Written by Fernando Maciá
The real estate sector is experiencing a boom in Spain. Despite the fact that several times in recent years the bursting of the real estate “bubble” has been announced as imminent, the volatility of stock market values, the low interest rates that provide little stimulus for fixed income investment and favor mortgage indebtedness, Spain’s entry into the European Monetary System and the general evolution of the economy have favored a sustained development of the construction sector and an upward evolution of prices to a much greater extent than the Consumer Price Index. The context of this development is completed by Spain’s traditional positioning as a tourist destination for its European neighbors, the maintenance of a cost-of-living differential (albeit increasingly lower) in its favor, and demographic growth, mainly due to immigration.
In this scenario, there have been numerous real estate companies in which this evolution of the sector has coincided with their first incursion into the Internet and the recognition that this tool may soon become one of the main tools for the development of the sector. new customer acquisition channels and loyalty of the current ones. The simple display on the Internet of the offer of apartments, apartments, villas and commercial premises, as a second showcase, has rapidly progressed towards more and more sophisticated formulas of interaction with the user. The Internet has also allowed small companies to be present in other markets, and the identification of public profiles with completely different service and information needs has led these companies to adapt their on-line presence to meet these requirements to an ever greater extent. Nowadays, search engine positioning and traffic analysis allow to achieve spectacular increases in qualified traffic and the adoption of a proactive attitude results in obtaining strategic information that is crucial not only for the online performance of companies, but also in the real world.
Within this evolution, we can identify several phases:
The use of the network is limited to copying the real estate agency’s own showcase model. The product offer is statically displayed in order to reach a different public profile and complement the communication in traditional media: brochures, magazines, radio… The interaction with the user is practically null: the potential buyer hardly gets more information on the web than what he would get by looking at the agency’s shop window. Similarly, the company does not receive any information on the interests of its clientele.
Although in Spain there have been numerous developers present in the European market for many years, it has been in the last decade when this trend has also spread to smaller companies encouraged by the new possibilities opened up by technology. More than a simple translation of content, the identification of the interests and demands of a new public profile required the introduction of new information sections that had been unnecessary until then for the domestic buyer, such as, for example:
The buyer coming from a more or less distant country, who sometimes does not know the language, customs and legal procedures to undertake a major purchase, such as a home in a foreign country, always perceives a great risk. Therefore, the real estate portals included legal information on the methods of payment, the guarantees and collateral required, the usual uses and procedures in Spain, and information on the costs and taxes involved in the registration, purchase and sale of a real estate property.
Lack of knowledge of the environment
By broadening their scope of action, portals must attract the potential customer not only by the virtues of the product offered but also, and mainly, by those of the environment. By identifying your interests and hobbies, the information on each property is complemented with the location of marinas, golf courses, natural parks, shopping centers, tourist towns, handicrafts, historical monuments, climate, beaches…
It is clear that a home purchase is not decided over the Internet. It is necessary to establish a contact to check the quality of the product in situ. The portals are starting to facilitate the “inspection flight” process: this involves inviting the potential client to come to Spain to finally choose their home.
At this stage, the use of the Internet is limited to its almost universal access. In a generic way, market segments are identified and the necessary languages and contents are adapted to adequately meet the new demands. The level of information obtained by the potential buyer of the product is higher, but the agency still obtains a low level of information on the interests of its potential clientele.
The Internet can help us to interact with our potential customers and build loyalty with our current ones. In this phase, which many real estate portals are still in today, more sophisticated ways for users to find what they are looking for are being developed through the use of real estate search engines. By introducing some simple criteria that serve to define the type of property, the preferred area and the money you are willing to spend, the interactive website is able to make a query against a database and filter the results, so that it shows us only those that meet those criteria. The participation of the users themselves as prescribers is also sought, through invitations to send by e-mail to friends and acquaintances of the pages describing the property that may be of interest to them.
Interaction is also present in the inclusion of pages capable of calculating loan repayments and simulating the costs associated with the purchase.
In this phase, the web structure is no longer composed of static pages, but of dynamic pages that are fed by the contents served from a database. These contents are maintained by the companies themselves through content management systems (CMS) from an intranet. By not depending on an external provider, content management becomes simpler, easier and more economical, so that real estate portals include news sections, recommendations and advice on buying, etc.
At the same time, information about the products themselves increases. It is complemented with quality specifications, more photographs, virtual tours, 3D views, plans, images of the progress of the works, information on the surroundings…
This interactive phase is completed with the development of extranets, where additional services are provided to registered users. Sometimes, access is exclusive to homebuyers. Now, the Norwegian buyer who signed for his home three months ago can see from his home in Oslo that they have already started digging the foundations of his future Spanish villa. You can download electrical installation plans for your own home and even suggest changes and renovations as you go along.
It is in this phase when we start to interact with customers “1to1” that we are really starting to take advantage of the full potential of the Internet as a marketing tool and the flow of information increases in both directions, both what the user gets from the company and the product and what the company gets from the user.
The first decision within a proactive attitude for a real estate portal is to occupy the first positions in the Internet search engines for its key concepts, those that adequately identify its market niche. Usually, these phrases will include generic concepts – “apartment, house, chalet, villa”- together with others of geographic location – “on the Costa Blanca, in Torremolinos…”- and, logically, in the different languages in which your web site is present. Internet search engines – with Google at the forefront – are today the first point of contact between the potential customer and our website. Achieving and maintaining a position among the top ten results for those searches relevant to our product or service is vital. In our experience, a serious search engine optimization and positioning strategy led www.espai-verd.com to triple its unique visitors and quadruple the number of page views in just six months in 2002. And unlike online advertising, search engine optimization is a long-term strategy that can be developed in a sustainable way. The website no longer waits for visits from potential buyers: if it is placed where the interested parties are more likely to look for it, they are more likely to look for it.
Real estate search engines
Property search engines are becoming more sophisticated, offering a greater number of search criteria. The proactive attitude is also evident in that, when there are no properties that match the defined criteria, the user can program his own “real estate alert” that will notify him in his e-mail when there is a property that meets his specifications. In this way, a previously indeterminate number of searches that might have ended with a simple “Sorry, we don’t have any properties that match your search at this time” message, can now result in a request for certain characteristics and, ultimately, a sale. Based on an expression of demand, it is the portal that takes on the proactive role of communicating its offer to the interested party.
On the other hand, the analysis of this information allows the company to predict the evolution of the market: preferences in type of housing, fall or increase in the demand of different neighborhoods, prices that people are willing to pay…
Sale of previous home
Sometimes a potential buyer of a home needs to sell his or her previous property. The real estate portals also provide this service, being able to register your current home to be offered by the portal itself, so that an obstacle becomes a cross-selling opportunity.
The property management is carried out in an integral way on the Internet support itself, allowing the different offices of the same company to work with data in real time against a single database of properties on offer in a centralized server.
An essential complement at this stage is the control and analysis of web traffic, through which we can discover the evolution and origin of visitors, navigation routes, “hot” and “cold” sections, as well as referrers: from which search engines they come from and with which search phrases they found us. This guides us in making marketing decisions and in the development of new sections and functionalities of the website.
Real estate marketing on the Web has already gone through four major stages of evolution, but it is far from having reached maturity. Even more sophisticated techniques are already on the horizon which, through the use of mobile telephone terminals, PDAs and the application of geographic marketing GIS systems, will open up new opportunities for interaction and service. Increasingly simple and intuitive content management systems encourage companies to generate more and better content for their websites and the analysis of all this data through CRM systems will allow agencies to fine-tune their activity in the market through a deeper understanding of the evolution of demand.