Inbox: How much is too much around your client’s listing?

I recently received this long, but interesting email from an MLS committee member on the role of consumer content around listings that I found interesting enough to share with my readers:

“I have been catching up to the “ClueTrain Manifest” dialogue as a result of your reposting of Rob’s comments. I find it very timely. Without going into too much disclosure or detail I am serving on a recently formed MLS committee to examine the MLS roles and policy regarding online/web display of the MLS data. This week we spent considerable time discussing the topic of “social interaction” of the listings we display and redisplay on brokers websites through IDX policy.

So as you can imagine, the unspoken desires of some of the group is to create social discussion (without regard to the content) about listings. The motivation is more about driving traffic to their web site and therefore gaining market share in the R.E. business arena. The spoken fear as legally responsible brokers should we open up our own client’s property to potentially damaging comments by others within the rules of the MLS? Now the understanding by the group is that we cannot control what anyone who is a non-member of our MLS does or says about these properties and outside interests probably will make comment. However, members of the MLS can control comment through membership to the MLS what is said by the members themselves. (I don’t know if this is legally true and a whole other line of thought).

This conversation issue is not driven by the word “control” but rather by the “agency relationship” created to the client to “market” their property for highest and best sales price. The conversation is also with consideration that at the MLS it is a cooperative membership to assist the process of buying and selling property. It could be devastating to the industry to get caught up in a war of words about the value of any one property. Why would I list my home with an agency if when the listing is posted online It gets poor (or worse –slanderous) reviews by MLS members or public on the very same site that is suppose to market the property for sale?

So back to the idea that broker members of the MLS recognize the value of an open, interactive dialogue with the consumers to grow their web presence at their individual web sites. However they are reluctant to allow this dialogue with opinion of the competing brokers/agents (which may be an opinion rooted in competition and not fact) or the potential “sensationalism” that can be created through “negative news” allowed to be expressed by the public or within the MLS membership.

So in context of the ClueTrain and with the legal regard for agency relationship in mind my questions to you are; 1) what would your opinion of the MLS discussion be and how would you advise the MLS to proceed with this line of thought. And 2) If you were an individual owner of a real estate company, how far would you go (or allow to go) on your company/agent’s websites to allow what may be disparaging comment on a competitor’s listing or your own company listings?”

I let this reader know that I honestly didn’t have a good answer, but he raises some interesting points…  It’s really a tricky issue because if brokers don’t allow a conversation around their listings, it bodes well for sites that will allow a relatively uncontrolled conversations around listings (Zillow, for example, seems more than happy to fulfill this role…).

I haven’t read the ClueTrain manifesto in a while, and I don’t think this analogy will speak to the theory behind that book, but one could think of any given MLS organization like a big tent.   I think at some point the savvy MLS powers-that-be will realize that they would rather have the consumers inside of the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.

Joel’s waiting for a listings shakedown, while…

consumers continue to get more places to see listings:

The Zillow story has to be the more interesting of the two… because, unless Zillow is doing something funny on their backend, this is the first example that I’m aware of where a large MLS has agreed to commingle their MLS data with FSBO data.

In other words, if you’re a consumer searching for listings in the area covered by the New England MLS, then you’ll be able to use the single map interface (Zillow’s) to see both MLS and FSBO listings.

That’s HUGE…

The only catch, at least as far as I can tell, is that the system is opt-in for the agents of  MLS PIN, which means that Zillow is not likely to get true comprehensive listings as the deal currently stands.

Not only is Prudential rumored to be giving their…

listings to Trulia, but they just announced that they are giving all their listings to FrontDoor.

I can’t help but look at these announcements from the perspective of the Move team… And the fact that two large brokerages companies (Prudential and Realogy), representing a substantial portion of US listings, appear to have made the mental leap of faith that they are best off syndicating their listings as widely as possible, should serve as one of the clearest warning signs yet that the clock is ticking for realtor.com. My take is that Move and NAR will need to agree to do something interesting with realtor.com soon or risk loosing significant market share going forward.

