The business of leads is changing in several directions all at once. AI, Alexa, robo dialers and concierge services seem to be exploding. Demand for better quality and larger quantity is high. But at what cost?
What can we learn from realtor.com’s recent strategy, and what should we prepare for later in the game?
The first move
Last year, Move Inc. subsidiary and realtor.com operator, signaled significant change when it purchased the Austin-based lead gen company Opcity for $210 million.
Opcity focused on mass procedural call nurturing of leads that could then be hot-handed-off to the lead buyers, creating an end-to-end service of highly vetted, transaction-ready leads.
Realtor.com parent company News Corp. told its customers not to worry at the time of the acquisition, as “this provides more choices.” However, to industry observers, it seemed at the time that the new product would likely torpedo former products and or models.
The first sacrifice was swift.
Originally launched two years ago at the realtor.com Summit in Las Vegas as the knight in shining armor was Realsuite. A revamped and updated set of tools with an API, it was in the process of expansion at the time of the Opcity acquisition.
The knight was quickly removed from the game. Today, not a mention of Realsuite may be found on the site. (R.I.P. brave sir knight)
Several months later, it was then reported that the primary realtor.com lead gen product would be phased out in a few markets where Opcity testing had gained traction.
The market reacts and predicts
As reported on Inman this March, reaction was both emotional and thoughtful as agents and brokers sought to understand and predict the future.
“Other agents and real estate professionals that have used Opcity have seen a horrendous conversion rate, so I’m not overly excited about it, and I probably will not continue my relationship,” said Thomas Brown, the co-founder of The Agency Texas.
“A lot of people are going to be severely impacted or out of business because of this,” said Michael Bernier, the president and managing broker of Realty Group LLC.
The prediction becomes reality
Strategically making more moves for the future and reacting to market conditions, on May 22, realtor.com closed its own call center in Scottsdale — seemingly further indicating that it was “all in” on the Opcity model.
Rob Lyszczarz, president of RE/MAX Select, which in 2018, did $778 million in sales volume and 2,645 transactions, revealed to Inman, “It was discovered by RE/MAX Select that Opcity, which in many cases was receiving the same leads it is selling to brokers [separately through realtor.com], would, in fact, receive leads before the brokerage who pays realtor.com,” RE/MAX Select said in an emailed statement to Inman.
“Then realtor.com through their Opcity call center would immediately call and identify themselves as being from realtor.com (the site they [the customer/lead] made the inquiry on) to further their financial advantage in converting these leads, and collect a referral fee.”
After working realtor.com leads for 17 years, the 200-person brokerage has reportedly ended its relationship, and stopped buying leads from the company due to “a deterioration of that business service.” (Disclosure: Lyszczarz is a client of Revaluate.)
In contrast, realtor.com seems to be doing just fine — Move’s revenue alone increased 5 percent, hitting $121 million, and realtor.com also saw a 7 percent growth in unique users.
As I write this post, it’s been revealed that King Ryan O’Hara, realtor.com CEO will be resigning, taking a new role as CEO elsewhere. His motive for the departure is not publicly published, and the timing is potentially coincidental — likely adding further skepticism.
It appears that Move Inc. is not willing to concede to chess master Zillow. It has demonstrated that it won’t settle and seeks to invest and improve. Like a high-stakes game of chess, realtor.com appears to be sacrificing its queen to better position itself for the win.
This move is bold, but is in no way a guarantee for victory. Improvement and evolution comes at a cost, and all aspects of the company are evolving as it fights for growth. This fallout — is it temporary or a trend?
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