The residential property industry will fondly remember the first few years of the new millennium as the “golden era”, a time when sales agents could sit back and take orders whilst the desks of mortgage originators groaned under the strain of new contracts. Banks loaned freely, property developers knew that selling was a no-brainer and everyone was a buyer. As the wave grew even the traditionally most conservative investor considered speculating, after all, this was just too good an opportunity to pass up. But, as with any cycle, the golden days turned to gloom, banks shut the doors on lending and the unthinkable, an actual year-on year decline in value, became a reality.
After two years of rapid retreat, signs of life are beginning to emerge. The introspection, I-should-have’s and licking of wounds is almost over and the indicators are hinting at slow, but steady growth during 2010. One thing is a given : the next cycle will be different. Not only have the current generation of property investors learnt the hard way, but consumers are becoming more astute researchers of the products they buy.
Investors and consumers alike have embraced the Internet as their research vehicle of choice. To capitalise on this trend property developers should be proactive in ensuring that their products are as accessible, presented professionaly and that communication with potential purchasers is a smooth (and instant) experience.
So, how can online technologies benefit the residential property developer within the current market? Whilst a quality product and good market research are constants, there are strategies which provide a simple framework for harnessing available technologies to dramatically impact property sales. Herewith the first of this three part series:
Strategy One : Be Found
You have a brilliant development, pound for pound one of the best in its class. But they buyers just aren’t rolling in the door. The money spent on print advertising has been a huge waste of time and you have no means of measuring the return in any event (more on this later). You may well be surprised to learn that the bulk of our target market have searched for a development such as yours on the Internet, but never found your website and still are not aware that you exist.
What is required is a real estate specific approach to making your website as visible as possible, combined with listings on a few selected property search portals, professional engagement within social networks and the like. And I’m not talking about the web designer who adds a few tags to your home page before listing you with Google! This exercise is a lot more targeted than a stereotypical Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) process, and yields real results as opposed to hollow traffic. It is not uncommon to see enquiries double within two weeks of implementation and in some cases increase by 10 or 20 fold within the first two months.
Strategy Two : Show the Sizzle
The visual information you provide is absolutely crtical. Buyers will read the visuals before progessing to the statistics, regardless of what the astute investor tells you. The brain runs a subconcious comparison between imagery and will automatically categorise what it sees. Whether you are selling an eco estate or 50m2 apartments with no view, ensure that what you show has been professional produced and presents your product in the best possible light. If you do not have a good images or rendering of your actual product, rather do not show it!
Strategy Three : Context makes the world go round
Great properties and eye-popping visuals are far more accessible when viewed within geographical/spatial context. Tools such as Google Earth and other real-time map-based technologies are now available to everyone with Internet access. Not only does this add another mechanism to funnel valueable traffic to your website, but it also provides potential purchasers with a sense of familiarity and can be linked to a sense of place when used in conjunction with customised platforms such as the [intlink type=”page”]SiMS Development Explorer[/intlink]. Integrating database information which can easily be retrieved by clicking on a map offers the ideal left/right brain combination.
Strategy Four : Who do you Know?
The technologies which are now at the property marketer’s disposal are purely tools which can amplify and extend the visibility and reach of a campaign or offering and do not replace the fundamentals of establishing relationship, creating credibility and listening to your clients. All too often the emphasis is placed upon the mechanisms which can become (without the warm guidance of real people) cold and impersonal. Auto-responders and email messages that take 24 hours before the sender receives a response are contrary to our programmed modes of conversing. Within the realm of generating sales it is vital to establish contact via voice or physical meeting, the sooner the better. The “slice of time” during which you have the potential purchaser’s focused attention will soon wither as it is replaced by another online voice unless it is appreciated as the ideal moment to encourage contact and engage in conversation.
Strategy Five : Relationships Rule
Related to Strategy four, but deserving of the limelight, there is a catalysing effect buried within social networks which the property industry is still to discover. For a moment, forget about those folks who think you are interested in what they are putting on their sandwiches. Research clearly indicates that consumers trust the opinion of people they know. No longer are the large corporates sought out on the web for advice, but rather the voice of someone just like us, a friend, someone we can trust. The estimates area that upwards of 70% of what individuals now ingest daily is information which originated from a person they know. Practically, you need people to start talking about you and your products. For some there is a community of existing, satisfied homeowners who, with the right impetus, will evangelise for you. In other cases there is a real conversation to be had about the merits of investing in your latest venture. Industry leaders Facebook and Twitter are now closely pursued by startups such as Foursquare, a geo-social network which is based upon your GPS location. Imagine someone driving past your location and receiving a rave review from others who have bought there linked to a streamed podcast, all on their mobile phone. Aside from the tech talk the opportunities for real estate marketing is endless, and the commercial benefits will far outweigh the efforts of establishing your presence.
Strategy Six : Inbound Marketing
Traditional marketing methods are predominantly outbound, including print, email campaigns, commercials, telemarketing and the like. This form of marketing can be viewed as intrusive, interrupting people as you try to gain their attention and communicate the merits of your product. In contrast to this, inbound marketing is based upon creating an online hub which will draw your clients to you. Inbound marketing gurus and authors of the same-titled book Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah describe how sounding your message out to the world in the hope that someone will hear it is becoming less and less effective as consumers are bombarded with thousands of these voices every day and are developing effective strategies to block you out. Attracting people who are already searching for your product is a much more effective (and far less costly) approach.
Strategy Seven : No more spreadsheets
You have been there. Agent X and sales person Y are working off their latest sales lists from their own silos. Whilst you are careful to avoid duplicate sales, it is still a laborious task to collate these disparate information sources and understand the real picture. And your financiers want accurate answers, today. Having a centralised platform which serves real-time data to all parties is essential. With the advent of specialised property sales information management systems it has become possible to reduce tedious administrative tasks to a few mouse clicks. Platforms such as the [intlink id=”13″ type=”page”]SiMS Development Manager[/intlink] allows developers, financiers, sales agents, mortgage originators, transferring attorneys, bond attorneys and the like access to up-to-the-minute information based upon the access rights assigned to their login/password. The sales process is tracked via specialized reports, and reminders, such as lapsing reservations, can be sent to agents and purchasers via text messaging and email.
Strategy Eight : Track and Trace
Do you know who has visited your website, or have they come and gone without leaving a trace? Beyond measuring clicks and impressions there lies a rich vein of largely unmined gold. The most basic application of website analytics makes it possible to know where visitors originated, what their interest patterns were, what they searched for, where they clicked and how long they stayed. With the right impetus and user opt-in it is now feasible to convert this anonymous traffic to real names in a leads database, linked to statistics accurately describing what the would-be purchaser is interested in measured directly from their use of a interactive map such as the Development Explorer. This new-found knowlege opens up a world of opportunities, amongst others the ability to accurately measure the response to a targeted marketing campaign, determining which product boquets are “hot”, empowering the marketing team to ditch cold calling in favour of very specific data describing a lead’s appetite and providing a contnual stream of new sales prospects.