No one can dispute the buying power of the Internet. All we have to do is enter a credit card number and boom, we're the proud owner of shoes, books, music, clothes, toys and … houses? "The latest trend," says one of the 567 million Google hits I found on this very topic, "is to buy a house online."You can't really buy a house online. But you can look at photos, watch video, print listings – or simply scan a QR barcode while out and about – to help narrow down the choices. "Baby boomers want a lot of information and it's up to us to get it to them in a way they want it," said Rosemary Bickford, vice president of sales and marketing at Brickland Homes. "Buyers want to know almost everything before they even pick up the phone."And hopefully from there, they will want to meet in person."The Internet is a great way to gather information, but not to build a relationship of trust with the people you might want to build your home," said Ron Martin, who along with Marc Jungers owns Grand View Builders. Aiming for that human touch, Grand View Builders has launched a series of real-life, in-person seminars for people who want to know more about its Build on Your Lot program. "When we make ourselves available in this manner, we demonstrate both our expertise and our passion for homebuilding," Martin said. "We look at it as an interview for a job. Potential buyers want to do business with people they trust." Martin said the seminars have been well received and they plan to host more in the future.Virtual shopping leads to real peopleWhile an estimated 74 percent of buyers turn to the Internet for information first, 69 percent will also reach out to a Realtor – most likely someone they found the same way they found a potential home. That's why sellers must seek innovative ways to standout online. One way Realtors can remain competitive, Bickford said, is by earning and advertising any designations that go above and beyond state-mandated, continuing-education requirements. "Buyers equate designations with extra education," said Bickford, who also teaches at Champions School of Real Estate.But the "latest and greatest" thing, she said, is testimonials.That means written, recorded or, even better, videotaped or webcam-captured kudos from buyers that can easily be posted online by sellers. A simple click of the "like" button on Facebook exponentially increases the number of users who see the positive message.According to a 2009 National Association of Realtors survey on technology, 84 percent of Realtors are using social media. The reality is… Online and in person, sellers need to shine. The information highway brings buyers to the door, but someone has to be there to open it."Even if they end up buying somewhere else, they're going to remember us and say positive things about us because we took the time to help them," Martin said.Bickford agrees."In this day and age," she said, "anything less than excellent is really not acceptable."
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