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By Kayla O’Brien

RISMEDIA, June 20, 2007-While it’s already a known fact that about 80% of home buyers begin their search on the Internet, there’s still a large demand for originality among real estate Web sites. Virtual tours, mapping technology, and neighborhood guides seem like a step in the right direction, but agents are in need of a new differentiator. That said, agents who want to lead the pack have begun creating engaging videos, utilizing YouTube and other online marketing vehicles to generate leads and ultimately close sales. Featuring qualities that can’t be captured by still photos, these videos are the latest cost-efficient marketing tool and they’re not alone. Thomas Harpointer, CEO and founder of AIS Media, an Internet consulting company, discusses the in’s and out’s of this new trend and what else we can expect over the next year in leading technologies.

RE: As an expert in online marketing, can you explain how you feel the Internet is going to drive real estate sales in the future?

Thomas Harpointer: The big driving force behind the evolution of real estate Web sites right now is Web 2.0. Web sites have made the transformation from informational- driven brochures to critical business tools, so the average broker’s role is going to continue to grow in terms of technology and the Internet as agents, brokers, and developers are starting to see the value of Web sites. Buyers can peruse hundreds of homes on the Internet before hitting the streets with brokers-helping to make their jobs more efficient.

Video is a key component to raise the bar, and a few years from now it will be expected. Many agents are receiving the majority of leads from the Internet, which is less work for them. The more tools that are provided for the buyer, the more properties will be moved in a shorter period of time.

RE: Tell me more about the concept of combining the forces of real estate and YouTube. What advice can you offer to those who are interested in utilizing YouTube?

TH: It’s still very new, which offers tremendous advantage. Agents and brokers can create videos and post them on YouTube as a hook into their Web site, driving traffic they wouldn’t normally have. Plus, if you search a term on Google, there’s massive competition, but there’s only 500 results for the same term on YouTube, making you a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

Videos offer opportunities to highlight areas of the home, adding a whole new dimension. With the equipment available today, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a camera. You can take shots, hand the content over to someone who can edit it for a few hundred dollars, and make a decent video.

Start by shooting on a nice day, turn the lights on and let the house sell itself. Before you shoot, bullet out key features of the property. No two properties are the same, so list everything that you think is important to a potential buyer. Don’t waste content on a new water heater, you can list that, but what about a back door terrace that overlooks a stream? That’s exciting. Pick the top five elements and remember that a video is much bigger in size, takes more time to load. Some videos are 42 seconds while some run for a couple of minutes. It’s up to the agent as to how long and comprehensive they are.

If a narrator has a good voice they can speak, but that’s upon discretion. Keep it short, to the point, incorporate sound, use lighting and be honest. Always remember the purpose of the video-a lead generator.

When you create a video, add a watermark with your Web site address to the bottom of the video, so you can get credit back to your Web site and help marketing efforts. The name of the video should be a relevant name, rather than “movie1.” Name it “Pompano Beachfront Property” so that when it’s uploaded, Google will index the movie file name since search engines search content for keywords, whether it’s picture or video. Put your phone number at the end of the video, and give the option for people to visit your Web site for more information.

RE: Do you feel these productions provide a substantial return on investment?

TH: There are two primary costs-the production cost and the broadcasting of the content. Production varies from a couple thousand to $10 to 20 thousand to produce, but if we were to run it on TV, we’d be paying thousands more. Start at the top, take the most expensive home, and it will have the biggest payoff potential. Instead of investing in newspapers or new office furniture, agents should focus on electronic media which is of higher value to customers.

RE: How does the development of Internet videos as a lead generation tool change the consumer’s home buying and selling experience? Do you feel these videos will replace the open house or the role of the broker/agent in the future?

TH: It’s more exciting for the consumer. A video creates the perception of reputation, quality of service, and good strength. The best way to illustrate that is through a Web site, since very few buyers initially walk into an office. They’ll do their research online, limit the properties they want to see, and then make an appointment to see those properties.

Open houses are going to continue to grow because buyers will still need an agent. The Web is wonderful, but it won’t replace personal interaction. There will also be more people at open houses. You can advertise to the world through YouTube, expanding it to a much bigger market. No one’s going to buy the house just by looking at the video, but the more people we reach, the more that should show up.

Brokers and agents are of bigger use than ever before. Eighty-one percent of those who use the Internet to look for a home also use an agent. For example, in 1991, 19% of sellers sold their home without an agent, compared to last year’s 13%.

RE: In addition to the creation of YouTube videos, what other technology do you expect to see within the real estate industry in the latter half of 2007?

TH: Mobile phones today have many capabilities-some have video, most have text. Few real estate sites take advantage of that, so we will see that in the second half of 2007.

The two most cost effective ways to draw people to Web sites are through e-mail and RSS feeds. RSS blasts instantly drive traffic and agents can do it. Once you have an e-mail address, you can update and push information to visitors instead of waiting for them to come back to your site. The magic behind RSS is that if people subscribe to that feed, the moment you update your site, they’ll instantly receive notification without the agent having to make an announcement.

RSS is going to expand threefold by 2008; it doesn’t cost anything but time and knowledge. It’s overwhelming, but keep an open mind and approach it with baby steps. If a video is going to be produced, produce higher values first and get user feedback. A Web site is a tool; the more you use it, the better you get at it. In order for it to continue to work, it should improve over time.

Companies like AIS and other partners are there to work with businesses one-on-one, to help understand the process of establishing Web presence, become comfortable with Web technologies and grow as they need. To effectively compete, there’s no way around it.

RE: Why should interested agents act now if this is of interest to them?

TH: It’s a very easy way to stand out from the pact. Today video is exciting and the number one selling point is that it helps you stand out from the pack-few sites are doing it. Buyers and sellers love technology and want to feel confident when they elect a professional and value is in the technology and sophistication of a Web site. People form an opinion of a Web site in less than 30 seconds.

At this point, if agents have a basic site, it puts them behind against competitor sites with virtual tours. Everyone resists change at first. Not everyone had an e-mail address or Web site at first, but it’s something that people expect now. Professionals that are serious will need to embrace this technology-Web 2.0, video, and RSS feeds. I would encourage agents to contact a professional Internet consultant to help them make sense of all of this-update their Web site and get up to speed on YouTube. Once you understand it, you’ll understand it always.

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