Real estate marketing has changed fundamentally over the past twenty years, mainly due to digital technologies. Due to the availability of online platforms as intermediary websites, the complexity of interaction relationships between providers, demanders, and real estate agents has increased. The study takes the perspective of real estate agents and uses the example market of Cologne/Bergisch-Gladbach to show what new potential digital channels offer for the reach and intensity of real estate marketing. Real estate agencies are challenged to evolve technologically, but then have a wider inventory of marketing channels and presentation options at their disposal. In the future, social media and video streaming platforms could further revolutionize property marketing, offering further potential to proactive providers, especially in terms of property branding and international sales.
1.1 Motivation and problem
Germany’s real estate markets are in an imbalance. While there is a high surplus demand in large cities, which contributes to exploding rental and purchase prices in the case of housing shortages, in rural and peripheral regions properties are still vacant or can only be put to use at prohibitively low purchase or rental prices and thus saved from neglect (Voigtländer 2017, p. 10; Deschermeier et al. 2017, p. 2).
Real estate marketing is called upon to balance out these imbalances on the demand market, i.e. to motivate tenants and buyers to settle or invest in less sought-after or innovative locations, while boom regions need to acquire providers to meet demand. To achieve this goal, real estate marketing according to the traditional, analogue pattern, in which customers went to an agent they trusted, has reached its limits. In order to open up new markets, it is necessary to reach customers nationwide by combining various classic and digital channels. Prospective customers must already be enthused about the property using meaningful digital presentations to arouse their interest in new locations (Pavenkov and Rubtcova 2019, p. 1; Khikhadze 2020, p. 26). Finally, it is important to effectively structure target groups in the demand and supplier segment and also to work on them in the long term in order to build customer trust (Streibich 2011, p. 71; Althaus 2013, p. 96).
1.2 Objectives and methodology
Many real estate providers are overwhelmed with the variety of options that digital technologies in a particular offer. Scientific research also provides hardly any empirical results on how real estate marketing can be holistically conceived. Using practical examples from the region – Cologne / Bergisch Gladbach – this article aims to show how the marketing mix in the real estate sector can be adapted to the market, especially with the integration of digital technologies, and which future trends real estate providers should keep an eye on to ensure the future viability of their company. An overview of current sales strategies, their interaction, and their further development potential will be given, thus also providing a foundation for further academic research on real estate marketing.
2 Traditional real estate marketing
Until the 1990s, the marketing of real estate in Germany was primarily carried out via physical media and thus according to simple principles, which will be briefly described to show how the marketing of real estate has changed over the past 20 years and continues to change today, primarily due to digital technologies.
The classic real estate market is characterized by three central parties, real estate demanders (prospective buyers and tenants), real estate providers, i.e. owners willing to sell and rent, as well as intermediaries who mediate between the supply and demand side, represented by real estate agents or institutions such as banks, which maintain real estate brokerage departments (Walzel 2000, p. 70).
Figure 1: Players in the real estate market
In the following, the changing position and function of real estate agents will be considered.
2.1 Origins of real estate marketing as a regional, analogue approach
Until the 1990s, property sellers, be they landlords or owners willing to sell, usually went to an estate agent they trusted, who usually had an office near the property (Falk et al. 2004, p. 573). This physical proximity to the property represented a locational advantage since mediation work had to be carried out physically and directly in the property to a large extent. Thus, the circle of real estate companies suitable for mediation was limited to a few renowned providers, which ensured them a location and trust advantage.
In order for the agent to act for the provider side, a formal brokerage contract was usually signed as an exclusive sales contract. Real estate agencies had a moat due to their location- and reputation-related competencies, which made it difficult for other providers to enter the market (Tsagris 1974, p. 1). Thus, established brokerage agencies possessed market power vis-à-vis both the supply and demand side (Saritarla and Loeck 2005, p. 11). The estate agency sought buyers for the property or new tenants on a fixed, contractual basis. Due to their unique position, estate agents often made use of their right to collect a commission from both sides in the sales business (Delcoure and Miller 2002, p. 12).
Real estate agents usually advertised property offers in physical sales portals, i.e. in their own shop as well as in local and national daily newspapers, under the heading: Real Estate Sales or Rentals and initiated contacts with interested parties willing to buy or rent (Baryla and Ztanpano 1995, p. 1-ff). Due to the limited transparency of physical advertising markets, real estate agencies played an important role in transmitting information to the demand side (Haag et al. 2000, p. 205). Real estate agents thus had a confidence-building function and lowered the transaction costs of real estate marketing due to personal involvement. Real estate agents usually conducted the necessary extensive viewing appointments on-site, since in many cases little detailed information could be obtained from the available advertising media (Barresi 1968, pp. 59-60).
