Internet Basics: Start Here
In the world of interconnectivity, you’re the client, you don’t tip a server, and your domain is digital.
April 1, 2000
In the past four years, industry heavyweights like REALTOR.COM have taken real estate from books and paper to bytes and pixels. Now it’s time to bring the Internet home. If you’re ready to connect or find a new Internet service provider (ISP), let this be your guide.
“I wouldn’t want to think about being without my site,” says Randy Keys, a salesperson with ERA Realty Centre, Indianapolis, of the Web page he started in 1996 (randykeys.com). “In 1999 I did about 20 percent of my volume directly as a result of being on the Internet.”
Consumers have recognized its value, too. A 1999 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® telephone survey of homebuyers found that 58 percent of all potential homebuyers who’ve looked for a home online find cyber home searching to be “very valuable.”
To make yourself indispensable to homebuyers and homesellers, you need a cyberspace face. “You have to develop a working knowledge and understanding of the Web to know what you want in a site and what features can help you,” says Sandra Pollock. She’s leveraged 30 years’ experience in real estate sales to offer former peers her self-taught Web development services through Real Site Designs in Hanover, Mass.
That working knowledge begins with the Internet lexicon. And that’s as good a place as any to begin.
Clients, servers, and ISPs, oh my!
To function as an Internet client, you need a computer, a modem, and system software, including an Internet browser. The browsers--Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer--let you explore the Web.
For browsing, your computer must be connected with another over a network. The computer you connect with, and which serves you as its client, is the server. When your modem dials the Internet, it first connects with the server.
The quality of your Internet service depends on the speed of your connection, what your server can support, how many users are online, and the type of connection. Most users rely on 28K to 56K modems connected over standard phone lines.
For faster, more reliable service, consider connecting with your server using an ISDN, DSL, or cable modem connection, where available. Call your local cable company, Internet provider, or phone company for details. Those services cost more (an additional fee on top of your phone bill) and require special connections, but they’re worth it.
Servers physically reside in facilities owned or leased by Internet service providers. Their investment in hardware, software, and trained personnel serve as your on-ramp to the Internet. (See “How to evaluate an ISP,” below.)
Some ISPs provide direct-dial access to the Internet. Your modem connects to their server, and you’re on your way. With proprietary commercial online services, such as America Online and Compuserve, you enter their site first and then access the Net. Those sites offer member services, including content and discussion groups.
For Internet access, you pay a flat monthly fee, from a low of $10 per month to an average of $20–$25. The fee entitles you to a user name (often of your choice), a password, an e-mail account, telephone numbers for making your connection, any software required, and tech support.
Along with Internet access, ISPs usually provide another vital service: hosting your site or home page on a server. Nearly all ISPsallot you a certain amount of hard drive space for hosting your site as part of their basic package. Web developers provide this service as well. Large companies may invest in the serverhardware and software to host their own sites.
Every Web site has a distinct address or domain name (www. yournameorcompany.com) that identifies it to all other servers. Your domain name is an important marketing tool because you’ll use it to promote your site. You’re limited by what names have already been taken and by how your ISP or commercial provider lets you present that name. Also, because of NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ trademarks, you may not use the term “REALTOR®” in a domain with a descriptive word, such as numberonerealtor.com.
Most large ISPs let you select your own domain name; small ones and some commercial providers may require you to identify your site by combining your domain name with theirs (bigprovider.com/yourname/company/here). You may lose the right to use that address if you take your business to another ISP later. So consider how that could affect your marketing materials and branding image.
The ease of instantaneous mail
E-mail, the way people communicate online, is becoming an important means of correspondence because of its informality and immediacy.
“People use e-mail because they expect a quick response,” says Robert Levy, Prudential Northwest Properties, Beaverton, Ore.
He’s picked up several listings by default. Prospects had sent e-mail to a number of salespeople they found online, but he was the only one who responded.
To send and receive such messages, you need an e-mail account and program, usually provided by your ISP. There are also a number of free e-mail services--www.mailexcite.com, www.hotmail.com, and www.yahoomail.com are some--that offer everything required to create an e-mail account and send and receive messages.
The software that allows you to compose messages may also allow you to search and organize the messages you send and receive. You can also build a mailing list by storing the addresses of all the e-mail generated by your Web site.
Mass mailings are fine as long as the recipients have agreed to hear from you. Unsolicited mailings are called spam--the e-mail equivalent of junk mail--and they’re taboo.
And you wouldn’t want to get on prospects’ bad sides, would you?
A formula, not formulaic
Blanche Evans, associate editor, Realty Times, Blanche@realtytimes.com
What do you like least? The Internet is past the point of being an add-on marketing expense. The do-it-yourself template site must go. I also dislike sites that make consumers jump through hoops, such as filling out forms, before they can view homes or other content.
A good real estate site: Is well maintained and focuses on the consumer, not the salesperson’s awards. It has no broken links, no misspelled words, and no out-of-date content. The site is dynamic, with up-to-date news and information.
Best feature seen at a real estate site: I’m big on upfront agency and property disclosures. I like sites that explain agency so that consumers know exactly who the salesperson is and what kind of representation to expect. I also like Coldwell Banker’s (www.coldwellbanker.com) Virtual Open House property disclosure feature. In addition, good sites sort listings by ZIP code--which isn’t open to interpretation as the vague “North Dallas” might be--and provide calculators so that consumers know exactly what it’ll take to buy this or that home.
The next big thing: Any technology that improves the you-are-there experience, from sound to video streaming to video conferencing. Salespeople will gravitate to those technologies to maintain a personal touch while working with clients online.
Why Evans is a Web site guru: She’s the editor of Agent News and associate editor of Realty Times online. Realty Times is a featured news source for such Internet portals as Homestore, Yahoo!, and America Online.
How to evaluate an ISP
With Internet service, price isn’t always the best indicator of the best deal. Consider
- Connection speed: ISPs should make recommendations on the speed and type of modem you need, other ways to connect, and the computer processor and RAM that’ll allow you acceptable access. A fast processor, 56K modem, and 32MB RAM are today’s minimum requirements.
- Features and services you get: Find out how many hours of Internet access the basic monthly fee entitles you to. If necessary, inquire about hosting your site, the amount of space you’re entitled to (2MB would be the minimum), and how the ISP can help with development and maintenance.
- ISP capabilities: Ask what connections and how many users the ISP can support, and about backup systems.
- Tech support: If you get repeated busy signals, no answer, or a recording when you call to initiate service, imagine how frustrating it could be if you turned to the ISP for help.
But your best insight into the quality of ISP service and support is talking to your friends and colleagues about their experiences.
The Web’s awash in resources
Local ISPs What’s available in your area: http://thelist.internet.com and webisplist.internetlist.com
Free e-mail Directory of the free e-mail services: www.emailaddresses.com
Domain name search and registration Find out whether the name you want is available and where to register:www.internic.net
Search engine registration Submit your site to many search engines for a one-time fee: submitit.com; sohotechs.com/search_engine_placement.htm
Senior Speech Writer
Christina Hoffmann has covered real estate and homeownership for two decades, including as REALTOR® Magazine managing editor and HouseLogic.com’s content manager, with added expertise as owner of a demanding 100-year-old house. She is currently a senior speech writer at NAR.
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