When Rebecca Etter and her boyfriend, Adam Frantz, began searching for a home last year, they started with social media. A bit overwhelmed by such an important decision, they wanted to do their homework.

“Being able to look on a variety of social media outlets for images is a way to locate listings you’d be more interested in,” said Etter, 35, who is moving this month from Fitler Square to Kensington.

Studying dozens of homes on Instagram and LinkedIn, along with more traditional home buying sites such as Trulia and Zillow, and the review site Yelp, narrowed down their physical search to less than 10 houses. The search also led them to agent Ariel Morgenstein of JG Real Estate.

“We felt confident that the company was highly reviewed across different platforms, which was important as first-time home buyers,” Etter said. “We had a lot of questions and wanted to be sure we had the right team who could help us.”

Social media offered a casual atmosphere to learn about the process. “It normalized looking for a home, and I felt more comfortable asking the questions I needed to because I had done my own research,” she said.

With people using social media to stay in touch with friends, follow the news and shop, it follows that they would log on when buying or selling a home. Realtors' social media presence offers a glimpse about their style, how quickly their properties sell, and how clients feel about them. Browsing online can save time by helping buyers focus on what they want and who can best help them.

Respondents to a recent National Association of Realtors survey showed 77 percent of Realtors use social media, to market both homes and themselves, said Bill McFalls, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors. Of that, 97 percent use Facebook, 79 percent LinkedIn, 39 percent Instagram, and 33 percent Twitter.

“You touch one person, and they share it with 10 others,” said McFalls, who pointed out that Realtors use targeted social media for most of their clients, regardless of their age or the price range or geographic location of the property. “Social media is a great tool for sellers, buyers and Realtors who love the opportunity to be more informed about what’s out there, and it’s usually cheaper than print media as it effectively can attract more eyes and can be targeted.”

Kristen Foote

Although some larger companies and teams have their own marketing departments that handle social media, most individual Realtors manage their own platforms, he added. Open houses, however, remain an effective tool.

Social media gives listings an online personality "to showcase our attributes and get more eyeballs on the listing, which ultimately leads to more showings and conversions on sales,” said Jared Gruber, managing partner of JG Real Estate in Fishtown. That includes such review sites as Yelp and Google “to give ourselves more credibility.”

Cutting-edge tools, such as Matterport, a 3D camera that creates virtual tours, give clients “that realistic experience so they feel like they’ve been on the showing already,” Gruber said. When the client takes a virtual tour before visiting a house, it often leads to a quick sale.

“It’s difficult to put your finger on exactly how social media impacts our bottom line, but it’s helped to bolster our image and led to more conversions,” Gruber said.

He credits social media with helping him grow his business from a single shingle in 2011 to a medium-size company today with $50 million in sales, 1,000 rental units, and a staff of 38, including employees and independent contractors.

Since its inception two years ago, Take The Tour Now, a virtual-reality capture company based in Gibbsboro, Camden County, that creates immersive, user-controlled home tours, now has more than 300 realty clients. “The platform is completely agnostic so it doesn’t matter what type of device or operating system, and it shares across social media effortlessly and is used by the end-user without any browsers or plug-ins,” Michael J. Radie, CEO of Take the Tour Now, said. “This gives people the look before they go. They can now see 15, 30, 40 homes in a single day as opposed to two or three with an agent driving them around.”

Here's a frame included in a virtual tour of a house on the market in Philadelphia. It was created by Take the Tour Now.
Take The Tour Now
Here's a frame included in a virtual tour of a house on the market in Philadelphia. It was created by Take the Tour Now.

Instagram played a huge role in helping Alyssa Morrione and Brett Tiagwad decide between renting and buying and narrowing down the area where they wanted to live, Morrione said.

“Especially with a rental building, you can follow the tag and see people at these buildings and what their actual apartments look like,” said Morrione, 29. “You can see what the lobby or the outside looks like, not from the website perspective but a real-life perspective.”

The couple bought a house in Center City in November.

Kristen Foote, Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Society Hill, uses Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to tease new listings, advertise homes on the market with eye-catching videos using the Ripl program, and share her success stories with potential clients. She finds, generally, that different segments of the population gravitate toward different platforms.

“If you’re targeting the millennial market, they’re looking everywhere for homes,” said Foote, who finds that LinkedIn appeals to the higher-end market and buyers 50 and above. “I posted a video of a condo at Two Liberty on Instagram, and I had two other people tag their friends’ names in it, and those two friends contacted me about the unit.”

A Realtor for 20 years, Carol Diament with Compass in Center City uses her personal Facebook and Instagram pages to market herself to both potential clients and other Realtors. She’ll post “coming soon” with a property’s façade, but she said her effort is less about getting direct business than about reminding people she’s an agent.

“I take a lot of photographs and post things that are fun and interesting,” she said. “I’m not sure if social media gets you direct business, but I think it’s an important component.”