Spokane Journal of Business

Calling all smartphones

QR codes are expected to become more prevalent in real estate marketing

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Calling all  smartphones
-—Staff photo by Treva Lind
Realtor Marianne Guenther Bornhoft says she can tell she is representing a hot property when she gets a lot of QR code hits. One of the codes is displayed on the sign at left.

Some Spokane-area real estate agents and home builders are using what is called a QR code on for-sale signs and other marketing materials to give smartphone users instant information about a house.

The use of the square-shaped, black-and-white QR code—QR is short for quick response—also is cropping up in magazines and newspapers, and some in the real estate industry say tech-savvy home buyers would rather research properties on their own until they're serious about talking to an agent.

People with application-enabled cell phones who have downloaded a bar code reader application—many of them available online free of charge—can scan a QR code and receive an instant virtual tour of a home's interior and information such as price, square footage, number of rooms, amenities, agent phone number, and website links.

A QR code is described as a two-dimensional or matrix bar code. It's similar in function to a product bar code that's scanned at checkout for its price, but the QR code stores a far wider range of valuable information.

"It used to be that people would drive by a house and call you and say, 'I need information about this house,' but people don't have that much time anymore; they can get this code, and it gives them instant information," says Marianne Guenther Bornhoft, a Windermere Manito real estate agent who started using the bar code earlier this year. "Consumers are very smart and tech savvy, and they want as much information as they can get on a house and go from there."

Liberty Lake-based Greenstone Corp., which builds homes and housing developments in the Inland Northwest, started using the QR code on signs early this year, and the company is phasing in increased usage, says Josh Schluter, Greenstone's director of information systems. Greenstone is building homes in the Kendall Yards urban village on the north bank of the Spokane River northwest of downtown, and some of the QR codes are on signs there.

"We've been doing a slow rollout, but we're pretty happy with what we're seeing and where it seems to be going," Schluter says. "Everyone seems to have these smartphones, and they want to get the information."

Greenstone has the bar code on signs for about 40 homes in the region. Overall, Schluter says he thinks consumers will get more used to seeing and expecting the QR code, similar to how the listing of website information is now standard on home for-sale signs.

"It (the QR code) also gives them the ability to see who the agent is and either directly call or e-mail them, and it also talks about the overall project area, school district, amenities of the community, and people can share about it on Facebook or tweet about it," says Schluter.

Windermere's Guenther Bornhoft says that although people could go to a website and get similar information when they get home, the QR code option offers instant facts, links, and often more updated information because agents input the material, she says.

"This QR code should be the most up-to-date information," she says. "It takes a bit longer for the Realtor because you have to input the information and the photos, but it's worth it."

Guenther Bornhoft also has started using the codes on her fliers and in advertising, although she knows some people don't recognize them yet, or they don't have the code reader application. However, when those who are using this technology do call, she says she's noticed they're more serious.

"They're more specific. When I'm getting calls, these are not casual buyers," she says. "If I get a lot of clicks of the code, I know I have a hot property."

She says she consistently gets three to four clicks a week on an individual QR code at a property. One home she was in the process of selling in late March had 26 mobile views in an almost two-week period.

Rob Higgins, Spokane Association of Realtors executive vice president, says a majority of real estate agents have embraced smartphones for their work, and that the QR code is beginning to emerge also.

"The real estate industry is quickly adopting these new technologies because the consumer is driving it there," he says.

Scott Wetzel, president and CEO of Spokane-based Windermere Services Mountain West, works with Windermere franchises in five Western states. He says Windermere Services recently started using Spokane as a test market for the Toor.me QR code, and that people here will see them more often.

"We're test marketing it exclusively in Spokane, and so far, it is being very well received by both the seller and the buyer who is coming by to see the home," says Wetzel. "It has really gotten rid of the need to have those fliers in a box by the sign. It really empowers the consumer to look almost deeper into that particular listing."

"It's where we think the real estate industry is going."

Brandon Marchand, a Keller Williams Realty Spokane agent, says he is less inclined to embrace the QR code just yet. Although he did test it, he says he would rather spend his marketing dollars right now on ways to "captures leads" about people interested in buying a home.

"Marketing is all about knowing the consumer, and this doesn't track (that)," he says.

Unless people provide e-mail addresses or decide to call an agent while using QR code technology, agents don't see any information about who is looking at properties. The QR code information just tells agents the number of times someone reads them for a property.

Treva Lind
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