Social Media and the Real Estate Business

I was surpised this morning to see “Steve and Linda Crossland” featured as “Blogging Agents” on the Business front page of today’s Austin American Statesman. I’ll be calling Sylvia “Linda” for the next few days, until she has enough of it and threatens me with disaffection. We were not contacted for the article, which is about social networking tools and real estate, and therefore not quoted in it, but we were listed in a sidebar as “blogging agents” in Austin.

I’ll take it. I’m not complaining. We’ll see if our web stats log a bump in hits to the blog over the next day or so. The Statesman did spell the url correctly, and that’s what matters most, even if “Linda” is slightly annoyed at her correct name not being used. If you were led to this site from that article, welcome! And thanks for stopping by!

I will nevertheless use the opportunity to write about Social Media as a real estate marketing tool, and what has and hasn’t worked for me and “Linda”, and the Buyers and Sellers we seek to help buy and sell homes in Austin.

First of all, let’s start with the basic premise upon which Sylvia and I operate our real estate business, and a bit of context as to how we’re doing in this “bad” real estate market. Mainly, we ignore the media hype and the negative attitudes of which we hear so much. Instead, we focus on the specific needs of the buyers and sellers who find us, and advise them within the context of current market conditions. We don’t think the “market” determines our ability to succeed in helping buyers and sellers, but rather our ability help buyers and sellers make decisions that fully acknowledge external market factors and the reality of the market.

Therefore, as we see many agents in our office and around Austin struggling, leaving the business or taking part-time jobs to get through the slowdown, we are having another great year as Realtors. Here are a few data points on how we’re doing in 2008, then I’ll get to the larger point of this.

– We’ve never “capped” this soon (reached out annual $2M sales split cap, at which we go to a 100% commission split at Keller Williams). We did this in record time in 2008, in less than 3 “slow” months (Aug-Oct).

– We’ve haven’t, for whatever reason, had a November closing in three years, and we’ll close over $1M (3 sales) this November.

– Crossland Team has had Zero Expired or Withdrawn listing for 2008, in a year that will, by year’s end, have seen almost 50% of all Austin MLS listings result in Expired or Withdrawn status instead of Sold. That’s right, in this “lousy market”, we’ve sold every listing we’ve taken (except those still active).

– We’re on track to again be among the Top Keller Williams Teams ( a “team” is two people) in Austin in total volume and closed units this year, down somewhat from last year’s totals, but holding steady in relation to the overall reduced market volume.

So what gives? How is this happening? Is it because of Social Networking such as Twiiter or Facebook, or our Blog?

Isn’t it supposed to be a lousy market, as reported by the media, with no buyers, unreasonable sellers, limited loans, and a rotten economy?

When other agents ask, “how are you and Sylvia holding up so well when so many Austin Realtors are struggling?”, the answer is short and simple; we have sufficient leads and referrals to keep us busy.

That’s it. There is no magic formula. Agents either have buyers and sellers to work with, or they don’t. And many, many agents have no buyers or sellers to work with in Austin at present. And the reason they don’t is because they are not practicing effective lead generation efforts.

The real estate business is, at its basic core, a lead generation business. Of course “leads” must be converted to prospects, and prospects to clients, and clients must successfully be shepherded to a closed deal and have been well represented, but everything starts with a “lead”.

And if “lead” sounds too crass, maybe I should restate it as a “relationship” business, and say that every relationship begins with an introduction, and in our parlance, at the point of first contact, an email or phone call received from a prospective buyer or seller, that person, at that introduction stage of the relationship, is termed a “new lead”. And without leads, a Realtor is dead in the water, unemployed and out of business, period.

So, if you agree that Realtors must generate leads to prosper survive in the business, this leads to the Social Networking question and whether or not social networking can benefit Realtors. My question would be simply, “do your Social Networking efforts result in new leads or sold homes?” Yes or no? For us, the answer is Yes AND No.

For a closer look, here is the interview that the Austin Statesman did not conduct with us, regarding Social Networking and Real Estate.

Q: Where are your leads coming from?
A: Mostly from our website. Some from direct mail. The rest are referrals from past clients, friends and family. We remain in personal contact, via phone calls, personal notes and emails with all of our past clients, freinds and family. Sylvia (aka Linda) spends most mornings calling and staying in contact with our universe of friends, family, past clients and prospects. Calling and chatting isn’t my cup of tea, so I spend my lead generation efforts maintaining the blog and managing our traditional marketing campaigns and efforts.

