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Last week, Chicago Tribune reporter Mary Umberger called me for a quote about new media and... of all things, real estate. I suddenly had a flashback....


My first job out of college was as a reporter for a weekly business newspaper in Boston called the Banker & Tradesman. I wrote about banking and real estate trends -- countless stories on commercial building vacancies, new construction starts, and (because this was the late 1980s) bank failures, the housing bust (and then the boom) and the stock market crash. )
I covered real estate marketing, too. But I never, ever would have predicted that some day I'd be commenting on new media's affect on old media ways. Nevertheless, today, on Valentines' Day, it does my heart good...
Marketing real estate has never been a hip business. The people in it might be cool -- but the advertising venues that work best for real estate have long been traditional vehicles like postcards, print newspaper ads and signage. Real estate is nothing if not a local business, after all (hence the real estate mantra of "location, location, location") -- you don't buy a house off of the Internet, right?
Maybe not yet. But increasingly, tech-savvy real estate agents and developers are turning to online and social media tools like video, blogs, and other new media to sell their properties.
And sometimes, they are having new media tools thrust upon them, as the industry itself is being revolutionized by Web tools and startups.
Which brings me back to the future... and the Chicago Tribune's interest in The Donovan, a condominium building under construction in the apparently hip Yaletown neighborhood in Vancouver. The building has a starring role in a sitcom called "Donovan Life," a new web video series produced by Vancouver moviemaker Roger Larry.
In addition to The Donovan itself, "DonavanLife" includes the very gay Dougal and his best friend Anya, who live there, along with the smokin' neighbor, Jack. I only saw the first episode, but it seems a major theme of the story centers on Jack's sexuality. Is he gay or isn't he? (Dougal says yes, Anya begs to differ.) As Umberger described it, "Their onscreen story is Sex and the City meets Will & Grace."
The video story line was commissioned by Cressey Developers, Donovan's developer. Cressey VP Hani Lammam told the Chicago Tribune: "We do a lot of elegant high-rise buildings, and [the marketing] becomes quite formulaic. How do you capture the audience's attention when it is constantly being bombarded by so much media?"
As I told Umberger, the Donovan webisodes reminded me of last year's campaign by Dove, which cast "Desperate Housewives" actress Felicity Huffman in three Penny Marshall-directed Webisodes.
Then again, Dove is has become known of late for marketing innovation and creativity. It doesn't come as naturally to the real estate industry... until now.
It seems that some real estate agents and developers and others are starting to leverage the Internet in some interesting ways:

  • Signs that real estate agents are embracing blogs in a big way -- a trend some observers call "the cusp of a blogging revolution" in real estate. This year, more real estate agents than ever are relying on blog to cultivate an image of authority and trustworthiness.

  • One-year-old Zillow has launched a toolshed full of tools that makes the buying and selling process more transparent, including a Zillow's Real Estate Wiki.

  • Redfin's idea to use Yahoo!'s cool new Pipes service to mash-up Web site feeds with real estate's Multiple Listing Service data. Earlier, Redfin launched a series of local blogs in which writers record their impression of various houses for sale, a la reader reviews at Amazon.

  • My-Currency, which seeks to put a new spin on pricing homes, launched this month in San Francisco.

Clearly, the industry is in the midst of Real Estate 2.0.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Ann Handley

Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author who speaks worldwide about how businesses can escape marketing mediocrity to ignite tangible results. IBM named her one of the 7 people shaping modern marketing. She is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a LinkedIn Influencer, a keynote speaker, mom, dog person, and writer.