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Online tools like Doorsteps.com is why real estate agents need to start thinking differently about how they reach clients with technology.
No longer is knowing average sale prices and assembling a nice listing presentation enough to become a market leader. Like books, music and airline tickets, real estate sales is not immune to the depth and connective power of the Internet.
Retail chains spend millions of dollars understanding what influences the people who walk in their stores. Apple stores don’t function and look like they do because it looks cool and contemporary. The music volume, the colors, the products all within reach on wide, unobtrusive tables? All deliberate. All intended to engage Apple’s audience.
Real estate agents need to be in sync with how today’s consumers engage real estate information. This means knowing what apps and resources homebuyers and sellers are using. And it means doing more than just making sure your listings are circulated via the IDX (Internet data exchange).
Doorsteps is more than an educational process for prospective homebuyers; it’s also a tool for Web-savvy agents to reach them as a trusted adviser. You build a branded landing page and invite offline prospects into the step-by-step homeowner education program via email or URL share.
Individual agents can sign up for $25 per month. Or, the more altruistic agent teams of 10 or more can snag an enterprise license for an unpublished (negotiable?) amount.
Through a dashboard, you have access to your buyer’s latest actions on the site, questions and program progress.
Given the Doorsteps approach, you’ll probably be working with cautious buyers who are toe-stepping into the dark void of ownership. They’ll be glancing around, nervous about down payments and credit reports snarling in the shadows.
However, that’s a market reality that I think a lot of agents don’t want to accept. Services like Doorsteps are why online connections are altering the landscape of real estate services. A mentorship role fosters a great deal more trust than an 11-by-17-inch, recycling bin-ready postcard of recent sales mailed to an unearned audience.
Doorsteps’s approach is to engage a prospective buyer and turn that buyer into a homeowner through ongoing advice, market research, mortgage insight and, smartly, the integration of how lifestyle factors into the homebuying decision.
As we all know, buying a house can sometimes be too numeric and clinical. Interest rates. Private mortgage insurance. Closing costs. Homeowners association fees. Odd, considering how emotionally driven the decision typically is for families.
Like the famous TED talk by Simon Sinek, Doorsteps starts with “Why?” Why do you want to own a house? What’s driving the decision? It’s amazing how often this isn’t the lynchpin of a sale, because it should be.
From its “Mortgages 101″ content to insight on “Preparing to Move,” Doorsteps is, in essence, a fully accredited, acorn-to-oak-tree online course in buying a home.
Sure, “How to Buy a Home” courses are held in countless conference rooms any given weekend across the U.S. But you know what they really are: prospecting efforts. The intent isn’t to nurture, it’s to sell. It’s the why that matters. And speaking of “why,” now you know why those courses don’t work as well as you hoped. Consumers may need access to your market insight, but they also know when they’re being sold to.
It’s that very concept that the Internet can overcome. It can educate without bias, without selling. And that’s the lesson; that’s how today’s heavily lifestyle-driven homebuyer wants to be treated.
When your buyer advances through the “steps” to viewing homes (via a connection with realtor.com), they can do so within Doorsteps’s interface, with you commenting in real time. This arm’s-length virtual conversation can go a long way toward eliminating the “buy-now” pressure that far too many people experience. That’s a nice touch. Or nontouch, rather.
Doorsteps makes clear to buyer-users that it is not an agent-matching tool. You can sign up to advise, but there is no guarantee a user you work with will hire you.
However, you can invite prospects generated offline into your Doorsteps account, a move I think would go a long way toward imprinting on them your motives. (Hey, there’s a good use of that Saturday afternoon class.)
Doorsteps.com is innovative, well-organized and worth the $25 per month it costs to help develop prospects into buyers. More than that, though, it’s a next-generation approach to helping buyers understand real estate.
Not every buyer prospect you speak to will be a good candidate for Doorsteps, though. It’s a first-time-buyer tool, so select your invites carefully.
Tomorrow’s column will be about Doorstep’s app, Swipe.
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