At Real Estate Connect I had a chance to sit down for a one-on-one interview with Rich Barton of Zillow. Love them or hate them, Zillow is now generating about two-thirds as much traffic as Realtor.com. Can your business afford to ignore such a powerful place to advertise for just pennies?

At Real Estate Connect I had a chance to sit down for a one-on-one interview with Rich Barton of Zillow. Love them or hate them, Zillow is now generating about two-thirds as much traffic as Realtor.com. Can your business afford to ignore such a powerful place to advertise for just pennies?

A Dec. 14 blog post entitled “Real Estate Horror” on the Sellsius blog shows a picture of Peter Lorre speaking to Frankenstein. The title is “Frankenzillow,” and the comment on the bottom reads:

“My credit card for security? What about the wrong Zestimates? I guess I can trust you. After all, my listings gave you life.”

This cartoon illustrates the controversy that still exists in the industry about Zillow. Agents and brokers continue to worry that an Internet real estate company might eventually make them obsolete. What has become exceedingly clear over the last few years is that virtually no one purchases a home from the Web without the services of a Realtor.

Like many other Web 2.0 companies, Zillow is looking towards its advertising platform as its primary source of revenue. Thus, Barton says that these concerns that Zillow is competing with brokers are unfounded. Instead, he says Zillow wants to work as a partner to real estate companies.

For example, Barton suggests that both agents and sellers should put up a “virtual for-sale sign” on Zillow. The owner of the property can post under the “Make Me Move” section. Here, owners can post the price that will motivate them to move. (If the property is listed, the agent or the seller can post the asking price on this page.)

A second concern is the accuracy of Zestimates (an online tool that estimates a home’s market value.) According to Barton, Zillow launched its Zestimate tool because “that’s all we had at the time.” Barton says that Zillow’s median margin of error is 7.2 percent. On a $300,000 property, that would put the range in price from approximately $275,000 to $325,000. As both industry professionals and consumers continue to upload their listing data into the Zillow system, Barton believes that this number will continue to improve.

This is a terrific place to prospect if you’re an agent. The Zestimate is stated next to the “Make Me Move Price.” You could contact the seller with an updated comparable market analysis and let the sellers know what the most recent comparable sales activity suggests that their house is worth. As an agent, you can also post your listings and virtual tours on Zillow at no charge.

The virtual for-sale sign functions in several other ways. According to Barton, using the Zillow EZ ad program is a much smarter use of your advertising dollars. For example, an ad in the local classified section of your paper may cost $50. That ad might obtain five to 1,000 impressions (i.e. people who take the time to read that ad.) On Zillow, you can target people in a specific ZIP code and price range for only a penny per impression. This means that the same $50 would have given you 5,000 targeted impressions. The same is true for postcard marketing. Rather than spending $500 to reach the people in your farm area one time, going to Zillow and spending that same $500 will yield 50,000 impressions targeted to a specific neighborhood.

Currently, Zillow has information on 70 million homes, 250,000 active listings and more than 4 million Web visitors per month. Zillow visitors spend a great deal of time on the site because of the compelling content. For example, the Zillow Q&A section serves as both a social networking site and a place to ask and have questions answered, much like Wikipedia. This section currently receives 25,000 to 35,000 comments per day. You can use this tool to prospect for new clients by providing great answers to the questions posed by people in your area. This creates professional validity and gives potential clients the chance to get to know you in a safe, anonymous environment.

Another way that you can prospect on Zillow is to enter your own home address or that of your office. Zillow has a section called “Meet Your Neighbors.” What a great way to introduce yourself to people who live in your area and who want to meet others. When you join the group, identify yourself as a neighbor and a real estate professional. Tell them about what you love about living in their neighborhood. Share little known facts about the area. Don’t pitch them; be of service and let them learn to trust you. Most importantly, introduce them to other fun people that you know.

If you want maximum exposure for your listings and for your business, can you afford to ignore a tool that provides you with so many valuable functions? If you still feel that Zillow is a “monster,” then the question you have to answer is whether you will let this monster go to work for you or for your competition.

Bernice Ross, national speaker and CEO of Realestatecoach.com, is the author of “Waging War on Real Estate’s Discounters” and “Who’s the Best Person to Sell My House?” Both are available online. She can be reached at bernice@realestatecoach.com or visit her blog at www.LuxuryClues.com.

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