January 05, 2009

Special Report: Online Strategies from Real Estate Marketers: Tactics to Survive a Struggling Economy

SUMMARY: Many marketers are in a tough position right now with those in real estate working in a particularly depressed industry in today’s economy. It’s definitely survival of the fittest.

Here is the first installment of a two-part Special Report on online real estate marketing tactics and strategies that are helping them survive a struggling economy. Marketers in all industries can cherry-pick from this report. Part I focuses on search sites, lead buying and lead nurturing.
Online real estate marketing has been heating up even as the market has plunged into a depressed state. Over the past two years, major online real estate buying and selling conduits, such as Zillow, Trulia, and PropertyShark, entered the market to offer home sellers, buyers and real estate agents new ways to connect.

About 84% of home buyers use the Internet in their search, according to the 2007 National Association of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. About 73% drive by or view a home as a result of using an Internet site.

The Internet, thus, has created a huge opportunity for real estate agents, with 89% already having a website, according to the 2007 NAR Member Profile. About 50% of them communicate with clients through email.

Real estate marketers still face their fair share of obstacles – stringent lending practices, the credit market crisis, and record numbers of foreclosed homes, according to the National Association of Home Builders. But relying on the Internet to search for and nurture buyers is proving to be a cost effective, trackable alternative.

Find out what works in this two-part Special Report. Part I includes tips for lead buying and lead nurturing with email and a guide to major real estate search websites.

Publicize Listings

There are a variety of places to post listings online. Most are free. The most successful tactic is to put listings on every site available. The more views a property receives, the more likely that it will find a buyer.

Here are a few tips for posting listings online:

->Tip #1. Hire someone or use a tool to post each listing on multiple sites

The best way to reach as many people as possible is by uploading listings to as many real estate search engines and online classified sites as possible. This is quite a challenge because of the sheer volume of sites out there. What do you do?

Hire a virtual assistant or use a tool, such as vFlyer to post listings on multiple sites. Virtual assistants can be hired by the hour or on an annual basis. The benefit of using virtual assistants is the fact that they are often up-to-date on new tools and websites because vendors use them for testing, says Ralph Roberts, owner of Ralph Roberts Realty in Washington Township, MI.

Tip: Upload existing virtual tours of homes in vFlyer and embed them onto your blog page for added exposure of listings. vFlyer can upload virtual tours on multiple sites including a company’s blog or website.

Tip: The more specialized a virtual assistant is in one subject area the better, says Roberts. “You could have four virtual assistants, each specializing in different areas,” he says. “That’s better than having one with multiple specialties.”

->Tip #2. Invest in enhanced features

When using sites, such as Realtor.com to post listings, some real estate marketers pay extra to enhance listings. RE/MAX Agent Sam Miller, of Mount Vernon, Ohio, for example, does this so that he could get searchers’ attention and drive them to one of his many sites.

Paying a monthly fee allows him to add an animated scrolling banner that says “www.KnoxCountyOhio.com.” He also pays Realtor.com to put his contact information on each listing. The reasoning: there are thousands of professionals on Realtor.com. This lessens the chance that a searcher will choose his company. But, if he can get a buyer to come to his site and browse, then he’s the only one doing business with a buyer at that point.

->Tip #3. Constantly look for new places to post listings

Ines Hegedus-Garcia, a Majestic Properties realtor in Miami, and her husband, Enrique Garcia, also a Majestic Properties realtor, post listings on more than 15 sites. But it’s difficult to optimize a good mix because it’s not easy to track where leads come from.

“When someone calls to say they’ve seen a listing, we always ask where they’ve seen it,” she says. But people usually say they saw it on the Internet, and then they can’t remember the name of the site because they’ve visited so many by that point. It’s a good idea to keep looking for new sites and mix it up every now and then.

(See the end of the article for more info on major real estate listing sites, tracking, and analytics.)

Buying Leads

Real estate lead sellers probably have gotten a bad reputation. Not everyone has had a bad experience with them. Here are a few tips from a realtor who is converting the leads she buys from these sellers into commissions.

->Tip #1. Research the lead buying process

Read about all the mistakes people have made. There are several blogs on this topic. Also, talk to others about their experiences with companies you’re interested in. Go to a site, such as ActiveRain.com and ask around or do a basic search to see what comments have been posted.

->Tip #2. Try out a few

One of the major criticisms of lead sellers is that you’ll pay for the service, get poor leads, and then have a hard time getting out of the deal. Make sure you ask for a trial period. Try it for a month to see if you like it. Do not commit to a long-term contract until you are able to get a feel for it first.

->Tip #3. Be proactive with leads

RE/MAX Agent LaNita Cates, of Joliet, IL, says lead buying works for her because she has created her own system for converting them. The steps she takes:
1) Sends an introductory letter to leads as soon as she gets them.
2) Sets up a search based on the criteria the lead provides, and then sends an email with the listings she finds.
3) Calls them to say hi and tells them that they signed up for a real estate website and she was assigned to them.
4) Refers them to the email she sent them with listings based on their preferences.
5) Tells them to call her whenever they change their preferences or want questions answered.