(Prudential news via Joel)

Bob Hale gives a fascinating presentation about…

HAR‘s success in building up a consumer-destination site for Houston real estate listing information. The presentation (*.pdf) is well worth a read and Chris McKeever of NAR’s CRT does a great job summarizing the highlights

But the slide that stuck out the most for me was HAR’s local market share:

HAR Traffic Stats for Houston

It goes without saying that 57% market share for a MLS site is very impressive and takes someone leading the ship who can create a product that meets the needs of local consumers.

Rumors spread that Trulia is getting Prudential’s Listings

It started with the real estate coach and spread to Joel before hitting 4realz. And it all seems so believably that no one is really doubting the story.
However, I think it is worth nothing that there’s a bit of confusion over the total number of listings that Prudential would be giving Trulia… and I’m pretty sure the the confusion stems from the fact that Yahoo ran their real estate site as it if was an IDX feed from Pru so that Pru was “sending” all the MLS listings (Pru and others) for most MLS’. However, if Prudential is sending listings directly to Trulia, this would no longer be the case and I’m almost positive Pru doesn’t have anything close to 4M US listings as reported by the various sites.

Either way and any way, this would be another big win for Trulia, but as Joel notes, Michael agrees, (and I’ve said before), it is not self-evident that at the end of the day, the consumer wins with broker-fed listing sites.

The 1st 4RealzEd event was yesterday and…

4ealzEdI think I’ve recovered enough now to actually post about it! 🙂

Despite our best efforts to be prepared, the day started off a bit rough with a nearby mudslide taking out power in our building in the morning (meaning no hot coffee and no projector) and a 9-car pileup on a nearby freeway slowed me down tremendously. AHHH

So, to say it started rough would be an understatement… But once it started, things seem to get on a roll quickly.

I started with an overview of consumers expectations in a web2.0 world to set expectations for the day… Jim followed up with presentation on optimal features and design for a real estate website. Then it turned back to me for a presentation on social networking… lunch… then another presentation by me on creating value through blogging about communities. And we returned for the day’s finally with Jim giving a engaging presentation on measuring and tracking marketing results to ensure a positive ROI.

All around, it was a wonderful day! And, maybe they were just being nice, but the attendees who talked with me said only good things about the education.

Because I promised attendees I would give them a list of all the sites I mentioned in my presentations (so that they wouldn’t have to ask me to spell out each URL), here is the list for everyone’s benefit.

Consumer Expectations in a Web2.0 World:

Engaging in Social Networking to Earn Clients

Using Blogs to Build Communities

I wasn’t tracking the sites that Jim mentioned, but there were not nearly as many of them in his presentations…

And thanks again to all the bloggers who have helped spread the word about the event, the sponsors who helped us keep the price low and all the attendees who made the day possible!

I received some incredible feedback from all three groups, which is going to lead me to make some changes to the upcoming events (I’ll announce those early next week!). Great stuff all around. Thanks again to everyone!

The 4realz Interview with Pete Flint of Trulia.com

As I said to when I started the 4realz interviews, I reached out to four players in the real estate technology space and asked them a similar set of 9 questions.   I purposefully picked four people representing four different companies at different stages of development and different types/levels of funding.   First was Marty Frame of CyberHomes, then Alex Chang of Roost, and, today, I’m fortunate to publish this interview with Pete Flint of Trulia.

I first met Pete thanks to an introduction from Paul Rademacher before Trulia had launched (and they were going by the name RealWide!).    Thanks to my experiment with gHomes, I had started up a conversation with Paul and he knew I was looking to get out of  transportation engineering and into the wild world of online real estate.

During this initial conversation with Pete I was immediately impressed because he was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing:  starting up a consumer-oriented real estate search site.   However, he was way ahead of me…   Whereas I was still in idea-mode, Pete had teamed up with a fellow Standford MBA grad, Sami Inkinen, to get the funding and team in place necessary to build a top-notch website.

