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Using social media to find your dream home
Chances are you're already using social media Web sites like Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Yelp 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 Jim Psyhogios, vice president/broker at Weichert Realtors-Frankel & Giles in Chicago, the exclusive agent for Astoria Towers. "Social media in real estate is really taking off. We're doing at least one deal per month that started via social media and that's just going to increase," he says. "People love it because rather than getting just basic, boring information, social media puts a human face on real estate so that it becomes a conversation."
Get the info you want
Like any good conversation, social media is about sharing good information. In the real estate context that means the information that is important to each individual homebuyer, not necessarily what topics the builder thinks are important.
Each social media application can help buyers in different ways. First and foremost, YouTube videos have fast become almost a necessity in real estate. If a picture is worth a thousand words, well, it's easy to imagine just what a video of a model home can do to spark a buyer's imagination. You like a new development but just can't imagine 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 just about 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 prospective buyers get the information they want, grainy footage or a droning narration isn't going to stop them from watching. "I appear in most of my company's YouTube videos and it's amazing how many times people come into the office and tell me they recognize me from one of our YouTube videos," Psyhogios says. "That's made us huge believers in YouTube - people really are watching."
Twitter is an up-and-coming social media microblogging site that allows users 140 characters per tweet, or Twitter post. 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."
Facebook may also be top-of-mind among today's homebuyers, given the site's emerging role as one of the Internet's prime spots for socializing and connecting in general. "I view Facebook as more of a branding tool for builders than a sales tool," says Mitch Levinson, managing partner at mRELEVANCE, a social marketing/public relations firm in Arlington Heights. "People go to Facebook to interact with other people, not to buy houses." But that doesn't mean it can't be an effective tool for homebuyers - as long as builders remember to focus on the interaction part. "We're constantly throwing quick updates onto our Facebook page because people like to hear things about who we are and what we offer without having to pick up the phone," says Psyhogios. "Plus, Facebook offers us a way to share updates that are relevant to people, like we just wrote up this many deals or sold this many units. And people want to hear about others' experiences with us too."
Customer service proving ground
That 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."
Levinson goes a step further, urging potential buyers to weigh builders' social media responsiveness carefully. "If I were buying a home now and a builder was slow or nonresponsive in answering my questions or seemed reluctant to have a dialogue with me, that would be a huge red flag," he says. Beyond that, builders who embrace social media may be at the forefront of their industry in many ways, Flammer says. "Most good builders are either doing social media or are figuring out they need to be doing it," she says. "Most builders who have come through the recession and are starting to build again have already used social media for the past year or two because they realize it brings them a much larger customer pool and a competitive advantage."
For Levinson, a willingness to explore social media also indicates that a builder is probably keeping up within their industry too. "Quite honestly, the builders who are proactive about getting online are the ones who are embracing new construction technology," he says. "They're the ones who can tell you about green building technology, new water-use regulations and LEED certification, too, all of which are becoming increasingly important to homebuyers."
No matter how useful a tool social media in real estate becomes, these Web sites 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 Web site," 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."