Clark County Realtors see Web as hot property

To reach today's tech-savvy homebuyers, real estate firms invest more in online tools

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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Home-selling firms are once again shelling out big bucks on business improvements to attract potential buyers.

The twist, local experts say, is that this housing market's recovery has real estate companies spending much of the budget on website tools to serve today's tech-savy buyers. About 90 percent of potential buyers — about 96 percent if they are 43 and younger — are starting the home search online, according to the National Association of Realtors. That's why agencies are rolling out new products that include everything from updated logos to smart-phone apps, home-pricing videos, overhauled websites and rebranding campaigns.

Online pageviews are the return on investment, giving real estate companies the recognition they crave and the right to boast about the number of eyeballs viewing the company's Web content. The visits can also generate listings in the long run, said Glenn Crellin, associate director of research at the University of Washington's Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies in Seattle.

"They (real estate firms) want consumers to come to their site before they go anywhere else," he said. "Then they can tell prospective listing clients this is where the buyers are coming first."

The firms are working harder than ever to keep the momentum going on what has so far been a promising housing recovery in Clark County. The local housing market has continued to show year-over-year improvement, with third quarter home sales increasing by 31 percent, to 1,849 new and existing homes sold during the three months ending Sept. 30. Home prices also saw big year-over-year gains, reaching the highest median sales price — half sold for more, half for less — in July at $237,000. That represented a 19 percent increase over the median price in July 2012.

Some website tools are also designed to help sellers understand those changing values, said Joe Reitzug, a senior vice president with John L. Scott Real Estate. The firm has just launched a new multi-million-dollar website to help buyers navigate its three-state — Washington, Oregon and Idaho — listings and its more than 2,500 agents, including approximately 450 in the Portland-Vancouver metro area.

"We think the more information we can get out there, the more movement we have in the marketplace," he said. The website is also set up to generate free market reports of comparable neighborhood listings, he added.

And each time a visitor finds, clicks, views or shares a real estate company's site, the company's profile rises,

"It (John L. Scott's website) gets over 1.3 million unique visitors every month," Reitzug said.

The site's simplified platform features a searchable database of listings, along with links to websites for each of the company's 102 offices. In turn, websites for each office include lists of brokers with links to their individual websites. Professionals either hire web specialists or tailor the sites themselves to reflect their distinct businesses as independent contractors.

"We used to just offer a Web page connected to the traditional website," Reitzug said. "Now they can completely customize their own website."

Not to be outdone by competitors, Keller Williams also has updated its web presence, introduced a smart phone app to search listings and rolled out a new company logo that shortens the lengthy corporate name from Keller Williams Realty Inc. to a lower-case "kw" and retains the familiar signature red in its graphics.

"We also encourage our agents to have their own brands," said Steve Yeager, a team leader who oversees three Clark County offices that serve around 200 Keller Williams agents. With 91,000 agents, firm is billed as the largest real estate franchise company in North America.

Yeager said the company's local presence has begun to recover, having gained about 40 agents since the low point of the housing downturn, which played out from the end of 2007 through 2011.

"We're always striving to have the top notch tools for our agents," he said.