During that first conversation with Pete, we chatted about all kinds of opportunities in the industry and I developed a tremendous respect for him because I could tell that he “got it.”  I’ve always, always enjoyed my encounters with him since. He’s a true professional and after only a few years in the real estate space, he’s proven that he has all the necessarily executive skills to create a product that has already had an undeniably huge impact on our industry.

Dustin: Can you briefly tell us a little bit about the products and services that your company offers for real estate professionals?

Pete: At Trulia we have a great selection of free and premium tools for real estate professionals to drive more online traffic to their listings and to expand their online audience. With approximately 4 million monthly unique users, Trulia.com is second to Realtor.com as a leading residential sites site for agents to get in front of an active audience of home buyers and sellers.
Free products:
Trulia Voices: Join the Conversation. Answer questions. Engage directly with active home buyers and sellers and share insights. Learn from other real estate professionals. How? Set up your profile for free, upload your picture and contact information, and sign-up for email alerts to find out when consumers ask questions in your area!
Listings submission: Get free exposure to your listings and significant traffic back to your own Web site. How? Build your feed, submit your site to be indexed, work with our listing feed partners or get your brokerage to send a feed to Trulia.
Trulia Tools: Add value. Get free, easy to install maps or charts for your Web site.

Premium products:
Agent Featured Listings: Get around 3x the traffic and exposure for up to 10 listings for $50 a month, email traffic reports and your photos on listings.
Banner Advertising: Buy banners in your neighborhoods or ZIP codes to enhance your personal brand.

Who do you view as your main competition and how do you differentiate yourself?

Other real estate sites that are supported by advertising dollars are our most obvious competition. Ultimately we think there will be a couple of big sites with a comprehensive set of tools that compete for traffic and advertising dollars. Competition is healthy which is spurring innovation that in the end will help both consumers and home buyers and sellers.

At Trulia, we think that to be successful you have to both attract a large audience of consumers by providing useful tools delivered in a great user experience and be a trusted and cost effective marketing partner for the real estate industry.  Our strategy from the start was to do both. Other sites have either alienated the consumers by not delivering a great online experience, or they have alienated the real estate industry by attempting to marginalize their role. Establishing personal relationships on a broker and agent level helps us understand their needs. We are always listening. You’re seeing the big sites wake up now and change their strategies.

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?

The VC and private equity money is a great thing for both consumers and the real estate industry. All these dollars flowing into the industry will ultimately lower the marketing costs for agents and also drive competition for consumers by delivering a great online experience. The online real estate industry is still in its infancy and may seem a little confusing right now, but the combination of capital, advertising dollars and ambition is a powerful combination and will move the industry forward for the better.

That said, I’m a little bit skeptical about the NAR fund, seems like given the current climate and their history of technology investments the NAR members might prefer those dollars to stay in their wallets.

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?

Homes for sale are the number one thing that consumers search for in the real estate industry. Hence it’s natural that these companies with some existing real estate assets are moving into this space. They see the innovation and opportunity and are working to catch up. We all know that the online advertising dollars in the real estate industry are significant and so we’re all chasing a piece of that.

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?

Building a great site is REALLY tough and it is hard for large brokerage to attract the engineering and design talent to do all this effectively. Brokers should be building strong online experiences, but they shouldn’t be distracted from their strengths and core competency— selling homes!

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?

At Trulia, we believe that the real estate transaction is the ultimate social transaction, in that you speak to more people before during and after the process for longer than any other purchase I can think of. As consumers and professionals have become more comfortable with sharing and socializing on the web, it is natural for social networks in the real estate industry to pop-up which take some of the normal offline conversations and activity online. We think that Trulia Voices is the best example out there of a consumer real estate site delivering a compelling user community for consumers and agents. And having an active dialogue with the community helps us understand our users’ unique needs. The Q and A format is just the beginning.

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?

