Round-the-Clock Open House on the Web

January 1, 1996

Thinking of opening an office on the Internet? Take a tip from Gertrude Cramer and build a home there, instead. "When you invite someone into your home, you're making a personal contact with them, and that's so much of what the real estate business is about," says Cramer, broker-owner, Gertrude Cramer Real Estate, Baton Rouge, La.

With that philosophy in mind, Cramer last fall set up a virtual open house on the Internet designed to "delight, entertain, and inform" current and potential residents of the neighborhood where Cramer does business, a gated golf community of several hundred homes called The Country Club of Louisiana. "With my Internet site, I'm able to hold an open house 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says the soft-spoken, Southern-born Cramer. She now averages 50 hits a month at her site.

Murray Cadenhead, the 60-year-old mastermind behind Cramer's site, says the open house is designed to be an on-line gathering place for the community, a way for Cramer to stay in touch with previous clients and customers, and a cost-effective advertisement to a worldwide base of prospects. "In a golfing community," says Cramer, "buyers often come from out of state. Not long ago, we had a baroness from France looking around." Prices on homes in The Country Club range from about $300,000 to more than $1 million.

Although Cramer's house exists only in cyberspace, she and Cadenhead have worked hard to ensure that it exudes charm, hospitality, and humor. "The site very much reflects Gertrude's personality," says Cadenhead. Indeed, the 57-year-old grandmother of 14 greets each on-line visitor in the foyer with a smile. "Welcome to my home," she tells guests at her Web site's home page, the front door to her Internet presence. "You are invited to browse through the various rooms, explore every nook and cranny. You have an open invitation to visit as often as you like, anytime, day or night. And stay as long as you want. You are always welcome. While I am greeting other guests, please stroll through and make yourself at home."

There's a gallery that includes "color portraits" of some of Cramer's listings. "If you find something you really like, you can have it for your very own home," she offers. And there's a library where guests can scroll through a community newsletter, learn more about the Baton Rouge area, and read the latest information on housing market trends. There's also a "writing desk" on which to leave Cramer a note, and in the kitchen, visitors can pick up recipes for Cajun dishes and delicate pastries that are among Cramer's own specialties.

A local Internet service provider did the programming for the site, which cost roughly $2,500, Cadenhead says. In addition, it costs $50-$75 per month to store the site on an Internet server, a special computer that houses Internet content, he says.

Directions to Cramer's virtual open house--her Internet address--appear in all her print advertising and promotional material, and the site is listed on key Internet indexes. "The people we work with who know about computers are very excited when we tell them that when they list their property with us, it'll be exposed to a potential audience of 30 million Internet users," Cramer says. And for those who don't know the Internet from a fishnet, Cadenhead and Cramer take the time to demonstrate in person how to access the Internet and get to Cramer's site. "For people in the community who have computers and modems in their homes, we'll even make house calls," Cadenhead says.

Pamela Geurds Kabati is the former publisher of REALTOR® Magazine and senior vice president of communications for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

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