Strategy: Why real estate web portals need you!

Education & Training with tech4REpros

Two years ago, there was a lot of buzz about outside companies trying to develop real estate web portals.  Would they attempt to replace agents the way online travel portals had replaced travel agents or would they merely steal viewers from agent websites and then sell those viewers back to agents through sponsorships?  Two years later the same questions remain, but a lot has changed in the growing real estate web portal sector.

Online Listings Are Now A Commodity

Trulia was one of the first outside sites with online listings.  Last year Zillow joined the online listings derby.  Six months ago, Zillow announced that they had almost 1 million listings.  Two months ago, Overstock opened their new real estate marketplace with over 2.5 million listings.  Clearly online listings have become a commodity.  There are more than a dozen real estate web portals that now include listings.  Most of these sites reserve the right to edit and sublicense your listings to other sites, so no matter where you or your broker send the listing, it will probably end up on most of the sites anyway.  If the same listings are available everywhere, how will real estate web portals attract consumers?

Online Property Valuations Are Now A Commodity

Zillow's property valuation "Zestimates" were a great source of consternation when they debuted two years ago.  Consumers loved the ability to see how much their home was supposedly worth, but real estate professionals disliked valuations that were based on incomplete data and a "one size fits all" formula.  These days Zillow has access to more data and they have refined their formula, but it hardly matters.  Competing real estate web portals carry online property valuations from Zillow, CyberHomes, and Eppraisal all on the same page.  As with listings, it appears Zillow sublicenses their Zestimates. This raises an obvious question.  Why settle for one valuation when you can compare several at once?  If property valuations are available everywhere, how will real estate web portals attract consumers?

Agent Blogs Are Now A Commodity

ActiveRain was one of the original social networks for real estate professionals.  The main draw was free blogs for real estate agents, brokers, and related vendors which were organized into interest groups and geographic communities.  ActiveRain recently celebrated their 100,000th member.  The same week it was discovered that Trulia was testing their own agent blogging platform.  Trulia had already created a mechanism for agents to interact with consumers called Trulia Voices.  That feature has been copied by other real estate web portals, too.  If agent blogs and agent forums are available everywhere, how will real estate web portals attract consumers?

You Are The Only Competitive Advantage Left

Low barriers to entry and content syndication have made it easy for once innovative real estate web portals to copy each other to the point where none of them can offer consumers a unique, compelling reason to prefer their site.  The only thing that can't be cloned or resold is you, the real estate professional.  Your knowledge of the local area and your expertise in the area of buying and selling real estate is the only point of differentiation that is still available to real estate web portals, so when considering where and how you want to publish your knowledge and expertise, choose wisely!

Thanks for reading!

Frank Jewett

Comments (4)

Christine Donovan
Donovan Blatt Realty - Costa Mesa, CA
Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M

You have definitely made a point for those of us who are blogging about our local area to consider.

Aug 01, 2008 06:29 PM
Frank Jewett
tech4REpros - San Jose, CA

Christine, the easy answer is to create your own blog where, in the words of Teresa Boardman, you find that your posts are always featured.  However, that may not be the most effective way to build traffic, particularly if you aren't as prolific as Teresa.  Being part of a group blog or even a national network can give you greater exposure without necessarily costing you business. Remember that clients will choose different agents for personal reasons, so there is still a chance that they will choose you even if they also read some of your competitors.

If I was an agent shopping for a network where I could publish my valuable expertise, I would look for a network that is very proactive about maintaining a high signal to noise ratio, meaning that they eliminate plagiarism and obvious spam as well as discouraging cynical attempts to game their system. 

Take Trulia Voices, for example.  Jonathan Dalton has made a cottage industry out of pointing out common "noise" tactics like out of town agents asking if consumers need a referral in their own local area.  Another of Jonathan's favorite targets is agents attempting to talk consumers out of the area they are asking about in favor of an area the agent services.  These tactics are offputting to consumers, so the long term value of Trulia Voices is likely to be low unless Rudy from Trulia quits spending time "clarifying" the blogosphere and starts policing his own real estate portal.  Substance beats hype any day, Rudy.

What about Localism?  My post is neither an endorsement nor a rejection of the new Localism.  I want agents to understand that "free" is no longer good enough.  On top of that, totally non-confrontational and "self policing" (which has always been a canard anyway) aren't the best policies, either.  Your quality content is the only significant differentiator still in play to consumers.  The significant differentiator for platforms trying to earn your loyalty is in how they structure and enforce their rules to make sure that your quality content isn't overwhelmed by the sort of self-serving noise that has been all too common among all real estate web portals.

Demand a commitment to excellence rather than settling for "free", because your content is the only real value the real estate web portals have left to monetize.  They need you to attract consumers because listings, property valuations, and other features are no longer meaningful differentiators.


Aug 01, 2008 06:55 PM
Tucson Real Estate Experts Anne McKechnie
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Tucson, AZ
Previews Property Specialist

Great point Frank..we di have to differentiate ourselves from the rest  by being unique and being found for our expertise

Aug 02, 2008 01:36 AM
Brett Shaw
Coldwell Banker Kaiser - Carmel, IN

Brett Shaw from Cyberhomes:

Frank, thanks for addressing Cyberhomes!  You are correct in stating that home valuations have gotten ill reviews in the past.  As time has progressed, these "estimates" have gotten more accurate. Cyberhomes, for example, is owned my Fidelity National Financial, so we fundamentally have more content to draw from within the FNF family.  We have contracted with many agencies in order to bring the most up-to-date information out there.  

The real value of Cyberhomes is the local content that is available.  Anything from economic trends, full neighborhood analysis, including the percentage of households with children, median age of people, school ratings and average commute times.

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Aug 04, 2008 02:21 AM