Staci Dancey got tired of cold-calling to get leads. She spent several hours on the telephone on some days to drum up new business.

“I knew there had to be a better way – that leads could come to you without killing you,” said Dancey, a Realtor for C-21 Masters in Walnut, Calif.

Dancey, a Realtor for about 26 years, got a call about four years ago from HouseValues, a company that offers home-value estimates for consumers and Internet-generated leads for real estate agents. “Luckily HouseValues turned out to be a good company.

Staci Dancey got tired of cold-calling to get leads. She spent several hours on the telephone on some days to drum up new business.

“I knew there had to be a better way – that leads could come to you without killing you,” said Dancey, a Realtor for C-21 Masters in Walnut, Calif.

Dancey, a Realtor for about 26 years, got a call about four years ago from HouseValues, a company that offers home-value estimates for consumers and Internet-generated leads for real estate agents. “Luckily HouseValues turned out to be a good company. A lot of them are not.”

These days, Dancey processes about 110-140 HouseValues leads each month, and she estimates a 3 percent to 5 percent conversion rate for turning these leads into actual business. “I’m on track to do about $750,000 this year on gross commission,” Dancey said. “My business has just been amazing.”

Like any lead – it’s only as good as the work you put into it, Dancey said. Within 24 hours of receiving the leads, Dancey said the consumers’ requests for home-price evaluations that she receives are processed, and she delivers these reports in person. “That’s been a reason I’ve had more success than some of the other agents,” Dancey said, and she also follows up with phone calls.

HouseValues already is well known among agents, and the company further solidified its place in online real estate Wednesday with its first move to go public. The company filed papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission for its initial public offering and expects to raise $86.25 million in the process.

HouseValues has added a number of features since she first signed up, Dancey said, such as e-mail marketing tools. “Technology it has become better and better,” she said. Dancey was named 2003 HouseValues.com “Agent of the Year,” and she is featured on the HouseValues Web site as an example of a successful member. Dancey gets some calls from agents who are thinking about subscribing to the service.

“I am sort of a fan of HouseValues. I make more money and work less,” she said. Dancey said she has tried other lead-generation systems, too, and she also uses HomeGain, but she cautioned that some lead-generation sites are not worth the price. “You have to do greater research on the company before you give them a credit card,” she said.

HouseValues divvies up its leads to agents based on zip codes, and offers its members exclusive rights to leads generated in a ZIP code area or a section of a ZIP code area. Some ZIP code areas have been divided among multiple agents after they were originally awarded to a single agent, members say, and this has caused friction among some HouseValues agents.

Paula Hurst, a Realtor for Shear Realty in Victorville, Calif., said she signed on with HouseValues about three years ago, and she once had sole rights to HouseValues leads in a Victorville-area ZIP code. About 18 months ago, Hurst said that she received notice that her ZIP code would be divided, and she would share it with another Realtor. And since that time, her HouseValues-defined ZIP code area has been split again, she said. The result is that her leads come from a “fraction of the map they left me with, at the same price.”

Hurst said she also has questions about the introduction of new ZIP codes, and how this impacts HouseValues customers. Hurst closes about 45 to 65 transactions a year, she said. “(HouseValues has) delivered on the number of leads they promised – they have not let us down in any way that way,” she said. “Really, it works. Although the payoff is not nearly as high as it should be for the price and the amount of work involved.” Hurst said she has signed up with other lead-generation systems but she has not had as much success with those.

HouseValues officials did not respond to questions about the ZIP code-area splits because of a quiet period relating to the company’s plans for a public stock offering.

Deanna Collier, a Realtor for RE/MAX Cinco Ranch in Katy, Texas, said she closed about 20 deals last year, and about half of those stemmed from HouseValues leads. “I’m very pleased with them,” she said, and she is the first agent in her office to use HouseValues. “What I found most interesting were the exclusive territories and having my own ZIP code,” she said. Collier said the lead-generation system has saved her from door-knocking to find new business.

Collier said that HouseValues collects a lot of information from Internet users, which results in higher-quality leads than some other lead-generation sites provide. “Some of the other ones just send an e-mail address,” she said.

Michael Bastian, one of the original HouseValues agents who signed up in 1999 – the company’s first year, said that his use of HouseValues has evolved as the company has offered more tools to customers. “I’ve actually got a team of real estate specialists,” he said, who work on following through on HouseValues leads. In his first year with HouseValues, Bastian said he got about four or five listings through the company’s leads. Now, Bastian averages about a listing a week related to HouseValues.

“I pretty much have a majority of Tacoma, Wash., nailed down. I have 10 agents on my team – each agent is working a ZIP code database,” he said. “Pretty much what I do now is manage a team. It was HouseValues that made that happen.” He added, “(HouseValues has) allowed me to go from real estate agent to real estate business owner, and created a passive-income business that I can now walk away from and still have income.”

Benjamin deAnda, a Realtor for RE/MAX Cross Country in Lewisville, Texas, who first subscribed to HouseValues in 1999, said he was “a little leery” about the proposition to join. “But I also like to stay on the cutting edge, if I can, of technology. I figured I’d give it a shot. The system was exciting to me – to have leads coming into my e-mail. I just wanted to find people. I needed a system in how to find people who wanted to buy and sell real estate,” deAnda said.

DeAnda’s strategy is simple: Rather than aggressively pursuing all of the HouseValues leads, he simply provides information to consumers who are referred to him, and turns this information around quickly after receiving their contact information. He has hired a partner to help handle the HouseValues leads.

“We give them the information they requested and sometimes follow up by e-mail or phone, and that’s about it,” he said. Other agents have different approaches to the leads. “It’s a good fit for any style of how you want to approach it,” he said.  “A lead’s a lead.”

HouseValues has grown to offer discussion boards, coaching, conferences and conference calls, and a range of Web and e-mail-based tools, deAnda said. “They just keep improving this thing and it just keeps getting better and better,” he said. “I think they really have the agent in mind.” And there’s something in it for consumers, too, he said – they can get market information about their home and about how to buy and sell homes, he said. “(The company is) actually giving the consumer a real value.”

The leads and services of HouseValues are now an integral part of deAnda’s business, he said. “You’d have to pry (my subscription) out of my cold, dead fingers.” He has seen some subscribers come and go, and the system requires patience and follow-through in order to work, he said.

“People call and ask if they should join all the time. For me, it depends on their ability to wait two or three months to see anything happen,” he said.

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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