Get Strict About Online Marketing Standards

Photos and virtual tours are a must for Web-based home listings.

June 1, 2004

The old adage that you are only as strong as your weakest link is never more true than with online home listings. Showcasing listings on the Internet with no photos, no virtual tours, and spotty information will get those properties ignored by online consumers and do a disservice to the seller.

Here are some reasons why it doesn't pay to do things the way you've always done them. It's a new world, and consumers want information, not make-me-call-you tactics. If the property is right, they'll call. If not, they won't.

While some practitioners are moving at the speed of the Internet, others pace their advertising by their MLS rules and local newspaper publication dates. They just aren't in much of a hurry to get the listing show-ready online.

The biggest, glaring absences among online listings are pictures and virtual tours. A picture is worth a thousand words? Try telling that to the consumer who is looking at "photo not available" instead of the property you're trying to sell.

Maybe brokers don't want to pay a virtual tour firm. Maybe brokers want the sales associates to take their own photos. But today's brokers pay salespeople to get listings, and to get them sold. They should have staff to make sure the listings are marketed effectively.

While service is an issue that certainly varies, salespeople who are struggling to get listings to the MLS, but drop the ball when it comes to photos and/or virtual tours, are wasting valuable marketing time and possibly alienating potential consumers.

If a listing appears in the MLS without a photo, how is that a service to the seller? Especially if the listing is aggregated by Web sites like REALTOR.com, the No. 1 destination for online homebuying consumers. That listing must compete against others that have virtual tours, additional pictures, and other extensive information about the property.

Listings without photos also make the salesperson and his or her broker look sloppy and uncaring. If one company can get photos online, why can't another? Consumers simply don't understand or have the patience to make assumptions for practitioners, and they certainly don’t have empathy for one who simply "didn't have time" to get a photo to the MLS.

Pages of listings with spotty pictures on national sites make the entire industry look incompetent. In a world where consumers can e-mail a digital photo from their cell phones, there simply isn't any excuse for not having photographs of all listings online.

Because an unprepared listing can be used against you by your competition and in evaluations by consumers, it is unforgivable not to have systems in place that prevent your listings from being marketed incompletely even for a brief period. As a competitor, you have to respond to the new standards being set by Internet-savvy practitioners, and the new standard is for listings to be accompanied by photos and virtual tours.

As soon as your brokerage acquires a listing, it should be part of your policy that color photos and virtual tours are completed the same day, or at the latest, within three days. This generous time frame should cover any MLS rules about submissions within a certain deadline. A listing should never—repeat never—be allowed to be entered into the MLS or prepared for any kind of marketing without a photo.

Here's why: Because of the speed of the Internet, the role of the MLS is changing. Once the repository of listings for practitioners to share amongst themselves, the MLS is now mandated to provide its membership and third parties with consumer-ready listing information. Consumers are going to your salespeople’s sites, your company site, the MLS's site, REALTOR.com, and other portals to view homes.

Consumers skip over homes without photos. Further, most search engines are designed to favor homes with virtual tours and photos. If a consumer chooses the "show only homes with virtual tours" search feature and your listing isn't there, you've just done your seller a disservice.

Human behavior is what it is—if a buyer is seeking information, he or she will go to the home listings that provide the most.

If you don't have your listing market-ready in a competitive time frame, you also may be in violation of your listing agreement. You've told the seller that you’re going to obtain the quickest sale at the highest price possible, didn't you? Having a home that isn't market-ready (that consumers ignore or are excluded by search engines) hardly meets that goal.

Don't help your competition make you look bad. Don't make the industry look bad. Never let a listing leave your brokerage on the way to the MLS or even in an e-mail to a customer without a market-ready photo at the minimum. Make it a policy, and support the policy with quick-action systems in place requiring that all listings your brokerage takes will have a virtual tour within three days.

(c) Copyright 2004 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.

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