Published July 18, 2009

Property agents reach out with Facebook

Having secured a stronghold in the classifieds, they are now expanding into the virtual arena. By Emilyn Yap

FRIENDLY phone calls or e-mail just do not seem enough these days. Soon, more property agents may 'superpoke' their clients when previews for the latest launches begin, or when choice units from existing developments surface.

Having carved out a stronghold in the classifieds, property agents are now expanding their reach to virtual networking site Facebook. Some set up profiles for upcoming projects, while many others leave their contact numbers on those pages for house hunters.

KF Property Network's Tony Koe is one agent who has been actively promoting launches on Facebook. The general manager of the Knight Frank subsidiary has created profiles for Soilbuild Group's Meier Suites off Meyer Road - for which there will be a preview this weekend - as well as for Far East Organization's Silversea at Amber Road.

'We have established a group of supporters, be they our fellow agents in the market or regular property purchasers,' said Mr Koe. One reason is that they can obtain information on the projects quickly from Facebook, he explained.

For instance, visitors to the Silversea page will be able to view artist's impressions of the development. They can also gauge how response to the launch has been by viewing photographs of the turnout at the showflat. The page boasts 197 'fans', comprising what is likely to be a mix of agents and interested buyers.

Also, a Facebook profile is free, accessible by users from around the world, Mr Koe said. According to him, one of his agents was even asked to fly to Indonesia, at the request of a Facebook user and prospective investor there.

Word-of-mouth is also strong on Facebook and other networking sites, said Michael A Netzley, a corporate communications professor at Singapore Management University's Lee Kong Chian School of Business. 'A recommendation from a friend can have a strong impact on how others perceive the product or service.'

Besides property agents, at least one other developer has jumped on the Facebook bandwagon. Hong Leong Holdings recently set up a profile for its new project in the Upper Changi area, The Gale, and over 330 users have signed up as 'fans'.

The page offers regular updates on sales. For instance, a post on Monday screamed: 'More than 65 per cent sold in three days of preview!'

A user going by the name Yue HuiHui would also have found the page useful. No, there is no mini golf course at The Gale, said an agent in response to his question. But, there are 18 other facilities such as a bubble pool which he can 'enjoy'.

A Hong Leong Group spokeswoman said that The Gale's Facebook page has received 'very encouraging' response and there is a constant stream of posts. 'It is highly probable that Hong Leong Holdings will promote future projects through Facebook and other Web 2.0 applications. Projects in the pipeline include its development at No 1 Balmoral Road and No 76 Shenton Way.'

For every popular Facebook page, however, there can be many others which stay unseen. Some agents attract barely a fan on pages which they create for certain developments.

KF Property Network's Mr Koe points out that a site's success also depends on the agent's influence in the industry. 'The person who set up the page must be a magnet himself,' he said, adding that that person would still have to go out and gain contacts. 'You can set up a very beautiful website, but if you can't draw people's eyeballs to you, that will defeat all the purpose.'

Herein lies the drawback of marketing through networking sites such as Facebook. According to Prof Netzley, relying on existing networks to spread the word means that outreach will be limited. 'In exchange for the smaller reach, we expect a higher response rate,' he said.

In contrast, messages spread through traditional media such as newspapers or television reach a much wider audience. In turn, the response rate to this mode of marketing is likely to be lower, he said.

For most companies, print advertising is unlikely to go out of style anytime soon. At Singapore Press Holdings' Cats Classified, for instance, the average number of fresh listings has increased from January to June, reflecting the pick-up in market sentiment.

Many 'property watchers', in particular, rely on weekend editions of major newspapers to find out about launches, said the Hong Leong spokeswoman. 'Perusing the advertisements from developers in the newspapers also allows them to easily compare the benefits of different developments.'

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