ready to help highlight appropriate homes for this family.

And I don’t mean just providing school reports for a district, nor just allowing searches on 3+ bedrooms, nor just showing noise pollution data for a city. That’s just ‘data’, and you then force a buyer to sift through all that data, looking for insights.

Instead, interpret it. Look for patterns amongst it all, and map it to real buyer needs. Either do this automatically if it can be done accurately, or with the agent’s insight. (If an agent spends two hours improving data on their site, and it helps close a sale, how much is that worth per hour of time spent?)

Let’s see websites showcase properties with all this analysis already done, ready for a discerning buyer to appreciate.

Storytelling

It amazes me that multi-million dollar properties have descriptions that are thirty lines long, with no paragraph breaks, and often with multiple spelling and grammatical errors. Verbal diarrhoea. It’s perhaps the single worst part of online real estate presentation.

But that aside: that’s a block of text, no matter how well you present it. There’s your text, there’s your block of pictures, there’s your movie. It’s like a builder lining up a collection of bricks, hammers and window panes to try and convince you that they can build a great home.

No. You sell the vision, the experience. You tell a story.

Just the same way an agent guides a buyer round a home, explaining all the unique features and selling points, so the website should guide a buyer around the property. Describe the rooms. Perhaps group them by floor or area of the home. Use audio or video to allow the agent to add nuance and passion to the property being presented. What makes this house different? Who’s it best suited for? What’s nearby that’s amazing? Give them all your insight. Don’t hoard—remember, information is free and available, someone can simply get the details somewhere else. You’ll get 10 times more business because of disclosure, integrity and thoroughness.

Explaining and guiding

Does the average buyer or first-time seller know all the complicated steps involved in the sale of a home? Careful negotiations, legal documents, building assessments, handling hidden fees… wow. What a valuable service an agent can offer in navigating this minefield, in what is likely the biggest transaction of the client’s lifetime.

And what better way to demonstrate that agent’s skills, insight, and experience in the process than fully and beautifully on the website?

Make every word on the website count. Sell the agent without cliche, but with actual differentiators. (Do a SWOT analysis first.) Have testimonials woven into the story (yes, more storytelling), perhaps a compelling video from a happy couple the agent worked with. Provide follow-up actions to further cement the agent’s value, such as linking to recently sold properties.

Limitless acres of space to tell this story, ready for a buyer or seller who’s assessing the agent against amongst thousands of others.

And beyond…

Here’s the secret sauce: look at what a successful agent does offline, and then leverage all the advantages of technology to provide a companion service online. Let the agent do what agents do well, and use technology to do what it does well. A great online presence should be an agent’s 24/7 companion, working tirelessly at his or her side.

So who’s going to make the leap first?