Q: How do people find your website?
A: Mostly from the blog. With almost 3.5 years of content, we see all manner of search engine keywords that bring readers onto the site. We also have, according to, hundreds of readers subscribed to our rss feed, so each of those subscribers is alerted to a new article each time one is published. This represents a passive way of reminding readers we are here, and keeping us top of mind as Austin Realtors.

Q: What is it about your website that differentiates it from other Realtor websites?
A: I’m not sure, other than the fact that we view the Crossland Team website and blog as a vehicle by which readers can get to know us and learn how we think and how we approach the business of real estate, and therefore, the manner in which they’d be represented if they choose to hire us. We are not trying to sell anything to anyone or get anyone to necessarily do anything, other than contact us if they have a need we can help fulfill through our professional efforts.

Also, we see our blog as a consumer education blog, where we can share annectodal stories, thoughts and opinions about the real estate business and the Austin real estate market, in an honest and straight forward manner, including some ugly sides of the business there are not often heard coming from the mouths of Realtors.

Finally, we’ve never used the blog to market listings, ever. I see a lot of Realtors do this, and I personally think it’s a mistake. Subscribers to our rss feed don’t want to be constantly pinged with sales pitches and new listings, they want to see the regular content we provide about Austin and the real estate business, though I do sometimes veer off into other topics.

Q: Are you on Facebook and have you received any leads from Facebook?
A: Yes, me and “Linda” are both on Facebook and no, we haven’t received any leads. Not one. It’s either a waste of time, or there is something we don’t know with regard to effectively using Facebook as a lead generation and networking tool.

Q: Are you on Twiiter?
A: Yes, but not actively. Same result as Facebook, so I don’t invest time in it as a marketing tool.

Q: Have you tried Realtor community blog sites such as Agent Genius or Active Rain?
A: Yes, Active Rain heavily at one point. I posted many blog articles there, but no leads and not much in the way of web click-throughs to our main site.

I eventually determined that Active Rain requires too large a commitment to rise above the noise, somewhat of a “Horton Hears a Who” problem. Plus, I’m not keen on donating my work product in the form of original written content to a website that will reap the traffic rewards (will probably be sold some day) but not necessarily deliver a buyer or seller to me directly. That said, I do occasionally post market updates and stats to the localism section at Active Rain.

So we mainly stick to our own blog and the traffic it brings to our own website. Other Realtors may have better success than us with Active Rain (and I haven’t tried Agent Genius), but I’d rather have a prospect land on my doorstep and knock on my door than have them arrive at a stadium full of 100,000 other Realtors, such as Active Rain, and hope they somehow find me amidst the noise and clutter.

Q: Do you use pay-per-click, such as Good Adwords, Yahoo, or Microsoft?
A: Not any more. I turned off all pay-per-click because the return did not justify the expense. 70% of our web traffic was organic search engine results, and the 30% additional traffic from pay-per-click did not translate into enough real, new clients to justify the expense. The $1,000+ per month I was spending is better spent on postcard mailings, which provide a more predictable long term return.

Q: What is your general view on Social Networking and how it can help Realtors and their buyers and sellers?
A: I think it would be foolish for Realtors to ignore social networking. That’s why I’m not at all opposed to trying new things, and kicking the tires on new ideas.

On the other hand, I think it’s foolish to blindly adopt new lead generation tools and methods without first deciding how it is that the tool or method will be held accountable to the time and expense required in adopting it.

This can be tricky, but for example, if I were to decide to spend one hour a day on Facebook, doing whatever it would be that might create business, I would need to see a measurable return, in the form of new buyers or listings, for that 5 hours a week, 20 hours a month.

Bottom line, show me an Social Networking activity or effort that doesn’t provide a way for prospective buyers or sellers to find me, and I’ll show you a useless, pointless activity. I haven’t heard of anyone going on Facebook to search for a Realtor, and I haven’t heard of any Realtors saying they have buyers or seller contacting them from Facebook.

If it can be proven to me that updating my Twitter account every hour, or every few minutes, will generate leads, I’ll do it, or I’ll hire someone to do it. But I don’t see evidence that it’s a productive use of my time.

