We said several weeks ago that a big believer in the value of Second Life real estate (see other Second Life articles published on May 15, 16, and 31) is the very grounded-to-earth firm of Coldwell Banker.

We were, after many tries unable to secure a tour of the Coldwell Banker properties in Second Life; neither the helicopter tour we were most anxious to take or even a walking tour but we did manage to stumble around and get some information on the Coldwell Banker developments, both rental and for sale, and were able to interview two top-ranked Coldwell Banker officials who were most helpful in talking about their company's interest in such an unconventional marketing tool.



The Coldwell Banker offices are located in a region of Second Life called Ranchero. Like most physical buildings we visited in Second Life, the offices are very stylized with high ceilings and lots of glass. Russell, the Golden Retriever guards the door, greets visitors, and, if asked, will supply the visitor with real world listings either as regular emails or as a "widget" which delivers search results to the requester's desktop.

The office, as we have said, is not staffed full time but a visitor can walk around and look at mock-ups of rental developments and a gallery displaying the 100 year history of the corporation on a time-line with major historical milestones. The rentals appear to be located in five areas of Second Life and a rough guess would be that there are about 190 rental properties 30 or so of which seem to be taken. The rents were certainly reasonable - $250 Linden dollars or approximately $1 USD.

We interviewed Charlie Young, Senior Vice President, Marketing and David Siroty, Director of Public Relations, Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corporation about the corporation's decision to take a stake in Second Life.

Mortgage News Daily: What drove the decision of Coldwell Banker to make what is really a pretty radical move?

Charlie Young: "We had been looking at Second Life for a year trying to figure out the right way to enter. We wanted to enhance the experience for users, not simply have a corporate presence. It was learning about the land baron issue that mandated our involvement. Coldwell Bankers was founded in 1906 after the San Francisco Earthquake when our founder Colbert Coldwell wanted to bring ethics and integrity into the real estate market. Back then, the unscrupulous were taking advantage of the real estate consumer and that was what we were seeing in Second Life."

MND: "I don't understand what you mean by "the land baron issue."

David Siroty: "At the time we entered Second Life there was an issue that the majority of available real estate within Second Life was owned by a few individual land barons. They were able to regulate how much land would sell for because they owned the available properties on the mainland and could set higher prices. Once we made the decision to enter Second Life, we quietly bought properties from these land barons, developed this land into our homes and office space, and then made these properties available at a lower price."

CY: "We also see Second Life as a way to connect with the coming generation of homebuyers and sellers who are using technological innovations in their daily lives."

MND: "Is Coldwell Banker advertising this venture in the real world?"

CY: "No, we relied on a strong public relations push to generate traffic to the Coldwell Banker headquarters in Second Life. We do have a strong advertising push within Second Life."

MND: "And how are you promoting the business 'in world' as they say?"

CY: "We've done an in-world PR push as our launch as announced in many of the Second Life publications. We're also running advertising on the largest in-world ad network to promote our properties for sale."

MND: "Have you had much feedback, positive or negative, from your real-world agents?"

CY: "Overwhelmingly positive. In fact, over the course of the first month we opened in Second Life, we had 30 or so Second Life residents approach us inquiring about the availability of a job working for Coldwell Banker within Second Life. Brokers/owners, managers, and sales associates of Coldwell Banker affiliated companies have been overwhelmingly positive to this initiative."

MND: "Do you plan to offer traditional real estate services - take listings, charge commissions, etc? I found the whole process of buying Second Life properties to be incredibly confusing. A good real estate agent would have been helpful."

CY: "We feel that having a virtual agent simplifies the process of buying homes within Second Life and will give Second Life residents a good experience to take into the real world. We have also made an effort to incorporate many of the tools on our national website www.coldwellbanker.com into our Second Life headquarters. And we've had a number of Second Life residents ask our virtual agents about real life real estate offices and agents. So we've trained our virtual agents to direct them to the appropriate tools on our website to help them not only meet their virtual real estate needs, but real life as well."

MND: "How much land has CB bought? Why the decision to scatter purchases rather than concentrate them on an island or continent?"

CY: "Our initial entry into Second Life was on the Main Island in a section called Ranchero. As our 500+ homes are purchased and rental units occupied we plan to grow the Coldwell Banker presence in other parts of Second Life."

MND: "I read somewhere that your home designs are pretty traditional. Is there a market for suburbia in such a far-out place? Are all properties built out or do you sell lots? I believe I read that land is clustered in subdivision. How large to these tend to be? How many houses/lots have you moved so far?"

CY: "We have homes in all types of architectural styles. From Victorian to Colonial to Southwestern to even a Greek Island style; we have places to meet a variety of tastes. We do sell some open lots but we wanted to give Second Life residents more than just blank land. Previously to buy real estate you had to buy a blank piece of property, and then you had to build your own structure or pay someone else to build it for you. And of course then you have to fill it with furniture. We've made the process pretty turnkey by giving you land, a home already built, and we even give you some virtual furniture as a closing gift. So far we've sold over 10 percent of our current listings and we're constantly looking at ways to improve our efforts and provide Second Life residents with a better experience."

MND: "What is the pricing structure for both rental and sales? Maybe you could direct me to a list of available properties."

CY: "Our homes sell for anywhere between $20 and $30 (USD)."

MND: "How has traffic been thus far? I think you opened in late March, correct?"

CY: "We officially opened towards the end of March and we're excited about the response to far. We've had over 75,000 visits in the short time we've been open and on average Second Life residents are spending 9-10 minutes browsing through out headquarters and our properties."

MND: "How many agents are staffing the site?"

CY: "We have two avatar sales associates available from 5-11 p.m. EST on weekdays and Saturdays."

MND: "Do you expect other big companies to move to Second Life?"

CY: "A lot of big companies are already there. You'll find Nike, the NBA, Cisco, Circuit City, and Reuters to name a few. But what I think separates us within Second Life is that we are not just an advertisers but are interacting with Second Life residents within the metaverse by providing a service that is appropriate to Second Life."

DS: "Another thing; Coldwell Banker is not looking to benefit financially from our presence in Second Life. This is a learning experience for us. It is a way to connect with a technologically savvy audience. We are able to track what the Second Life resident is interested in when they come to the Coldwell Banker headquarters and how they interact with our "real world" website."