Editor’s note: Online marketing in real estate is quickly moving forward as brokers test new methods for reaching consumers on the Internet. Marketing choices have grown more complicated with a larger selection of Web sites to promote property listings and a growing list of lead generation and management technologies to choose from. In this three-part series, we take a look at new broker strategies and where new partnerships are cropping up. (Read Part 1 and Part 3.)
It’s becoming increasingly clear. Brokers want control of property listings information, and they aren’t waiting.
“Multiple listing services and brokers have come around to understand that brokers need control of their data. I believe there is a fundamental shift going on at the MLS level to begin giving brokers access to their data,” said Luke Glass, chief financial officer and chief operating officer for real estate technology and data company Threewide Corp.
While brokers have traditionally supplied property listings information to MLSs for display at Realtor.com, public MLS Web sites and MLS-member Web sites through data-exchange agreements, their attention is turning to their own online marketing.
The challenge for brokers is in deciding how to use their newfound control to market properties — or not to market properties — on a growing list of consumer-facing property-search Web sites. “Brokers are really leaning toward controlling their own marketing decisions,” Glass said. And agents, too, are seeking the best online venues to market properties to the massive Internet audience of prospective home buyers.
These are not easy decisions — some brokers and agents say they want to offer maximum exposure for properties while others say they worry that some Web sites may get in the way of real estate professionals’ direct interaction with consumers. There is no single solution that suits every real estate professional in every market. Brokers and agents are working to build their own unique brand on the Internet and the operators of property-search Web sites are working to build a brand, too.
“The broker obviously feels that the number one place to attract customers is his Web site,” Glass said. And many third-party Web sites, while seeking to become a search destination, also direct Internet traffic back to the agent’s or broker’s Web site when consumers at those sites seek more detailed property information.
In response to the demand for broker control of listings information, Threewide has launched a data distribution product called ListHub that allows brokers to interact with MLSs in receiving broker-specific property listings information and in controlling where to send that information. The product also allows brokers to monitor Web traffic generated by their property listings information at those third-party sites, and to eliminate the need for re-entering data numerous times at the various sites.
Other companies, too, are offering variations on this theme: Web-based tools that allow real estate professionals to automate the process in sending property listings information for display on a number of Web sites. Point2, Postlets, SubmitYourListings and vFlyer are among the companies in this category. Such companies can simplify the process of sending bulk data feeds or individual property information to multiple property-search sites simultaneously, and in updating the information displayed on those sites.
And the list of online marketing sites for properties is a mouthful: Craigslist, eBay, Edgeio, Google Base, LiveDeal, Oodle, Point2NLS, Propsmart, Trulia, Vast, Yahoo and Zillow, among others.
While agents are also making decisions about how to market properties, Glass said that the ListHub product gives brokers ultimate authority in deciding where to redirect traffic from the other property-search sites. “They have to agree to where the traffic goes,” he said. Brokers within 13 MLSs are using the ListHub product, and these MLSs represent about 100,000 agents across the country, he said.
Online marketing should drive consumers to a physical storefront or online storefront, Glass said. “I think the Web site itself is becoming an online storefront. Don’t let others intermediate the traffic. Your online storefront is for your listings — where you should feature your listings. It’s all about the data,” he said.
MLSs are generally moving away from making online marketing decisions for brokers, though there are exceptions, he said. The Houston Association of Realtors, as an example, has formed an agreement with its brokers to send property listings information to the Google Base classified listings site, while it is typically brokers or agents who are submitting this information to the site. “For the most part MLSs don’t want to be involved with marketing decisions.”
Some MLSs maintain their own public property-search Web sites, though many of these MLSs don’t actively market the sites, Glass noted.
Mike Montsko, president of the Weichert Lead Network, a technology division that manages online leads for the Weichert, Realtors brokerage company, said it is definitely difficult for real estate companies to decide where to distribute property listings information.
“This one keeps me up at night. There are lots of sites … that are willing to drive free traffic to your site,” he said. “With one caveat: You have to provide them with your listings. For now these sites are happy to give you the free traffic because they need the content. Without the listings they would have no product.”
He added, “I know a lot of brokers feel that by working with these sites we may be raising an 800-pound gorilla. As these sites become more popular consumers will demand that their homes be displayed on them. Once this happens we could be facing the same problem we have today with newspapers: large spends with little return.”
So why do companies decide to post property listings information at these third-party Web sites? “Our job is to help our associates sell homes and to ensure that our customers are getting the best service available,” Montsko said. “Putting the listings up on these sites gets those homes more exposure, which is good for the associate and the customer.”
Joe Ballarino, president and founder of Amerivest Realty, a Naples, Fla., real estate company, said that online marketing decisions are complicated by the rising number of third-party property information sites. “We now have to evaluate each and every site to determine whether our listings should be placed on those sites. We have to balance our sellers’ needs with general business goals when making those decisions.
“We look at many variables when deciding which to be placed on … the traffic at that site, are our competitors’ listings appearing, and does the site compete with us and if so, how? We will only look at sites where we can automate a bulk export. With over 300 agents and 1,00 listings a manual process is just not sensible,” he said.
Obtaining optimal exposure for a property does not mean pushing property information out to every possible source on the Internet, said John Chang, vice president of marketing and eBusiness at John L. Scott Real Estate. Chang said the company’s marketing efforts target prospects who are most likely to purchase a home.
“This targeted promotion does not rely on broadcasting listings to every conceivable would-be portal in cyberspace, but rather it focuses on the best medium through which we can manage the promotion of homes to the best prospects,” he said. “At the forefront of this marketing plan is JohnLScott.com, where we can ensure that properties listed by (our) agents are optimally showcased.”
Chang also noted that the company has not established a “one-size-fits-all” policy for its brokers, and individual brokers can make their own marketing decisions in promoting properties online.
At Coldwell Banker Howard Perry and Walston, a brokerage in Raleigh, N.C., the decision to market properties is based on a number of factors: “We evaluate the quality of the site, what consumer marketing and promotion they are doing for the site, what they have to offer the consumer in an online experience, what their business plan is, and are they going to work with us or against us,” said Sean Nally, chief information officer for the company.
“We guide our agents to utilize the sites we have determined to be our best online marketing partners and then encourage them to get Web exposure for all their listings in order to increase their marketing reach and, of course, listings and sales,” Nally added. He said the company has embraced sites like Realtor.com and Trulia.com. “Trulia has some fantastic tools,” he said, such as “Heat Maps” that offer a color-coded map indicating market trends.
Brendan King, chief operating officer for Point2 Technologies, a company that offers online marketing services, said during the Real Estate Connect NYC conference earlier this month that real estate professionals should experiment in sharing property listings information with various Web sites and measure what works best. “Don’t be scared to set the data free,” he said. “There is a value proposition for the Realtor. Don’t be scared of Google or Yahoo or any of these search places — put it out there with your branding, with your contact information, and then measure these leads that come back to you.”
And Charlie Young, senior vice president of marketing for Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corp., said during that conference that the job of brokers is to “put properties in front of consumers,” though there is “no right answer” in deciding where to market properties. “Every market is going to be different. I would look at traffic. I think you need to look within the marketplace. What are the objectives that (a Web site) has? Are they contradictory? Put your listings where consumers get the most value.”
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