By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer
Nearly 80 percent of home buyers start their search on the Internet - soon they'll have more to look at. On its Web site, the Peninsula on Indian River Bay development in Delaware has begun using high-quality, television news-style presentation to sell homes. On the site, viewers take interactive tours of the property, led by two on-line hosts, through different site "channels."
According to Roland Varesko, president of Ecendent Interactive, the production company that put together Peninsula's site, nobody is doing this on as grand a scale as the Peninsula. "It's like having your own TV show," he says.
But the trend is sure to spread. Even now, the economics are such that a development of 50 to 100 homes could afford a Web site like Peninsula's, according to Varesko. And big real estate brokers, such as Century 21, Coldwell Banker (both part of Realogy) and Re/Max, are quickly ramping up.
"I believe streaming videos on Web sites is the wave of the future," says Charlie Young, vice president for marketing for broker Coldwell Banker.
Sites are already getting souped-up. "A year ago," Young says, "we were telling all our brokers about the need to put more [still] photos on their Web sites." Today, if your site doesn't offer virtual tours, mapping technology, neighborhood guides and a video library of buying and selling tips, it's nowhere.
Young connects the whole trend to the YouTube phenomenon, where seemingly everyone in America is making and posting their own videos. Putting together even an elaborate site like Peninsula's is not expensive. The project's developer, Larry Goldstein, says it cost only about $50,000.
As a matter of fact, compared to more traditional forms of marketing, such as newspaper advertising, the site is a bargain and more efficient. "Our market is so broad," says Goldstein, "from New York City through New Jersey, Philadelphia and the D.C. area, so how do you pick and choose where to put your ad money?"
Such salesmanship is also a way of differentiating your development from the competition. "Before, everything was focused on the transaction," Young says. "Today, it's all about how to engage the consumer. Consumers control the up-front process and have all the information and tools they need to do a large part of the real estate agents' jobs themselves."
The Peninsula Web site is hosted by a genial pair of professional spokespersons, one male and one female. They lead users through a virtual tour of the development's offerings, including its neighborhoods, home styles, nearby beaches and features and amenities, including a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course. Using video makes the site much more arresting.
"The main point of the site is to be video driven," says Varesko, "It's more inviting, more engaging for users."
"It's been very successful for us," says Goldstein, who is able to gauge the interest by the e-mail feedback of viewers.
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