Are You Prepared for the Absence of Search?

Zillow announced a new initiative providing WordPress based  IDX websites for real estate agents at only $10 per month, or free for their premium customers. The announcement immediately provoked a number of conversations on Facebook, which had poor Jay Thompson running from group to group in his role as Industry relations manager.

Speculation about Zillow’s motivation ran rampant – and for the most part, the participants ranged from cynical to evangelical, with the majority falling in the “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”  camp. But that isn’t what motivated me to write this post – it was rather a subset of the conversation that took place between me, Greg Fischer and Linden Moe.

It started with a comment I made to Greg and Chris Somers.

 

In our MLS alone, there are over 1,000 IDX feeds – meaning that without syndication to third party sites like Zillow, Realtor.com, or Trulia. That means that every property, no matter how small or mean, has well over a thousand copies of its property information on the internet. Each of these brokerage and agent sites compete with each other for a finite set of consumer eyes, and in turn compete with the deep pockets of National franchises, regional Brokerages, and the vast number of third party sites which are not operated by real estate companies, but by companies using the property information to drive traffic and sell advertising (whether to real estate agents or lenders or home improvement vendors) . In my opinion its just a losing battle, and led to my asking the question “Does an Agent really need a web site?” And when I ask that question, it is more specifically “Does an Agent need a website centered around property search?”

There seem to be a lot of people that believe they do. Every major franchise seems to offer a free web site to their agents, as if it is a minimal technology standard, without which no agent can exist in today’s world. Sort of like wearing clothes to work every day. There are tons of companies offering low cost templates or semi-custom sites for agents, and all of them promise some form of SEO that will drive consumers into the arms of the agent. But I think there are a number of problems with that premise;

  1. Consumers don’t just look on one site
  2. Consumers see the same property information wherever they go, so search alone is not a defining or differentiating factor
  3. We are all spoiled by the ease of search, we look at the first page or two at most before we start jumping around – that gives us 10 or 20 chances out of the 1,000 + sites offering duplicate data
  4. When we look at those 10 or 20 sites, how many duplicate properties do we see before we settle on one site to search? Not enough for every agent’s site to mean anything.
  5. Consumers recognize templates and are not impressed by then any more than they are impressed by form emails

It is obvious that consumers want to partner in the search for real property today, and are not satisfied to just work at the speed of their agent. The proliferation of property search sites allows them to do that in the privacy of their home, on a site that they like , at their ease. But any property site will do. They have no loyalty to the property search site, and the fact that they look for property on your site doesn’t mean they will contact you to show them property .We need to be more than just the source of property data – we need to be the people that our consumers want to go to to help them through the most expensive and complicated transaction they have ever taken part in..

Greg Fischer said it really well –

I’m not saying that a dedicated and tech savvy agent can’t create a niche website that can capture sufficient consumer contact to generate some consumer inquiry, I’m saying that search is no longer the portal to consumer contact. In fact, the consumers you attract through your property search website are the most difficult for the average agent to work with, because they have no history with the agent and have no reason to trust them or to believe anything they say to them.

As I speak and teach around the country, I will often ask agents who their favorite clients are, and the answer is almost always the same – referrals. Why? Because referrals are pre-disposed to trust the agent they’re working with since they have some history with them. Blogs and Facebook and online forums have allowed agents to begin connecting with consumers well before they (the consumers) are actually ready to buy or sell. Then, when the consumer has a real estate need, they are more likely to go to their trusted friend who is a real estate professional.

They may have become a trusted source of market information, or tips on home buying or selling, or by sharing  “insider” information about local hot spots, historical spots or possibly by connecting with the consumer through some shared interest or lifestyle preference. But no matter how they connected, it was in a place where they weren’t selling because the consumer was not yet buying, and , as a result they were better able to connect as individuals. Then, when they actually begin their purchase or sale, they already know who they want to work with, or at the very least, who will get the first opportunity to earn their business.

The race here will not be won by the cheapest property search site, or by competing with yourself for the consumer’s eyes by having multiple search sites. It will be won, as it has always been won, by building your relationships with consumers, knowing your trade and your product, and providing world class customer service to every person you meet.

 

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3 comments for “Are You Prepared for the Absence of Search?

  1. June 5, 2012 at 7:55 am

    My blog is not centered around search and home buyers and sellers find answers as they do research.  Everyone has the listings including third party sites that use them to sell most everything.  I sell real estate advice.  I give it away. I show people through photos what the area looks like and give them insider information about real estate . . which isn’t the same as writing about things to do or reviewing bars. 🙂 As for the Zillow sites, I need to see one but my guess is that they are designed to get traffic to the Zillow web site and that they are a form of digital sharecropping.  It is my wish that each of my closest competitors take advantage of the sites so that I can continue to stand out and easily differentiate myself from the competition. 

  2. June 5, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Um … everything that Teresa said? Ditto.

    And this – 

    ” It is my wish that each of my closest competitors take advantage of the sites so that I can continue to stand out and easily differentiate myself from the competition. ”

    Is pure gold. 

    Having listings on a site is now as easy as getting a real estate license (and almost the same cost). Differentiation is crucial; listings aren’t it.

  3. July 18, 2012 at 11:37 am

    The favored lead source of ‘referrals’ isn’t
    unique to real estate, it is everyone’s favorite – insurance agents, financial
    planners, heck even our sales reps as Premier Agents often refer other agents
    into the program based on their success. 

    But if you value referral business, that makes a lead coming in via a
    website/search even more valuable.  Over
    course the lifetime of your contact with this newly acquired relationship, even
    if they never personally buy another home from you, they could provide you with
    ample more business.  There has to be a
    way to first get people into your sphere, where they are then in a position to give you referrals. 

    My father-in law is in a position where he
    has been selling insurance in his small Iowa town for about 40 years now,
    referrals are the only way he does business – he could care less about
    advertising.  But I’d say very few are in
    a position like this and need a way to constantly be filling their sales
    funnel, with the hopes of one day doing 100% referral business only.  Having
    search on a website is one way to effectively achieve this.   (Sara B from Zillow)

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