Social media helps real estate agents seal the deal

McClatchy Newspapers

MIAMI — When real estate agent Sarah Elles Boggs walks into one of downtown Miami’s condo towers for a showing, she pulls out her Android smart phone, “checks in” on a GPS-powered Web platform called Foursquare, blasts her whereabouts on Twitter, and leaves behind a location-based “tip” in the virtual world for the next visitor.

It’s a social media routine that has become natural for Boggs, who has incorporated micro-blogging, Facebook-updating and app-downloading as core parts of her business.

And it’s working.

“I did pick up two solid new clients off of Twitter just last month alone who have already closed,” Boggs said. “And I’m working with a buyer from overseas who connected with me via Facebook.”

No longer just the hobby of a few tech-savvy agents, social media is being discussed in real estate firm board rooms and at trade group meetings, and companies are tracking their return on investments in various online platforms.

As real estate agents look for a leg up in a troubled market, and as more home buyers and sellers make the Internet an integral part of the sales process, tech-savvy real estate agents are finding fresh ways to connect with clients online. Anecdotal evidence of social media’s results has spread among the real estate community, and agents are joining Twitter, launching blogs, sprucing up Facebook pages and vying for virtual “mayorships” in growing numbers.

At South Florida-based ONE Sotheby’s International Realty, marketing director Brad Nelson has integrated social media as a core component of the company’s marketing campaign.

For Nelson, it’s simply a matter of numbers.

“If Facebook were a country, it would be the third-largest country in the world,” he said. “I don’t know of a single newspaper, of a single television program, or a single radio program that has that kind of reach.”

The company has a presence on Facebook, with nearly 1,200 fans and 185 links. One Sotheby’s Facebook page links to the company YouTube channel, Twitter account, website and blog.

All of those platforms provide visitors access to the company’s agents and online listings of homes for sale, and they’re responsible for a significant portion of website traffic, Nelson said.

Real estate agents with a strong command of social media have an avenue to access potential clients, and promote their listings to a cloud of web traffic, said Beth Butler, who owns real estate consulting firm Big Mouth Consulting, and hosts a weekly chat session for local agents.

“Now that social media has gone mainstream, it’s very important for real estate agents to be engaged in it in some way, shape or form,” she said. “If not, your competition will be.”

Jorge Fernandez, a real estate agent with Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell specializing in the Coral Gables market, has spent much of the past year building up his profile on location-based platform Foursquare.

At a number of condo buildings in and around Coral Gables, Fla., Fernandez has achieved the position of Foursquare mayor — a post granted to the most active user at a location. Each time a Foursquare user checks in to one of those buildings, Fernandez’s image pops up, along with his tips — which are often ads for units he has listed for sale in the building. That strategy has helped him connect with clients, he says, and at least two recent sales originated from social media.

More importantly, Fernandez says, it has helped him build his profile as an active real estate agent in the region.

“My Foursquare is tied into Facebook and Twitter, so it allows people to see ‘Jorge is checking in.’ It reminds them that I’m in real estate, I’m showing properties and I’m busy in this market,” he said.

Boggs also uses Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter to keep followers updated on her activity, mixing personal and social updates with real estate listings.

She has about 1,000 followers on Twitter and more than 2,100 fans on her Facebook page, which is devoted to real estate in downtown Miami and Brickell, Fla.

She’s noticed a pattern among those followers and fans who have developed into clients. They follow her, spend some time passively watching her posts and then eventually begin to engage with her in the social media world.

Soon after, she sends them on a digital walkthrough of a property — accompanied by photo slideshows and YouTube video-tours — and then speaks with them on the phone. Typically, she shows them the property in person a few days later.

One of Boggs’ clients, Lenny Tachmes, found her via Twitter and decided to reach out to her when he needed to find a new rental condo in downtown Miami.

Tachmes, a plastic surgeon who uses social media in his own practice, said he saw Twitter as a normal place to begin a business relationship.

“It’s a natural extension of (the real estate business),” said Tachmes, who recently moved into a one-bedroom at the ICON Brickell. “She did everything a Realtor was supposed to do.”