Dominion Enterprises is breaking down walls between its real estate brands and businesses and this summer will begin providing agents and brokers with access to a range of services through a new Homes.com back-end.
The goal is to provide a single point of access to services including lead generation and management, marketing, website design and hosting, search engine optimization and report generation currently provided by five Dominion brands: Homes.com, Advanced Access, AgentAdvantage, eNeighborhoods and NUMBER1EXPERT.
The integration of agent and broker services into Homes.com, which Dominion hopes to accomplish in mid-July, will also include new capabilities, such as customer relationship management tools for social media and tools for managing leads from other listing portals.
Dominion’s real estate brands and businesses are being unified into a new division, Homes Media Solutions, and their services will be marketed under a new brand name that hasn’t yet been made public, said Jason Doyle, vice president of Homes.com.
Homes.com, Dominion’s popular listings portal, has primarily been a consumer-facing site, with agent and broker tools provided separately by the company’s other divisions.
But nearly 100,000 agents have created profiles at Homes.com, Doyle said, allowing them to interact with consumers in Q-and-A forums.
"We’re going to leverage Homes.com to get consumer reach, but as agents join Homes.com to create a profile, they are also going to be introduced into this new back-end Homes.com ‘dashboard on steroids,’ which is taking … technology (from across Dominion’s real estate businesses and incorporating them) into one brand," Doyle said.
"We see this as combining best of breed under one brand closer to Homes.com," Doyle said — a move that will also "marry" about 30,000 paying customers of Dominion’s agent and broker tools to the listings portal.
"The message to agents and brokers is that these five different platforms they used to use individually and separately, and which were not connected, will now be available on one platform, and will be connected to Homes.com," said Andy Woolley, vice president of eNeighborhoods.
Woolley — who in assuming the role of vice president of Homes Media Solutions will also oversee products developed by Advanced Access, AgentAdvantage, and NUMBER1EXPERT — said the unified platform will also include new tools to help agents get the most out of social media networks and manage leads from other listing portals.
"What we’ve seen happen over the last two years is agents got aggressive building networks on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, which is fantastic," Woolley said. "Unfortunately, most of those agents don’t know what to do with all of those people."
The new tools will enable agents to integrate their social network connections with leads they receive from their own websites and other listing portals into lead management tools, and push out property updates and other marketing materials to prospect with "friends of friends," Woolley said.
"Rather than waiting for leads to come through an agent website, it allows them to leverage connections they’ve established on Facebook and LinkedIn," he said.
Woolley said Homes Media Solutions is also planning to offer Virtual Office Website (VOW) capabilities to agents in most of the nation’s top 50 markets by this summer.
While consumers may know eNeighborhoods primarily for the real estate-related information it provides to listing portals and agents — such as facts about schools, home values, crime rates, and other demographics — it’s also a major provider of "enterprise" level services to multiple listing services, franchisors, and large brokers.
ENeighborhoods provides the back-end technology that powers Internet Data Exchange (IDX) listing searches for brokerage websites and national franchisors including RE/MAX, Century 21, Coldwell Banker and ERA.
Brokers and agents with IDX search sites have the ability to display all of the listings of participating brokers in their markets, but not all of the information about each listing that’s entered into the MLS is available.
VOW search sites — offered by technology-based brokerages like ZipRealty and Redfin — can provide registered users with access to a more comprehensive set of listing data, on a par with what agents and brokers see when they log into an MLS.
Password-protected VOW sites typically offer consumers access to sold listings data, listing history, tax data, price per square foot, and days on market.
The terms of a 2008 settlement of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against the National Association of Realtors gives brokers and agents who belong to NAR-affiliated MLSs the right to operate a VOW site, and many non-Realtor-affiliated MLSs also offer such capabilities, Woolley said.
One challenge in providing VOW websites to agents and brokers is the increased volume of information that must be stored and constantly updated, Woolley said.
"Right now, we have about 650 markets where we serve IDX, and we’ve been expanding (some of those markets) out to full VOW," Woolley said. By the time Homes Media Solutions launches its integrated services this summer, "we expect to have most of the top 50 markets covered with full VOW. The challenge to scaling out is the volume of information — you’re talking at least 20-to-1" compared to IDX, he said.
Woolley said the goal is to offer VOW search sites to agents who want that capability for the same price as IDX search, although some MLSs charge an additional fee that Homes Media Solutions would have to pass on to agents.
Although Homes Media Solutions will continue to support the services provided today by Dominion’s various real estate divisions, some brand names will probably disappear, Doyle said.
"The NUMBER1EXPERT brand name is not going away," Doyle said. "It will evolve — we have plans for that."
NUMBER1EXPERT is a membership-based lead generation network that the company says is restricted to the top 1 to 5 percent of real estate agents. Agents must meet minimum annual sales requirements to gain access to services including lead generation network, a proprietary email lead management system, and live online training.
To qualify for NUMBER1EXPERT marketing services, agents must have had $5 million in sales volume or completed 50 transaction sides during any 12-month period of their career. The company also offers a "Diamond" level certification for agents who have sold at least $16 million or handled 125 transaction sides or more in any 12-month period of their career.
Doyle said the eNeighborhoods brand is also well-established — Dominion acquired the company in 2007 — and will probably be around for a while.
But the AgentAdvantage brand, through which Homes.com has provided broker and agent website design and search engine optimization services, will probably sunset, Doyle said, "and we’ll put more focus on the actual products."
"All these different businesses, that are serving tens of thousands of agents," have been acquired or built up by Dominion over the years, he said, adding that the company has received feedback on combining the various services.
The creation of the Homes Media Solutions division is the culmination of recent management changes at Dominion.
Peter M. Ill, who was in charge of Dominion’s Internet business from 1997 through 2004 and was credited with developing the company’s Internet portals for homes, apartments, employment and autos, announced his departure in March.
Last month, Homes.com announced that Brock MacLean, senior vice president of national sales and development for Dominion’s For Rent Media Solutions division, would assume the role of executive vice president of Dominion Homes Media. Woolley and Doyle both report to MacLean.
According to data compiled by Web metrics tracking firm Experian Hitwise, Homes.com was the sixth most visited real estate portal on the Internet in March, ranking behind Realtor.com, Yahoo Real Estate, Zillow, Trulia.com and Rent.com. Dominion also operates ForRent.com, which was ranked 14th.
Doyle said the recent addition of automated valuation tools using models from SmartZip Analytics Inc. is among a number of planned moves to expand the site’s target audience beyond prospective homebuyers.
Last month, Dominion announced a partnership with Century 21 to provide enhanced services to participating brokers including unlimited listing photos, direct links to Century 21 brokerages, multiple lead capture forms on listings, and call tracking.
Citing Hitwise data, Homes.com says it was the top source of traffic after major search engines for four of the top five real estate franchisor websites in March.