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By Kayla O’Brien

RISMEDIA, January 6, 2009-At a time when real estate companies are looking for ways to creatively meet the needs of today’s consumer, the relocation department, whose reach has been masked by its name for years, is effectively increasing its scope.

“Relocation is still a very important part of what we do,” says Sharon Michnay, director of corporate business development, Halstead Property. “But at Halstead Property, we’ve expanded our relocation service offerings, while also working more with international investors and those who aren’t necessarily relocating.”

New Identity, More Opportunity

To fully embrace the new opportunities of today, relocation departments have begun rebranding themselves with titles that speak directly to what consumers are looking for and the plethora of services they offer.

“When we were still under the relocation name and agents would refer their clients to us, they would say, ‘But we’re not relocating, we’re buying investment properties, second homes, etc.,’ so this precipitated the change of our department to Global Services,” says Michnay, who was formerly titled “director of relocation.” “It opens up the possibilities for what we are able to accomplish, broadening our contacts-offering agents to clients and new clients to agents.”

Halstead Property, long known for its real estate and relocation solutions, changed its department name to the Global Services Division just two years after Leading Real Estate Companies of the World (LeadingRE) set the stage by adopting its new name in 2005, following many years as RELO®.

“From the international client to the second-home buyer, ‘global’ covers all of the additional things we do on a daily basis,” says Michnay. “And our agents loved the new name. It sort of professes everything we’re doing internationally, and it speaks more to the services that we’re capable of providing.”

In addition to offering global opportunities, the new relocation department is specializing more in company-wide services. As things shift within today’s marketplace, profit margins are shrinking, and this new relationship helps create more value through more clients and programs being generated by the company.

“A lot of our (LeadingRE) members are doing this type of work, so we’re really starting to talk more about changing the name of the departments to something broad enough to encompass the different areas, like the Corporate Services Department,” says Pam O’Connor, CEO, LeadingRE. “If you can get companies to utilize the customer care or corporate services departments, this generates more leads and allows agents to help their clients and not have to use their time to go out and prospect. It’s the ideal fit.”

Building Relationships, Online

What’s more, with statistics showing that upward of 80% of home buyers start their searches online, relocation departments have taken on the responsibility of managing company eLeads to more effectively establish relationships and meet the needs of homeowners.

“We’re helping them with their search,” says Michnay. “They want to talk to a customer service person to ask questions-and we want agents out there selling, not necessarily just answering questions over phones and e-mails. We can provide customers with buyers guides, step-by-step guides, help them find agents and see if the coverage area is right for them-and if it’s not, we can refer them to one of our partners.”

“In this market, with the relocation department incubating eLeads, they come directly to your company with the agents getting the leads vs. spending money on billboards, personal promotion, etc.” says O’Connor. “It makes a lot more sense to put it all under one umbrella because those in the relocation department can nurture prospects over time and follow-up-and it’s all company-generated business.”

To help gain Internet presence, relocation departments have explored Web 2.0 as a venue to speak directly to their audience by way of blogging and online marketing.

“Just like everyone else, we’re significantly diminishing our presence in print,” says John D’Ambrogio, senior vice president, director of operations and relocation, Rubloff Residential, a firm based in Chicago.

“What the Web has done is give consumers access to information they didn’t have before, allowing them to do research on their own as opposed to contacting a real estate agent first,” says Michnay. “Our focus is giving real tools to people, so we’re putting as much information online as possible to feed that. Blogging is a way to establish yourself as the local expert.”

Unlike marketing vehicles of the past, blogging allows real estate professionals to show their expertise and speak directly to the consumer who’s searching for that very information.

“It’s fun to read the blogs,” says Michnay. “It allows you to see the personality of the agents or executives, and that’s really the best way to build a relationship with the consumer during that phase and become the person they want to talk to and view properties with.”

“At the end of the day, blogging is a way to have more visibility online,” says O’Connor, whose organization offers an exclusive blogging platform, Propopoly. “Blogs also offer a way for relocation specialists and/or agents to reach out to new market segments for business.”

“The first thing someone will do is Google us,” says D’Ambrogio, “so it is crucial to have a robust, content-rich website and ‘own’ that first Google results page. We tell our agents that they’ve been interviewed long before they’ve gotten the opportunity for that initial meeting with the client.”

2009 and Beyond

With the evolution of the relocation department, it’s evident that the opportunities for their outreach will only continue to expand, in turn building value and providing consumers with more programs that suit their needs.

“The thing about the relocation department is that it’s probably one of the only areas in a real estate firm that you can have this kind of client care going on. If you’re very good in relocation, you’re in-tune to the customer experience, asking lots of questions and providing a full-service,” says Michnay. “We have services that were once reserved for transferring executives that are now available to really anyone who wants or needs them.”

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