Social networking: In real estate, they're taking it to the tweets By Leslie Mann Chicago Tribune 11-01-2009

Social networking: In real estate, they're taking it to the tweets By Leslie Mann Chicago Tribune 11-01-2009

Social networking: In real estate, they're taking it to the tweets
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn among social networks agents, builders use to connect with clients
By Leslie Mann
Chicago Tribune
November 1, 2009

Human communication vehicles have evolved from smoke signals to the town crier to the Internet. So it's no wonder homebuyers and sellers are using social networking sites to connect.

Facebook was the vehicle of choice for Mike Lorenz when he began home shopping with his wife last year. Lorenz read about the first-time homebuyer tax credit on the Facebook page of Tim Ireland, a Realtor with Re/Max All Properties in New Lenox. "That got our attention," recalled Lorenz, who uses the site daily to keep in touch with friends and to secure gigs for his photography business.

After communicating through Facebook, e-mail and text messages, Ireland sold Lorenz a condominium in Tinley Park.

"For me, Facebook works," Ireland said. "I don't post listings [of homes] there, but I do talk to 60 to 70 percent of my clients there."

Ireland has also used LinkedIn and MySpace, which he says is fading in popularity. Compared with other marketing methods, Ireland said, "social networking is free and it gives the client a chance to get to know me so he can trust me."

For Patrick Shaver, co-owner of Century Bay Builders in Libertyville, LinkedIn is a favorite. "It connects me with people in business groups, which link me to buyers," said the builder of custom and semicustom houses. "For example, I was invited to a Ferrari unveiling, where I met several people who became clients."

Shaver also uses Twitter to connect with subcontractors and suppliers. "That hasn't led directly to a client, but it keeps our name out there so clients hear about us," Shaver said. "Social networking is a way for new clients to find out more about us and former clients to keep in touch. Combined, they all increase our exposure dramatically."

Tara Development Corp. in Burns Harbor, Ind., which is building The Village in Burns Harbor, uses a mix of social networking and its Web site.

"Most buyers come to our Web site, then link to Facebook, where we have our 'fan page,' " said Tyler DeMar, project manager of The Village. "And we use Twitter to network with others in green building."

Because the development is colorful and unlike tract subdivisions, many residents post pictures of it on their Facebook pages, DeMar said. "That leads to people asking about it, then finding our Web site."

Rosemary West, real estate agent with Re/Max Realty of Joliet, says when it comes to reaching buyers and sellers, social networking is "the new normal. If you're not using it, you're not keeping up."

She uses a combination of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to find clients, and (a real estate industry Web site) to trade referrals with other agents. Also through Facebook, she trades leads with fellow certified distressed property experts.

Chicago-based Realtor Steve McEwen of @Properties juggles Twitter, where he blogs daily so potential clients can get to know him; Facebook, where he posts home listings; and LinkedIn, where he keeps in touch with other professionals, who often send him leads. An accountant, for example, recently referred him to a seller.

"A lot of people think Facebook is taboo for business," McEwen said. "But let's be honest, people use it for that. I don't put my family pictures on it, but I do put some personal information about me on it to humanize it."

Some home sellers compromise by using social sites to talk real estate instead of pitching homes directly. "I posted a story on Facebook about a seller who had a short sale and avoided foreclosure," said Keith ****erson, Realtor with Re/Max of Naperville. "Someone else who was in the same situation read it and called, so we sold theirs too."

Builders and agents who use social networking sites for business should keep their profiles clean, ****erson said. "Don't talk about how you went out and got smashed last night. Clients will read that. And, you shouldn't talk about how you just ran out for a bottle of milk. Who cares?"

The addition of social networking shakes up the marketing toolbox for home sellers, causing many to re-evaluate their uses of other tools.

Shaver says his company has quit using direct mail, which wasn't paying for itself in client leads. Tara Development has veered away from radio and print ads as social networking has become its No. 1 marketing tool. Old-fashioned visibility still works for them, though, DeMar said. Many potential buyers inquire after seeing their development from Interstate Highway 94.

Chicago Realtor Kim Kerbis with @Properties says her monthly postcard mailings are still worth the expense, and her Web site is still her deal clincher. "I tell enough about my background so a client might see that we share an interest such as film," Kerbis said of her site. "That starts a relationship."

She believes Facebook is more appropriate for friends and doesn't like being bombarded with other agents' "for sale" messages. But she admits the lines blur over time because "my friends are my clients and my clients are my friends."

West cut most of her advertising and quit paying for a billboard she had for years. "It's not just the billboard that I didn't want anymore, but the message," she said. "Instead of 'look at how many houses I sell,' the message I want to (convey) is 'I can work with you.' Times are difficult now; people need help."

West has not ditched the time-honored tradition of sending calendars to past clients. "Those keep our name out there and pay for themselves in referrals," she said.

McEwen supplements his social networking with quarterly hard-copy mailings to past clients and business associates. Craigslist is so effective for his firm, he said, that it has a staff member devoted to tracking it.

Note to builders and real estate agents: Ignore social networking and you ignore a generation of buyers. "Even if you don't use it personally, you have to use it for your business if you want to reach people my age," said Jenna Lev, 29, who bought a Chicago condominium from Belgravia Group in July.

While the company's Web site did the introductions, she says, it was through Facebook that she learned more about the development she was eyeing. "This is going to be my home, so it's important to me to find out more about the other people buying there. Through Facebook, I found out they're young professionals too."

It follows that many of the builders and agents who are employing social networking successfully are young. Ireland is 32, Shaver is 26 and DeMar is 20.

Just as 24/7 replaces 9-to-5 and the home office replaces the cubicle, the invisible computer-satellite-computer signal replaces tangible links. Meanwhile, the lines between "client" and "friend" blur.

"It's today's backyard fence," ****erson said of social networking. "But instead of talking over the fence, we talk on the Internet, even if we're only two doors away."


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