You Can Lead an Agent to Technology, But You Can’t Make ‘Em Type.

A special treat today!  One of our original guest authors, Elizabeth Weintraub from About.com, is back with a bold message.

You Can Lead an Agent to Technology,
But You Can’t Make ‘Em Type.

By Elizabeth Weintraub

“You can lead an agent to technology, but you can’t make ‘em type.” I made this statement to the marketing director at my company, who roared and then realized the seriousness and truth in that statement.

My company announced today that it is withdrawing all advertising from the Sacramento Bee come September 1. It spends, corporate heads estimate, $2 million a year in major newspaper advertising.

Part of the problem, the way I see it, is our local paper’s Web site is in direct competition with my company’s Web site for identical eyeballs. The driving force behind that decision likely has to do with the down real estate market in Northern California. Corporations need to cut back on advertising revenue and spend money where the buyers are – which is on the Internet.

My company says there’s a 500% chance that buyers will spot a home for sale on the Internet than print ads. Although no source is cited for the origin of that figure, it seems to be pretty accurate to me.

I think the question is “Do real estate companies find themselves in competition with major media Web sites?“

A question asked at my office meeting bears mentioning. An agent said she recently moved to Sacramento from the Bay area. During her search for a home, she relied heavily on Internet Web sites. She looked at the Sacramento Bee’s Metrolist homes, but also scoured local company sites to find Sunday Open Houses. She wanted to know if my company would supply open house information for all homes on its Web site or just its own. The answer was, or course, just its own.

How does that benefit the consumer?
Short answer, it doesn’t. I think my company is short-changing itself. We don’t have all the listings in the area — although we do have a majority of them — but it doesn’t present a good user experience for the home buyer. The Home Buying Website I write, which provides expert advice geared toward consumers at About.com, insists we link to outside sources to provide a “good user” experience. I agree with that premise.

The question is “Do real estate companies find themselves in competition with major media Web sites?

You know who is going to eventually rule in any local market, right? It’s the consumer-friendly Web site that gives buyers what they want: up-to-date, meaning hourly updates of listings, which my company achieves in part. But pertinent information such as houses that are open on Sunday should not be excluded.

Consumers want complete data. They don’t want bits and pieces of information. They want to know the condition of the entire marketplace, and in my neck of the woods, open houses are important to buyers. The dates and times for scheduled open houses are already entered into our local MLS database, so it wouldn’t require extra work to extract this information.

I am very excited that my company is putting money, time and energy into Internet marketing. I wish they would give it more thought before rolling out an antiquated system. Although, in all fairness, the new system that goes into place next month is supposed to rival all national Web sites. But it still won’t contain all market data.

In the best of both worlds, real estate companies will realize the need to spend money to educate their agents on the value of technology, in addition to meeting the needs of the marketplace. When I talk to agents in my office about technology, their eyes glaze over, for the most part. That doesn’t make me any smarter than they are, and they could very well possess wisdom that I lack, especially given the fact I landed in this particular market from another. I didn’t grow up here and don’t know anybody from high school.

But I’ve been in this business for a few decades; I have a GPS that talks to me, I have a computer and I know how to use it. I tour listings every week and comb the sold comparables. Perhaps you can only lead an agent to technology, and that includes its management team, but I don’t know if you can force them to step up to the plate.

Sacramento Realtor Elizabeth Weintraub is the Home Buying Columnist for About.com at homebuying.about.com.