I couldn’t be more excited that Marty Frame, the CEO of CyberHomes, agreed to talk with me in this series I’m calling The 4realz Interview.
I first met Marty Frame when he took me out to lunch during my job interview at Move. At the time he was the CTO responsible for consumer experience, product strategy, and product development for Realtor.com and clearly one of the most influential people at the company. Needless to say, it was a real wake-up call when (during my first week!) Marty announced he was leaving Move to work at Fidelity National Real Estate Solutions.
The result is that I missed out on a major opportunity to learn first-hand from an industry leader… and to add insult-to-injury to those of us he left behind at Move, it took Marty only six months to launch CyberHomes; an incredibly rich home valuation and listing site. For reasons that should be obvious, I couldn’t be more excited that this series is launching with insights from Marty on his company, our industry and how agents can effectively marketing themselves online.
Dustin: Can you briefly tell us a little bit about the products and services that your company offers for real estate professionals?
Marty: Cyberhomes combines the homeownership and property content of our parent companies, Fidelity National Financial and Fidelity National Information Services, with more than two million listings aggregated through our broker, franchiser, and MLS relationships, to create an information experience which is exceedingly rich for the consumer, and creates focus for our business partners. We offer our content for free to real estate firms and their associates through two products: a simple plugin which includes all of our content and no advertising, and an API. Collectively, the two have been installed on thousands of real estate sites, from many of the very largest brokers, to the smallest. We advertise listings at no charge on Cyberhomes.com and at AOL Real Estate, fully enhanced, including multiple photos and more than half-a-million virtual tours, as well as more than half-a-million foreclosures with full addresses and no consumer subscription required.
Who do you view as your main competition and how do you differentiate yourself?
Fidelity is a B2B leader in property data, automated valuation, MLS systems, settlement services, and a variety of other homeownership categories, so exposing our expertise for free to the consumer is a pretty powerful statement. Likewise, because we are fundamentally in the customer service business to every segment of the real estate industry, we are presenting brands which are already well-known and trusted by the consumer in a way which magnifies their strengths. There are certainly a lot of good publishers looking for leadership online right now, but none who bring a built-in relationship with the principals that goes “beyond the banner.”
Between Move getting $100M, Zillow getting $87M, Redfin at $20M, Trulia at $18M, Terabitz at $10M, and NAR looking to invest approximately $30M through their 2nd Century Fund, there’s a lot of investment money floating around the real estate space at the moment. Do you see this as a good thing for the industry?
I think it’s a reflection of the fact that there is no well-known leader in the online real estate category, and that after all these years, it’s still wide open. REALTOR.com comes closest, in large part through leveraging the strength of the REALTOR brand, but if you look at the reach of any of the names you mention in your question through the audience measurement lens, they’re actually de minimis. Individual investments of less than $20MM can’t begin to change that in a meaningful way. The one outcome I’m confident of, however, is our industry’s capacity to ensure that things that aren’t good for it don’t sustain traction.
Besides the venture capital money mentioned in the first question, there are also a few big players from related industries who are jumping into the listings game… Such as Fidelity with CyberHomes and HGTV with FrontDoor. Why do you think there are so many companies chasing the listing side of this industry?
You can’t have a credible homeownership site without listings. No amount of home evaluation, neighborhood, or lifestyle content can overcome the basic requirement that you need inventory. Listings aren’t the whole picture, but everything else has no context without them.
I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the big brokerages are only just beginning to use their websites to create a compelling consumer experience that competes with REALTOR.com. Why do you think it has taken the national brokerages so long to complete on this front?
I actually think that the brands that truly are national have done a good job competing – look at the huge growth of RE/MAX.com, the sustained leadership of the Realogy brand sites, and the major shift Prudential created years ago through it’s partnership with Yahoo! – to name a few. Regional and local company sites don’t need to compete with REALTOR.com and other national sites – they benefit from the concentrating effect of the big players, and the fact that none of these general-interest sites can truly be “destinations” because as a consumer you have not “arrived” once you get there.
ActiveRain, Trulia, Zolve, Realtor.com and others have created social networks that use real estate professional content in order to better inform consumers and (theoretically) drive more business to these online professionals. Does your company have any plans to either create your own social network or engage in these existing networks? If so, how?
Listings are the primary User Generated Content of the real estate industry, and the network we have created focuses on this and the services through which practitioners build their communities. RealTown and ActiveRain have both proven on a broad scale that B2B social networks are completely congruous with the coaching and referral fundamentals of our industry, but I believe that the consumer is looking by-and-large for hard data. The kitchen table comes later.
To date, many of the most successful real estate professionals do most of their marketing off-line. If one of these experienced real estate agents wanted to jump-start their online marketing, where would you recommend they begin?
For the successful agent, the answer to this question depends on his or her business objectives: the referral-focused producer will obviously want to concentrate on the tools which provide the highest level of service to an established client base; buying online media is no more or less useful in this case than offline, by helping to maintain a high profile. Someone with a direct-response practice, however, will want to start buying into as many places as possible and try to be at least semi-scientific about which ones yield and which don’t, and keep moving on until attaining the right flow and conversion metrics. Most people won’t be able to accomplish this without some kind of lead coordinator.
Would it be different for an agent who is just starting out in the business? If so, where do you recommend they begin with their online marketing?
The best advice here is to join a firm or network which takes care of the online marketing for you so you can concentrate on learning the fundamentals of the business. Your window to succeed is short and the barrier is high, so diving into the mechanics of figuring out and optimizing all of your options online can doom you to distraction. The good news is that a good many companies at this point have figured out their role in helping their associates navigate the different online options at a basic level, so there are plenty of good choices.
What do you see as some of the biggest changes coming to online real estate in the next two years?
The herd will thin again based on two primary factors: performance and the degree to which each of the competitors unyokes itself from having to “monetize” by charging its content providers for traffic. Lagging the actual real estate market by just a little bit, we’ll see this turn from boom to street-fight pretty quickly, and only the insanely disciplined will come out the other side. The current cycle has given us a lot of good innovation to play with, however; so the survivors will have put the best of it together.
Thanks you so much Marty!