Why online presence has never been more important for estate agents

Website developers in Australia have never been busier thanks to the insatiable consumer desire to shop online.

With the strong Australian dollar, local big-brand retailers have been caught asleep behind the counter given until recently online branding had been largely ignored. As a consequence, Australian retailers quickly observed significant drops in profits which have now prompted the battle of the homepage. Make no mistake: the online economy is booming with revenues increasing by up to 40% in 2010.

Apple recently reported that more than 15 billion applications have been downloaded for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Latest statistics show that in early 2010, about 25% of mobile phone users were shopping via their phones.

The online doubters now find themselves in a denial freefall given the total revenue from electronic payment systems in Australia was estimated at about $3.8 billion in 2010. When compared to 2009, virtual spending increased by 40% in 2010. The 2011 retailing results keep getting worse, and now they have been told that unless they quickly adapt, they will perish given consumers are sending out a clear message that their preference now is to shop online from home.

The latest findings by Macquarie Equities Research confirmed that 18% of shopping centre visitors are only there to check out prices and sizes before going home to complete the purchase online. In an amazing admission of defeat, Australia’s largest retailers are now turning their attention to finally building vast online platforms, but the question begs: what took them so long given the real estate industry has been selling real estate on property portals since the early 1990s?

With interest I have been reading a fascinating (and scary) blog on Business2, the real estate news and technology website, which follows up a recent story that appeared in the Australian Financial Review which investigated a revolt by real estate agencies across Australia against realestate.com.au. In short, some of Australia’s largest real estate groups are looking at starting up a combined property portal, which has been called Project Rebellion. While I support the concept of an industry website – I can also see many of the same mistakes in this concept that retailers are making at the moment. Aside from the reality that such a venture would require at least $1 million dollars to get it up and running, it certainly appears to me that such an exercise lacks vision. Simply put: the agent sentiment of dissatisfaction is built on the past, not the future.

Building websites if you don’t know what you are doing can be costly mistakes. Just look at the City of Sydney council, which is now spending a massive $1 million of ratepayers’ money tweaking their website – just six years after it was constructed. Anyone with the slightest online knowledge would see this as an embarrassing waste of money – given in another six years’ time they will be back at it again. Everything may be now moving to digital, however, the answer is providing clients with the best online experience that separates your online model ahead of your competitors.

The secret to search engine marketing (SEM) is not having the best-looking website. It is about having the best database. One vital component that has not changed over the past decade is that for any online platform to perform to its best ability, it must be connected to a database. This flows through to search engine optimisation (SEO) where the content on that particular website is collected by the search engines. The more content, the higher the search engine ranking. It should be every website’s goal to appear on page one of a Google keyword search.

There are many great success stories in Australia where amazing growth strategies are on display where we are only talking a few short years. Online shopping club Ozsale launched in 2007. Last week it reached two million members. More than 5,500 new members are signing up each day and exponential sales growth saw revenue grow by more than 300% last financial year.

In the real estate industry, businesses need to take ownership of their very own online models, rather than rely on third-party assistance. We measure our business growth on competing with the two major property portals: Domain.com.au and realestate.com.au. As this graph identifies, you need to be your first point of contact to your demographic market. Here is a typical report that we sent a vendor showing the first week’s activity for their apartment.

Successful SEM and SEO allow a business to take ownership of their demographic markets where they become the online voice for that market. It does require a lot of work and dedication – blogging, database management, social media and constant email alerts. This is the new online platform for the real estate industry which explains why website developers have never been busier.

The choice of letting competitors control your market online is self-explanatory – they will make your market their new market, which is otherwise known as capturing market share. In this modern era, if you are not running your own website, you run the risk of being irrelevant – the internet already has made many businesses irrelevant, where via natural attrition, they have now closed – not by choice.

That is why your homepage must be your online ‘home sweet home.’

Robert Simeon is a director of Richardson & Wrench Mosman & Neutral Bay (RWM) and has been selling residential real estate in Sydney since 1985. He has also been writing real-estate blog Virtual Realty News since 2000. The RWM real estate model has sold in excess of $1 billion in database sales globally.

Robert Simeon

Robert Simeon

Robert Simeon is a director of Richardson Wrench Mosman and Neutral Bay and has been selling residential real estate in Sydney since 1985. He has also been writing real estate blog Virtual Realty News since 2000.

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