Real estate: A tweet, then a sale

DETROIT — Joy Santiago stood in the living room of a one-bedroom condo she had listed for sale in Detroit, videotaping a 360- degree view to post on YouTube.

Santiago, broker/owner of Dwellings Unlimited in Farmington Hills, Mich., didn’t stop there. She created a Web site for the home, featured it on two Facebook pages, posted a tweet or two on Twitter and listed it on a slew of real estate sites, including Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow.

Like Santiago, more real estate agents are turning to social media to drive sales, featuring listings in their Facebook status updates. Others are marketing on 50 or more Web sites. They say Internet marketing — aside from being free — lets them tap into new audiences and sell more homes.

“There’s never too many sites. There’s no overkill — the more exposure, the better,” Santiago said.

Elyse Van Houzen, an agent for Re/Max Showcase Homes in Birmingham, Mich., said she’s sold several houses to old high school friends just from reconnecting with them on Facebook. She loves the site.

“It is free marketing. It is daily marketing,” Van Houzen said. “It is probably the best thing to happen to real estate agents.”

Social media is changing the way Realtors market and sell homes. It’s faster than cold calling and costs nothing to promote the latest listing through a status update on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter.

But sales from social-media contacts still represent a small portion of overall sales.

Take Mark Zawaideh. The agent with Keller Williams Realty in Novi, Mich., said he markets listings on as many as 150 Web sites including large search engines Google and Yahoo, local classified-ads site Craigslist, and real estate search engines Trulia, Zillow and HomeFinder. HomeFinder is on the Detroit Free Press’s website includes real estate listings and classified ads.

“I have one marketing manager and that’s all she does all day is post these homes on all these Web sites,” Zawaideh said. “And the results show. That’s how we sell 200 homes a year.”

He’s sold nine houses in the past year and a half to friends through Facebook alone.

Now, about 35 percent of Realtors actively use social or professional networking Web sites and 14 percent plan to begin integrating online marketing in their business, according to a survey of members by the National Association of Realtors.

Internet and social marketing have allowed Zawaideh to cut expenses on print advertising, which he dropped entirely this year. His office recently discontinued placing ads in Keller Williams’ monthly color magazine, saving $4,500 a month that it had spent over the past 11 years.

Karen Kage, president of multiple listing service Realcomp in Farmington Hills, said that many Realtors are just learning how to use social media tools to communicate with customers.

“It is another way to get information out by pushing it out instead of waiting for the customer to come looking for it,” she said. “The first-time homebuyers are so used to communicating using these kinds of tools. And that is why it is so important to understand it.”

The National Association of Realtors began offering a social-media course last summer.

Max Pigman, vice president at Realtor.com, who teaches social-media classes and shares tips on the Realtor.com Facebook page, said there are a lot of Realtors on Facebook, but a small percentage of them are actually making money from it.

He said that’s because a lot of them think they need to be on social-networking sites because everyone else is, but they aren’t creating a business strategy. That’s what he teaches them to do.

He encourages agents not to use Facebook just to talk about open houses and new listings.

“I have a friend who is a dentist and he doesn’t write, ‘I did another root canal,’ every day,” Pigman said. “You have to get strategic about what you are sharing.”

Instead, Pigman encourages agents to start conversations on Facebook about the state of the real estate market or even create neighborhood pages where they specialize that could come up in Google searches.

“It’s all about creating some sort of relevant information,” he said.

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