Online Pioneer Helping Real Estate Agents Win the Web Battle

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 29, 2011 | Go to article overview

Online Pioneer Helping Real Estate Agents Win the Web Battle


Alex Zoghlin has seen it all before.

During the '90s, Zoghlin noticed a seismic shift developing in the travel industry. Customers who previously contacted travel agents to begin their vacation plans were turning to the Internet to do research and compare prices on transportation and accommodations. He envisioned an online site that would simplify the process for consumers by providing comprehensive information and comparisons through simple keyword searches.

His vision became Orbitz.com, one of the key online players that changed the way people plan their personal and business travel.

"When I got into travel, 80 percent of tickets were sold through traditional agents," he said. "When I left, that number was down to 20 percent,"

Fast forward to the last couple of years.

As Zoghlin and his family were preparing for a move, he noticed his wife spending a lot of time researching new homes on the Internet. It struck him that the real estate industry was experiencing a similar seismic shift that the travel industry had seen a decade earlier.

"I've seen this game before," he said. "It happened in travel, which I was just in. It just happened in the insurance industry."

That game is a buyer-dominated cycle, where control over the research and selection of products shifts from the agent to the consumer. The Internet and its research tools have empowered buyers to do much of the legwork themselves, and won't contact a professional until they have narrowly focused their search.

In the real estate game, Zoghlin said agents and brokers need to be savvy to the shift in their customers habits and redefine their efforts at the start of the customers' search. As CEO of Rosemont-based VHT Inc., he's building products and services that help brokers and agents get a competitive edge in the new buyer-dominated cycle.

"There's a real disconnect right now in real estate," Zoghlin said. "The majority of agents are good sales people. But they are not good at marketing. Marketing has always been putting a sign in the yard and waiting for another agent to show up. But that's not how buyers are buying anymore."

Buyers now use search engines -- primarily Google -- when they start looking for a home. They may go through as many at 500 listings at first, Zoghlin said, but there are only three key attributes they look for at the start; Location, price, and how then home looks. While a broker can't control location, and may not have full control of price, Zoghlin notes they can control how the house looks in the picture.

One of VHT's main products professionally crafts home photos to make it appealing to the potential buyer. Through its ImageWorks platform, VHT can digitally retouch, enhance and tile photos to make them stand out from standard point-and-shoot images used in the past. In addition, Zoghlin said they can digitally furnish empty rooms, which helps buyers envision what the room would look like if furnished.

"Buyers have a hard time envisioning what an empty room would like with furniture," he said. …

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