Q: In the Statesman article, a home is featured as being marketed with Social Media methods. A party was held and attendees sent in photos of the party, and the home has its own Facebook page where the party pictures are displayed. What do you think of that?
A: Well, I’d ask “is the house sold yet?” That house is still on the market, at 68 days on the market. I’d ask how much time and effort went into planning and having the party, whether the Facebook page has generated any showings or offers, and what traditional efforts, if any, are NOT being implemented in lieu of the social networking efforts. How are the results of the social networking activities being measured? The only measure that really counts is an offer. I’d ask the listing agent if anyone has called and said “I saw your listing on Facebook and want to schedule an appointment”.

Bottom line, if someone can start showing me how party photos, Twitter and Facebook pages sell house, we’ll start doing it. Until then, we’ve sold 100% of our listings this year using the old boring standards such as staging the home, pricing it right, dropping the price if needed, offering easy showing access to other agents, virtual tours, and lots great MLS photos.

Q: What about texting as a communication method? Do you ever text back and forth with your buyers or sellers?
A: No. We’ve never sent or received a text message, nor have we been asked to communicate in that manner.

Q: Why not? Aren’t all the young people texting instead of using email and phone?
A: Maybe, but none of the young buyers we’ve helped seemed to mind talking on the phone or communicating by email. The first time we hear from a seller prospect that they picked Agent X over us because Agent X knows how to text, I’ll learn how to do it. Same with buyers. If a buyer thinks that communicating by text is important, I’ll give it a try and see how it goes.

But prove to me that texting will make me more productive, enable better and higher quality communication, or help the buying or selling process go smoother for my client, and I’ll think about it. Until then, I’ll bet I can dial 7 digits on my phone, start talking and say what I need to, or get an answer to my question faster than I can fumble around trying to type gibberish with my thumbs.

Q: You seem skeptical of new communication and Social Marketing methods, except for blogging. Why would you adopt one Social Media method and reject others?
A: The blog was an experiment also. A reluctant one at that. But it quickly proved its worth, so it remains a vital and important part of our marketing efforts. The blog was successful almost instantly, while everything else we’ve tried has yielded no leads.

Now, other Realtors have tried blogging and failed, because it does require a willingness, ability and dedication to producing regular written content, so it’s not the answer for every Realtor. And perhaps some Realtors are successful with Facebook networking, or using Twitter, because they have the right “friends” network, and know how to work it in an effective way. I just haven’t met any of them yet. Different tools work differently for different users because we are all unique in our abilities and approach to business.

But it’s interesting that the title of the Statesman Article is:

“Social media help Austin agents sell homes – Tools like Facebook and Twitter are great fits for real estate industry, some observers say.”

Really? The one example provided in the article of a “social network marketed” home is of a home that hasn’t sold yet. “Linda” is at a closing as I type, and nobody got Twittered on that listing, nor did it have its own Facebook page or a big party.

And the article offers no specific examples of social networking resulting in a sold home. Typical crappy journalism. Write a headline not supported by any data or fact, and leave the casual reader to glean the wrong impression.

Here is the link to the Austin Statesman article. And by the way, if any readers are experts at how to use social networking to generate leads, let me know. I might hire you to prove to me it works. I’m sold on blogging, of course, but I honestly don’t see the value in these other “AADD friendly” endeavors.

8 thoughts on “Social Media and the Real Estate Business”

  1. I think the problem is that people don’t realize a lot of these technologies are like pure science. They’re like shuttle flights. Sure in 10 years we’ll all have velcro on our sneakers, but if you’re just looking at the shuttle flight it’s not going to be immediately apparent how that’s going to translate into being good for business.

    Social Networking is going to be good for business at some point. But probably not until the walled gardens come down. Facebook is such a stalled project specifically because it’s so hard to actually DO anything with your friends. Facebook wants to control all your interactions (to hopefully one day make money), and as a result you can’t really do anything particularly innovative. It’s just a big address book right now.

    Now once we get to the next phase of social networking where I can essentially query my friend’s networks for REALTOR friends, or ask questions of my social network (Do any of you guys know a good REALTOR?), or one of a thousand other ideas that no one has come up with yet. Then social networks will be useful. Until then they’re just experimental.

  2. I think it’s interesting that you have experimented with the tools and are using the ones that work. And here we are blogging!

