The Romance Is Dead (In Real Estate)

June 23, 2016

The Internet, and technology in general, has changed so many things so quickly. It’s easy to lament as opposed to celebrate the technological and cultural evolution that’s happening right before our eyes. I say embrace it. Celebrate it. It’s not going away so don’t ignore it. Understand how change is impacting everything from self-driving cars to the way we buy real estate.

Years ago, people would spend their weekends driving the countryside looking at real estate. Perusing fabulously decorated model homes and truly immersing themselves in the space, understanding the flow from one room to the next and imagining their families lives in the home of their dreams.

Not so today. Who has the time? Plus, the Internet has made shopping for everything a click away. Nope, today we sit comfortably in our pajamas with a bottomless, hot cup of Joe and click through galleries, floor plans, elevations, virtual tours, step and repeat. This isn’t anything new; we’ve been shopping for homes from home for years now. And that’s the point. It’s not a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s downright routine. And like any routine, there’s little to no emotion in it.

Sure, when it comes to buying a new home, we use the Internet to research home-styles from townhomes, cottage-style, single families, condos, you name it, in locations that we can (a. afford) and (b. are close to the things relevant to our lives) — good schools, work, entertainment, transportation, etc… But really what we’re doing is eliminating options. We don’t have the time or the inclination to spend our weekends or really, a second more than is necessary, to actually get in the car and drive out to see a new home or community until we’ve eliminated all the undesirable options.

And that’s a big problem for the real estate industry. As home buying prospects, we’re making non-buying decisions based on what we think we know about a specific house or community based on what we see online. But we can’t really get a sense for the space, the flow or the emotional value of being there. Our time-famined culture has stripped the emotion from the home buying process. It’s simply just another transaction. The romance is dead.

So what can the real estate industry do to combat this cultural change? You can’t ignore it and suggest it’s just a trend. It’s not going away. Remember Blockbuster? People used to get in their cars and go out to rent a movie. How archaic. No, you must recognize the behavioral changes in the real estate path to purchase and modify your online marketing program to maximize this new opportunity.

Embrace it. Celebrate it and learn how to make it work. Production homebuilders and regional real estate brokerages have a significant advantage over the individual resale market (which is your primary competitor in any market). You have scale. And scale means you have more resources to improve both your online marketing program and your websites to attract and convert more than your fair share of prospects.

We manage online advertising and websites for a variety of real estate industry clients including regional and national production homebuilders, developers, condos, resort properties as well as multi-family. The trend we see in 2016 is more traffic online and less traffic on-site. However, the on-site traffic is better quality. There are fewer tire-kickers and decorating-idea-gatherers and more qualified prospects. Why? Because they’ve eliminated their options and are only investing their valuable time on a select few. And that’s great news! Now you know something critically important about the prospects that show up at your model homes or community information centers — you made the cut! So what was it about your website that caused that prospect to show up? Great question. In fact, that would be the first thing I ask after introductions.

But first, are you maximizing your opportunity to attract these prospects in the first place? Are you maximizing keyword demand through your pay-per-click program? This is the low-lying fruit. In any market, on any given day, there are literally thousands of people out looking for exactly what you have to sell. Exhaust this opportunity first and foremost. How’s your intent targeting program? How’s the reach and engagement through your Social Media programs? Are you branding online? People don’t buy companies they’ve never heard of. If you don’t know or understand the answers to some or all of these questions, you’re not doing enough to capture your requisite fair share.

Your website is you. It’s your window to the world. It’s what your future customers see, think and feel about you and your company. Is what you’re presenting causing people to make a non-buying decision based on what they think they see? Do you show “sold” lots on your community site plan? Darn, I really wanted that corner lot (despite the fact that I would have no idea that power lines go through the back yard) so you just got eliminated.

How well can a prospect visualize your product? Image galleries, floor plans and elevations are fine, but most people aren’t visual enough to understand how it all flows and feels. Why not utilize interactive and cutting edge immersive technologies to better demonstrate the experience? Remember, this cultural shift in home shopping behavior isn’t going away. It’s only getting less emotional and more transactional. People buy cars online, sight-unseen and have them shipped to their homes. People are already buying homes this way too. It’s not the norm… yet.

So the romance is dead. The emotionalism inherent in the home buying process is less of a driving force. The solution is to maximize your online marketing and ensure your website provides a better experience than your competitors and make the cut!

Jay Dixon