“Seven out of 10 times they call me back and say, ‘LaNita, I really need a basement,’” she says, citing that example. “Then you have that relationship.”

->Tip #4. If the email address is valid, go for it

Cates says she has had more than a fair number of bad leads come her way – some with names, such as Donald Duck, Rocky Balboa, and Fred Flintstone. But if they have a valid email address, Cates goes for it. She puts them into her system. She sometimes will send letters and emails with greetings like “Hi, Donald,” etc. Sometimes she signs them “Minnie Mouse” as a joke and asks the leads to contact her when they are ready.

->Tip #5. Be patient

It took about three months for Cates to make the system work. “I’ve had a lot of success, and I know a lot of Realtors® hate lead [sellers]… but that’s where I’m getting a lot of my business,” she says.

Among lead sellers that have gotten good reviews from Realtors®:

Reply! Real Estate:

Email Lead Nurturing

Lead nurturing can be more important than lead generating, especially in a down economy. A lead that’s not ready to buy now might be ready when things pick up. Being relevant and providing value are two ways to stay in the inbox of your opt-in email contacts. Here’s how to start an email lead nurturing campaign.

->Step #1. Capture a name, email address, phone number (optional)

Capturing a name and email address when Web visitors want to view more details on a listing or see a virtual tour is one way to get contact info. Have a screen pop up that says: “Registration required. Please enter your name and email address.”

To optimize this process, create a contact form on each Web page that has a single listing. Then, have your webmaster write a script into the coding of that page that identifies which property a prospect viewed when they entered a name, email address, and phone number and clicks to register.

Miller does this on his site. He has it set up to send him an email with the person’s name, contact info and the house viewed. This gives him the option to call or email the prospect immediately or, if he’s tied up, to forward it to one of his team members. They can then immediately follow up and ask prospects what they like about the home and if they’d like to see it.

“It made our response time super-fast,” says Miller, who added that a fast response time is a critical element in today’s slow real estate market. “That’s probably the greatest success story I can share with you, a little change that we made that made a huge difference.”

Tip: Before Miller or a team member follows up with the prospect, they look up other homes available in the price range the prospect viewed. They are then better prepared to suggest other options.

->Step #2. Immediately send a confirmation email

After your site captures a contact name and email, it should immediately send a confirmation email thanking the prospect for registering. The email could provide more details about a listing, a link to the virtual tour, or a search form that asks the person about preferences: How many bedrooms? How many bathrooms? What price range? What location?

->Step #3. Send listings that match what the contact is looking for

Match what prospects are looking for either manually or with an automatic responder, especially if you have a special email signup form with search criteria that a person can fill out. Miller’s site does just that. He set it up through his local MLS, which searches for the criteria and automatically sends listings to opt-in clients.

-Miller and his team send listings in a single link, not as attachments.
-The team sends listings matching the criteria as soon as it hits the MLS
-They resend listings if pricing changes
-They promote EmailKnoxCounty.com in print magazines and in confirmation emails sent to people who register their names and email addresses.

Results: This system has been extremely effective. Three years ago, Miller and his team closed 380 transactions. More than 100 of those leads came from sites, such as EmailKnoxCountyHomes.com and KnoxCountyListings.com.

->Step #4. Make sure the system copies you on outgoing emails

Miller found that setting up the system to copy him on emails sent to prospects was “very valuable.” The benefit: He can view emails on his smartphone, complete with specific details (e.g., price range). That email also provides the prospect’s phone number.

This allows Miller to introduce himself, tell the prospect he just sent a listing, and ask if the prospect has had a chance to view it. “What happens is: I take someone whom I’ve never met, whom I have no true relationship with, and all of a sudden I’m working on his behalf to try and find him a house,” Miller says.

Tip: Miller uses a Fidelity product called Paragon Online to make this possible.

->Step #5. Follow up with prospects

Miller suggests launching a direct campaign that periodically sends an email asking how the search is going, if they would like to fine-tune their search, and tells them about loan programs. Some emails give them an option to expand their price criteria.

“We have a series of emails that go out,” says Miller. “They’re all html-branded emails once they are in the system.”

Major Real Estate Search Sites

Here is a list of major sites that list properties. Look at unique visits per month to see where consumers spend more time. Sites are ranked in order of most to least unique visitors per month:


About: The official site of the National Association of Realtors, self-described as the world’s largest real estate database of homes for sale.
Registered users: Would not divulge
Unique visits per month: 6.3 million (July 2008)
Cost per listing:
-Basic listings are free for members of the National Association of Realtors
-Basic listings include: four photos, neighborhood info, mapping
-Showcase Listing Enhancement package rates are based on the market and range from $200 to $4,000, with the average agent/broker investing $649.95 annually for 16 to 17 properties
Number of properties on the site: Move Network (including Realtor.com and Move.com): 4.3 million resale, new home and rental listings per month
Advertising policies: Realtor.com provides advertising opportunities for consumer media advertisers, new home developers, rental management companies and real estate professionals
Advertising rates: Varies per contract
Demographics of users: Move Network (including Realtor.com and Move.com): 26.8% aged 45-54; 26.1% aged 35-44; 19.2% aged 55-64; 41% Male; 59% Female; 21.9% household income of $50,000-$75,000; 19.3% household income of $75,000-$100,000; 75% married; 25% single


