Wanda Reglin recently sold her home in Nanaimo, B.C., after it had been on the market for two years. Described as a "gorgeous four-year-old, executive, level entry home with full walkout basement and brilliant southern exposure within walking distance to spectacular beaches," she had it listed on a variety of websites, including craigslist, Kijiji and the local UsedNanaimo.com. Still, she turned to social networking in hopes of increasing her listing's exposure.

With such a large captive audience ripe for the picking, homeowners and now real estate agents are going where the people are. That place is no longer the classified section of the newspaper: It's on the Internet and agents like Toronto's David Pylyp are using social networks and relationship marketing techniques to highlight their services, drum up referrals and ultimately, sell more properties.It seemed like the right move. Facebook has 500 million active members; Twitter hosts 100 million; and YouTube users watch nearly 2 billion videos per day. According to social media news blog Mashable, Facebook has already recognized the site's buy-sell potential and is developing a classifieds component where users can post ads for free within their own network and for just a few dollars within another.

Don't talk about real estate
Pylyp, who teaches his strategy to other Realtors and anyone else who will listen, says the first rule to real estate marketing on social networks is to not talk about real estate on social networks. "You have to engage people. You can't walk into a room and scream at them, 'Hi, I'm a real estate agent, check out this house I'm selling!' People don't care, you come across really goofy," he says.

Instead, he uses Twitter and Facebook to engage followers and friends in a regular conversation over a number of weeks before asking them if they know of anyone that's in the market for a house. "I say to them, 'By the way, do you have anybody?' and I've had someone come to me and say, 'Hey, my boyfriend is looking. I didn't realize you were an agent.'"

Of course not. Pylyp's Twitter bio says that he's a UFO enthusiast and that he's chasing deals and making friends, before it ever mentions he is a Toronto Realtor. He defines his Facebook page as "David Pylyp the person" as opposed to his website, "David Pylyp the salesman."

Canadians only browse listings online
Reglin could've used Pylyp's advice when her son suggested she list her Nanaimo home on Facebook. "It sat there for two years and I didn't get a single inquiry," she says. Part of that result can be attributed to there being no photo of the property, but that's not the only reason.

An Ipsos-Reid poll found that while the number of Canadians researching real estate listings online has doubled in the last four years, none are looking to purchase property soon and none have bought in the last two years. In fact, most respondents say they peruse the listings only to stay on top of the market, and only 9 per cent say they've ever purchased a home they first saw online.

Still, that doesn't mean that social networking itself is an ineffective avenue for selling a home. According to Pylyp, and a host of other Realtors using social media, it's where the buyers are. "I'm 52 and my generation is not buying houses, they're hunkering down. People are divorcing and not buying again, or she gets the house and he's renting," says Pylyp. "If we don't evolve with 95 per cent of the Gen Y's and the Gen X'ers already online, you're going to lose them. They have an instant gratification complex that's hard to fight."

Twitter speaks to that up-to-the-minute and in-your-face sensibility, but you can't just rely on one avenue: you have to use them all. Pylyp's strategy includes using Facebook, where he can see who is a potential buyer and who is a rival agent checking out the competition, Twitter, and client testimonials on YouTube. All drive traffic to his main Realtor website. He's also developed many small websites, or landing pages, featuring homes that correspond to specific Google search terms, such as, "Toronto Bloor and Islington condo." When those words are typed in, Pylyp's listing appears in at least the top 13 results.

"I have tried through YouTube and I have a Twitter account, but I am not savvy on how to maximize my exposure," she says.
Social media is not exclusive

Despite poor results using social media -- Reglin eventually found a buyer through UsedNanaimo.com -- she still feels that she would give it another shot. One of the reasons for Reglin's difficulty selling was she used her social media avenues as single entities, rather than in concert with each other. To increase exposure, she could have linked her personal Facebook page back to her listing page to get her "friends" involved, or Tweeted the link to her followers. Using YouTube, she may have had success uploading a video tour of the property and included the Facebook page URL address at the end. These are all strategies Pylyp has employed, but Reglin admits she's not there yet.

She can take solace in knowing that there are still many ways to sell a house, and more and more homeowners and real estate agents are finding innovative ways to reach buyers. At the end of the day, it's about building relationships with people, more than it is about driving up your Web traffic.

Aaron Broverman is a freelance writer in Toronto.