The hardest part of running any business is finding customers. Real estate is no different. One way or another, as a broker, you’re going to spend money to attract clients and leads. You pay in either time or money.
Although I understand the need to balance short-term and long-term lead generation as a way to ensure there’s food on the table next month, it continues to puzzle me to see the industry make so few investments on long-term strategic consumer initiatives.
Based on consumer traffic, it’s pretty clear who is winning the long game today. It’s a certain company, that just so happens to start with the letter Z. (disclosure: yes, I used to work there — but no, I have zero financial interest in their success/failure).
Starting with Zestimates in 2006, Zillow has constantly focused on delivering wins to buyers, sellers and homeowners. As a result, the industry has to play by its rules because it has won the hearts and minds of consumers (specifically, buyers).
Industry conversations too often revolves around “how will this help our business” and not “how will this help our future clients.”
No surprise, what helps a real estate business — recruiting more agents, attracting leads and clients for less money and making more money per client (higher sale prices) — is not what buyers care about.
Few seem to be focused on giving consumers unique and differentiated information, advice and analysis. The long game is reaching buyers and sellers organically, which fundamentally means providing value to them in a way the portals are not — or can not.
What assets do you have to leverage? What inside information not available to the public can you share? What personal relationships do you have which can help others in your community?
When I think about potential consumer wins, the following opportunities are looming:
1. A more seamless experience to discover listings not yet on the market
On that front, I believe PocketList is implementing a smart strategy sourcing pre-market listings to showcase to prequalified buyers in the Bay area.
OffMLS is another player based in Chicago, though they are more focused on a brokerage distribution strategy while PocketList is going after buyers directly.
A franchise such as Windermere is the type that could pull off a “Coming Soon” strategy on its own, given its massive market share on the list side in Seattle.
2. CMAs without providing contact information
There’s no question an agent with on the ground knowledge is the best way to get a good estimated value.
Give consumers what they want — CMAs on their terms. Blanket a HOA as a starting point. Surefield’s PricePoint, Redfin Estimates and Homingin are all taking various approaches to delivering more accurate estimates — but none have nailed it in the way I believe a brokerage with boots on the ground in one geographic market could.
3. Trusted, lifestyle specific, local advice
What are the best coffee shops, dry cleaners, restaurants, trails, wineries? Where and when are the best festivals? Are there fantastic weekend trips within a three-hour drive?
How about where affordable vacation homes within driving distance? What’s the experience like at the local race track? How about the skiing landscape?
I still believe in showcasing agents as the local experts we all know they are (disclosure that I consult for StreetAdvisor, which has a white label offering focused on this opportunity).
4. Personalized answers from knowledgeable professionals, no personal details required
Inquire about any property, and get trusted answers from professionals, without giving up your contact information.
An anonymous, yet secure way to communicate, and give the consumers control over when they expose their contact information. I’ve yet to see anyone take a real stab at this.
The challenge is not the consumer side, it’s incentivizing agents to personalize answers to questions without knowing who the consumers are and having no way to follow up with them.
5. Community building
Every single person is looking for community, as virtually everything in life comes from some form of community. It’s the most defensible play in the playbook, but also the hardest to execute because it requires persistence over an extended period of time (years, not weeks or months).
The reality is this: either you capture buyer and seller attention with something unique they can’t get elsewhere, or you remain beholden to the portals for leads (by their rules, at their prices).
I’m not advocating to not take advantage of portals — but I am advocating spending a portion of your marketing dollars on initiatives delivering something differentiated consumers can’t get elsewhere.
Are you playing the long game?