D.C. real estate firm adapts to tech-savvy clients


Lindsay Dreyer (R) and Tara Cellini launched City Chic Real Estate earlier this year. The firm caters to young, tech-savvy home buyers and sellers in the District's trendy and up-and-coming neighborhoods. (Courtesy of City Chic Real Estate/COURTESY OF CITY CHIC REAL ESTATE)
December 29, 2011

Real estate agents Lindsay Dreyer and Tara Cellini have sold homes to buyers they’ve never actually met. The tech-savvy duo launched District-based City Chic Real Estate in March with the idea that the Internet and consumer gadgets should be completely integrated into the process of buying or selling a home.

It’s a concept that the real estate business has struggled with at times. As more consumers turn to Internet listings, such as Zillow, and Web services, such as Redfin, it begs the question: What about the human aspect? Dreyer and Cellini think they’ve got a hybrid model that works.

Why did you use technology as a way to differentiate your agency?

Dreyer: D.C. has some of the most educated real estate consumers in the country, we find, and so people are expecting us to be tech-savvy. . . and they’re expecting to get service through technology. So it’s kind of a natural fit.

How do you use technology when selling a home?

Dreyer: For sellers, we really combine the old school with the new school. Over 90 percent of people find their houses online. We do a custom Web site [for listings,] and we use QR codes on the yard signs. It’s basically like a virtual brochure on your phone. It has all of the pictures; it has all of the information.

I use my iPad for open house sign-ins, and that links the people to any updates, so, essentially, if we have a price change or I want to let them know about the next open house, that creates a database all ready for me to send off [messages] to those people.

Do you communicate with clients differently because of technology?

Dreyer: Our clients don’t want to talk on the phone — that is essentially what it comes down to. They want e-mails, and they want texts. That’s what we’re doing in terms of both buyers and sellers — we are communicating with people the way they want to be communicated with.

Can you provide an example of a time when technology changed the home-buying process?

Dreyer: This never would have happened 10 years ago: I had a lawyer in New York. He could not come down to D.C., and he wanted to buy a place. So I found this really great place for him in Dupont Circle. I had a [digital] floor plan drawn up for him. I took really high-resolution pictures. I basically got all the information he needed, and he was like, “I want to make an offer.” He never saw the place.

We never even have to see you if you don’t want to see us.

What are the downsides to online resources?

Cellini: They’re not always updated. Someone will find something on Realtor.com and say, “I love this, I have to have it,” and it’s under contract.

You just have to make sure you’re using the right resources, and not everything you read online is necessarily the truth. When you come to a real estate agent, we’re going to send you a lot of resources that have the facts.

What advice would you give to home buyers or sellers about using technology?

Dreyer: For buyers using technology, you should absolutely window-shop. It is the most effective use of the Internet for buyers. It really gives you a sense of neighborhoods, what price range they offer and what type of homes they have.

Another tool that I would recommend is just a real estate app on your phone. Basically what that allows you to do is use the GPS function to search near you. So if you’re out at a bar and you’re curious what’s for sale in this area, [you can look].

Those pieces of technology empower the consumer because [agents are] no longer the gatekeepers of information. We’ve really had to adjust our role from the person who holds the binder with houses to we’re actually offering a service.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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