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Friending With Benefits

06/01/2011, By Kaitlin Ugolik

Friending with benefits

Brokerage community moves away from Craigslist and toward Facebook June 01, 2011 07:00AM

In past years, many New Yorkers depended on the searchable classified ad service to help them find affordable apartments, often without brokers' fees. But these days, many are trading hours of scrolling through apartments on Craigslist for posting housing queries in the form of status updates on Facebook or Twitter.

For the consumer, social media is a way of avoiding the possibility that what's advertised on Craigslist may not really be what's available. For the broker, it's a new opportunity for marketing.

"I find that the people that go on Craigs-list are always skeptical when you're dealing with them," said Martin Newman, a broker at MNS, formerly the Real Estate Group New York. "By using these other social media, everyone embraces you a little bit more.", created by Craig Newmark in 1995, has long been a hub for buying and selling just about anything. But the site and its founder have recently faced criticism about its sometimes-raunchy personals section and the somewhat anarchic feeling of its listings. There are rules for posting, but scams occur regularly across all fronts, and especially, brokers say, in the real estate section.

Craigslist is "so polluted," said Jeff Schleider, managing director of Miron Properties. "There's so much fake information out there, and such an abundance of bait-and-switch tactics." Schleider said some brokers post photos and information for a property that may not exist or may not be available, just to encourage customers to call.

Craigslist representatives were unavailable for comment.

The majority of brokers use some form of social media. An April poll by the social media marketing firm Postling showed that 81 percent of real estate agents and brokers felt "comfortable" or "somewhat comfortable" using social media to connect with consumers. The most popular social network for this purpose, according to the poll, was Facebook.

One consideration is ad price. An ad on Craigslist costs about $10, which isn't much if it provides a good return. But Richard Santos, vice president of Level Group, said the cost is no longer worth it. "Two years ago, I would place one ad and would probably get maybe 10, 15 qualified candidates from it," he said. "Now I have to place at least 10 ads to get two or three qualified candidates. One hundred dollars' worth of advertising should get you something."

Browsing and advertising on social media, on the other hand, is, for the most part, free.

From the consumer's point of view, Facebook can be a way to avoid brokers. Lauren Brown recently finished graduate school in Manhattan and is using Facebook to look for an apartment in Brooklyn. She posted a message on her school's Facebook group and is writing direct inquiries on friends' Facebook walls.

For her, there's nothing particularly useful about Facebook itself, but that's where all her friends are.

"I don't want to deal with a broker," she said. "I'd rather someone who knows an area and a neighborhood refer me, or a friend who knows of an opening in a building." She said she thinks her friends who already live in the areas in which she's looking can give her a better idea of what a reasonable price is than a broker on Craigslist might.

Amanda Green, social media manager at City Connections Realty, said that if a Facebook friend points out a listing, consumers are more likely to trust them than an anonymous broker on Craigslist. "[Facebook is] just as big of a sea of people, but it's targeting people in a place where they really want to talk," Green said.

"Facebook is a closed community. That's a great regulator," Schleider noted. "The greater the barrier to entry, and the more social verification required to be part of a network, the more reliable the data."

Schleider had one agent who managed to do all of her business via Facebook and Twitter, never taking out a single ad on Craigslist or anywhere else. "It was fascinating that it worked," he said. "We live in a space where you can function as a broker without using the traditional means almost at all, which probably wasn't true three years ago."

There are different methods of using Facebook, of course. Michael Signet, Bond New York's director of sales, runs the Bond New York Blog, which is connected to his Facebook and Twitter accounts. Douglas Wagner, executive director of leasing for Bond New York, noted that in the second week of March, Signet was "inundated with new business from Facebook." In this barrage of requests were: a buyer who wanted to purchase a $1 million apartment; a seller with a $1.2 million exclusive; a renter who wanted to spend $5,000 per month but ended up buying; and another renter who took an apartment for $1,800 per month.

Santos, for his part, gets referrals through his sister on Facebook on a regular basis. "She has friends who might post something on her page, you know, 'Looking for an apartment in this area,' and then she'll say, 'My brother's a real estate agent, let me put you over to his page,'" he explained.

Newman of MNS created a Facebook group last summer directed specifically at Quinnipiac University students looking for housing in New York City. He had a friend at the school who let him know there was a growing need, and Newman got at least 15 deals out of the group.

Santos said the customers he finds on social media networks are often looking there, rather than Craigslist or real estate websites, because they want to avoid paying a broker's fee. But they're often willing to change their mind, he noted, for the peace of mind that comes from knowing they're working with a credible source. On Facebook, he pointed out, you can see photos and contact information for the broker, which isn't always available on Craigslist.

"On social media ... they know if push comes to shove, they have somebody to blame," Santos said.

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