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VOL. 127 | NO. 35 | Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Local QR Real Estate Usage Grows Slowly

By Sarah Baker

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First seen in Japan in the mid-1990s, quick response codes could add momentous efficiency in the residential real estate world, allowing virtual tours of houses to take place on mobile devices.

But only 14 million American mobile device users have interacted with a QR code, according to recent study by digital business analytics firm comScore Inc. That means less than 5 percent of the American public has scanned a QR code.

The QR code technology was invented by the Toyota subsidiary Denso Wave in 1994 to track vehicles during the manufacturing process, according to independent digital news website Mashable. The two-dimensional barcode was designed to allow its contents to be decoded at high speed.

QR usage is growing fastest in Canada and Hong Kong, but the codes are also used frequently in the United Kingdom and the United States. That’s because Americans are often relatively slow adopters to new technology, said Joe Spake, broker with InCity Realty in Midtown.

“Japan is much more mobile than we are,” Spake said. “I think what people really don’t get about QR is that it’s a totally mobile technology. The thing that really bothers me the most is when you scan one and it doesn’t resolve to a mobile page. Or the link will be dead. Or the link won’t work. There seems to be more problems with them then them working right.”

A 15-year real estate agent, Spake is also a consultant, blogger, and self-proclaimed “techie” and social media junkie. He said because real estate has always had such a strong “push-marketing” aspect – with advertising, listings and so on – agents don’t always grasp the interaction.

“Some marketing person will say, ‘You need to be using QR codes!’ and they do,” Spake said. “They just place the QR wherever they want to and don’t bother to have the landing part of it optimized to mobile. They don’t know any better or they’re not checking. You can optimize any website to be optimized for mobile, to come up on a phone in that kind of format.”

One of the platforms on WordPress.com offers a plug-in where “it does it for you, you don’t even have to think about it,” Spake said.

For his property listings, Spake goes through a company called SinglePropertySites.com, for which he pays a monthly fee to pull information from the Multiple Listing Service. The service also allows him to upload unlimited pictures and “all of the embellishments.”

“They have in their software built in to mobilize it,” Spake said. “It actually takes the elements of the website and simplifies them and puts them down to where it’s mobile-optimized. It’s got a bunch of the information, it’s got links to the other information, but if you went back to your computer or laptop and pulled up that same URL, you get a 1,200-pixel, full Web page with bells and whistles.”

But there are also security risks related to QR codes, Spake said.

“You’re scanning stuff that you have no idea what it is,” Spake said. “They could probably run some code that would suck all of your contacts and everything away.”

Which is why he sees more Mobile Visual Searches (MVS) on the horizon in the future, such as Google Goggles.

“It’s basically an app that you take a picture of just about anything and Google will figure out what it is,” Spake said. “One of the coolest things it’ll do is Sudoko puzzles; it’ll solve the very hardest one in seconds.”

While both QR and MVS technology is slow to take hold in Memphis, Spake estimates that within five years, real estate flyer boxes will be completely obsolete.

But for now, many local residential real estate firms are banking on prospective homebuyers driving around on Sunday afternoons and are equipping flyers with QR codes, whether they have practical usages or not.

One of the first residential real estate firms to adopt QR codes in Memphis was Prudential Collins-Maury Inc. In June 2010, the company launched a new advertising campaign that packaged email blasts, social media and traditional print advertising in newspapers and postcards, both of which featured QR codes.

“We’re trying to stay on cutting edge of the latest technologies that are out there and Prudential, on a national level, has a great platform that supports QR codes, so we’ve tried to introduce it into the local market,” Prudential Collins-Maury vice president Neil Hubbard recently told The Daily News. “It’s a great way for being to see video tours of homes, photos of the homes and get in contact with our agents on a mobile platform.”

Prudential’s marketing strategy goes back to the company’s philosophy to capitalize in areas where the competition chooses not to, said relocation director Angie Ware, adding that in the dour housing market, it’s important to implement a multi-platform tool to reach one’s audience.

“We’re not targeting one type of buyer,” Ware said. “We’re targeting Internet-savvy buyers or people who have never been on the Internet, so you’ve got to be everywhere.”

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