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How to Start an Online Real Estate Business

Odd Cents - Entrepreneurship

Are you interested in starting an online real estate business? Find out what tools you will need to get started and start selling properties today.

I’ve toyed with the idea of purchasing property in other Caribbean islands for a very long time. But it’s not always possible for me to travel to the island to conduct research. So, I’ve relied on Caribbean real estate websites to gather information on prospective properties.

Caribbean real estate is a niche that is ripe for development by a real estate professional looking to start or grow their business. It’s an opportunity to completely change a market that is a favourite with real estate investors. People are always looking for somewhere to live, and that will never change.

Plan Your Business

If you are adding an online presence or creating a new business, you will need a business plan. An effective business plan will enable you to create a strategic plan that will guide your business. Key considerations are the business’ objectives; a SWOT analysis; competitive analysis; marketing analysis and strategy; financing and operational plans. If you are looking for a business plan, the Resource Library has a free copy that you can download. Additionally, you can also use the Paper Money’s online business workbook.

Even though you are establishing an online business, real estate thrives on human contact. You will have to develop leads, utilise marketing and maintain contact with current and future clients. Real estate is not all about the finances. You have to build trust with your clients and be open to the range of emotions that come with purchasing, selling and renting properties.

If you choose to specialise in a real estate niche, you have to decide which one you will focus on. This is something that should be clearly noted in your business plan, because it will impact your target market; help you to identify your competitors; and create a marketing plan.

Real Estate Niches

There are some benefits to creating a business that caters to anyone and everyone interested in real estate. You will obviously have a larger target market, which could potentially bring in more revenue.

However, if you focus on a specific niche, it may be easier to get more listings and establish yourself as an authority. This could also be a profitable move that will benefit your business in the long-run, whilst achieving moderate success in the short-run.

Some niches that you can consider for your online real estate business are:

  • First-Timers: First-time buyers new to home ownership
  • Real Estate Investors: Buyers looking to make money from real estate
  • Vacation Homebuyers: Buyers looking for vacation properties
  • Time Shares: Partial ownership of vacation properties
  • Budget and Low Price: Rare deals that are priced attractively
  • Fixer-Uppers: Homes that require rehabs and renovations
  • College Housing Buyers: Investors interested in purchasing properties near schools
  • Multi-Family: Properties with multiple units (apartments, condos, town homes)
  • New Construction/ Developments: Newly built homes
  • Water-front Properties: Properties located close to beaches, rivers and lakes
  • Commercial Real Estate: Properties for businesses and events (offices, kiosks, spaces)
  • Retirement Homes: Homes and retirement villages for retirees
  • Luxury Properties: High-end properties (homes, condos, apartments)
  • Lots of Land: Residential land lots for sale
  • Agriculture: Land and property to be used for farming and agriculture
  • Foreclosures: Properties to be sold quickly by banks and financial institutions
  • Corporate Rentals: Rentals for corporate professionals arranged by companies
  • Residential Rentals: Rental of homes, apartments, condos and town homes
  • Land Rentals: Rental of land for residential, commercial and agricultural purposes
  • College Housing Rentals: Housing for college and university students
  • Expats: Properties for work immigrants

What Problems Will Your Business Solve?

What problems will your real estate business solve? I realised during my property searches that many local and regional property sites lacked basic features that could turn a prospect into a buyer. This is a good thing for you!

When I was searching for property, I was looking for two main types of real estate. Firstly, I was looking for small lots of land that would be moderately priced, if the location was right. I was willing to pay a bit more if the land was located in an area that was close to amenities, entertainment areas or the beach. This land would be used to build a small home, that would be used as a vacation property or short-term rentals.

Secondly, I was interested in small, older, fixer-upper properties that would not be too pricey to renovate. For these properties, one of the core characteristics was that they should be located on excellent transportation routes. This was because these properties would be used for long-term rentals or may be sold within the next five years.

The Most Promising Prospect

My search was very difficult, because of the characteristics I was looking for. But there was one property that I was interested in that did not go through. But this was a situation that highlighted some of the problems in the real estate market (specifically the Barbados real estate market.)

The property, which was a lot of land, appeared on a local real estate site. It was overpriced, but the size was right, and the location was perfect.

