TODAY'S PAPER
33° Good Evening
CLOSINGS
33° Good Evening
LifestyleHome and Garden

The agent's new tool kit: Technology is changing the way homes are sold

If your real estate agent barely knows how to use

e-mail, you might want to consider finding someone who does.

That's because many are harnessing Web-based tools to help sell homes in

this tough market. After all, 87 percent of recent home buyers in the United

States say they used the Internet as a resource during their home-buying

process, according to a recent study by the National Association of Realtors.

And, the same research found that nearly one-third first learned about their

newly purchased homes from an online resource.

Here are five tech-savvy strategies agents should be using now to help

sell your house:

1. LIST EVERYWHERE

In recent months, agents have been promoting listings through as many Web

sites as possible.

Bettie Meinel, vice president in charge of training and recruiting for

Century 21 Laffey Associates in Greenvale, says her agency pushes its listings

onto 25 other Web sites.

The National Association of Realtors has even come up with an "E-pro"

designation for agents who complete a 45-hour course in which they learn about

online real estate information sources and referral networks. They're taught

basic computer skills, from sending e-mail attachments and downloading photos,

to more advanced techniques such as creating online home tours and hyperlinks

to their Web sites. Some 40,000 agents in the United States have gotten the

E-pro designation, according to the National Association of Realtors; six

(possibly a few more) have it on Long Island, says a spokeswoman for the

Multiple Listing Service of Long Island. [CORRECTION: About 150 Long Island

real estate agents have the e-Pro designation for being tech-savvy. Because of

incorrect information provided by the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island,

the number was incorrect in Friday's Your LI Home. (A17 ALL 4/2/2009)] Meinel,

who holds the designation, says she doesn't think it has caught on in a big way

here because many agents are already fairly tech-savvy. However, a spokeswoman

for the Realtors' group suggests that it might be because there are no

continuing education credits available yet in New York for the E-pro course.

L.P. Finn, director of corporate services for Northport-based Coach

Realtors, suggests sellers ask agents for a list of sites where their home will

be listed. "If they [brokers] can't cast a big net using the Internet, they're

not doing their job," he says.

Amy Bohutinsky, vice president of communications for Zillow.com - one of

the nation's largest real estate Web sites, with 5.5 million monthly visitors -

says agents should include detailed information about a home and neighborhood

as well as many, many photos. "That first impression is online," she says.

"That first impression needs to be stellar. People are used to finding lots of

information online."

In addition to paid sites such as Newsday.com, there are free sites,

including the ever-popular Craigslist.org and newer ones such as Postlets.com,

which links listings to free real estate sites and social networking sites.

2. DO SOCIAL NETWORKING

Agents are placing listings on Facebook.com, Myspace.com and Twitter.com as

well as the more business-oriented LinkedIn.com to promote homes to customers

and other agents in their network. Sellers also can post listings on their own

profile pages on these networking sites to spread the word among their friends

and family members.

"Two weeks ago, I had a Facebook pizza party in my office, in which several

of my agents created their Facebook accounts, profiles, etc.," says Valerie

Van Cleef, branch manager of Coach Real Estate Associates in East Norwich.

"Some of the agents are now using Facebook every day to promote their open

houses, upload photos of properties they represent, post links to informational

articles about the Housing Stimulus bill and other timely issues, and also

joining real estate clubs on the site, benefiting from broker-to-broker

referrals that way."

Many real estate pros also use Activerain.com, a networking site for

agents. It includes blogs by professionals on timely real estate topics. Agents

can ask one another questions and send each other leads, typically in exchange

for a fee. Plus, they can keep their peers apprised of what they're doing,

from attending industry conferences to running open houses.

"Agents from all over the country are sending me referrals," says Century

21's Meinel. "It's a way of getting leads you might not be getting otherwise."

3. USE REAL ESTATE SITES

Consumers rely on Trulia.com, Zillow.com and other real estate sites to

research properties and determine what they're worth, based on sales of

comparable homes. Agents are enhancing their own listings on these sites to get

in front of these consumers. The sites also allow agents to post their open

houses. For consumers, "it's a forum to get information in an easy, friendly

way with no obligation," says Coach's Finn.