Correspondence with sellers and buyers usually had to be conducted primarily by telephone, which was made more difficult by the limited accessibility of customers via landline telephony. Real estate agents also prepared property-related contracts in time-consuming work. For example, rental and purchase contracts had to be printed out and sent by post. Thus, real estate brokerage was often delayed or made more difficult due to existing communication barriers. A high level of commitment on the part of the real estate agent was required to maintain communication between the supply and demand sides (Epley 2001, pp. 221-224).
The role of the real estate agent in the pre-digital age was thus justified by the trust-building, information-providing, and time-intensive brokerage activity that was important for both sides. Fixed contracts ensured a secure income for estate agents. Market entry by competitors was already limited due to physical barriers.
2.2 Digitalization and effects on marketing
Through digitization and especially through the widespread distribution and use of the internet, also and especially for the distribution of goods and services, the demands on marketing communication and also the demand behavior of consumers as a whole have changed (Wigand 1997, p. 5; Dollmayer 2001, p. 12).
On the supplier level, Web 2.0 offers numerous new possibilities for product information and interaction with the consumer. For example, products are now presented via websites. In addition, video channels and social media are used to draw attention to products and to get in touch with consumers (Brynjolfsson et al. 2003, p. 1580). Marketing communication is thus no longer reserved for sales partners who have suitable sales and presentation rooms, but increasingly also takes place in direct sales (Bird 2007, p. 15ff). This leads to a „democratization“ of the sales levels: All market participants can interact on an equal footing in digital markets and make direct contact with each other (Liu et al. 2019, p. 395). For product providers, this results in a broader, always available, and international supply space, which is, however, at the same time characterized by greater complexity (Karlovitz 2020, p. 13).
However, digitization and online marketing and sales also result in changes on the demand side of the market (Nunan and DiDomenico 2019, p. 469). Online media reduce the transaction costs of procurement for consumers, as online presentations can save them trips to the supplier. Buyers can obtain information about product variants and alternative procurement channels online at any time (Wind and Mahajan 2002, pp. 43-44). Search engines and comparison portals transparently compare purchasing options and prices for comparable products within seconds, so that customers can quickly find the cheapest supplier and realistically compare prices and services in case of quality differences (Yasmin et al. 2015, pp. 69-72). However, this new freedom of choice also contributes to an intensification and higher rationality of search behavior among consumers and also often causes decision-making weakness in the face of the multitude of new alternatives that open up every day (Carbonaro and Votava2005, p. 27f).
The change in product supply and demand in the age of new digital media also leads to intermediaries having to redefine their role in the sales process (Lobato 2016, p. 348). On the one hand, the intermediary function appears to have become obsolete due to direct market access for suppliers and consumers. The classic mediating activity seems dispensable in view of the comprehensive information offered via Web 2.0. The disintermediation hypothesis states that increasing price and service transparency deprives intermediaries of the ground for mediation activities (Schoder 1999, p. 599).
On the other hand, the increasing prevalence of intermediaries in consumer goods marketing, for example, the success of sales portals such as eBay or Amazon-Marketplace, also confirms that intermediaries have taken on a new important role in the market (Giaglis et al. 2002, p. 231). Thus, intermediaries also take over the function of information evaluation and bundling in online channels by comparing and evaluating the contents of different websites, which is crucial especially due to increasing information diversity. From the customer’s point of view, this reduces information complexity and simplifies and accelerates the purchase decision. Intermediaries also take on important trust-building functions in an increasingly anonymous digital world (Palmer et al. 2000, p. 1). Repeated business contacts and hedging systems reassure customers, many of whom hardly know direct suppliers. Due to reputation and image, intermediaries in the online segment can support branding and build customer trust (Sihare 2017, p. 10).
3 Real estate marketing today
In real estate marketing, too, these changes brought about by digital media are now taking concrete shape in the form of a new variety of offer spaces, new sales strategies, and an expanded target group profile. This will be illustrated with reference to examples from the Cologne/Bergisch-Gladbach area:
3.1 Diversity and integration of digital and classic offer spaces
To market real estate in the age of Web 2.0, real estate agencies have their own website and their own social media profiles as advertising platforms in addition to classic media such as newspaper advertisements. Of greater importance and reach, however, are the extensive internet portals such as Immobilienscout24.de, Immowelt.de, Immonet.de, and many others, which, as intermediation platforms, enable the listing of properties with detailed information text, property photos, videos, and further digital pdf documents (such as floor plans or energy certificates).
Through property portals, prospective tenants and buyers receive comprehensive information on each property posted, which goes far beyond the content that can be conveyed through traditional media. Interested parties can also efficiently search online platforms based on their own requirements by means of search functions, for example by narrowing down the offer area according to flat size, contract type, location, and price. For example, Immobilienscout24.de finds a total of 1,607 properties for rent in the Cologne region on 10.10.2021, with 431 hits for flats with two rooms or more and with at least 60m² of living space. If one also limits the search to a radius of 1 km as the crow flies from the city center, 11 hits remain for this market segment (Immobilienscout24.de 2021/1, online).
