Looking for a property deal? Try Facebook
Three property pros explain why businesses must embrace social media to survive.
Ricky Blair (left), Shaun Simons and Michael Raibin of Hatton Real Estate
Ignore social media at your peril. Such a warning is sounded by Michael Raibin of niche property firm, Hatton Real Estate.
Earlier this year the young company, nominated for the Estates Gazette's Business Launch of the Year, became what is believed to be the first UK agency to execute a commercial property deal via Facebook. And the group is about to reveal its new Facebook page where potential clients can directly search the company's properties - also thought to be an industry first.
"They won't need to go to our website but can do it straight from our Facebook page," says Mr Raibin, 30. "Quite simply, Facebook is one of the top three most used websites on the planet. I think it will eventually rival Google and become its own search engine. Many people are always logged on to Facebook making it one of the most important websites there is. We want to be a part of that.
"We don't think any other commercial property firms are doing this and we are quite excited about it."
According to Mr Raibin, "using Facebook and other social media to do deals will definitely become the norm. A lot of the corporate firms will get wiser to it and more and more people will start to use it as a tool. Clients will expect agents to be up-to-date with it."
Clients will expect agents to be up-to-date with social media
But it is not just property agents who must take heed. "People in all industries who have been set in their ways and previously resisted social media will need to embrace it to survive. Those that don't will be left behind."
In February, Hatton, also run by directors Ricky Blair and Shaun Simons, used Facebook to agree a deal on behalf of Threadneedle to lease the ground floors of River House EC1 to bicycle company Bespoke Cycling. Mr Blair, 27, says: "They linked onto our Facebook page and sent us a message. They wanted to view the building."
The firm also counts Derwent London, Land Securities and Aberdeen Asset Management among its clients. In addition to Facebook it markets all its properties via YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn. The company has noted a significant increase in enquiries through such sites with more deals in the pipeline.
Mr Simons, 28, says: "Commercial property is not the sexiest of topics but you can use these sites to get access to such a wide audience.
"When I started in property I didn't have a computer, just a phone and fax machine. Today there are all these free platforms. There is no excuse not to use them."
"Even if you do one Facebook deal a year it's money for nothing," adds Mr Blair.
Using social media has been an integral part of the company's approach since its establishment a little over a year ago - 50 per cent of Hatton's business strategy is creative marketing. It was recently named in Property Week magazine's Twitter100 list.
Mr Simons says: "Commercial property has been around for years. We wanted to identify something we could do to improve it. We were born into the 'Facebook generation' and wanted to come up with a way of marketing in a more relevant way."
Mr Raibin continues: "Not everybody has Heron Tower budgets and not every building is a tower but they still want their property marketed in the best way possible and by being creative and embracing new technologies you can do that."
The team regularly hold meetings to develop ways to improve their website, which has recently introduced "vlogs" aka, video blogs. The directors say they need to "constantly keep raising the bar" as others start to jump on the social media bandwagon.
That said, they acknowledge that when it comes to social media, commercial property is "lagging behind.
"Other sectors such as fashion have embraced digital much better," says Mr Simons. "There are lots of e-commerce sites that you can go onto and view videos of clothes that you want to buy. Some property agents are still very set in their ways."
The business partners, with around 30 years of property experience between them, founded Hatton last July. They were working together at commercial agency Richard Susskind but decided to set up on their own investing "a considerable amount" to do so. Mr Blair recalls: "It was a big move, risky and a lot of pressure."
"We did get a few negative comments," adds Mr Simons. "Some people questioned what we were doing - leaving really good positions and secure salaries. It was a lot of hard work - for the first three months we were doing Pizza Express dinners at 11.30 pm."
Fortunately the close friends had established a loyal client following and it was not long before they secured their first deal - a £23 million investment portfolio for Threadneedle Plc. The team, which includes Richard Silver and Elliott Stern, specialise in the City Fringe area, which is proving to be one of the UK's most active regions amid the slump.
Mr Raibin says: "Companies in the technology and creative industries are looking to move here and they are the ones making the money at the moment. They are driving the market. We are seeing tenants migrating from the West End to Clerkenwell and Shoreditch."
Could social media and the internet replace the need for commercial property agents. "It will never ever happen. It's the same in any industry. John Lewis has a website so why does it still have units? There will always be the need for professional advice, management and manpower. You still need a person to do viewings."
What about online property sites such as Rightmove? "Social media is not there to take over property portals but to compliment them. It's an accessory."