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From the New Book "Make Your Website Work for You"
Case Studies page 164
Before the Internet was a household word, Andrew Peck began to realize the potential that existed. Andrew had recently purchased a long established real estate firm in Woodstock, New York, whose owner was retiring. It was 1996 and the market was slow. However, even more problematic was the state of the company. It had been neglected by the previous owner and was in desperate need of revitalization.
Having worked in real estate for years, Andrew knew there was an untapped real estate market just two hours' drive south in New York City. Woodstock was, and remains, an easy drive for New Yorkers looking to escape the city for a weekend, and a destination for people wanting to leave the city altogether. Trying to reach this market through traditional advertising was expensive, and most customers had more questions than one small ad could answer.
"Although we occasionally ran ads in New York City papers, for the most part people who were interested in purchasing in the area would drive up here and walk in. They might look at the local paper and call or drive by our for sale signs and stop in, but they still had to take the first step." Andrew realized the first meeting was usually spent answering questions about the area, what homes sold for recently, or how current mortgage rates would affect monthly payments. He would then spend what time there was left rushing to show several houses. So, with no previous computer experience, Andrew began looking at his online opportunities.
"There were cheap fixed-format real estate Web sites which had no appeal to me. They were catalogs which never quite provided the kind of information I knew first-time buyers wanted. I interviewed a number of people who designed Web sites and found someone whom I thought could execute my ideas within my budget."
It didn't take much time to realize the potential. Andrew's Web site provided more than just pictures of available properties. Because house hunting in Woodstock usually necessitated an overnight stay, Andrew provided information about local bed and breakfasts and restaurants. He also included calculators that estimated monthly mortgage costs and information about property taxes and local schools. In essence, www.teranrealty.com became an information resource for potential customers.
Of importance to Andrew was the look and feel of the site. He wanted it to be more practical than flashy, more a reflection of the office itself than a showcase of leading edge technology. Today, TeranRealty.com reflects the look and feel of the office itself. "The site is a direct response to the reason most people are interested in buying property in Woodstock itself-to get away from the high-tech pressures of the city." The design is simple and low-key, and most important very easy to navigate.
Of equal importance, TeranRealty.com was created to respond to questions most new home buyers were asking. By providing information about interest rates, local taxes, mortgage calculations, and monthly ownership costs, Andrew was able to create a relationship with potential buyers before they even rented a car-weeks before other local real estate businesses even had a chance to speak with them. "'By the time the customer gets to our door, they already have a good feeling about us. They are loyal to us because they know we can do more than just sell property; we can help. And that is an extremely important thing in our business." Andrew admits there is no way to replace personal contact with a new customer, but his Web site saves him time in serving new clients because it is able to answer the most common questions.
Has it been successful? "It is successful beyond my expectations." In the first 2 ½ years of operation, the cost of building, maintaining, and updating it has been roughly $10,000. "Without question the site has paid back the investment several times over. It has become the source of more than a third of our buyer customers, many of whom have praised it."
Just as importantly, the Web site has been an excellent way to attract home sellers as well. Being recognized by the International Real Estate Digest as being "excellent," the Web site is an important reason in having a seller choose their firm to represent them.
After looking at the Web site a customer will usually email, telephone, or fax their interest about a particular property. Andrew's staff will usually speak with the customer to better find out what they are looking for and to create a more personal dialogue. They will fax down pictures and descriptions of other homes the customer may be interested in. This way, the customer can spend more time looking at potential properties and less time thumbing through books. Even after a customer leaves, Teran Realty can stay in touch through email and faxes to notify them about the properties they looked at or even about new properties on the market.
"There will never be a substitute for spending time in person with clients in our business. Email and fax simply make our job more efficient."
By providing more than just an online catalog of homes, Andrew has found a very effective way to extend the reach of his company and build a relationship with his customers before they even pull off the highway. Best of all, he has been able to do this without sacrificing the personal service his company is built on.
He has done all of this by building a Web site that augments his relationship with his clients rather than tries to replace it.
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