People Don’t Buy Homes Online

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I’ve been utilizing the internet to sell homes longer than almost anybody. My first real estate website was built back in 1998 (which might be considered Web.05) and featured a few spots where I could change the photos and info about homes and a few pages of clip-art and text. It was crude, for sure, but also high-tech and innovative back then. Heck, I was a broker with the first company (Prudential California) to ever accept a real estate contract on a house online. Site unseen, but the buyer had an inspection period to come see the home before the close was finalized.

Today I run a team of Realtors and have multiple websites that have flash, motion video, map-based search, Web2.0 looks and feel, consumer-generated content, self-updating information, virtual tours, online offers, and even property notifications by text message or email. Last week I brought some clients into the office to search for homes with me and the MLS was down so we jumped onto BlueRoof.com because the website takes the MLS info and downloads it onto my own servers twice per day so although we couldn’t access home info on the MLS, people in the office could still search for homes on BlueRoof.com. That’s all good stuff, but does it sell any homes?

My websites today are certainly much fancier than they used to be. They have a lot more stuff and they give a lot more information to the consumer (or agent) using them. But at the end of the day, when I sell a home it’s not because of my website, it’s because I did the work.

People meet me through the internet, but ultimately they want the same things I want when I’m shopping. They want someone to help them look at options, make a decision and coordinate the transaction. Whether I’m shopping for a car or for mutual funds, having solid professional help is what I want. And home buyers aren’t typically going to buy a home simply because they saw it online. They want to go out and walk through the home and see the location and hear about the area. They want to feel the space and listen for a train going by or a neighbors annoying dog that barks too much. And you need to be there to experience these things.

It’s become cliche to say “buy a home online” or “find your home online”, but the reality is that while people do find homes to look at while searching online, they aren’t actually buying their homes online. They aren’t sitting down in front of their computers and pulling out their credit cards to make a purchase. The reason good Realtors are selling as many homes now as ever is the same reason the internet has not disintermediated the Realtor from the transaction- people search online and find agents and inventory- and then they contact a Realtor to help them.

People are using the internet now more than ever to search for property, that’s for sure, but ultimately they aren’t finding homes online, they’re finding us.

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12 thoughts on “People Don’t Buy Homes Online

  1. Good article / blog! It makes sense that people don’t buy homes on the internet like they might buy flowers. Lots of good points.

    Hopefully agents/brokers understand that their website is just an advertising tool. Nothing more and nothing less. To me, I see an agents website like a business card except you can cram 15,000 words onto that little card and provide more information than any buyer really needs.

    What I don’t understand it why some agents/brokers don’t have a website. Maybe you can explain the reason why the entire real estate industry isn’t fully webitized.

  2. I might have to disagree slightly. I have had a few buyers that sit across the table from me and hand me ten listings they found online. We tour those ten and they end up buying one of them. True, they don’t buy online, but some definitely find their next home online. Of course, this only represents 5% of my buyers, but they are still out there and I think they are increasing in number. Nevertheless, I do agree that an agent’s site is still an advertising tool – for now.

  3. Cityburb,

    They do find homes to see while searching online, but as you said, you still go out and show them the homes and they make a decision after go through the homes and seeing them.

    For investments, people may buy site unseen and over the internet, but a home is different. (Most) people want to experience the space before committing to it as their residence.

    I want to offer our clients as much information as possible and allow them to make a good decision, and that includes them seeing the space and the neighborhood and the area.

    Most of our clients come to us from our websites and usually they have found homes they want to see while searching online. And that’s good- that’s why we have the websites. But it’s interesting to look at conversion of leads.

    I can look at each of our agents and see how many buyer leads they have been given and how many actually turned into a client fro them. Some agents are much better at converting a showing into a client and that’s because those agents are better suited for the work and people respond well to working with them.

    Real estate is still a people business at it’s core. To work in real estate and be successful I believe you need to care about your clients and have a personality that allows you to lead them while still allowing them to make their own decisions. We have to give them value in their time with us and show our personality to them, which is something websites have yet to learn.

  4. Pingback: The People’s Choice Award voting is open: Vote for your choice of the best RE.net posts this week | BloodhoundBlog: Real estate marketing and technology blog | Realtors and real estate, mortgages, lending, investments

  5. I agree that the MLS section of real estate sites are way overvalued.

    People search online to find real estate agents (which is probably something more important to the real estate agent than just selling a home.)

    An MLS on a site might help a realtor advertise himself, but the relation is indirect.

    I think the main thing a realtor does with a web site is social networking. IMHO a good real estate site has a ton of info on the community, recreation and culture in an area.

  6. I help Realtors® market themselves, and I agree that people don’t buy properties online. Real estate websites serve as a tool for a potential consumer to get familiarized on how a Realtor® presents him/her self.

    A bad website can indicate that the associate is not very professional. No website can indicate that they don’t do much business.

    The fact of the matter is that personal websites with MLS integration allow a potential consumer to feel like you (the agent) can show a property of interest, at any price range, with any amenity. This makes consumers feel like you have what they need.

    Along with good visuals and great articles including community info, video, etc., only helps influence a consumer that much more that you are the qualified person to serve their needs.

    So although websites don’t sell homes, they create networking that allows the agent to sell a home. They are exactly what they are intended to be in real estate…. lead generators and data base builders.

  7. Hi. nice data on MLM Leads. I happened upon your nice blog while researching yahoo. For the past few days I have been trying to learn more. Especially anything to do with the actual lead generation or companies making them. I’ve heard it all and my best friend keeps pressing her new lead system craze on me. So I am happy I found you. Take care!

  8. Yes, at the end of the day consumers are looking for the personal touch. The difficult part is to have your website reflect your personality in some way, to stand out from the multiple ‘check the MLS here’ sites

  9. Think that there are a bunch of people out there are purchase homes online, and by purchase homes online I mean they look for them and then contact the agent who’s website they found the homes on. They generally, and obviously will not purchase the said homes they were inquiring about but think that the online MLS feeds allow home buyers a ton of great oportunities to seek and search for homes and think it has a great value. Get quite a bit of buyer leads online and think it speaks for itself. Good post.

  10. I would have to say that consumers that use the internet to search for their home are more concerned with looking for a home rather than considering the salesperson involved. In this case, the quality of your online presentation of the home is the most important thing, this gets them in your door. At that point, it’s time to show them the value you can give them with your services. You get to show your knowledge of the home, the market, the process, and really the value of having a buyers agent. If you don’t do that, the person will look, and if they don’t want the house they will move on to the next internet search. However, if they look, and you blow them away, and you sell yourself while trying to sell the home, you have the opportunity to gain more business. DO NOT underestimate the importance of your website or web listings. The times where people approach an agent because the they are in the market for a new home are dwindling, make the most of your online presence and make the most of each connection you make from it.

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