Online Real Estate Listing Services Not Always Best Way to Harvest Leads, Brokers Say

Online Real Estate Listing Services, Trulia, Zillow, East Bay, Silicon Valley, Danville, Paragon Real Estate Group, Zephyr Real Estate, San Francisco

buildingsBy Robert Celaschi

Online portals have become a big marketplace for residential real estate leads, with marketing subscriptions pulling in millions of dollars a month. But the leads have to be managed to be fruitful, agents say. And some say they get along fine without them.

[contextly_sidebar id=”kxzR9yCT2HWxYpEfwi3UVxcFpnkNPrMR”]For the third quarter of last year, the most recent numbers available, Trulia Inc. reported roughly 78,000 paying subscribers to its software and services, up 38 percent from a year earlier. Subscribers’ listings get prominent placement in Trulia’s search results, and their advertisements can be targeted by locale.

Trulia said average monthly revenue per subscriber increased from $189 to $204 compared to the third quarter of last year. That pegs monthly revenue at about $16 million.

Zillow Inc., whose acquisition of Trulia is expected to close by next month, was less detailed in its reporting, but noted that the $30.3 million increase in marketplace revenue for the quarter was due mainly to a 36 percent increase in the number of subscribers called Premier Agents. It had 60,877 Premier Agents as of September.

The Premier Agent program has several tiers. The top level makes the agent appear as the person to contact for listings in specifically purchased ZIP codes.

Are the leads worth the cost?

“If I spend a dollar on Zillow and I make $5 off it, I’m doing well,” said Erik Boyenga, a broker who targets Silicon Valley.

“I’m a big power user on Zillow and Trulia, but I’ve found the reason they are effective is I spend a lot of time making sure my profile is accurate,” he said. “I’ve tied the profile to a lot of different online companies that offer reviews, like Yelp.”

He also backs up his Web presence with print marketing in the ZIP codes where he does a lot of business. And he searches out the online profiles of each lead.

“I want to find out where the common ground is,” he said. “The people who are actually putting out their presence online tend to be more receptive to us. I find it much easier to convert than people who are very private online.”

Kevin Kieffer, a Keller Williams broker in Danville, said success with portals is a numbers game, with perhaps two legitimate buyers out of 15 leads. But he makes heavy use of customer relationship management software, such as automatically sending out e-mail to nurture the contact even if Kieffer himself is out driving around his territory.

Another East Bay agent, Laura Wucher of Better Homes and Gardens, ranks Zillow higher than Trulia because, “With Zillow they are specifically calling me; with Trulia, they are calling about a property.”

She too augments her online presence and plans to put up a video of a seminar for first-time buyers.

But for Rob La Eace, broker associate with Paragon Real Estate Group, his one experience of paying for leads turned him off to the idea.

“I did pay to be on Yelp for a while, and it was a pretty horrible experience,” he said. “Basically I signed up for something that was around $500 or $600 a month, and received zero leads. I ended up cancelling and getting some of my money back.”

Other agents put a lot of stock in free online tools.

“Ninety-five percent of my business comes from Facebook,” said Sabrina Gee-Shin, an agent with Zephyr Real Estate in San Francisco. “Facebook is your branding. It’s who you are.”

Gee-Shin treads lightly, with only about 10 percent of her posts being related to real estate. Even then, she said, the posts will be indirect, such as something she just learned about tax credits, or discussing questions that have been posed to her.

“It plants the seeds to my friends and family that I am in the business,” she said, adding that she gets contacted several times a week as a result.

Free sites also are big with Kieffer, who uses Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr and several others. He uses the tool Hootsuite to automatically post on all the sites at once and directs people back to his own Web site.

Organic leads are still best of all, according to a 2014 survey of 270 broker-owners by Imprev Inc., a Bellevue, Wash., seller of custom digital, print, video, online and e-mail marketing for residential real estate.

Eighty-six percent of those responding said organic leads—mainly past clients and referrals—offer the best quality or return on investment. Eight percent cited Zillow, 7 percent cited Realtor.com, 5 percent cited Craigslist and 4 percent cited Trulia.

Thirty-two percent said their own Web sites were exceptionally valuable for leads. Local marketing (flyers, walk-ins, signs, open houses) got high ranking from 27 percent.

Gee-Shin puts a lot of stock in her 400-person mailing list.

“I’d rather leverage the few dollars I have for marketing in nurturing a key set of 400 people in my life than 4,000 strangers,” she said.

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