About: Real estate search engine.
Registered users: 1.9 million
Unique visits per month: 5.2 million (May 2008)
Cost per listing: Free
Number of properties on the site: 2.5 million homes for sale, data on 80 million homes, Zestimates on 68 million homes
Advertising policies: There is a national and local advertising platform. The local offering, called “EZ Ads,” is a self-service product that can be purchased down to the zip code level.
Advertising rates: National rates vary significantly based on a number of factors. Local rates are set up on a CPM model. It costs $.01 each time the ad is shown. For example, a $10 ad can be purchased down to the zip code level and will appear on the site 1,000 times.

Demographics of users: median age of users is 46; 50% male; 50% female; 90% own a home; 2/3 are actively buying or selling a home, or plan to within the next 12-24 months; 40% household incomes of $100,000 plus; 19% household incomes of $150,000 plus


About:Real estate search engine.
Registered users: 200,000 with 85,000 self-identified as “real estate professionals”
Unique visits per month: 5 million
Cost per listing: Free
Number of properties on the site: 3 million listings (residential real estate), 70 million property records
Advertising policies: Agent advertising is available with Trulia Pro (http://www.trulia.com/truliapro). Trulia Pro allows agents to feature all of their listings at the top of relevant searches. It also enables placing a “Local Spotlight Ad” in up to 20 locations on the site. Trulia sells advertising packages to brokers and banner advertising.
Advertising rates: Agents can purchase Trulia Pro for a monthly rate of $39/month or a full year for $348 ($29/month)
Demographics of users: 66% over 35-years-old; 46% male; 54% female; 42% household incomes over $100,000; 70% plan to purchase a home within a year; 70% not yet working with an agent; 42% pre-qualified for a mortgage


About: A resource for real estate investors and professionals who need detailed property data (such as last sale price and date, owner’s name, zoning and building class, permits and violations filed, foreclosures and pre-foreclosures, property taxes, title documents, sales comparables, etc.) to make informed decisions. It is less geared toward general consumers/home buyers, though it is used by them.
Registered users: 500,000 real estate professionals and investors
Page views per month: 4-5 million
Cost per listing: Free
Number of properties on the site: Does not aggregate.
Advertising policies: Agents can buy highly targeted ads by geographic region, profession of users, type of property being viewed by users, and pages on site (i.e. Property Reports page, Foreclosures page, For Sale page)
Advertising rates: $5-$15 CPM depending on volume
Demographics of users: 55% real estate professionals; 22% real estate investors; 20% savvy homebuyers; the rest are students/professors/economists, etc.

AOL Real Estate

About: Real estate search engine.
Registered users: The site does not require users to register.
Unique visits per month: 3.3 million
Cost per listing: $19.95 per month subscription fee for posting listings
Number of properties on the site: 3 million
Advertising policies: There are several types of advertising opportunities on the site with various pricing options.
Advertising rates: Contact Griff Garwood of AOL Real Estate for more info on advertising opportunities: Griff(dot)Garwood(at)corp(dot)aol(dot)com or 703-265-6532
Demographics of users: 44.6% are 35- to 54-years-old; 48% male; 52% female; 33% have household incomes of $60,000-$99,000; 30% have household incomes of $100,000 plus


About: Real estate services and search engine site.
Registered users: N/A
Unique visits per month: 2.5 million
Cost per listing: N/A
Number of properties on the site: 1.8 million
Advertising policies: Homes.com does have advertising packages available.
Advertising rates: N/A
Demographics of users: 26.5% are 25- to 34-years-old, 23.7% are 55+; 46.9% male; 53.1% female; 30% have an average household income of $30,000 to $60,000; 25% have an average household income of $60,000 to $100,000

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Ines Hegedus-Garcia and Sam Miller:

Podcast on tracking and analytics for real estate agents:

vFlyer – a marketing platform that allows you post each of your real estate listings on multiple sites, used by Ines Hegedus-Garcia:

Other places to post listings:

-Oodle.com – classifieds
-Google.com/base – Google search site
-Vast.com – search platform for auto, real estate, and travel
-HotPads.com – a map-based real estate search engine
-Geebo.com – classifieds
-OLX.com - classifieds
-Backpage.com - classifieds
-DotHomes.com – real estate search engine
-Cyberhomes.com – real estate search engine

Active Rain – the largest online social network in the real estate vertical, used by many realtors to practice blogging or host their own mini blog sites:

Fidelity MLS Solutions product called Paragon Online, used by Sam Miller:

Ralph Roberts Realty:

RE/MAX Agent Sam Miller’s websites:

Majestic Properties Agents Ines Hegedus-Garcia’s and Enrique Garcia’s blog:

RE/MAX Agent LaNita Cates’ website:

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