No newfangled business model. No flashy discount or rebate offers, and no radical real estate gizmos or gimmicks.
RealEstate.com brokerage operations, launched last year, are not much different from those offered by many traditional real estate companies. Owned and operated by LendingTree LLC, RealEstate.com has established regional hubs in the Denver, Portland, Seattle and Salt Lake City areas, and has amassed a sales force of about 170 agents.
LendingTree offers an online portal for lending and real estate services that seeks to link consumers with lending and real estate services. The company continues to operate a lead-generation program that matches consumers with real estate agents not affiliated with the RealEstate.com brokerage company.
Internet marketing and company-generated leads are a big focus for RealEstate.com’s brokerage operations, and the company has plans to tap into other real estate services offered by its parent companies to offer a one-stop-shopping experience for its clients. The company targets markets in which it has a steady supply of company-generated leads, looks for agents with previous experience, and seeks to attract business by offering a heap of property listings information to consumers.
“What we are completely obsessed about is offering a full-service real estate operation,” said Bret Violette, senior vice president and general manager for the Western division of RealEstate.com’s company-owned real estate brokerage operations. “The vast majority of consumers are still opting to work with a full-service real estate agent.”
While RealEstate.com has built up most of its brokerage offices from scratch, the company in April did acquire The Ramsey Group Inc., a real estate company that operates in the Salt Lake City area and has about 40 agents. Violette said the company will not rule out future acquisitions, adding that the company has plans to expand into three or four more markets by the end of the year.
“There is still a lot of opportunity in the western half of the country,” Violette said.
“We’re only recruiting experienced agents as opposed to people new to the business,” he said. “Our approach has been to find sales associates who … excel at customer service and love being in real estate, but are really turning to the broker and looking to the broker to provide them with things that are very difficult to drive on their own.” And that includes a willingness to work with company-generated leads.
“We really only bring on agents where we’ve got the lead volume to support them with,” he said, and “We’re only hiring agents who we feel will be excited about working in this kind of model.” Agents don’t pay transaction fees or marketing fees to the company but do pay a “success fee” for company-generated leads that go to closing, and this fee is similar to the going rate for referral fees, he said.
Besides the Salt Lake City market, RealEstate.com has brokerage operations in the Portland, Seattle and Denver regions. The company has about 50 agents in the Portland area, 58 in the Denver area and 27 in the Seattle area. Violette said the company has a “turnkey” strategy for launching new markets quickly “and launching them at a fairly large scale” as opposed to opening a series of small offices, he said.
Violette said that as the company reaches critical mass in a given metro area it may open satellite offices in the region. When the company enters a new market, the first move is to hire a market leader who also carries the title of vice president and general manager. There is one market leader for every RealEstate.com market area, Violette said, and for every 50 or 60 agents the company hires one sales manager.
The company has a “listings-centric” approach, Violette said. “We want to try to get consumers interested in hearing more about properties that they’ve seen. We do invest quite substantially to drive prospective buyers to our site, to our listings. What the vast majority of consumers want to find is a comprehensive inventory of listings.” Last month, RealEstate.com announced that the Web site offers access to about 2 million property listings.
In addition to the main RealEstate.com Web site, the company also offers specialized Web sites for its brokerage operations. For example, the company’s Web site for its Portland operations is RealEstate.com/portland and its Denver-area Web site is RealEstate.com/co.
RealEstate.com brokerage operations tap into a large customer-service center based in Charlotte, and this allows the company to respond quickly to contacts from interested real estate consumers, Violette said. There are other opportunities, too, he said, to benefit from affiliated-company operations.
“We absolutely believe that customers are completely interested in bundling services,” Violette said, though RealEstate.com is only in the early stages in establishing business relationships to offer other company-affiliated real estate services.
“We’re really in the beginning stages of tapping into the synergies of company-owned brokerage and LendingTree Loans,” he said, which is a mortgage company owned by LendingTree. “We’re going to have mortgage officers in all of our markets. We can utilize resources we have here. In certain states we have title operations as well. We are in discussions on how to leverage title and settlement services. We just began offering home warranties to our real estate consumers,” he said.
“We’re starting to explore things like tapping into other InterActiveCorp services, like ServiceMagic,” he said. InterActiveCorp is the parent company to LendingTree and ServiceMagic, which links consumers with home-service contractors.