In the hit list, properties are arranged according to uniform criteria so that a price and quality comparison can be made transparently. Intermediation platforms also offer price overviews that reflect the price development in the past years. Interested parties thus receive a complete overview of the desired market and submarket within seconds and can effectively track the development of offers and prices by, for example, setting up search queries, which then notify property seekers of new offers by e-mail as a push service. Via service functions, market participants can determine the value of their property free of charge based on the offer histories available in the portals and thus ensure that the property is offered at a price in line with the market. For example, Immoscout24.de determines an estimated purchase price of € 615,000 for the sale of a three-room flat Cologne Am Zuckerberg 1 of 100 m² on 22.10.2021, with 7,950 potential buyers registered on the portal. The report, which is automatically generated by the portal, also shows price ranges of between €473,000 and €880,000, depending on the standard of fittings, and indicates that there has been an average market price increase of 9.9% over the period 2020/21. (Immobilienscout24.de 2021/2, online).
3.2 New digital sales strategies for real estate agencies
In digital real estate intermediation portals, real estate agencies are also given extensive opportunities to present their own business and benefit from new contact possibilities to real estate providers and enquirers. For example, eighteen real estate agents in the 50668 Cologne region will present themselves via immobilienscout24.de on 10.10.2021, each with an agency photo, the number of their currently active advertisements, the proportion of their sales advertisements, and with a rating ranking of customers, reference objects and recommendation rate. From the agent profile, one can directly access one’s advertisements on the website (Immobilienscout24.de/3 2021, online). Real estate agents can forward to their own website. Thus, digital interaction platforms enable real estate agencies to have an additional advertising presence and thus expand the potential of acquiring new customers (Shaw 2020, p. 1037).
Real estate agencies also have the opportunity to directly contact direct sellers who advertise via the intermediation portals and offer their services (Kaur 2019, p. 147). For this purpose, telephone or email contact is available for each advertiser via an internal encrypted email of the intermediation website. Chat messages can be exchanged there. Access to the customer is thus made possible barrier-free and directly around the clock.
Digital media also enable private providers to communicate directly in the same way. Real estate agencies are required to prove their expertise in real estate sales by presenting their competencies online to acquire customers. This is achieved through the professional presentation of the acquired real estate offers, for example through complete informative text documents and professional property photos (Sittler 2017, p. 1ff). The agency’s profile can be presented partly via the intermediary’s website, but more comprehensively via the agency’s own linked websites or websites that can be found directly in the search engine.
Through search engine optimization of their website or commercial search engine marketing, real estate agencies can acquire customers directly. For example, using the keyword combination „Immobilien Bergisch-Gladbach“, a list of more than 100 real estate agencies in the region can be found via Google Maps, each with their regional location, opening hours, contact details, website, and (after activation) the Google rating on a scale from 1 (minimum) to 5 (top), along with text comments by customers and interested parties. Knigge-Immobilien in Bergisch-Gladbach, for example, achieved a ranking of 4.3 in 37 Google ratings, with prospective buyers praising competence, reliability, and service in particular, but criticizing a lack of accessibility in some cases (Google.com 2021/1, online).
Real estate providers can thus use digital media to expand their sales concept to include new channels and combine classic (telephone contact, office) with digital (website, search engine presence, and intermediation portal use) marketing strategies (Ying 2020, p. 1501). Thus, customers can be reached via an expanded channel portfolio and thus more intensively, i.e. with higher information density and contact frequency than in the pre-digital age of real estate marketing. Real estate advertisements are basically visible to users from all over the world. This increases the potential clientele for the rental and purchase market. For example, an estate agent’s offer from Bergisch-Gladbach could also be accessed by a prospective tenant who currently lives in Singapore but will soon be starting a job in the Cologne region. Due to the virtual property presentation with photographic images and videos of the property, a contract could already be initiated from Singapore via digital media, as a realistic impression can be conveyed. Via mobile media, the agent could also offer a live tour of the property filmed and transmitted via mobile phone. If appropriate collateral is provided, the agent could also process the contract via digital media (Shepard 2020, p. 120). The new tenant could then move into the property immediately upon arrival in Germany. Digital media thus save transaction costs for both the provider and the demanding party. Of course, the digital marketing of real estate requires paired internet and real estate expertise, which is why real estate landlords and sellers should rely on competent agencies to a greater extent than before.
