RELO has stormed onto the Internet with a national network of broker Web sites that gives home buyers access to information, generates leads for RELO-affiliated brokers and could lead to a higher public profile for RELO itself.

A map on the referral company’s RELO.com Web site has been linked to hundreds of listings-rich Web sites operated by RELO member brokerages throughout the country and more links are in the works. The links enable home buyers and sellers to surf from one RELO member Web site through RELO.com to other RELO member Web sites that collectively display some 2 million for-sale homes listings, according to RELO CEO Pam O’Connor.

The program generates business for RELO brokers on a reciprocal basis without brokerage-to-brokerage referral fees. Each company uses it’s own relocation department, call center, Internet lead coordinator or other system to distribute the leads among its sales associates. Some brokers collect internal referral fees on any closed transactions that result from those leads, but others don’t.

“These leads go from member to member with no referral fee. Once the lead comes into say, Weichert‘s site, it is theirs to do (whatever they want) with (it),” O’Connor said.

Chicago-based RELO has 675 member companies with 4,500 offices and 100,000 realty sales agents, according to O’Connor. Members include Edina Realty Home Services in Minneapolis, Weichert Realtors inMorris Plains, N.J., Crye-Leike in Memphis, Tenn., Michael Saunders & Co. in Sarasota, Fla., John L. Scott Real Estate in Seattle, Sibcy-Cline Realtors in Cincinnati, Ohio, Realty One inCleveland, Ohio, Allen Tate Co. in Charlotte, N.C. Graham & Boles Properties inWinston-Salem, N.C., Watson Realty Corp. in Jacksonville, Fla., and Long & Foster Real Estate in Fairfax, Va.

So far, 480 of RELO’s members have a link on the RELO.com map and 300 of those companies have added a RELO button to their own brokerage Web site. That means 180 companies receive leads through the system, but don’t send leads to their fellow RELO members. But O’Connor said it’s only a matter of time and a bit of technology until all the RELO companies have links in both directions.

“We are adding about 20-30 a week, so by probably the end of April we will have everyone on it…It’s not that complicated. It’s more just getting on the radar screen of the technology person at the company,” she said.

The system was conceived 18 months ago as a referral-fee model in which the local RELO company would qualify the lead, then forward it to a remote RELO company and collect a referral fee if a transaction closed, but O’Connor said that process was too cumbersome to meet consumer expectations.

“The Internet consumer wants the answer now from that destination company. They don’t want to have to go through a middleman and wait for that process. So we quickly learned that (the referral model) really wasn’t the way to go,” she said.

The system doesn’t contain every for-sale home in the country, but all of the linked Web sites contain at least the broker’s own listings and, O’Connor said, the “vast majority” also display competitors’ listings through Internet data exchange (IDX) or a virtual office Web site (VOW) or both. The result is a formidable RELO database, especially in the country’s largest 100-200 housing markets. (IDX enables MLS-member brokers to display one others’ listings online with reciprocal permission. A VOW displays virtually all the listings on the MLS behind a user registration.)

RELO’s claim of 2 million or more listings would rival Realtor.com, a for-sale homes Web site that Homestore operates for the National Association of Realtors, and the AOL and MSN portals, which get their data from Realtor.com. The RELO member brokers hold some 500,000 listings among themselves, according to O’Connor. RELO.com is a distributed, not aggregated model, but it is not significantly more cumbersome to navigate than, say, Realtor.com is. Other national listings databases include the Yahoo! portal, the Realty Executives Web site and the eRealty VOW system that Prudential Real Estate Affiliates acquired this month.

RELO wrapped the cost of the Web site into an fee increase last October. The largest brokers pay a couple thousand dollars a year while the smallest pay maybe $100 a year extra for the program. Those who aren’t yet on the RELO.com map still pay their share for the service. That’s an incentive for them to get into the program, O’Connor said.

O’Connor thinks the program could be RELO’s ticket to a higher public profile. The organization doesn’t have a national consumer-brand presence because its members are all themselves individual regional or local brands. She said the Internet and the Web site are “a way that RELO–the brand behind these brands–is going to start becoming a little more jelled in the consumer’s mind.”

A “healthy amount of money” is in RELO’s budget to advertise the Web site on Internet search engines and portals, O’Connor added. The organization already uses search engine optimization and plans to add keyword bidding and similar strategies to the promotional mix for RELO.com.

***

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