WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Houston Association of Realtors plays an active role in marketing members’ property listings. The association sends property information from its multiple listing service into an association-operated public Web site that also features a home-valuation tool and agent profiles.

The association aggressively advertises the search site on billboards, though it took more than property listings and advertising to build a strong online presence, explained Bob Hale, president and CEO for the Realtor association.

“You’ve got to give the consumer lots of cool stuff or they’re not going to come back,” said Hale, who was a panelist in a Realtor technology presentation Thursday at the National Association of Realtors’ annual legislative meetings in the nation’s capital.

The panel, titled, “Appreciate Your Assets,” also featured representatives for real estate marketing sites Zillow.com, Trulia.com and Point2NLS.com, real estate brokerage companies Long & Foster and Prudential Preferred Georgia, and NAR’s chief technology officer.

“Everyone in this room is trying to do the same thing. (We) are trying to get the eyeballs of the consumer who is looking for real estate,” said Hale.

Most MLSs in the country do not have a public property-search Web site, and some MLSs that maintain listings search sites do not actively promote them. There is a big myth, said Hale, that these MLS-operated sites steal viewers from broker and agent Web sites, he said, though the Houston association’s site has sent millions of visitors to members’ Web sites.

But the reality is that many consumers seeking real estate information are visiting Web sites that are not operated by brokerage companies or agents, he said, regardless off whether the MLS maintains a property-search site.

An analysis of Internet user statistics tracked by comScore, a Web metrics company, found that most of the online audience for Chicago real estate information uses sites like Realtor.com, Yahoo Real Estate, HomeGain and Zillow, as an example, Hale said. The Chicago market lacks a public MLS search site.

Meanwhile, the Houston Association of Realtors captures about 38 percent of the online real estate audience for searches related to Houston real estate.

Mark Lesswing, chief technology officer and a senior vice president for the National Association of Realtors, said real estate professionals should “look for disruptive technologies” to boost business and draw a bigger online audience. He said that “additive” technologies, which simply use an existing technology with perhaps a slight enhancement, may not be the answer.

“Don’t let other people dictate the playing field for you,” he said.

Lesswing described a promising new online marketing technology that could be applied to real estate Web sites. The technology tracks the mouse motions — including screen cursor location and pauses — to provide insights into consumers’ behavior at a particular Web site, even if they never click on their mouse.

Such technology could be useful in customizing site design and content to cater to users’ search preferences, Lesswing said.

Consumers and especially younger consumers are increasingly tech-savvy, and real estate professionals must constantly train and evolve to keep up.

“We still have a massive training gap between the agents and the consumers,” he said, and adapting to the rapid technological changes is vital, or else “this gap will continue to grow and grow.”

Agents’ use of new technologies, he said, could help stave off the much-talked-about “disintermediation” of real estate agents.

Because of the rapid pace of innovation, “Realtors who really endorse technology will become exponentially more productive and successful than those who don’t,” said Sami Inkinen, co-founder of Trulia, a real estate search site.

Inkinen, Zillow’s Jeff Somers and Point2’s Brendan King sought to cast away misunderstandings about what their business models are and are not — they all said that they are working with agents and brokers to provide a marketing venue that will help them to advertise their properties and generate leads.

Tony Floyd, senior vice president for Prudential Georgia Realty, said, “I don’t view Internet marketing companies as competition, I view them as enablers. Some are better, some are worse than others,” he said.

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