Selling condos on the Web

Here is a great article published by the Toronto Star. You can also find the article here:

E-savvy developers pouring marketing dollars into latest online technology

Apr 14, 2007 04:30 AM
Amy Brown-Bowers
Special to The Star

Toronto realtor Pat Baker is soon to become a virtual star. Her debut will begin inside a dark studio where, surrounded by blue screens, she’ll be filmed giving a guided tour of the Residences at The Ritz-Carlton in Toronto, a luxury development currently under construction.

Baker, CEO of Baker Real Estate, will point out upscale features to potential buyers as she strolls through virtual rooms, all of which will be decorated in the final clip with virtual furniture commissioned to an international designer.

Marketers, realtors and developers all say that e-technology is becoming increasingly important in selling new condos in urban settings such as Toronto. For many urban buyers, the Internet is both their initial and primary means of gathering information and shortlisting their selections. In some cases, clients do all of their research online and visit the sales office only to fill out the final paperwork.

Mazyar Mortazavi, principal of TAS Designbuild, the company behind M5V condominiums at King St. W. just east of Spadina Ave., said about one third of people who walk into the sales office already know what they want to buy.

More than 25 per cent of sales to date for Zip Condos and Lofts, a Monarch development in Liberty Village, came from the Internet, says Linda Mitchell, vice-president for sales and marketing at Monarch. When the company held a special one-day sale for people who had pre-registered for their Legacy Development at Hwy. 404 and Sheppard Ave., 60 per cent of sales that day were linked to the website.

E-savvy developers who have done their market research in Toronto are pouring more of their marketing dollars into Web-based technology such as e-blasts, blogs, two-way communication portals and spectacular $100,000 websites. The recent addition of virtual reality and 3-D animation to some sites is a clever way to connect with a generation of video gamers.

The shift in marketing is partly driven by developers, who see this as phenomenally cost-effective – it’s much cheaper to send an e-blast than to mail 1,000 letters. It’s also partly driven by buyers, who increasingly turn to the Internet as a source of information on just about everything.

This shift has several implications: It changes the role of the realtor, it alters the dynamics at the sales centre and it affects the overall selling strategy.

Project websites used to look more like electronic versions of print ads, says Mitchell.

And, like print ads, the main purpose was to drive people to visit the sales centre, where a salesperson would dole out information and secure the sale.

Now, websites offer virtually the same amount of information available at sales centres – everything from floor plans to pricing, building amenities and renderings.

Some, like Baker, resisted the inclusion of so much information on the web, fearing it would render realtors unnecessary or prevent people from going to sales centres. But she, along with many others, has changed her mind.

“I used to think it would hurt us. I now know it helps. The more we can provide them, the more comfortable they are,” she says. “Now, we put as much information on the web as possible.”

Tiiu Knude was looking in the east end of Toronto for her first condo. A Google search brought her to the website for EQ1, a Monarch project at Hwy. 401 and McCowan Rd.

“What was great about the website was that it had floor plans and prices, so that sort of immediately piqued my interest because, (I thought) ‘Oh, I could afford this,'” Knude says.

“That was a big selling point because it was all laid out there on the website … If you’re just looking at a website and you see great floor plans, you’re thinking, ‘Oh it’s probably out of my range and I won’t even bother pursuing it.’ But when you see some prices, you think, ‘Oh, well that’s not too bad.’ Then you pursue it further.”

Megan Sim, a first-time condo owner who bought a unit at Vü, an Aspen Ridge Homes development near Jarvis St. and Adelaide St. E., was able to learn about the project’s designers, architects and building features before visiting the sales centre.

She agrees that posting things such as floor plans and pricing online is important, especially for first-time buyers.

“You don’t want to fall in love with a building and then realize when you get there to the sales office that you can’t afford it,” she says.

Because information-rich websites allow prospective buyers to narrow down their choices, the sales process is much faster.

“There’s less physical shopping,” Baker says. Instead of driving to 20 sales centres around the city, maybe five of which might fit a prospective buyer’s specifications, buyers can narrow down their search to a handful of locations.

“It takes away a lot of the manual time and labour,” says Mitchell.

The ability for shoppers to do e-research also means a faster turnover in sales offices and more actual sales per visitor, because those who visit are serious about buying.

“People coming into the sales office are way better informed … people come in knowing what they want,” Mortazavi says.

Baker agrees. “I have had people walking into the office with a floor plan. They know what they want.”

She is now working on a virtual sales office for her overseas clients, who will be able to book online appointments with her.

This is another major benefit of online marketing: increased exposure to international buyers and investors.

For a city where 43 per cent of the population wasn’t born here, international buyers – investors, immigrants and parents looking to buy a place for their children when they travel here for school – are a major market force, says Baker.

“There’s a whole world out there.”

She has a client from England who recently bought a suite in the new Ritz-Carlton development without even visiting Toronto because the website was so well constructed.

Vicki Griffiths, principal of Vicbar Marketing, says there’s a large condo investment market in Toronto, which means developers need to appeal to international and local “business heads,” as opposed to the more typically emotional home buyers.

She spends a lot of time chatting with younger buyers in sales centres to get an idea of what features appeal to them.

“The way we reach them is through the Internet,” she says. “It really is the wave of the future.”