Real estate professionals consider Facebook and other social media sites to be the best online marketing tools at their disposal, rating them as more valuable than search-based campaigns and advertisements on Trulia, Zillow and other real estate portals, according to a survey conducted by Citi Investment Research and Analysis.

Asked to rank online marketing sites they use on a scale of one to five, with five being the most valuable, agents surveyed by Citi ranked Facebook and other social media sites as tops, with a score of 3.09.

Trulia’s agent ads ranked second with a score of 2.93, followed by Zillow’s Premier Agent (2.74), and Yahoo Real Estate (2.63). Rounding out the field were HouseValues.com (2.23), Move Inc.’s Top Producer (2.12) and AOL Real Estate (2.1).

With a score of 2.76, agents rated search-based marketing campaigns intended to generate traffic to their own sites as more valuable than any third-party real estate portal except Trulia — which is not to say that the big real estate portals won’t continue to boost ad sales to real estate agents.

The Citi survey — part of a bullish, 43-page report on Zillow projecting 100 percent revenue growth for the company this year — revealed that 62 percent of real estate agents spend at least some of their marketing budgets online, and that one-third plan to increase their online ad spending in the next 12 months.

Real estate professionals consider Facebook and other social media sites to be the best online marketing tools at their disposal, rating them as more valuable than search-based campaigns and advertisements on Trulia, Zillow and other real estate portals, according to a survey conducted by Citi Investment Research and Analysis.

Asked to rank online marketing sites they use on a scale of one to five, with five being the most valuable, agents surveyed by Citi ranked Facebook and other social media sites as tops, with a score of 3.09.

Trulia’s agent ads ranked second with a score of 2.93, followed by Zillow’s Premier Agent (2.74), and Yahoo Real Estate (2.63). Rounding out the field were HouseValues.com (2.23), Move Inc.’s Top Producer (2.12) and AOL Real Estate (2.1).

With a score of 2.76, agents rated search-based marketing campaigns intended to generate traffic to their own sites as more valuable than any third-party real estate portal except Trulia — which is not to say that the big real estate portals won’t continue to boost ad sales to real estate agents.

The Citi survey — part of a bullish, 43-page report on Zillow projecting 100 percent revenue growth for the company this year — revealed that 62 percent of real estate agents spend at least some of their marketing budgets online, and that one-third plan to increase their online ad spending in the next 12 months.

All told, real estate agents and brokers are expected to spend an estimated $9.02 billion on advertising this year — a 7 percent increase from last year — the report noted, citing projections by market research firm Borrell Associates.

Add to that figure a projected $9.54 billion in 2011 ad spending by mortgage lenders, $2.21 billion by rental property managers and $1.04 billion by real estate developers, and real estate advertising could hit $22 billion this year.

"Relative to the $60 million-plus in revenue that we project for Zillow in 2011, this is a very large market opportunity," Citi analysts said in initiating their coverage of the company at a price target of $36 per share.

Zillow’s stock has been on a roller-coaster ride since a July 20 initial public offering that priced shares at $20. After soaring briefly to $60 on opening day, Zillow’s share price sagged to a recent low of $23.43, as most stocks took a beating in the wake of the debt-ceiling crisis and the downgrade of the U.S.’s long-term debt rating by Standard & Poor’s.

The publication of Citi’s report helped Zillow shares climb more than 5 percent Monday, to close above $33 for the first time this month.

Citi analysts noted that the competition in online real estate is intense, but said Zillow has been able to grow its unique visitor count faster than rivals Move and Trulia over the past two years.

Zillow claims unique visitors were up 93 percent from a year ago during the second quarter, to 20.7 million, and that subscribers purchasing the company’s Premier Agent ads were up 180 percent to 13,385.

"The key takeaway here isn’t that Zillow is the dominant leader in the online real estate segment," the report said, noting that publicly traded companies like Realtor.com operator Move Inc. and ZipRealty still generate more revenue. "But it clearly is one of the leaders, with arguably industry-leading momentum in terms of consumer usage."

Like Google, Facebook and Amazon, Zillow spends little on brand awareness and customer acquisition, attracting more than three out of four visitors "organically," rather than by using techniques like buying search terms or banner ads, Citi analysts said.

Zillow is also a strong player in mobile, offering what is "probably the most downloaded real estate app on the iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry platforms," the report said.  Mobile apps generate 1.5 million unique visitors a month, the report said, compared to 600,000 for Realtor.com.

Citi’s survey found real estate agents rated Zillow’s Premier Agent as the best mobile site for marketing, scoring 3.15 on a scale of one to five. Trulia’s agent advertising solutions scored a 3 for mobile marketing, followed by Yahoo Real Estate (2.66) and Move.com’s Top Producer (2.28).

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