But, the photos of the property were awful. The lot was overgrown with vegetation and it looked as though the neighbour’s fence had fallen onto it. The listing gave the price of the lot and the total square footage, but there was no mention of the dimensions. Also, there was no mention of the covenants of the lot, which would stipulate the type of property that could be built. Also, there were no mention of what was required to secure the property for purchase.

If I was going to start a real estate business, these are the areas that I would pay attention to on my website. Your competitive advantage will depend on your ability to solve problems that exist in your chosen niche. These were valid questions that I had, but alas, no answers.

If you can give your customers exactly what they are looking for, this is what will bring you success.

How to Make Money on Your Website

There are a few ways that you can make money on your real estate website. You must review them and choose the one that best suits your business. Your business plan should give you an indication of the best model. Always remember what you are trying to achieve and choose the approach that will put you on track.

1. List Your Properties

The first model that you can use is to list your own properties on the site. This is strictly limited to the real estate listings that you have acquired. If you can source exclusive properties, this will increase the value of your site and your business.

2. External (Paid and Free) Listings

Another method is to open your site to external listings. This means that anyone who is selling a property can list it on your website. You can offer different tiers (e.g. paid and free) for listings. Free listings will have limited features, whilst the paid listings will be stocked with bonus features.

3. Blog

Adding a blog to your website is a smart move that creates the potential to earn more money. When you post articles that are relevant to the real estate niches, you can insert affiliate ads, from which you can earn, if people click on them. Your blog can also be used to share information content and publish sponsored content and paid promotions.

4. Services

Additionally, you can also offer other services related to the real estate field. If you possess the right qualifications and know-how, you can get into property and facilities management; teach real estate classes; conduct home inspections and audits; offer property valuations; and credit repair services.

Of course, you may decide to combine these four methods. I believe that this is an effective approach, because if successful, you would be benefitting from several different income streams.

Online Real Estate Business Examples

There are many online real estate business examples that can give you ideas for your own business. The idea is not to copy these sites, but instead to gather inspiration. When you are looking at these sites, take a look at how they are formatted; how they use social media; the types of properties that they promote; the type of content that is published on the blog; and other interesting traits that give the sites an edge. Remember, the aim is to create a unique business that fills a gap in the market.

Real Estate Business and Domain Names

Naming a new business can be a long process, especially if your dream business name is already taken. However, if this is the case, you just have to be creative with the name. Whatever name you choose, register the matching social media handles (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Quora) and the Gmail and Outlook email addresses. This is a core component of your online branding and will ensure that your business can be found easily on the internet.

Checklist: How to Start an Online Real Estate Business

If your mind is made up that a real estate business is right for you, this checklist will ensure that you complete all of the steps required to get started.

Step 1: Choose a Business Name

  • Choose a unique name for your business
  • Ensure that your name is brandable and unique

Step 2: Complete Your Business Plan

  • Prepare a business plan for your business
  • Prepare other strategic plans

Step 3: Register Your Business

  • Register your business with the local business authority
  • Complete all other business registration (e.g. tax, social security, VAT etc.)
  • Join local real estate associations

Step 4: Secure Domains & Social Media

  • Purchase the domain name via NameCheap
  • Secure social media handles (Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)
  • Register vanity email addresses on Outlook and Gmail

Step 5: Put Your Website Online

  • Purchase website hosting from Big Scoots
  • Install a Content Management System (e.g. WordPress is free with BigScoots)
  • Purchase a real estate website theme
  • Set up the website and create core pages

Step 6: Select Online Business Tools

  • Create images for social media with Canva
  • Schedule Instagram posts on Planoly
  • Schedule Facebook and Twitter posts with Buffer

Step 7: Secure Properties

  • Acquire new listings and list them on the website
  • Actively pursue exclusive listings

Step 8: Promote Properties

  • Promote listings via blog features
  • Use social media to showcase listings
  • Post testimonials and reviews from clients

Step 9: Network

  • Communicate with clients (current and future)
  • Network with other real estate professionals in the market

Step 10: Invest in Your Business

  • Invest in your business by investing in yourself
  • Acquire real estate qualifications and other service related certifications
  • Continuously learn the market you are in

Successful real estate agents know the ins and outs of their real estate market. By providing your clients with value and excellent customer service, you can build your repertoire and reputation in the business. Focus on buying and selling specific properties in your specific niche, you will be seen as an authority and the go-to person for those types of properties.