Listing search of diminishing value for agent websites

Realtor Notebook

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There was a time when having a place on my website where homebuyers could search for homes for sale in my market was important, maybe even essential, for lead generation.

But is that as true today? Doesn’t everyone have listings on their websites?

Sometimes change happens so slowly that we don’t notice it. We keep paying for services that we may no longer need. I’ve been wondering lately whether providing Internet data exchange (IDX) listing search on my websites and blog is still necessary.

When they were introduced, IDX listings were a big deal, because they allowed brokers and agents to display not just their own listings but all of the listings represented by brokers participating in IDX in their market.

But the buyers who contact me today have already started looking for homes for sale on the Internet, and they rarely need my help finding homes. Some get into my car clutching a piece of paper that has the logo of the largest real estate company in these parts on it.

If you type in the address of one of my listings, or the address of a competitor’s listing, you can find it on hundreds of websites, and the major real estate portal sites come up first. There doesn’t appear to be any way to stand out as a provider of real estate listings. The third-party sites and the large brokerages have money to throw at being No. 1.

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My buyers use the best website for their search, and then choose the person who is going to be the best agent for them, without checking to see if they are being consistent in their choice of brands.

They usually need my help to get into the home, to decide how much to offer, and to navigate the homebuying process. Those are personal services that human beings can perform, and computers cannot. I am a person, not a brand or a computer, and my clients can relate to that.

Buyers used to sign up for the advanced features in the home search, and more of them contacted me with questions about homes for sale. But in the last year, the number of leads coming to me through IDX has dwindled to almost nothing. But traffic to my websites, and the amount of business I have gotten from them, has gone up.

I have to be different — exclusive and local, rather than national and generic — to attract clients to my websites. There is almost no competition for the kind of content I publish on my blogs. When a homebuyer has a question about local housing issues, or how to buy a house in St. Paul, Google will likely point them to my blog.

Consumers tell me that they contact me with their questions because they keep running into my sites over and over when they search. There isn’t any way for someone on the West Coast working for a third-party site to create the kind of local content, or understand the market, like I do.

Having all the listings on my sites is not unique content, and I am beginning to question if it is even necessary. I know it isn’t as important in 2012 as it was in 2002.

Buyers used to need agents to help them find homes for sale, but now they don’t. Consumers have so many choices and places to search for homes for sale, there isn’t any way I can afford to provide them with the best experience.

The homebuyers I have talked to are just trying to find the right house. They will use any site that they think has the information they are looking for and is easy to use.

My analytics indicate that people do not come to my site to look at homes for sale. They come through "long tail"-type searches and referrals from other sites, and through the links from Twitter and Facebook.

Real estate is local and each demographic does things a little differently. But if I were starting a real estate business in my market today, I would not pay for an IDX solution. If a new agent asked me if she should have a home search feature on her site, I would say, "It depends."

I question using the same approach to lead generation on the Internet that agents used in the Web 1.0 days of lead capture. The Internet is a different place than it was a decade ago. It is more social and we can interact with those leads we used to "capture."

I will continue to offer IDX home search on my website next year as a service. I may also try some testing with and without a home search.

Having all the local listings on my site may not be important enough to continue to pay for. I may decide I’m better off using the money I spend on IDX each month for pay-per-click advertising campaigns, or a small ad in the community newspaper.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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