The Gospel According to NAR
I had read the Gospel according to NAR (National Association of Realtors)â€”77% of buyers use the internet to search for homes.
The NARstat is sacred dogma, incessantly chanted by mainstream media and the bloggerati. It provides the philosophical foundation for the agent congregation putting their listings on all manner of real estate websites, especially Realtor.com, the largest real estate church on the net.
The NARstat requires agents do penance and upgrade to the revered â€śfeatured listingâ€ť pews. To question the holy NARstat would be a blasphemy akin to questioning the earthâ€™s roundness (actually, the earth is an oblate spheroid, but I digress.)
The NARstat also justifies, to a large extent, the agentâ€™s participation and marketing in the new Web 2.0 world where the Google keyword prayer box promises to bring roaming client pilgrims to the agentâ€™s blog or their Truzilfacespace profileâ€”leading to blessed business and salvation for all. But, are we worshipping a false god at the Tower of Google?
The Internet Reformation
Last summer, I took a little RV cross-country trip with Rudy, my partner at the time. We set out to spread the Word of Web 2.0 to the masses, who we suspected were unbelieving techno-pagans. Our odyssey took us to over 30 citiesâ€”places like Boston, Philly, D.C., NYC, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Tampa, St. Pete, Chicago, St. Paul, Denver, Phoenix, San Diego, Sacramento, Reno, Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City, Boise, San Francisco -â€” and all the Waffle Houses in between.
We interviewed real folks young and old, owners and rentersâ€”to discover how and where they looked for the places they call home. After 5 weeks on the road and 10,000 miles logged on this beautiful countryâ€™s highways and byways, it was I who began to question my internet marketing faith.
We thought consumers would know (and use) the web big shots like Trulia, Zillow, Realtor.com, Redfin. Surprisingly, their answer was most often â€śWho?â€ť (â€śZillow is a danceâ€ť and â€śRedfin is a fish, right?â€ť). Perhaps they knew about blogs and social media? â€śHuh? You mean MySpace?â€ť Oh oh.
What? This was Web 2.0 blasphemy!
Donâ€™t tell me people are still using the net to search stock quotes and porn and play games. I was internet immersed in the Realestate.net, how could others not be? Were we preaching to the choir while everyday folks looking for homes were reeling in the Dark Ages asking friends and family, reading newspaper ads and driving the neighborhood?
I learned that while consumers do use the internet to search for homes, I did not sense it was the overwhelming NAR 77% (oh, NARstat sacrilege!). And for those that did use the internet, it was NOT the only place they searched and, more importantly, it was not always where they began.
Most, in fact, began offline, asking family and friends for recommendations and advice.
It was also very common to drive the neighborhoods and look at lawn signs (they usually know the neighborhoods they want to live in by the same old fashioned means â€“- family, friends, personal experience in the neighborhood). It is not uncommon for them to read newspaper ads, especially in certain markets with an established classifieds section.
And yes, folks did go to open houses.
Our research was admittedly unscientific but it raised the questionâ€”since real estate consumers are in so many offline venues, wouldnâ€™t it make marketing sense to make contact with them in those venues?
Maybe, then, they would type your name in the Google box, instead of a keyword.
Since the Blog Tour, I have come upon other non-NAR research which suggests that most folks looking for homes to buy or rent, are not as tuned into Web 2.0 websites or tools as we think they are and that traditional methods are not obsolete.
According to two recent Pew Internet studies, only 8% are deeply engaged in the participatory Web 2.0 and only 11% said internet information had a major impact on their home decision.
Here were some findings:
- 49% used the internet+ but it was not the only source for information
- 49% read ads in the newspapers (who said print is dead?)
- 47% asked a real estate agent for advice* (real people still matter)
- 31% ask friends, relatives and co-workers
(+ For those moving to a new city, 60% used the internet and 55% relied on a real estate agent.)
Read the full studies here and here.
Do Not Make Offline Marketing the Sacrificial Lamb
So what does the conflicting scripture mean?
It does not mean you must give up your online presence or reduce its cultivation and expansion. The net is perhaps the nirvana of the future. But, for the here and now, I think it means do not sacrifice offline marketing, networking and client referral based expansion.
For example, if the studies indicate consumers consult family and friends, develop a referral system. Are you keeping in touch with your clients with the aim of keeping an ongoing relationship? A client who has closed a deal and is now a homeowner may still need â€śhomeownerâ€ť advice and guidance.
If people attend open houses, do them.
Rather than abandoning them as unproductive sales tools, recognize that they provide opportunities to engage prospective home buyers face to face and get fresh leads. Network at offline events, get involved in community affairs and organizations, teach, organize events with other professionals in your marketâ€”heck, do an open house or foreclosure bus tourâ€”stand out from the crowd â€¦ outside.
Donâ€™t be tempted to abandon offline marketing because of costs (not all of it is costly) in favor of the internet promised land of â€śfreeâ€ť. If your time is money, the net is not free.
And letâ€™s not forget the religion of real estate is not practiced in a Google pew box.
It is often more Zen than Zillow. Real estate is as much emotional and fluid as it is intellectual and statistical, with factors determining value and influencing decisions different from one person to the next.
It is still a people and relationship business with most consumers still valuing the real estate agent, with most business done face to face. So, how will you best get in front of your client?
Will you continue to wait for the keyword to bring them to you or will you be proactive and go out and get them on the street?
Salvation, I think, lies in a 360 degree marketing approach, one that blends and complements offline marketing with onlineâ€”with offline efforts drawing clients to your online presence (website, blog, profile) and your online presence adding to your offline resume â€” all with the objective of reaching the consumer, wherever they may be, and getting a phone call and a meeting, where your expertise, experience and unzillowable charm, will convert the client.
What offline marketing/networking methods have proven successful to attract clients to you?
[By the way, I did a little research on the NARstat. I learned the stat was created when 7,800 of 145,000 selected buyers answered a NAR questionnaire. Having never seen the question, I am curious to read how it was framed. Years of legal wrangling has taught me how the framing of a question can almost guarantee a desired answer. Now, I am not suggesting that NAR did anything sinister, but Iâ€™d like to see the question, and its context, since getting a high percentage would convince the congregation to continue to worship at the altar of Realtor.com. Forget for a moment that less than 5.5% of the â€śselectedâ€ť buyers respondedâ€”I understand in the statisticianâ€™s number crunching church, this may be enough to sanctify the statâ€” but still, thatâ€™s a lot of empty pews.]
Joe Ferrara is publisher of Sellsius Real Estate Blog.