SAN FRANCISCO – Technologists who participated in a real estate “boot camp” today shared the latest strategies to attract the vast population of Internet-savvy home shoppers and sellers.

“Online real estate is big and it’s growing,” said Hillary Hoover, AdWords manager for Google Inc. Hoover spoke at “Lead Generation Boot Camp,” during Real Estate Connect 2005. The conference focuses on innovation and trends in the real estate industry.

Real estate is the top professional services category searched by Google users, Hoover said. She described Google’s pay-per-click ad service, which can drive consumers to real estate professionals’ sites. Real estate agents and companies can pay for their ads to show up for certain keyword searches selected by Google users, and they can bid for higher placement of their ads.

While Google’s pay-per-click ads are available for all industries, some companies have focused solely on generating new business for real estate professionals. These online intermediaries, while similarly working to connect home buyers and sellers to real estate agents and companies, have taken some different approaches to lead generation.

A panel following Hoover’s presentation featured representatives from lead-generation companies HouseValues, HomeGain and RealEstate.com.

HouseValues, a real estate lead generation company, collects information about prospective home buyers and home sellers when they sign up to receive information about local properties for sale or a home valuation report, and this information is passed along to a network of real estate professionals.

Rob Ransom, a conference panelist and director of real estate product management for HouseValues, said lead generation is one component of an online marketing system that HouseValues offers to real estate agents and brokers, and software tools and offline training and coaching services are also available. HouseValues members receive a guaranteed number of exclusive leads in a specific geographic area. Ransom said that HouseValues’ goal is to simplify lead-generation technology for agents.

RealEstate.com, a division of LendingTree.com, also attracts consumers to its site by offering a range of free information. The site passes along consumer contact information to its network, and real estate agents pay for those referrals. The company has a program through which real estate agents give 25 percent to 35 percent of their commission to the company for referrals that lead to closed real estate transactions. The company also offers a monthly subscription plan through which real estate professionals can receive leads.

Andrew Taylor, vice president and general manager for the RealEstate.com agent network, said the goal is for the online experience to be like a regular shopping trip. “It is no different than walking into a retail store. You’re initially shopping. (We) get that consumer ready to buy, ready to look for a salesperson.”

HomeGain, which was recently sold to Classified Ventures, a technology enterprise launched by a group of newspaper companies, allows consumers to find property listings, find an agent, and receive a home valuation, and real estate agents and brokers can participate in various pay-per-click and referral programs to connect with consumers.

Hoover said that the key for real estate professionals using pay-per-click ads is to design and operate Web sites that compel consumers to do business with them, and effectively convert mouse clicks into new business. “Our job is to send (consumers) to you. “

The majority of real estate-related searches focus on property listings, she said, followed by comparable listings. And about 60 percent of online real estate searches are general, nationwide searches, while 20 percent of search volume is regional and 20 percent is neighborhood-specific.

The most popular real estate-related search terms that consumers enter at Google are: “real estate,” “homes for sale,” “mls,” “houses for sale,” “realtors,” “realestate,” “mls.com,” “house for sale,” and “new home.”

Hoover described mapping innovations that combine real estate property and business listings with maps. “People are using technology to solve problems in the real estate market,” she said.

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

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