    I look at some users like Jason Crouch in Activerain / Twitter, and he seems to “rise above the noise”. 99% of the internet in general is noise. Look at the 1.3m google results for “austin real estate” for example. Blogging is a tried and tested way to allow you to build relationships with readers. Heck, I’m a Realtor too and I regularly read your blog. I feel I know a little about your approach from reading what you write.

    For some, like Jason, perhaps the social networking sites are their lead generation activity – getting to know people. For others perhaps it’s cocktail parties. For others blogging.

    Ultimately when you hire an agent to sell your home, you want someone who will get the job done, by generating leads (buyers) for the home. That seems to be the heart of the real estate business to me. If your agent’s specialty is Facebook lead generation then that’s awesome.

  3. Steve,

    You hint it at it briefly but I think that the key as to why this blog works for you is because you have a talent for it. I’ve been reading your blog for nearly 2 years because you have insights into the business of selling/buying a home in Austin and you translate them well into the written word. I keep coming back because its usually interesting to read. That’s somewhat rare. I think this blog serves as a very effective lead generation tool for you because of this talent. That and your willingness/ability to keep at it on a regular basis. When you say this this isn’t for every realtor, I think you understate. There is probably only a very small universe of other realtors who can follow your lead here because they don’t have that talent/commitment combination.

  4. Thanks for the kind comments Chris. I’ll humbly concede that I do like to write, but really had no clue what I was doing when I started. That’s why I think all agents should be open minded and find what works for them with regard to connecting with clients in these new ways.


  5. hi, Steve:
    Nice topic. It was a good read, and quite comical. You hit the nail on the head – find a way to measure what is working for you. And measure! I too dropped Goolge Adwords campaigns. Three months, and no one said they picked me from the top of Google. I am currently deciding on renewing my ad in the local Real Estate Rag: lots of calls and exposure, but not one job can be attributed to an agent finding me in their publication.
    I am curious as to the Facebook/Myspace sites as an actual business tool. It always just seemed to me to be pictures of underage kids drinking and perverts trying to meet young kids.

    Michael @ The Stage Coach

  6. I’m going to share with you my real email response I sent to someone who wanted me to clarify this blog for them…. Its a very real answer to your questions…

    It boils down to this… these people have zero results because they don’t use it effectively. The same way one could waste away cash if they don’t spend it effectively. I have sold houses using facebook, MySpace and active rain. I’ve gotten listings from Activerain and MySpace. For example…

    When I stopped “telling people to call me for answers” rather, “referring people, who just happen to be on my team who I describe as experts”, my traffic doubled and leads came in like never before. There is a system for success on the internet and you can’t be creepy when you use it. CREEPY is just what it sounds… I try to be funny and say to my students that when they say things like “call me” or “I can help”, the end user sees that as desperate and you end up looking like a loser. Rather go in, give good direct, honest advice and then refer someone who is an expert in the subject. The fastest referral to phone call I got was to Janae Oliver when a home buyer called about buying in dripping springs 20 minutes after I wrote the referral. I have about 5 or 6 major points about the importance of not being creepy online. It’s that important.

    Organic results are always king! Many realtors do not use blogging effectively to get it or stimulate the result they are looking for. I spend a lot of time trying to tie up organic results so that they end user sees information that is not branded and yield another search to either our website or the customer web site.

    Pay per click: they’re right and I’ll add that the few people who click on them are actually realtors who are looking for a developer website that doesn’t show up in the list of organic results or a realtor looking to see what the competition is saying on the website (they call that a courtesy click)

    Facebook question:
    Wrong demographic for this team as they nothing about how to use social networking. They don’t know how to use it nor do they develop relationships with the people on them. I just bought a book to learn more of the secrets to facebook. I’ve personally made $20-$25K off my MySpace page but that’s because I “kept up” people I know in a way that was personal. As you can guess, its all about the personal relationship. The idea of blasting lots of people automatically about “day to day” stuff is only good if you have a personal connection plan to follow it up. If you are on facebook, let me know. I’ll send a friend request.

    You should attend one of my lead development classes. I hear this stuff all the time and people see dramatic improvements in the way they use the tools after the class.

  7. I recently sold my Real Estate brokerage business that was #1 in my market place. I have just started to work on creating content for my blog web site. My 2nd article I am working on is the correct way to monetize facebook and linkedin.

    I have been amazed at the notion of using old ideas of marketing and then imposing this notion on to the networking sites.

    There is much better ways to use these tools and I invite you to contact me or check out my web site as I will have a post there soon!

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