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With online listings, there’s no such thing as too many photos

By Jonathan Nicholas, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Obeo

RISMEDIA, Oct. 5, 2007-A couple of years ago, Tom Peters, the renowned business management practice guru, spoke to the Houston Association of REALTORS®. In preparation for his talk, he interviewed six agents as if he was going to list his property. He summed up the listing presentations each of the six agents gave as follows: “Me, me, me, me, you, me, me, me, you, me, me, me.”

Peters was right.

When real estate Web sites first came on the scene around 1995, they were basically electronic company and agent brochures that gave a minute amount of listing information-but provided a wealth of data about how great the company and/or agent was.

At the turn of the decade, real estate companies became much more focused on who was looking at and using their Web sites. They finally started to realize that there was actually a consumer their agents might want to engage. The next challenge was to find out who the consumer was and what she was looking for from an agent, which was-and still is-information.

You would have to have been hiding under a rock for the past 10 years not to realize that an agent’s value does not come from holding information close to his chest. It comes from providing expertise, knowledge and experience as well as ably negotiating and managing the details of transactions to a successful close.

In the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, it was appropriate for an agent to have one picture, an exterior shot, to accompany any advertising, property information brochures, newspaper ads or other marketing materials.

Back then, the local MLS staff photographer-who was often not-so-lovingly referred to as the “drive-by shooter”-was usually the one who took the picture. Photos were inconsistent at best: open garage doors, car-filled driveways, toys and bikes strewn about and snow drifts 4 feet high. In the pre-digital, pre-Internet era, agents took a minimum amount of pictures, often a Polaroid. Their business model was to provide the least amount of information to the consumer to trick him into calling the agent up for more.

Even today, agents play that same game with information box flyers in front of properties for sale that only provide one or two pictures, an extremely brief description-and no price! Most consumers today won’t even bother calling agents who employ such tactics. Not only are they outmoded; consumers can sense them from a mile away. Because of the Internet’s far reach and depth and breadth, consumers’ expectations for information far exceed what agents have typically been prepared to provide or offer-now more than ever. So the question becomes: Just how many images are appropriate to provide when marketing to a consumer online?

The only correct answer is as many as possible.

In 1999, conducted a study that looked at consumer behavior on real estate Web sites. The study provided the first real look at what online consumers were expecting and what they were willing to do themselves in the real estate transaction. Many were comfortable hosting their own open house, negotiating the contract and designing and distributing flyers.

The Gomez study also found that most real estate consumers want to do all of their own research such as finding desirable neighborhoods, looking up demographics and crime statistics and researching schools. They were using the Internet as a tool for narrowing their options during the process of elimination. It was just one year earlier, in 1998, that we first heard about real estate transactions closing with the buyer purchasing a property sight unseen, using just virtual tours and/or online photos. In today’s world, that’s more and more common. What’s also common is that consumers want the real estate agent to provide everything.

In fact, according to a California Association of REALTORS® 2006 online real estate consumer survey, 83% of online real estate consumers expected multiple still photos to accompany a listing. A full 60% expected virtual tours. In the next two to five years, I submit that more than 80% of consumers will expect both media as well as video to accompany every listing.

The National Association of REALTORS® recently completed an internal study of its Web site data, which showed that property listings offering more than six photos received 600% more online traffic than those listings with less than six – which typically have just one photo, if any.

Web site Point2NLS (, a vendor that builds real estate Web sites for REALTORS®, also conducted an internal study of the listings within their National Listing Service platform. According to that study, property listings that had one or zero photos averaged slightly more than 20 detailed views, resulting in an average of 2.3 leads generated over the life of the listing. On the contrary, a property that had 21 or more photos in its listing averaged close to 80 detailed views which resulted in more than 10 leads generated during the life of the listing. Translation: Adding 20 photos to your listing will increase detailed views by 300% and lead generation by 335%.

The lesson: The more visual content you provide on each listing will create more hits on that listing, which will result in more leads generated, thereby giving you a higher return on each marketing dollar invested. The application: Provide the consumer with a good mix of visual content such as still pictures, tours, floor plans and maps – regardless of the listing price, location or prospective buyer profile.

Simply put, the listings you treat this way will generate a quality and quantity of leads that is directly proportional to the amount of compelling visual content you provide to the consumer.

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