I am currently in the midst of the incredibly frustrating process of finding a new apartment here in DC. As I become more and more involved in this process, I am realizing that finding an apartment would be much easier if real estate and property management companies used the internet better….or if they used it at all. Below are the top five reasons real estate companies need to get involved with the world of Web 2.0.

1. Real Estate is a visual industry. Aside from a few specific large management companies I have come across here in DC (such as Charles E. Smith , which actually allows people to lease online), most of the apartment websites I have come across absolutely stink. Take for example the website of the Gelman Management Company . This company manages a bunch of properties here in DC, many of which I could potentially be interested in viewing. But, their website ruins everything. There are no pictures of any of the properties. How am I supposed to know if I want to rent one of your properties if I can't even see it? The fact that all of the links for these properties are broken doesn't help Gelman's cause, either. And Gelman, with its sub-par website is at the head of the pack because it actually has a website. Most apartment listings I have found do not have websites for their properties.

I don't understand why real estate companies don't do a better job of promoting their properties using cheap and easy-to-use tools that are available to them. Sites like Flickr and YouTube could be incredibly valuable to a management company with lots of properties. These sites would allow management companies to publish pictures and videos of all their properties online, potentially attracting new residents and marketing their properties much more efficiently. Let's face it, would you rather rent a place sight-unseen or rent a place where you have seen pictures and videos of your new potential home? These tools would be super-easy for a company to use, possibly via a free blog. Companies like Gelman are only cheating themselves out of new customers by maintaining (or, more accurately, failing to maintain) crappy websites.

2. Real Estate is a personal industry. Every potential resident has his or her own unique idea of what an ideal apartment would be like. Why not reach out to new customers by using the web to tell a story about your community? Residents want to know more than the information included in typical real estate listings, which usually are nothing more than a sea of abbreviations (for example: w/d, hw fl, d/w, a/c, ut. inc., etc…). Potential residents want to know about the character of the building, they want to see detailed floor plans, and they want information about the unit's location. In my search, I am noticing that the average real estate listing in the Washington Post and Craigslist don't even provide the name of a community, let alone any useful information. The web is a powerful tool for telling a story, and real estate companies are by and large not taking advantage of all the possibilities. Sites like Rent.com, apartmentshowcase.com, and apartmentratings.com are somewhat useful, but because they are not maintained by actual management companies, their reliability is highly questionable. Further, these sites offer only a limited selection of properties, with many off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods remaining completely unrepresented on these sites. Management companies shouldn't outsource their online programs: they should be more proactive and use the internet to attract potential residents.

3. Resident managers are hard to contact. If I had a dollar for every time a property manager or real estate agent called me back after I left a message, I would have….you guessed it, zero dollars. Half the time, outdated websites provide incorrect or vague contact information that makes it nearly impossible to speak with an actual human being. Why not provide contact forms online? I'm assuming that property managers actually want to sell or rent units…so why not make it easy for potential renters to reach you? Creating online forms for scheduling viewing appointments would be a relatively easy but incredibly helpful addition to any property manager's website.

4. Online conversations are occurring around real estate, and property managers are being left out. By not participating in online real estate communities, property managers are denying themselves easy publicity. This to me is a no-brainer. Conversations are happening on sites like Zillow and Trulia about homes and properties that can be owned. Why haven't property managers taken advantage of this for rental properties??

5. The rest of the world has gone Web 2.0, why haven't you? The poor quality of available online information surrounding property rentals is simply unacceptable at this point. Let's face it, the world is becoming more and more digital. If I can shop, make travel plans, watch TV, and collaborate with friends online, why can't I use the internet to find an apartment? It is really frustrating that I can't email property managers or find pricing or pictures online. The non-digital nature of the apartment rental process just doesn't make much sense. Whereas home sales tend to be long-term or permanent purchases, apartments are constantly changing their prices, and the availability of units fluctuates on a monthly basis. It makes sense that apartment rental information would be available online, as it is an industry that requires frequent updates and the provision of new information. Unfortunately, this transition has not really occurred yet, adding to the already-frustrating process of moving. Property rental has remained an analog industry in an increasingly digital world, and this is disappointing.

My guess is that property management companies are in such a position that they don't have to market themselves.  Especially in a city setting like DC, there is always an abundance of people searching for apartments.  Unfortunately for potential renters, property managers don't have to market themselves like other industries–they still maintain the upper hand and understand that no matter what they do, customers will always come to them. 

This post is part of ProBlogger's most recent group writing project, with the theme of "top five". Be sure to check out other entries!