People spend more than 700 billion minutes on Facebook each month. The iTunes App Store has surpassed 500 billion downloads. And 94 percent of home buyers between the ages of 25 and 44 use the Internet to search for homes.
It's safe to say that being tech-savvy is no longer optional in the real estate market -- it's a requirement. And new technological tricks of the trade are surfacing all the time.
"It's almost never-ending, the amount of new things coming out," says Beth O'Connor, director of technology training for the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island. The latest gadgetry allows for greater listing exposure, more sophisticated market analysis and better communication between agents, buyers and sellers -- and typically it's all included in the broker's general marketing budget.
Not everyone embraces these changes, says Matthew Shadbolt, director of Internet marketing for The Corcoran Group. "For example, there are some clients that are not on e-mail, or even online, or simply prefer not to work with an agent that way," he says. "They prefer a more face-to-face, personal relationship throughout the process."
But even if tech talk is not your cup of tea, your agent should be fluent in the hottest means of communication at any given time - because that's the language most of your target audience will be speaking. And digital dexterity can make all the difference when it comes to making your listing stand out from the crowd.
Here are five real estate tech tricks to watch for:
1. Virtual staging
How it works. Sites such as virtualstagingsolutions.com charge a one-time fee of about $200 for three photos, which the agent typically pays for out of your listing's marketing budget. The agent uploads your pictures and receives digitally enhanced ones within a few days. But those sites tend to have a limited stock of images, says Diane Saatchi of Saunders & Associates in Bridgehampton. For luxury properties, the agent may opt to pay for a more customized approach. Prices at Manhattan-based Revel Inspired, which Saatchi used for a Water Mill home, start at $299 per room for photo rendering of a vacant property, and $599 per room for 3-D modeling of an occupied or otherwise challenging home. It's less costly than physically staging or renovating the home.
Why you want it. When staging isn't a practical option, virtual staging can go a long way toward helping potential buyers visualize themselves in a home. "A lot of people don't have that mind's eye, but you can send these guys photographs and a floor plan, and within days they have it 'decorated' for you," says Saatchi.
2. Listing syndication
What it is. A number of sites, including zillow.com, trulia.com, realtor.com and cyberhomes.com, receive automatic feeds from the Multiple Listing Service website. But for a more customized approach, agents can elect to use a listing syndication program that allows them to extend the feed to additional sites and get detailed feedback.
How it works. Brokers subscribe to a syndication service and absorb the cost into their marketing budget. ListHub is one such service. "We have 50-plus sites that we have ListHub monitor for us," says Bettie Meinel of Laffey Fine Homes in Greenvale, which uses the service for every listing in every price range. "They watch and see who's clicking the listings. Are they looking at the listing, clicking through to see the pictures, to see additional details, to make appointments?"
Why you want it. This information helps determine which sites generate the type of results sellers are looking for, she says. For instance, if five recent sales in your price range originated with Zillow searches while Realtor.com only managed to generate a couple of showings, where would you want your agent to spend your listing's marketing budget?
3. Mobile technologies
What they are. There are a host of them. Smart-phone apps, Web content formatted to fit a handheld screen, mobile alerts and always-on access to your agent, to name a few.
How they work. Agents make themselves constantly available with cell phones and texting. And many firms -- including Century 21, Sotheby's International Realty and The Corcoran Group, to name a few -- have developed their own mobile apps, downloadable from sources such as the iTunes Store, Android Market or Amazon Appstore.
Why you want them. If your agent isn't providing the same type of instant access, buyers will go elsewhere. Mobile apps also provide valuable feedback about the users, which helps agents tailor their marketing strategy, says Matthew Shadbolt of Corcoran.
For instance, Corcoran tracks differences in the usage of the firm's website versus its mobile apps and the use of the Android versus the iPhone, and uses the smart phones' GPS component to learn more about where buyers are conducting their searches.
Details like these help agents zero in on the most likely buyers for your property. For instance, if the mobile apps indicated that people in Brooklyn were more likely to buy a home in your area than people in downtown Manhattan, your agent might do more advertising targeted to Brooklyn.
4. Global marketing
What it is. Making listings available in other languages and in other nations.
How it works. Referral and translation services increase a listing's global exposure. For instance, Long Island's Multiple Listing Service uses Immobel, a service that connects the site to international markets and offers all the content in multiple languages. Brokers have the option of paying a monthly fee starting at $29.99 to go the extra mile and offer Immobel's service on their own websites. There is typically no additional cost to the seller.
Why you want it. "If they do that, their sites get indexed by the international search engines," says Janet Choynowski, Immobel chief executive. That's important because potential buyers aren't only in the United States, and content that's only provided in English doesn't even show up in non-English search engines.
"In this market, it's very important because you do a lot of international business and have a lot of multicultural residents, and that's not a market to ignore either." Some 71 percent of all Internet traffic is not in English, Choynowski adds. "That is a big chunk of buyers to overlook," she says.
What it is. Making use of popular social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
How it works. Not everyone agrees on the best ways to use these tools for real estate. Internet marketing director Matthew Shadbolt says Corcoran uses it to offer neighborhood information to potential buyers.
Immobel favors a more aggressive approach: Next month, the company will partner with MLSLI to roll out Facebook IDX; subscriptions for agents and brokers start at $19.95 a month (theres no cost to buyers or sellers).
Instead of merely providing a link to an outside site, this application will give users all the functionality of the Multiple Listing Service searches, maps and broker information without leaving Facebook.
Why you want it. It maximizes your exposure through viral sharing of listings, says Janet Choynowski of Immobel. Listing alerts get posted to the users wall, so every friend in the users network sees it. And any time one of those friends shares the listing with a friend or clicks like, every Facebook friend of that user will see it, too. Those listings pop up all over the place, she says.