- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

Just as the under-40 generations are adept at using Facebook, Twitter and text messaging in their social lives, so have these and other technological innovations influenced other parts of their lives, including how they buy and sell homes.

Not so long ago, having a cell phone and an e-mail address was a boon in the real estate business, but these days, owning a BlackBerry or other device for constant Internet access is practically mandatory for real estate agents. Wireless technology allows agents and customers to share information digitally, including photographs of properties, financial information and contracts.

Instead of driving miles every day to look at property or deliver paperwork, agents and clients can preview every room in a listed residence and use electronic signatures for legal documents.

“The largest segment of the population that is buying property today is 29-year-olds,” says Darrin Friedman, branch vice president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s Chevy Chase office in the District. “These people are used to quick communication. If you don’t respond to a phone call, a text or an e-mail in 10 minutes, you’re dead.”

Mr. Friedman estimates that there are 48 million consumers in Generation X, ranging in age from 30 to 41; and 73 million in the Millennial Generation, currently age 12 to 29. Combined, these groups of potential current and future home buyers number 121 million.

“Everything in real estate right now is about responsiveness,” Mr. Friedman says. “You need to think the way consumers think and respond to the marketplace.”

Frank LLosa, broker/owner of FranklyRealty.com in Virginia, says consumers today are looking for fast information and fast transactions.

“The Internet is all about having all the information that’s out there,” Mr. LLosa says. “But while information is the key, people want the data analyzed. The analysis is what gives them more security. The more information consumers have, the less likely they will feel ripped off.”

Peggy James, a Realtor with Erick and Co., a team at Exit 1st Choice Realty in Woodbridge, Va., says buyers and sellers are hungry for information and are turning to Internet sites such as Localism.com to learn about the communities where they want to live.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) says 84 percent of buyers start the home-buying process by searching for property on the Internet.

Kelly Vezzi, a Realtor with Weichert, Realtors in Potomac, says, “It is very helpful for consumers to have as much information as possible, and certainly I need to know about all the resources out there, too. But we have to recognize that not all the information on the Internet is 100 percent accurate. It is my job to know all the information that consumers are seeing and then apply it to their individual situations.”

Ms. Vezzi focuses on posting as many photographs as possible of her listings and advertises open houses online as far in advance as possible. She also uses text messaging and is instantly available on the phone when Weichert sends her a potential Internet lead.

“Folks are getting used to wanting information instantly,” says Amit Kulkarni, director of marketing and technology with Avery-Hess, Realtors in Virginia. “The new consumer can do lots of searching online now, but then they need an agent to provide the expertise to choreograph the transaction.”

Mr. Kulkarni says contracts are now written online and stored electronically, so everything is virtually connected and can be tracked, which he says benefits buyers and sellers.

High-speed communication is expected by consumers today, along with the ability to learn about neighborhoods and real estate agents before putting a toe outside the door.

Mrs. James, who has been in real estate for 20 years, recently began writing a blog and using videos to let people know who she is and to share information about communities and their amenities.

“I met my husband online, so I guess I can do this, too,” Mrs. James says. “I started writing a blog about three months ago and then started doing videos in a blog format, too. The consumers that contact me through my blog are really ready to buy or sell. They have already gathered a lot of information for themselves, which makes everything move faster.”

Mr. LLosa recently introduced a new multiple listing site (www.FranklyMLS.com) that offers consumers a faster search function based on key words. If potential buyers enter a maximum price, the site adds an automatic 1 or 2 percent to the maximum, which allows them to see properties priced at slightly above their maximum

“I think of this as the first ‘Wiki-MLS,’ like Wikipedia for property,” Mr. LLosa says. “Buyers and buyer agents can add photos and comments about homes that are on the market as long as they are unoccupied. So a buyer agent can take 50 to 100 low-tech digital photos and add them to the site, which saves everyone a lot of time.”

Mr. LLosa believes that all information, whether good or bad, can help sell a property.

“For instance, if a buyer agent posts a comment about a home that says it looks like there has been a flood, then buyers looking for a bargain may jump at the chance to make an offer on it,” Mr. LLosa says.

In addition to his Web site, Mr. LLosa writes several blogs, which he says bring in 80 percent of his business.

“Blogs provide more education, which creates a comfort level for people,” Mr. LLosa says. “They also offer multiple viewpoints on a subject.”

Mr. LLosa has a “Wheel-estate Cam” that films him as he drives and talks about real estate (www.WheelEstateCam. com). He puts blog posts on his Facebook page and uses text messaging to communicate with his clients and other real estate agents. He uses Twitter, which handles only short messages, to communicate with other agents, too.

Ben Martin, director of communications and new media for the Virginia Association of Realtors, says that in 2007, 4 percent of Realtors across the country were writing blogs. This year, that number already has doubled to 8 percent, with another 13 percent intending to start writing one.

Mr. Martin says that while only 5 percent of real estate bloggers are older than 60, blogging is not necessarily confined to younger Realtors.

Mr. Friedman, too, says that while using technology may be geared to younger buyers, he has an 85-year-old Realtor working in his office who regularly puts 30 pictures with her listings and posts them on Craigslist (www.craigslist.com).

“Technology is just another tool for getting information in front of someone,” Mr. Friedman says. “Agents have to identify which group they are reaching out to and learn how to communicate with them. Real estate is still really a people business.”

Mr. Friedman says mail sent to a Generation X buyer just will not grab their attention the way a listing on Facebook (www. facebook.com) or Linkedin (www.linkedin.com) will. He says blogs are a great way for consumers to identify which real estate agent might be best for them.

“A blog should provide information and access to how someone thinks,” Mr. Friedman says. “A blog should give someone a good view of the agent’s personality so that consumers can get a real insight into who they are working with even before they start working with them.”

Mr. Friedman recommends that all buyers and sellers continue to do their “due diligence” and interview several agents before choosing one, not rely solely on blog posts to find the right agent.

“Real estate is a people business, and by getting to know some potential agents through their blogs, you don’t have to choose either your friend who is an agent or your mom’s friend,” Mrs. James says. “Now you can go online and find someone with a similar personality to yours and then meet them to see if you can work well together.”

Liz Brent, a Realtor with Evers & Co. Real Estate Inc. in the District, has had her own Web site for more than 10 years and recognizes the value of the Internet for both buyers and sellers.

“Buyers are better educated and can be more independent than ever before,” Mrs. Brent says. “Sellers benefit because I can easily send reports to clients to link their home to other activity on the market. I can check all the sites where the property is listed and see how many views they have had and compile all sorts of data for them. Sellers sometimes want print ads done, but they need to understand that people can see their home so much more easily with the click of a mouse.”

While Mrs. Brent appreciates the educational value of the Internet and the exposure for her listings, she still believes buyers and sellers need the expertise of a Realtor.

“Buyers can get public records and information about listings online, but they cannot get a critical sense of what’s happening in the local market,” she says. “People need good agents who know the neighborhood working for them.”

Mr. Kulkarni agrees that agents can never be replaced by technology, but he suggests that agents who can pair their experience with technological skills are positioned to serve their customers well.

“Consumers can access more home information than just 10 years ago, but the majority of people won’t necessarily understand the nuances of a transaction,” Mr. Kulkarni says. “Finding a home online and learning about a neighborhood is only about 10 percent of the process.”

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