Honey, stop the car, please. I want to scan thatpalmetto tree."
Sub-tropical science fiction? No. The latestadvance in Lowcountry real estate? Yes.At least one palmetto tree in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Islandhas a bar code, which is readable by smartphonessuch as Android, iPhone and BlackBerry.The small white sticker with a dark green bar codewas placed on the tree in November by agents fromCarolina Realty Group because the home is for salein a community that doesn't permit yard signs. Usingthe phone's camera function, a smartphone user canscan the bar code and go directly to the home's website.There, interested buyers can find out more about thehome, take a video tour, see photos of the interior ande-mail the listing agent.
Quick Response codes - called QR codes - are anew marketing tool also being used by Target, Best Buy,US Airways and other businesses banking on the growingnumber of smartphone users. Originally developedby a Toyota subsidiary to track car parts, QR code generatorsand readers are available for free downloadfrom a variety of vendors.
SAVING TIME, CUTTING WASTEIn the real estate industry, QR codes are showing up onlockboxes, yard signs, mailboxes and in print advertising.Chris Haro, marketing director for Carolina RealtyGroup, said the information prospective buyers haveaccess to after scanning a QR code "would fill pagesand pages of printed material."
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He said adding QR codes to the agency's marketingmaterials required minimal monetary investment but asubstantial investment in "time and laminating."
Saving paper, ink and printing costs sounds good tobuyers, sellers and agents who are concerned about theenvironment. Many younger people in particular prefera paperless way to access complete listing detailsand the latest pricing information.
"Instead of a paper flyer, this is a digital form of theflyer," said Brett Lance, a Carolina Realty Group agent."The technology's there, so let's use it to be greener."
Agents who use QR codes say local enforcers of residentialcodes so far haven't interpreted the stickers assigns or an infraction of town or community rules.
Jean Beck, executive director of the Hilton Head AreaAssociation of Realtors, said the organization helda training seminar about smartphones in December.About 90 local Realtors attended the class led by Atlanta-based mobile technology expert William James, shesaid. The association probably will offer other classesabout QR codes in the future "as needed," Beck said,adding that she thinks the codes represent a significantdevelopment in real estate marketing.
QR codes are part of the services that agents fromPrud'homme & Associates on Hilton Head Island offerto their sellers. All properties get QR codes, regardlessof their list price, Dan Prud'homme said, adding thatsmartphone users can save the QR codes they scan touse later.
In addition to upping a listing's "cool factor," thecodes are trackable so they serve as a report card for adiversified marketing plan, identifying channels thatoffer the best results.
"I believe by the end of the year everyone is going toknow what a QR code is," Prud'homme said.
THE NEED FOR REALTORSBut by the time QR codes are widespread, theymight be obsolete.
Realtor Bob Clarkson, a real estate industry consultantand president of The Alliance Group Realty onHilton Head Island, believes the codes are an intermediatestep.
Technology already exists to allow smartphone usersto drive down any street and learn which housesare for sale. By interfacing with GPS systems, prospectivebuyers with smartphones will be able to find outinformation about homes on the market, includinghow much neighboring properties sold for and when.But the technology isn't cost effective yet, Clarksonsaid.
Despite the rapid development of technology forreal estate shopping that is easy to use, buyers andsellers will always need Realtors, Clarkson said.
"The real estate business will continue to be a personalrelationship business, but agents who embracenew technology and social networking will increasinglycapture prospective buyers coming in from theoutside - people without a personal relationshipwith a local Realtor," he said. Agents who build strongpersonal relationships and embrace technology willemerge as market leaders, he said.
GET STARTED WITH QR CODES
1 out of every 4 cell phones in the UnitedStates is a smartphone. Smartphones are expectedto assume the majority of the U.S. cellphone market by the end of 2011.
Quarterly smartphone sales have increasedmore than 50 percent from thesecond quarter of 2009 through the secondquarter of 2010.
Smartphone sales are expected to exceedpersonal computers by 2012.