Social Media: Real Estate's Best Friend or Worst Enemy?

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Social media seems like a tailor-made business tool for real estate. It allows agents to personally connect with clients in a business that relies on client-agent rapport. And its array of networking platforms offer benefits to buyers and sellers as well. Buyers can scope out properties and agents; sellers can search for buyers.

But tweeters beware: Social networking has as much potential to undermine a deal as spark one.

The story of one homebuyer in Tiburon, Calif., reported by MSN Real Estate, highlights what can go wrong. Thrilled over a house that she visited, the woman broadcast the listing on Facebook. Bad move: The post percolated through her network of "friends" until it reached another house-hunter. That buyer acted fast, snatching the property from the grasp of the woman who had unwittingly promoted it. (Grounds for "unfriending" if ever we heard one.)

The lesson, says Mike Gardner, a Malibu-based Realtor known for his social media savvy and real estate blog, is not so complicated: Keep deals to yourself and off other people's social-media news feeds.

"If you love to blab on Facebook and announce, 'Hey, I'm thinking about buying this condo because it's a smoking deal,' Gardner says, "you've potentially advertised to thousands of people.' "

According to Katie Lance, social media director for real estate technology website Inman News, ill-considered tweets or posts can also undercut a homebuyer's bargaining power.

"Realtors on Twitter are searching aggressively for anyone buying a home," she says. If an agent spots a tweet suggesting that a homebuyer thinks one of the agent's properties is a deal, the agent and the seller know not to budge on their ask.

There's a risk for home sellers too. If they broadcast a desire to get out of Dodge as fast as they can, prospective buyers might gain a negotiating edge.

Social Media Do's and Don'ts for Agents

First and foremost, Lance says, be aware of legal hazards such as copyright infringement.

A social media guru -- she grew Inman News' Twitter following from 6,000 to 25,000 users in only a year -- Lance points to a once-thriving Realtor-referral Facebook page. It had garnered about 45,000 "likes" on Facebook until it was shut down because "Realtor" is a trademark owned by the National Association of Realtors. After a name change to The Official Real Estate Referral Group, though, the page (pictured above) is back in business.

Legal considerations also extend to advertising. While social networks may seem like casual forums, the claims that agents make on them can be subject to laws that apply to ads in newspapers or on business websites. Agents must be sure that any claims they make about properties are accurate or indicate that they are estimates, Gardner says.

"There's an issue of disclosure," he says. "Agents have to be very careful about what they say."

Agents are also required by law to identify their brokerage on social media, according to Sam Kraemer, general counsel for Prudential California Realty.

"Ninety-nine percent of agents probably don't," he says.

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say...

Of course, effective marketing means more than just not breaking the law.

The most basic rule: Don't say anything negative about your customers or your product.

As obvious as this may seem, agents' carps and complaints regularly surface on the social-media news feeds of homebuyers and home sellers, Lance says.

"I see a lot of agents posting negative stuff, venting about their clients," she says. "It's not good. It can definitely come back to bite you."

Of course, if an agent expresses frustration over a client's refusal to lower his price or laments the poor condition of one of his properties, he runs the risk of alienating his client. It's also important for agents to avoid sending the message that they are only interested in moving their properties, experts say.

"Don't hammer people with your houses" by publishing come-on descriptions, Gardner says. Try something a little less forward, he adds, like inviting friends and followers to an open house for their "opinions on it."

Realtors should also consider tweeting or posting content unrelated to their business pursuits, and actively engage users on the level originally intended by networking platforms: a social one.

It's "not just posting up stuff but taking the time to answer questions and thank people for liking their page [Facebook page]," Lance says.

But at the same time, she adds, Realtors mustn't allow their digital missives to stray too far from the subject of real estate -- at least on Twitter:

"Then your followers are like, 'Who is this person? Are you a Realtor?"

Also see:
Tweet Your Way to a Home Sale

Your Facebook Status: Foreclosed
6 Must-Have Mobile Tools and Apps for House Hunters

Open Houses of the Week: Where the Jobs Are

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