Home marketing in a digital age: what really matters

For Chesapeake Home + Living
"Listings that don't have photos, or poor photos? There's a lack of interest in those properties."

Twenty years ago, if potential homebuyers wanted to check out the inside of a home for sale, they almost always had to get in the car and head to an open house. Photos were limited. Videos were nonexistent.

Today, things have changed — and they continue to evolve.

“Fifteen or 20 years ago, the Internet barely existed,” says Brian Pakulla, a Re/Max Advantage Realty agent in Howard County. “By 2005, everyone had embraced it, and in the past 10 years, we’ve been fine-tuning the Internet approach.”

That approach is heavily visual. In 2013, according to the National Association of Realtors report, 89 percent of homebuyers used websites at some point during the home search process, and they agreed that photos are the most useful part of those sites. Of those who used the Internet during their search, 83 percent described photos as “very useful.”

In his role as chief marketing officer for the Creig Northrop Team of Long & Foster Real Estate, Jay Riley oversees the team’s approach to home marketing. The company’s baseline marketing package includes a staging consultation and professional photography services.

“Listings that don’t have photos, or poor photos? You can look at statistics and see that there’s a lack of interest in those properties because online buyers are skeptical,” he says.

In addition to sharing listings with real estate-focused websites like Zillow and Trulia, real estate agents explore a variety of online avenues for home marketing, including dynamic banner ads and custom sites designed for individual houses.

“We can create websites for each home very easily, and it’s very reasonably priced,” says Ashley Richardson, a Long & Foster agent who works frequently in Baltimore County and Baltimore City. Richardson also promotes homes on social media sites, including Pinterest and Facebook.

Though some early iterations of home video tours were not user-friendly, improvements in technology are making tours more accessible and useful for home buyers and sellers.

Pakulla says video can be a dynamic selling tool but has some disadvantages. “With a photographer, you can take one shot and perfect it, but with video, you can turn a corner and the lighting’s not perfect or the angle makes the corner look small,” he says.

Jay Riley notes that as technology improves, new options are continually introduced. He is especially excited about tools that use 360-degree photography to create virtual house tours, as well as about drone aerial photography.

Though print advertising and open houses no longer hold the power they did a decade ago, agents say that traditional avenues still have value.

When marketing a home, sellers need to consider their audiences, says Riley. Young, first-time buyers often do everything online; in 2013, just 18 percent of millennials — the generation born from about 1980 onward — looked to print newspaper advertisements during their home search, according to the National Association of Realtors report. While Internet use was high across generations, 32 percent of baby boomers relied on print ads. The smartest home sellers, Riley says, cover all their bases.

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