One of the more interesting things I've heard at Inman SF in July was in hallways and during the Q&A of sessions. Apparently, a number of brokers are seeing an increase in foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. This is something that has been going on for a while, as this series on Inman illustrates, especially in the higher-end luxury market, but we are apparently starting to see foreign buyers spreading out of the top end luxury markets.
The response from the brokerage industry, of course, is an understandable desire to do some international marketing. If 15% of your customers are coming from Germany, it certainly makes sense to do some advertising in Berlin.
By all means, do international advertising. But while you're at it, consider applying the same concepts to your local marketing as well.
Geo-marketing is not something that only applies to strangers from a strange land, where you are automatically thinking about where your buyers are coming from, and what you'd want to tell them in order to have them contact you. This notion can and should apply to your domestic, local clients as well.
A number of Onboard Informatics' clients get detailed neighborhood data from us, including some of the best local neighborhood boundaries. What I've found a bit odd is that while our financial clients tend to use that data for internal data analysis, our real estate clients almost never do. They use neighborhoods only to enable consumer tools, such as local neighborhood search. Such hyperlocal search is a wonderful tool for consumers, so we encourage our clients to enable it. The utility of neighborhood information, however, is not limited simply to using it on your website.
With relatively simple GIS systems, a brokerage can map where their customers are coming from, especially if you have access to detailed neighborhood boundary information that can be uploaded to the GIS system. That could lead to some interesting insights.
For example, let's say you're a broker in suburban NJ. You know that some percentage of your buyers are coming from Manhattan, fleeing the extraordinary housing prices in the City (over $2m for a 2BR condo in June of 2008). You take your customer list over the past three or four years, and upload them into the GIS and map them to specific neighborhoods (you do have the former addresses of your clients, right?). You discover that over half of your buyer customers are hailing from downtown -- specifically, Soho and Tribeca. This is shocking because you always thought of your buyers as people who work on Wall Street and live in cramped little boxes in some anonymous building in the Upper East Side.
That insight can completely transform the way you do advertising. Perhaps instead of talking about proximity to Wall Street, you start talking about how your town is a community for artists, designers, and creative people. You update the look and feel of the ad to appeal more to the hip downtown lifestyle, instead of to the suits and power ties of the Wall Street crowd.
Even if you are in a market that doesn't have pre-defined neighborhoods, you can apply your own knowledge of local neighborhoods to create useful geo-marketing templates. Most towns can be divided into distinct areas with their own flavor, neighborhood personality, and demographics -- income, education, profession, etc. Most GIS systems will allow you to define your own 'neighborhood area' -- then overlay it on top of the underlying data. If you know that there's a new shopping mall going in somewhere, for example, you could make a custom neighborhood for a 5-minute drive time radius and start sending postcards to the houses in that area letting them know the value of their houses are about to go up (or maybe down, I suppose, depending on the mall and the neighborhood).
The saying that all real estate is local is true. But it is also true that all customers are local. As real estate professionals, we're all very aware of a property's location, characteristics, features, and so on. Many realtors are experts when it comes to their local market, and yet are novices when it comes to their customers.
So think about geography. Consider what you can do with neighborhood data, not just for your website visitors, but also for your own marketing and business operations.
(Okay, caveat time: even the simplest GIS system can be a bit of a bear to operate, while the more powerful systems require significant training. If you're an Onboard client -- please contact your Account Manager to find out about our custom GIS capabilities.)