Editor’s note: Marketing experts expect a continuing migration of real estate advertising dollars online, so it’s no surprise that a growing list of companies are seeking to capitalize on the online marketing trend. Some companies are focused around a single Web site, while others are approaching the industry from many fronts and with many sites to draw both real estate professionals and consumers. In this three-part special report, Inman News analyzes three large companies that each have multiple real estate holdings and Web sites. (Read Part 2, “Internet Brands builds family of real estate sites.”)
Dominion Enterprises, born last year as two large media companies divvied up the assets of a co-owned business, is a fast-moving participant in the world of print and online real estate marketing.
Since its launch in September 2006, Norfolk, Va.-based Dominion Enterprises has picked up Advanced Access, a real estate Web design, hosting and marketing company; Pullan Communications, a real estate marketing company that offers Web site development and e-mail marketing services; Resite Information Technology, an Internet marketing and software business that serves the apartment management industry; and eNeighborhoods, a real estate data, technology and marketing company.
While the company draws from a solid foundation in print publications, its interest in the online space is evident in the pattern of acquisitions. Marketing experts expect a continuing migration of ad dollars online.
Research company Borrell Associates found that online real estate advertising grew from a $1.2 billion market in 2004 to a $1.7 billion market in 2005, increasing in its share of ad spending from 10.3 percent to 14.7 percent. And the company projects online ad spending to grow to a $3.1 billion market by 2010.
A growing list of companies are seeking to capitalize on the online real estate marketing trend — some of them are focused around a single Web site, while others such as Dominion Enterprises are approaching the industry from many fronts — both print and online — to draw both real estate professionals and consumers.
The company is aware of pressures on print classified advertising, said Peter Ill, senior vice president and general manager of Dominion’s Internet real estate businesses, though he added that print is still viable.
“I think print is undervalued right now. Our results and our data is showing that print continues to deliver an excellent value in leads and the cost of those leads. But at the same time it’s clear that the increased capability of Internet tools — the ability to meet needs that print advertising couldn’t meet — is what drew us to making the Internet acquisitions,” he said.
The company has found success in a balanced approach with print and online products, he said. “In many ways I think people are focusing too much on the media, and saying, ‘It’s all this,’ or, ‘It’s all that.’ “
Don’t expect the Dominion Enterprises growth spurt to end soon — Ill said he expects the company’s workforce to expand.
And the company’s president and CEO, Conrad M. Hall, said in an address to employees last year that he plans “to double the company’s size through aggressive strategic acquisitions within the next five years,” according to a company announcement.
New acquisitions represent a slice of the company’s real estate operations, which include: paid and free print publications such as Harmon Homes, For Rent, New Homes & Living, Home Solutions and Distinctive Homes; Web sites such as Homes.com and ForRent.com; real estate marketing company Best Image Marketing/Number1Expert; and real Web site and lead management company Katabat. In addition to real estate, Dominion Enterprises manages a range of publications, services and Web sites related to job listings, vehicles and recreation, travel and technology, among other categories.
Dominion Enterprises is a privately held company that is wholly owned by Landmark Communications, a media company that owns several newspapers, television stations including The Weather Channel Networks and Weather.com. A report at Forbes.com lists Landmark as 207th in a ranking of America’s largest private companies published in November. Landmark had estimated revenues of $1.72 billion in 2005, according to the Forbes report, with an estimated 11,750 employees.
The company’s publications had estimated revenue of $850 million in 2006. The company has about 7,000 employees across the country, its collection of about 500 paid and free magazines have a combined weekly circulation estimated at about 5 million, and its Web sites reach an audience of about 8 million unique visitors per month, according to a company announcement. Dominion Enterprises was formed as a spin-off of Trader Publishing Co.
Landmark Communications and Cox Enterprises of Atlanta, Ga., divided Trader’s assets, with Landmark launching Dominion Enterprises to house its share of the former Trader Publishing operations.
Even before the split, Trader Publishing was aggressively pursuing real estate-related businesses. That company had acquired Harmon Homes publications in 2000 and Homes.com in October 2004. Homes.com serves as a real estate search site for consumers, and the site’s Agent Advantage division offers Web site design and marketing services for real estate professionals.
The Homes.com search site, redesigned earlier this year, has information for about 1.2 million for-sale listings, and is populated by multiple listing services and by agents who choose to display property listings there.
“Our goal is to have the best consumer-driven portal in the industry,” said Jamie Clymer, vice president and general manager for Homes.com. “We have additional data and features that will be coming to the portal over the coming months that will put us at the forefront with the other real estate portal businesses out there.”
Data on new for-sale homes is mixed in with resale for-sale homes at the Homes.com site, and users also have the option to search specifically for new homes. Consumers can view property listings on a map and view side-by-side property comparisons.
The goal of the new look and feel was to improve the consumer experience and allow faster access to for-sale property information, Clymer said. HomeGain.com, Realtor.com and Trulia.com — which all offer property-search tools — are among the sites that Homes.com views as competition, he said.
“We believe that … a strong portal presence and strong Web service presence, the ability to utilize both of those products and services bundled together, provides a total marketing solution,” Clymer said, and both sides of the Homes.com business model can work in tandem to give the site more reach. “We have products that utilize our Web sites and the portal in order to generate traffic and leads for our customers.”
In March, Dominion Enterprises announced the acquisition of eNeighborhoods, a company that serves about 400,000 real estate professionals through its various real estate products. The company’s clients include some large MLS providers and RE/MAX International, among others.
Greg Robertson, executive vice president for eNeighborhoods, said the new ownership is still “kind of new to us — but so far it’s been great.” The parent company has amassed quite a collection of real estate companies, he said, to create “something I haven’t seen before in this (Web services) space.”
The parent company has allowed a lot of autonomy in how the business is run, and it is searching for some synergies among its various business models, Robertson said, such as identifying which company has the best technology solutions that other companies can perhaps leverage.
Ill said that Dominion and its predecessor company do not take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to acquisitions.
“There are some where we have done an almost complete integration, there are some where we have not integrated at all. There are absolutely opportunities to provide better service at better rates by working together. At the same time, there are very strong brands among the group and we have no intention of (eliminating those brands),” he said.
There is a fresh attitude from the parent company of “What do you need more to succeed and how can we do that?” he added. “It’s nice to have that backing,” which could help the company to engage larger clients, he said. Dominion’s approach may help its affiliated companies to be more nimble, he said, rather than a fixed part of a behemoth.
In terms of competition, it’s the upstart innovators — “the guys that come out of the garage” — to watch for in the real estate market these days, he said.
Dominion Enterprises is definitely not standing still. The CareerBuilder.com jobs site listed about 200 job openings within the company, including programming, managerial and sales positions. About 32 positions were listed in the company’s headquarters state of Virginia in the past month, according to the company’s job postings at Ask4HR.com.
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