Figure 2: Real estate marketing as multimedia intermediation in the digital age
From the explanations of current strategies of real estate marketing via digital media, it becomes clear that the intermediation level in real estate marketing has significantly expanded via search engines and real estate brokerage portals and that a new virtual sales level has been added for providers, buyers and real estate agencies (Sawyer et al. 2014, p. 40). This increases market transparency and the intensity of interaction and thus reduces the transaction costs of contract initiation. Real estate agencies benefit from the greater reach of their intermediation activities but are also required to deal intensively with new technologies to hold their own in an increasingly digital competitive environment (Kumar 2014, p. 17).
4 Perspectives of real estate marketing
4.1 Video streaming technologies
Digital online technologies that can also be used for real estate marketing are developing rapidly. Already today, real estate is marketed using property videos and, in the case of new buildings, employing graphic video simulations that can be viewed online. Thus, in the future, marketing via video channels such as YouTube could become even more important, which is already the norm today for mass-produced products such as consumer goods and vehicles (Valjus et al. 2012, p. 331). Here, promotional videos, product reviews, and documentaries are posted via video channels, which can then be rated, liked, and shared by users. Due to the even more extensive three-dimensional and dynamic presentation via videos, interested parties can thus be reached even more actively (Wongkitrungrueng 2020, p. 488).
4.2 Social media marketing
Social media marketing could also become even more important for the real estate sector in this context. Already today, so-called influencers are used to review and promote consumer goods online (O’Neill 2019, p. 42). Influencers are well-connected personalities in the online community who create and post videos themselves (Bakshy et al. 2011, p. 65). They receive incentives from providers for presenting the advertised object. Consumers are easily reached and influenced by this channel due to the authentic effect and personal interaction with influencers (Levin 2020, p. 19ff). In real estate marketing, influencers could visit properties as sample prospects and then post the property tour together with their personal documentation online. This marketing strategy is particularly suitable for larger new construction projects that address a broad customer base and are also marketed internationally over a longer period (Gopy-Ramdhany and Seetanah 2022, n. p.).
4.3 The increasing importance of real estate brands and trust-building
Due to the development of the internet as a central marketing platform for real estate and the internationalization of the real estate market, the importance of real estate-related brands has already increased. These include, above all, brands of renowned real estate agencies. With increasing market transparency, providers usually only succeed in differentiating themselves through memorable attributes that anchor the property succinctly in the consumer’s memory. Conversely, an adequate internet presentation, e.g. using a virtual 3D tour, contributes to the establishment of brand concepts. Due to the permanence of property communication via the internet – even properties that have already been sold can still be accessed by those interested in new properties – the brand concept is given continuity and a historical reference. Users are motivated by internet communication, e.g. on social media portals, to relate to the property emotionally and to present themselves socially. This also strengthens the brand concept in real estate (Hamilton and Gunesh 2003, p. 1).
Up to now, real estate brands have primarily been used by large providers who have the corresponding marketing know-how within the company. Since large companies offer a higher project volume, it is easier for them to establish an efficient brand concept with umbrella and sub-brands than for small providers who only sell a few properties (Meyers 2010, p. 77). Especially for smaller real estate providers, the establishment of a meaningful brand concept represents an opportunity to assert themselves in an existing market dominated by large providers (Meyers 2010, p. 76).
4.4 Outlook and need for further adaptation
Due to the rapid development of digital technologies, the real estate market is constantly changing. Real estate providers are challenged to deal with ever new technologies of property presentation and customer acquisition to remain competitive and position real estate projects at attractive prices. Property sellers and landlords can therefore benefit to an ever greater extent from professional agents who are familiar with the latest technologies and offer a broad property portfolio online. Especially in internet marketing, professional real estate agents can contribute to building trust between sellers and buyers and increase the value of the advertised properties by establishing a sales brand.
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Kľúčové slová/Key words
real estate marketing, development, digitalization
realitný marketing, rozvoj, digitalizácia
JEL klasifikácia/JEL Classification
Rozvoj realitného marketingu – trendy do budúcnosti
Realitný marketing sa za posledných dvadsať rokov zásadne zmenil najmä vďaka digitálnym technológiám. V dôsledku dostupnosti online platforiem ako sprostredkovateľských webových stránok sa zvýšila zložitosť interakčných vzťahov medzi poskytovateľmi, záujemcami a realitnými agentmi. Štúdia vychádza z pohľadu realitných maklérov a na príklade trhu Kolín/Bergisch-Gladbach demonštruje, aký nový potenciál ponúkajú digitálne kanály pre dosah a intenzitu realitného marketingu. Realitné kancelárie stoja pred výzvou technologicky sa vyvíjať, no potom majú k dispozícii širší inventár marketingových kanálov a možností prezentácie. V budúcnosti by mohli sociálne médiá a platformy na streamovanie videa ešte viac zintenzívniť revolúciu v marketingu nehnuteľností a ponúknuť ďalší potenciál proaktívnym poskytovateľom, najmä pokiaľ ide o tvorbu značky nehnuteľností a medzinárodný predaj.
8. November 2021 / 17. November 2021