New Facebook listings widget unveiled

May.May 18, 2011 06:16 PM

[Updated 7:15 p.m. with quote from Matthew Shadbolt] If brokers had a dollar for every time they’ve been told how important their social media presence is they’d be very wealthy people. The problem is, it’s difficult to see the link between that presence and their eventual wealth. Enter RentJuice’s new Facebook widget, Lease Locator. The application puts real-time listing data on company or broker Facebook pages (click image above to see sample page). As renters peruse and ultimately click on a listing while on Facebook, the lead is automatically forwarded to RentJuice’s existing deal tracking and collaboration tools. (Renters must specifically click an “inquire” button for their personal information to be made available to brokers.)

“Every real estate trade show touts social media as a ‘must’ for real estate professionals, but there seems to be a lot of smoke and no fire. Where are the leads?” said RentJuice CEO David Vivero. “Our new release will help brokers and property managers finally see the financial rewards of their social media efforts.”

As The Real Deal previously reported, RentJuice is a website serving Boston, Chicago, New York and Miami, launched in 2009, that synchronizes the software landlords and brokers use so that property information and updates can be shared instantly — without the need for constant phone calls, emails and faxes. Moreover, brokers can pay a $59 per month fee (or $129 per month for an office of up to 100 agents) for a premium RentJuice membership that allows them to manage their listings, leads and advertisements in a single window (note: correction appended). Updates made on RentJuice take effect on every listing site, and a broker’s own site, so that brokers and renters don’t waste time looking at spaces that are no longer available. Lease Locator, which will be unveiled tomorrow, will be a free addition for those brokers that already pay for a premium RentJuice subscription.

A spokesperson for RentJuice said that to the company’s knowledge, Lease Locator is the first service of its kind. Citi Habitats brokers had the option of putting automatically updated listings on their Facebook page, but the listings were not equipped with the same tracking capacities. But Gary Malin, president of the firm, said many of his brokers preferred to keep their listings seperate from Facebook.

With Lease Locator a prospective renter can browse listings and contact corresponding brokers without leaving Facebook, while brokers can use it as another outlet for monetizing their listings. The new Facebook service doesn’t launch until tomorrow, but the RentJuice website already has a following among some brokerages.

Noah Freedman, co-founder of residential brokerage Bond New York, said he uses RentJuice because a landlord with whom he frequently works makes updates through the site. The service, he said, is convenient, but its lack of a sales component makes it inefficient for a brokerage that does rentals and sales.

Jeff Schleider, a managing director of brokerage Miron Properties, touted the platform’s ability to help agents manage their own website, but noted that it doesn’t necessarily appeal to the “dominant players” in the industry — that is, the big firms — who prefer to pay someone to take care of website maintenance for them.

But the new widget taps into the underutilized world of social media. After Google, Facebook is the Web’s most visited site, according to traffic measurement site, but for some industry veterans it remains an afterthought.

“The major challenge when explaining social media to the old guard is that its not about a short-term payback,” Schleider said. “The key is developing that long-term relationship.”

To that end, Miron Properties updates its Facebook page with links to articles about the city’s best burger joints or comedy clubs, in order to build a reputation for being a local expert. The hope is that, as a result, prospective renters and buyers think of the brokerage come home hunting time. Schleider said that while he thinks the tracking and analytics of Facebook data is useful, the widget is not the end-all, be-all for social media needs. He stressed that real estate professionals must stay focused on the long-term relationship-building powers of social media. “People go on Facebook to check on their friends,” he said, “not necessarily to check classified ads.”

Matthew Shadbolt, the director of interactive product and marketing at the Corcoran Group, and the man behind the firm’s Twitter account, seconded that sentiment. “While we at Corcoran don’t see any compelling data that people are searching for real estate listings in Facebook, offering such a service that potentially benefits the end user can only be a good thing,” he said.

But Amanda Green, recently hired as the social media director for City Connections Realty, said that since so much time is spent on Facebook, the widget can help renters begin their search without leaving their favorite site. “It’s a great way to start a conversation,” she said. If agents’ pages are professional — “no beer bong photos,” she added — they can become friends with potential clients and through occasional Newsfeed updates, be on a renter’s mind when he or she begins a home search.

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