Felipe Azenha and Veronica Escobedo discuss the booming sales in the South of Fifth neighborhood.
As the Internet swoops over the real estate market, it’s influencing everything from consumer access to information to how brokerage firms handle their marketing budgets, making it a crucial game changer for one of South Florida’s most important industries.
VERONICA ESCOBEDO, chief marketing officer for International Sales Group: What’s an immediate change created by the Internet?
FELIPE AZENHA, business development lead for StreetEasy South Florida, a real estate listings site: Consumers are very hungry for information, so they’re educating themselves online before even contacting a broker. They’re doing research, ensuring that the building and the neighborhood are something they’re interested in.
VE: We definitely have a more empowered generation who do their homework before heading out to see a property. There are mobile apps and sites where you can find market trends, and innovative Web programs such as 3-D interactive property tools are a great way to showcase a project. I deal with many foreign buyers, so we rely heavily on the Internet to promote to outside areas, especially Latin America. There’s a lot out there, so brokers have to compete to get the info out the fastest and most efficiently.
FA: People value their time, so we try to make it easy for them. For preconstruction projects, we’ll have videos, floor plans, and high-resolution photos available for people to view. They can just go to one place online to find everything they need.
VE: Another important aspect is social media. We work with developers and realtors who ask, “Is social media worth investing in? How do we quantify it?” But it isn’t something you can quantify. It’s about building better relationships with consumers and keeping them updated on what’s new.
FA: Overall, has the Internet helped sales?
VE: Yes, because you have savvier home buyers with strong ideas versus the broker driving them around everywhere to no avail.
FA: In a sense, the Internet has made the buying transaction even quicker because consumers already know what they want and what they should be paying. It smooths out the process and makes it more transparent—although it isn’t like the Internet is going to replace brokers. We’ll always need them to handhold consumers through the purchasing procedure and provide localized expertise about the neighborhood, property taxes, insurance rates, and other specifics.
VE: With traffic stats, the Internet provides valuable information to us, too.
FA: Considering the traffic on our site, I can say that approximately 60 percent of consumers that purchase real estate in Miami are foreign—mostly Latin Americans (Venezuelans, Argentines, Colombians, Mexicans, and Brazilians). But the percentage of international buyers [just] in the downtown and beach areas is probably closer to 90 percent. Canadians are also big buyers, but they tend to buy in Broward and Palm Beach Counties.
VE: I work with marketing budgets for different developers, and they’re spending thousands of dollars on the Internet—websites mostly—whereas five years ago, before the bust, we spent a majority of money on printed materials. Now we save on printing and mailing costs, and it’s more effective. Today, most of our business comes from the Internet, including leads via websites, e-mail marketing campaigns, and more. According to a study by the National Association of Realtors, Florida is the top market for international buyers, so it’s crucial for us to reach them. That means spending time on things like search engine optimization (SEO), which can get tricky because you have to find the perfect keywords. (Some regions in Brazil may have different dialects, while countries in Latin America speak different versions of Spanish.)
FA: Anyone in real estate who doesn’t embrace technology is going to have a tough time. Consumers want brokers with a strong track record, and they can find that online.