"Brokers used to be information brokers, and we were really in the business of selling information," says Victor Alia, a New York-based broker for Douglas Elliman who focuses on luxury property. "What changed recently is that all the information is at people’s fingerprints. Now it’s a service industry, and social media is really helping us serve our client better."
It’s no surprise the high-stakes world of real estate would latch onto any new medium or technology to sell property. From social media to virtual reality, it’s all about closing the deal. Two of the platforms of the moment, Facebook Live and Snapchat, may not be truly revolutionary for the real estate world—photo and even live video or video chats aren’t new technology. But according to interviews with a handful of New York-based brokers and agents who are making these mediums part of their sales and promotion strategies, there are plenty of ways to use them to connect (and transact) in new ways.
According to Alia, Snapchat makes it easier and more seamless to share information and video with client. One client of his was looking for a place on the Upper East Side on Manhattan earlier this year, but a busy work schedule meant he was missing showings and opportunities. One afternoon, Alia found him the perfect place, but he wasn’t available. A quick series of 10 snaps—pulling up the building in the cab, walking into the lobby, pushing his floor on the elevator, opening the door, touring the living room and kitchen—gave him the feeling that he was "in the unit with [Alia]," making him more than ready to sign the lease.
Many see mediums such as Snapchat, which promote themselves as unfiltered looks into daily life, as being ideal ways to build up relationships with potential buyers, even when they may be in the market. Michael Meier, founder of Meier International Real Estate, has built up an extensive following on the platform, even snapping real estate secrets to his network. For him, it’s a means of educating, and potentially attracting new brokers and employees, who can get to know him through the social network.
He thinks agents should look at the network as a way to do the same thing with buyers and renters.
"You can build trust on Snapchat in a hundredth of the time it takes to build trust on other networks." he says. "It’s like cold calling on speed, it’s great. They’re seeing you in your daily life, how you interact with your family and your friends. You can’t edit; it’s the real you. Don’t get me wrong, Facebook is great. We market on Facebook. But that’s a place where you can edit photos and change text. You can look like a nice person and really be a shark. On Snapchat, if you’re dishonest, it’ll read that way immediately."
A home tour provides a perfect example of what Meier is talking about, as well as the sales potential of Snapchat. Throughout the day, a well-timed series of snaps—showing setup before hand, a tour of the kitchen, even a quick view of the balcony—can provide an excellent take on the unit, and an agent’s style and personality. Since users can go back and see who viewed each snap, it gives agents and brokers an easy way to start a conversation about a property and follow up with interested parties.
Robert Nelson, President of Nelson Management Group, which owns and manages roughly 3,000 units in and around New York City, says for him and his team, Facebook Live is all about efficiency. Nelson manages the Lafayette Boynton, a large, four-tower apartment complex in the Bronx. Showing units via Facebook Live can be more compelling, showing off balconies and views of nearby bridges, and save time for everyone involved; Nelson doesn’t have to spend time setting up separate appointments and keeping staff busy, and prospective renters can quickly determine their take on the building and surrounding views.
"They can get a visceral reaction, that’s what I like the most," says Nelson. I could write about the views of the Manhattan skyline, the proximity to the highway, but I don’t think typed words and even a photo can provide the same feeling as touring the apartment."
Nelson doesn’t see it as a trend, it’s simply the next evolutionary step in selling via social media. Building a brand, and showing prospective clients that you’re tech savvy is key—buyers and renters already expect agents to be on the ball, respond quickly to messages, and favor digital means to sign paperwork.
Eli Osdoba, who also works for Meier, finds that Facebook Live helps him interest clients look for high-end Manhattan rentals who can’t make a showing. He’s used it a few times with out-of-town and even international clients to help them get a better sense of the market before making any big trips; it’s an easy way to cull down a long list of properties when there isn’t enough time to see all of them in person.
He sees it as an increasingly useful tool in a crowded market, and can even foresee the day when it makes competition for high-end property more intense.
"Imagine if people see a place they like on Facebook Live or FaceTime, and know that it’s going to go soon, and decide the only option is to buy after the video tour," he says. "I could see that making competition in an already fast-moving market that much quicker."