Agents can provide a "feed" to Zillow.com, automatically pushing their

listings to the site for free. The listings can include the agent's logo,

personal photo and contact information. Each listing can have up to 50 photos

and a link to a virtual tour.

On Trulia.com, agents can pay a fee to have listings featured prominently.

Many agents are encouraging customers and prospects to set up an account on

Listingbook.com, which has Multiple Listing Service properties for sale. The

site provides updates on home listings every 45 minutes, including price

changes (and a history of them), sales, homes that go to contract and new

listings that fit a user's criteria. Agents also use Listingbook to promote

open houses.

"Listingbook is a fabulous tool. I call it the MLS on steroids," says

Coach's Van Cleef, who says one of her prospects has logged on to Listingbook

926 times in the past nine months.

Listingbook can also provide valuable market intelligence to agents. "I

have a $314,500 listing in Ronkonkoma; 300 people got the e-mail but only seven

showed up [for the open house]. That says they [sellers] may need to adjust

the price," says Century 21's Meinel.

Other real estate sites worth checking out include Realtor.com, the

official site of the National Association of Realtors, and Homegain.com, a real

estate information and marketing site.

Consumers search listings and look for agents on these sites and on the

Multiple Listing Service of Long Island - MLSLI.com - which also provides

recent sales.

4. CREATE VIDEO TOURS

Virtual tours have been around for some time, but in the past year

agents have been using videos instead of photos and putting virtual tours on

YouTube, the video search engine. When a home seeker types keywords, such as

"condo, Hempstead," into youtube.com, listings with video virtual tours come

up. Agents are hiring specialists to create virtual tours (at no cost to the

customer) or doing it in-house, says Century 21's Meinel. "Most consumers click

on those first [listings that include virtual tours]," says Meinel, explaining

that Web site operators monitor such activity.

Typically, a home's virtual tour on youtube.com is linked to the agent or

homeowner's profile page on Facebook and other networking sites, as well as the

Realtor's home page. "You have to put your pictures wherever the buyer's going

to be," says Mollie Grossman, Roslyn-based director of sales for Prudential

Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

5. TEXTING

Many agents now offer prospective buyers the option to have listings

sent to their BlackBerries or other smart phones. A text-messaging number often

is listed on the "for sale" sign. Buyers can instantly receive information and

schedule an appointment to see the home.

Unlike ordinary e-mails, these messages beep as soon as they arrive.

"Texting is urgent and instant," says Pierre Calzadilla, senior manager of

strategic partnerships for Trulia.com, who recently gave a presentation to Long

Island agents at Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Texting buyers about

a hot listing is "a great way to drive a quick response," he adds.

Century 21's Meinel says texting is also a valuable tool for her agents to

communicate among themselves and expedite sales. "You can text all your agents

at once. We alert agents about open houses and new listings immediately," she

says. "We probably use it [texting] more for in-house than for consumers."

Sell-it-yourself Web savvy

Home sellers who don't hire agents are using many of the same online tools as

the pros. An example is FSBO.com in Atlanta, a site where sellers can list

homes "for sale by owner" starting at $69.95 for nine months and have the house

put on Multiple Listing for $299.

"The old days of looking through newspapers or looking for yard signs are

over," says Michael T. Malkasian, FSBO.com president.

When you list online, information is updated in real time. There's no space

limitation as there is with print ads. Sellers can include as many photos and

videos as they like.

FSBO.com is about to launch a text messaging service so sellers can send

listings to potential buyers' smart phones. "It will use a five-digit number,

like voting (for a winner) on 'American Idol,'" he says. Home sellers are

assigned the five-digit number for their listing. Would-be buyers send a text

message to that number to receive the information on the home.

Other for-sale-by-owner Web sites include www.Byowner.com,

Forsalebyowner.com, and

Salebyowner.com.

- MARLENE GIVANT STAR

Comments

We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More Lifestyle