Drive-By Marketing

An array of new mobile services let you send property details and photos instantaneously to buyers who are scouting out your listings on foot or by car.

August 1, 2007

The Web is an ever-important place to market your listings, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. After all, buyers haven’t limited their home searches exclusively to cyberspace. They still spend a lot of time looking for properties the old-fashioned way — cruising neighborhoods in person to see what’s available.

In fact, that plain old For Sale sign remains one of the most popular home-search tools for buyers, according to the 2006 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. A hefty 63 percent of buyers who responded to the NAR survey said they used information from a yard sign to help in their search — a higher percentage than those who used print ads, open houses, or home magazines.

A number of new mobile wireless technologies have emerged to help you take advantage of this curbside audience, which often is armed with PDAs, cell phones, or laptops to canvass the neighborhoods more effectively. These mobile marketing services allow you to put enough data in buyers’ hands to help them decide if they’re interested enough to contact you, or if they should keep driving to the next house.

Here’s a look at some of the latest services.

Home Search on Your PDA.

One brand new service, still in beta testing, is Mobile. Useful for real estate practitioners and their clients, this free service allows users of cell phones and PDAs that run the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system to search for listings on their handset — from wherever wireless service is available. All you need to do is download and install the software application from the Web.

The service lets buyers search for houses by price, city, ZIP code, or home features such as number of bedrooms or bathrooms. On GPS-enabled phones, a “Homes Near By” feature retrieves a list of properties that are close to the user’s location. Search results include a house photo and listing data. Buyers also get the option to connect with the listing agent or broker with a single click.

Property History by Text.

For anyone who’s curious about the value or history of a property, can provide a quick overview while on the road or at home. Buyers just send a text message to the company with the property address, or enter the address on the company’s Web site. Within seconds, the free service sends back or displays information on the home’s current value with a brief description and sales history, culled from public records.

See the Sign, Enter the Code.

Other solutions build on the visibility of yard signs to direct buyers to essential listing information. In most cases, here’s how it works: Each property is assigned a unique code that’s prominently featured on the yard sign. Using a cell phone or PDA, the buyer enters the code into a text message or e-mail, and sends the message to a designated phone number or Web address. The service immediately responds with details about the home. If the phone can display images, photos also may be included in the automatic reply.

Practitioners who use a service called Bouncepad simply create an account, upload property information, and promote the codes assigned to each listing. Buyers can enter the code in a text message to receive information. The basic version of the service is free, or you can go with the more advanced Pro version for $12.95 per month. The Pro version also refers buyers to a Web site for photos and more details, and comes with a lead-tracking tool that captures contact information from buyers who access the service.

M-tag (short for mobile tag) operates in a similar way. The base price is $20 for account setup and then $10 per month for each listing. Buyers use their phone to send an e-mail with the code to the company’s server. In a few moments, they get a text message and a photo, along with a Web link for more information. The service can be set to alert the salesperson by e-mail or phone when a request is made, and includes tracking and reporting tools that allow you to monitor activity for each listing.

Dialing for Data.

Other services require prospective buyers to dial a toll-free number and enter the property code. TaggLine gives callers the option of listening to property information over the phone, receiving it as a text message or photos, or connecting directly with the listing agent. The service also can alert practitioners to information requests and provide tracking reports. Subscriber base price is $50 per month for up to five listings, and $75 per month for unlimited listings.

Virtual Tours from the Curb.

There’s also a service that takes a different approach, offering buyers who have Wi-Fi enabled laptops and smartphones to take virtual tours of a home from the front yard. eLapTopTour uses special Wi-Fi transmitters set up at the home to send the virtual tours to buyers near the property.

When the buyers’ PDA or laptop detects the wireless transmitter, they simply open a Web browser and can view Web pages of the home. The property information automatically appears on screen. The service is $50 per month, with a refundable $150 deposit for each wireless transmitter. In addition, the basic eLapTopTour, which includes three photos, costs $65; step-up packages are also available.