Real estate agents and mortgage brokers should be able to use online coupon services like Groupon to generate leads, although building a large enough subscriber base will present challenges, according to "social commerce" consultant Pat Kitano.

Kitano, the founding principal of Domus Consulting Group, blogs that a "real estate Groupon" would have the same mission as other online lead-generation techniques — "driving the active client out of the woodwork" — by offering cost savings.

He notes that there’s already a collective buying platform for real estate, HouseTipper, that works like Groupon. HouseTipper says it negotiates discounted deals with developers, real estate agents and property managers. A minimum number of vouchers must be sold before the deal is "tipped," the consumer is charged, and coupons sent by email.

HouseTipper presents an example of how a real estate group coupon deal might work: A listing agent offers homeowners the opportunity to lock in a 4 percent sales commission on an exclusive listing contract, by purchasing a $25 voucher that’s good for six months.

While Kitano writes that "no consumer would purchase this kind of offer without due diligence," he thinks that it could pull potential clients into a conversation. Those who actually decide to pay the $25 would have an incentive to follow through and list with the agent, he writes.

But having to pay upfront might dissuade many potential clients, Kitano thinks. So another approach might be to offer a free service, such as a home inspection, and have the agent pay the coupon provider. The consumer would provide contact info, which would be passed along to the real estate agent only if the agent agreed to pay a specified fee, such as $25, after seeing the prospective client’s social media profile.

The challenge with either approach is that the number of people in the market for real estate is smaller than, say, the number of people who are planning to eat out at a restaurant, Kitano writes. That means it might prove difficult to build a big enough subscriber base for a "real estate Groupon," because coupon providers need to aggregate a large number of small fees to cover centralized operating expenses.

The solution, Kitano says, might be for coupon providers to create deal syndication networks with real estate sites like Trulia or Zillow, real estate brokerages, and hyperlocal networks.

"Based on my work with the real estate industry, I see enthusiastic demand for real estate Groupons from Realtors, as well as mortgage brokers, insurance and other real estate-related services," Kitano writes. "And why not? Realtors will try any free or cheap marketing opportunities that enhance their lead quality."

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