Homestore Inc., the company that operates Realtor.com and other home-search Internet sites, announced today that it is rolling out an online lead-generation product for Realtors called Top Marketer. The company alluded to the launch of the new product in a second-quarter earnings announcement earlier this month.

Homestore Inc., the company that operates Realtor.com and other home-search Internet sites, announced today that it is rolling out an online lead-generation product for Realtors called Top Marketer. The company alluded to the launch of the new product in a second-quarter earnings announcement earlier this month.

“The first phase of Top Marketer includes a home valuation tool, ‘What’s Your Home Worth?’ that will debut on Homestore.com early next month,” company officials announced today. “Subsequent phases of Top Marketer will introduce additional solutions for consumers within the entire Homestore network, including placement on Realtor.com.

“Top Marketer represents a powerful set of online tools that provide consumers with information regarding residential real estate and facilitates a connection to a Realtor of their choice.”

It’s no secret that the vast majority of home shoppers are using the Internet to aid their searches, and real estate brokers and agents have been working to capture the attention – and business – of that vast audience using a variety of tech tools. A key in capturing this Internet crowd is convincing prospective home sellers and buyers to provide some contact information so that real estate professionals can keep in touch and win them over as clients.

There are many approaches to online lead generation, and some brokerage companies and individual agents have developed in-house systems while others choose to contract with intermediary companies that capture and sell the leads.

Several other companies already offer consumers a home-valuation service in exchange for some personal information.

An online demo for Top Marketer shows that consumers will be asked to provide their first name, last name, e-mail address, property type, number of bedrooms, bathrooms and square footage in order to receive a detailed report on comparable home sales in their area. The report contains similar homes currently on the market, recent sales of comparable homes in the area, and photos and additional property information, according to the online description.

Realtors who sign up for the lead-generation system will receive a call on their mobile phones when consumers transmit their data online, and the consumer information will also be automatically transmitted to a lead-manager tool in a Homestore software program called Top Producer 7i. The agent’s assistant has the option of remotely accessing incoming leads for fast follow-up, the company also announced. The agent who receives the lead prepares the valuation report, and consumers are asked to give their phone number when the report is sent to them via e-mail, according to the online description.

Realtors can select a maximum number of leads to receive per billing period, and can set a number of leads per zip code that they wish to receive, according to an online sample of the lead-generation system. The system also notifies Realtors about how many leads they have received in a given billing period, and how many total leads they receive through the system.

The home valuation tool offered through Top Marketer “will give consumers immediate online access to information to help them understand the value of their home, including recent area home sales and local median home prices,” according to the announcement. “Serious buyers and sellers can then engage a Realtor of their choice for a more detailed Home Market Report.” The company also announced that users of Top Producer 7i can test the Top Marketer lead-generation product free for 90 days.

Erin Campbell, a Homestore spokeswoman, said there is no cost information available during this initial testing phase for Top Marketer, though the company did announce that Top Marketer is expected “to be highly competitive with alternative online marketing business models.”

Top Marketer is only available to users of Top Producer 7i at this time. The Top Producer 7i software product was used by roughly 40,000 Realtors as of May 2005, Campbell said. The integration of the Top Marketer lead-generation system with Top Producer 7i is intended to help agents develop ongoing relationships with consumers by incorporating Internet-based leads into an agent’s customer database and marketing plans, Homestore announced.

Homestore operates Realtor.com through an affiliation with the National Association of Realtors trade group, which represents about 1.2 million Realtors across the country. The company also operates HomeBuilder.com through an affiliation with the National Association of Home Builders and RentNet.com, a national site with rental listings.

Hitwise, another Internet-monitoring firm, reported in July that Realtor.com was the top real estate Web site, ranked by market share of U.S. visits to the real estate category for the week ending June 11, 2005. Realtor.com had an approximately 12.3 percent market share for the real estate category that week, Hitwise reported, followed by Homestore’s RentNet.com site, which had a 5.5 percent market share.

“With Top Marketer, Realtors won’t spend their valuable time providing readily available market data or responding to casual inquiries, allowing them to concentrate their efforts with consumers more likely to require their services,” said Allan Dalton, president and CEO for Realtor.com. “The entire service is designed to meet consumer information needs while enhancing the value of having a Realtor working on their behalf.”

Mike Long, CEO for Homestore, said, “We believe this service represents a superior solution for both consumers and agents. Top Marketer will give consumers information they can use right away, and will also give them the opportunity to select a Realtor who can help them better understand their local marketplace. Consumers decide when they need the advice of a Realtor. After first reviewing market transaction information, they can connect with an agent who is ready to serve them.”

Errol Samuelson, president of Top Producer, said, “This is only the first phase of our Top Marketer launch. We are requesting ongoing feedback both from consumers and from our initial group of customers so we can continue to develop and improve upon this valuable marketing tool. We will also share field-tested strategies for success with our customers via a dedicated toll-free phone number and online training sessions.”

According to Realtor surveys, about 65 percent of real estate consumers on the Internet expect a response time of four hours or less to their online inquiries. And a quick response is also among the top priorities for Internet consumers who are searching for property information or a real estate agent, according to surveys.

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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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