How social media can help you find the home you love

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Chances are you're already using social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube in your personal life. So why not use social media to connect with someone who can build you the house of your dreams?

If you're not checking out builders online, you're missing an opportunity to enhance your house hunting process, according to Chris Martin of Chris Martin Public Relations. "The reason social media works so well for real estate is that they're both all about relationships," he says. "As a buyer, you have lots of choice in selecting a builder and you want to go with someone you have a relationship with and feel good about. Social media helps with that."

Get info you want

Like any good conversation, social media is about sharing information. In the real estate context that means buyers can go social to seek out the information that is important to them. Companies in all industries are learning that what they think is important is not necessarily what the customer thinks is important.

Each social media application can help home buyers in different ways. For example, YouTube videos have become almost a necessity in real estate. If a picture is supposedly worth a thousand words, it's easy to imagine what a video of a model home can do to spark a buyer's imagination. You like a new development but are skeptical that a studio unit would give you enough space? Check out the YouTube video. Ditto if you're curious about closet capacity, finishes, floor plans, or any other aspect of what each builder's homes are really like.

Video production quality on YouTube may not be the highest, but no one seems to mind. As long as you get the information you want, grainy footage or a droning narration shouldn't keep you from watching. "People want to see what they're going to see when they meet you in person, so having the video overly done is actually a negative, versus us taking the camera and answering questions during a walk-through," says Ami Bumia, a Realtor Associate at Jameson Real Estate, exclusive agent for Silver Tower, 303 W. Ohio St. in Chicago. "People come in and tell me they saw me on the video, so we know people are paying attention."

Quick updates

The social media microblogging site Twitter has entered the public's consciousness in a big way in 2010, so it's natural that some are using it to help them buy and sell real estate. At this point, Twitter is optional for homebuyers, but not for real estate agents, says Carol Flammer, author of "Social Media for Homebuilders: It's Easier Than You Think" (Builder Books, 2010). "Builders are using Twitter very effectively to communicate news of price reductions and special offers to Realtors," she says. "Given that 75 percent of new home buyers will tour a model with their Realtor, Twitter can definitely benefit you as a homebuyer by giving your agent a constant stream of up-to-date information."

But many buyers are now on Twitter, too, which suits Debbie Beaver, vice president of marketing at William Ryan Homes Chicago in Schaumburg, just fine. "We're very well known for saying we don't sell homes, we sell lifestyles and Twitter fits in with that," she says. "We tweet regularly and make a conscious effort to tweet important information that can help people decide if a community has the right atmosphere for them. For example, we'll tweet to let our followers know that a community's Labor Day parade starts at 9 a.m. or that a neighborhood garage sale will be held on a certain day."

Geo-targeting

Facebook tends to be very much top-of-mind among today's homebuyers, given that the site is the Internet's prime spot for socializing and connecting in general. It can be an effective tool for homebuyers - as long as builders remember to focus on the interaction part. "We have definitely gotten sales through Facebook," says Bumia. "We always update Silver Tower's Facebook page every week - we want to let people know about any events we have that week or new incentives we're offering."

The major new trend is location-based social networking. From FourSquare, Yelp! and Gowalla to the recently launched Facebook Places, users can share their favorite spots by checking in and writing tips for others. "When I visit my favorite Mexican restaurant, I can add a comment like, 'Great place to get fresh guacamole dip, custom-made at your table'," says Flammer. "Also, restaurants and businesses can post advertising on these sites. So it is likely when I check in at that Mexican restaurant that I might get a special offer for a free appetizer."

Carmen Krushas, president of Fetch Plus, a Chicago social media company specializing in real estate, notes that these geo-targeted social media applications go along with the idea that people are buying a lifestyle and a neighborhood as much as a home. "They show you the true local ecosystem of a community," she says. "When you see how many users frequent a given Starbucks or hair salon, that's telling you what the lifestyle is like when you live here and helping you decide whether it's a good fit."

Service thumbs up

A mutual flow of information is key to social media in general and perhaps the most important role social media plays for new home buyers. "Social media can really let people get a flavor for a company and, more importantly, an idea of that company's view of customer service," says Flammer. "No matter what the medium, you want to see lots of interaction between the company and other potential customers. And you want to know how interactive and responsive that builder will be to your questions and concerns."

Martin goes a step further, urging potential buyers to weigh builders' social media responsiveness carefully. "If a builder was slow or nonresponsive in answering my questions, that would be a huge red flag," he says. "It's no different than a company choosing not to answer its 800-number - as a potential buyer, you absolutely will make judgments based on that, and you should."

Krushas notes that the "social" nature of social media means you can also judge a builder's response to other potential customers. "With social media - especially Facebook - people are watching and making judgments all the time," she says. "If your question doesn't get addressed, other people will see that too. Even though they're not the one who asked the question, the builder's silence will help them form their own opinion of the company and it probably won't be good."

No matter how useful a tool social media in real estate becomes, these websites will always be an adjunct to real relationships with builders and Realtors, real home visits and, eventually, the exchange of real money for real property. But social media can make a great starting point.

"Nowadays, nearly all homebuilding starts with a Google search, usually by area and price range, and those search results are as likely to take you to a YouTube video or builder's blog as to their own website," Flammer says. "Social media sites create more opportunities for both sides - customers have more ways to find the right builder, and builders have more opportunities to build relationships with more customers than ever before."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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