Reading and watching are two of the best things someone new to the scene can do. This will help them understand the culture of social networks and blogs. Then start with the free stuff to learn how the online tools work. Participate in Trulia Voices and other online social sites or blog networks. Make sure you work with sites that are near the top of search results in google, as they will get the most traffic to you. I would hold off on launching your own blog due to the technical complexities and time involved. As you get more comfortable you can decide whether or not a blog is for you, sign-up for premium services, buy advertising on Trulia, Google and others.

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?

I would recommend pretty much just the same, but clearly new agents will have to work harder as they don’t have the existing contacts and reputation. Read and watch first. Then participate.

What do you see as some of the biggest changes coming to online real estate in the next two years?

Social networking will start to deliver an increasing portion of business for agents, it will take time, but these efforts will really pay off as consumers will increasingly use these services.

It is natural there will be some consolidation of the consumer audience and probably 2-4 major large online sites will exist, plus another 2-4 specialized sites serving specific, but large niches and then some large national franchise/broker sites. Competition among these sites will be fierce and innovation will continue to accelerate.

We don’t see the real estate transaction changing that much, but the consumer research and agent marketing will be permanently changed.

Thanks, Pete, for the fascinating interview!  

Kevin Kelly captures an internet truth in…

…this article on how internet business models are primed to create value out of otherwise “free” stuff.

He has some great insights on these eight ways to improve upon free things:

  • Immediacy
  • Personalization
  • Interpretation
  • Authenticity
  • Accessibility
  • Embodiment
  • Patronage
  • Findability

Tom (of REB) sums up the connection to the RE.net with the idea that we’re all “working hard to make a manual for to explain the generic information that the majority put out there without any explanation.”

Mike (of Altos) comes from a slightly different angle in that his entire business proposition is to ensure that he (and his clients) can add value to otherwise freely available information:

“Kelly’s concepts also capture why our most successful real estate agent clients, in a world of commoditizers and discounters, command a premium, even in this crazy market.”

RE.net Acronyms

Jim got me thinking about some of the acronyms that I use on 4realz and other common terms I’ve seen others use:

  • AG: AgentGenius.com
  • AR: ActiveRain
  • BR: BlueRoof
  • BHB: Bloodhound Blog
  • CB: Coldwell Banker
  • CH: Cyberhomes
  • CL: Craigslist
  • CMS: Content Management System
  • CRM: Customer Relationship Management
  • FBS: FBS Blog
  • FOREM: Future of Real Estate Marketing
  • FORET: Future of Real Estate Technology
  • FD: FrontDoor
  • G: Google
  • GDH: Garage with a Detached Home
  • HV: HouseValues
  • HG: HomeGain
  • IC: InternetCrusade
  • KW: Keller Williams
  • M: Microsoft
  • MBL: MyBlogLog
  • MLB: MLBroadcast
  • MLS: Multiple-Listing Service (this means different things to different people!)
  • MLW: MyLevenworth
  • NAR: National Association of Realtors
  • P2A or P2: Point2Agent
  • RCG: Rain City Guide
  • RCV: RealCentralVA
  • RDC, R or R.com: Realtor.com
  • RE.net: The real estate blogosphere
  • REB: The Real Estate Bloggers
  • RES: Real Estate Shows
  • RET: Real Estate Tomato
  • REW: Real Estate Webmasters
  • REZ: Real Estate Zebra
  • RF: Redfin
  • RT: RealTown
  • SEO: Search Engine Optimization
  • SEM: Search Engine Marketing
  • TP: Top Producer
  • TPG: The Phoenix Real Estate Guy
  • T: Trulia
  • WM: WellcomeMat
  • WP: WordPress.org
  • WP.com: WordPress.com
  • Y!: Yahoo!
  • Z: Zillow

UPDATE: Based on suggestions in the comments I added a few more names to the above list and decided to alphabetize them. (I also went back and added links to the various sites, which I should have done from the start!)