A California company is attempting to reinvent direct mail as a marketing tool for real estate agents using postcards that feature customized maps displaying recently listed or sold homes near each recipient’s address.

CoreFact’s map-based postcards look like a snapshot of what consumers see when they go online to research market conditions in their neighborhood at any number of real estate-related sites.

To bring consumers to agent Web sites also powered by CoreFact, the postcards offer a free home valuation. It’s the first step in a "Capture Marketing System" that helps agents manage leads, convert leads into clients, and market clients’ properties, CoreFact says.

The Hayward, Calif.-based company last week announced its first enterprise-level partnership with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, a Realogy-owned company with more than 3,600 sales associates in Northern California that’s operated by NRT LLC.

While direct-mail campaigns are generally known for their low response rates, CoreFact claims about 5 to 10 percent of those who receive its personalized postcards act on them — 10 times the response rate of a more traditional direct-mail campaign, said CoreFact founder and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Burnley.

Because CoreFact has automated the process of producing postcards customized for each individual recipient, the cost is about the same as a traditional direct mailing — around 59 cents each, depending on the size of the order.

But the postcards are only one aspect of what the company describes as a "holistic system" for generating, managing and converting leads and marketing properties.

Each postcard is unique in that it not only provides information on listings or homes sold near the recipient’s address, but it generates a "Market Access Key" that the recipient enters into the agent’s Web site to obtain an estimated valuation of their own home and more information about local market activity.

CoreFact has developed its own automated valuation tool that’s available to consumers only through the IDX (Internet Data Exchange) sites of agents the company provides services to. CoreFact provides IDX sites for $99 a month.

The valuation tool, which uses data from multiple listing services or county property records, allows users to tweak its assumptions by choosing appropriate comparable properties or adjusting a "market conditions" slider.

"The problem with a lot of software solutions out there that try to do (automated valuations) is there’s no substitution for a human who knows the style of a home and knows what matches," Burnley said. Ultimately, the valuation tool "is just a toy for a prospect to come in and make changes to," he acknowledged.

When respondents register at an agent’s site, they can request a market report, and CoreFact can have a telemarketing firm call them to see if they want to make an appointment with a Realtor.

CoreFact also allows agents to enroll respondents in drip-marketing campaigns and view how respondents are using the agent’s Web site, helping agents to focus on the most promising leads and measure the results of their marketing efforts, Burnley said.

"Realtors spend a ton of their time now prospecting, and less time working on deals and keeping clients happy," Burnley said. "They kind of neglect the clients once they get them," which can hurt repeat business, he said.

For now, CoreFact’s primary markets are in California, Texas and Indiana, but the company plans to roll out services in additional states this year.

The recession has put a dent in advertising spending, and direct mail hasn’t been immune from the trend. In its most recent quarterly report, the U.S. Postal Service said direct-mail volume was down 18.8 percent from a year ago. While volume fell by 4.4 billion, the post office said it still delivered 18.8 billion pieces of direct mail — an average of 207 million pieces a day.

But Burnley said a direct-mail program that spurs consumers in a targeted geographical area to visit a Web site and enroll in a marketing system can achieve better results than search-engine optimization (SEO) or social networking techniques like blogging.

"When you’re casting out on the Internet, you’re pulling leads in from everywhere," Burnley said. "You’re spending money on SEO, spending time on your blog, and we think those things are valuable. But the problem is you’re not going after the market you want."

Direct mail can be a better way for agents to pitch themselves as a local expert to the consumers who are most likely to engage their services, he said.


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