After interviewing Marty last week, I thought it would be interesting to turn to Alex Chang (CEO of Roost) in order to get the perspective from someone entering the real estate search space from a different place in terms of timing, funding and resources…
I first met Alex while we he was setting up shop at NAR (in Vegas) outside of the blogger’s lounge at a table right next to mine. He was holding court with some interesting players in the real estate space, so when a free moment for both us turned up, I introduced myself and was pleasantly surprised to find out that Alex not only knew who I was, but that he had a strong command of the players in the RE.net (score a point for Alex!).
A few months later at RE Connect, Alex was nice enough to give me a demo of Roost, and I was immediately impressed. His team is obviously focused on doing one thing right (real estate search) and they have the money and talent to do it. However, seeing as they are relatively new to a fairly crowded space, I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that they have their work cut out for them.
Dustin: Can you briefly tell us a little bit about the products and services that your company offers for real estate professionals?
Alex: Roost is an open and inclusive marketing platform for all brokers, large and small. Roost’s goal is to help broker partners drive more business for themselves and their agents in a way that puts them in control. To do this, we provide two services that operate in parallel. First we offer brokers of all types & sizes a powerful, IDX-compliant property search site that they can use at their discretion. Second, we send qualified home buyers to their sites via the Roost.com search engine. Our model is transparent and performance based. The broker only pays for the traffic they want by setting a monthly budget that meets their needs.
Who do you view as your main competition and how do you differentiate yourself?
There are a lot of companies out there doing related things in different ways.
In order to differentiate, we need to appeal to the fact that buying a home is one of the most important life decisions consumers will make. We need to offer a comprehensive, easy, fast and fun way to search for homes. We feel that Roost has cracked the code on providing comprehensive data on top the fastest and most intuitive way to search for homes. That’s our biggest differentiator.
When we think about our competition, we think more about the demands on a consumer’s time than we do about other companies. Between work, kids, home maintenance, etc consumers only have so much time in their day to dream about their next home and actively research it online or off. Roost’s mission is to create an experience that works despite these demands.
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?
Without question. That capital is fueling innovation. And in most cases that innovation is an effort to provide the industry with better/more efficient marketing tools for brokers and better services for home buyers. Ten years ago it would have been about trying to disintermediate the Realtor. But that’s not the case today. The more options Realtors have to market their services, the better. Competition keeps everyone honest and striving to provide better services.
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?
I doubt your average adult site would be very successful without the porn. Consumers want access to listings plain and simple. Other bells and whistles around home buying are nice, but when my wife Beth and I sit down to think about our next home, 90% of that time is spent checking out listings of homes we could go visit. I’d imagine that’s pretty common. That’s the focus of Roost and we’re solely concerned with filling that need. And besides, listings one of Gary Keller’s “3 L’s of the Millionaire Real Estate Agent” – so you know they’re important.
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?
It’s a question of core competency. It took a long time for retailers to get good at building e-commerce sites which is one reason why Amazon has done so well. Clearly, forward thinking brokers get this and are investing in their own websites. But the bottom line is that building great customer experience online is hard, even if that’s all you focus on all day long. And it’s not cheap. Also, I think it takes a little while to start to be able to measure and see a return from a broker’s site in this industry. So you have to have the appetite to make longer term investments in technology. That can be a tough pill to swallow.
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?
No, we don’t. Our sole dedication is on search and building the Roost platform for brokers. That means we have to say no to lots of other seemingly cool and sexy ideas. I won’t say that we’ll never expand past this focus, but right now, being excellent at search is enough of a challenge and something that we believe the market is lacking.
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?
It starts with your own Web presence. First, create a couple great websites and blogs that get across why you are the best at what you do in some specific ways. Ensure that there are all sorts of ways for consumers to contact you on these sites, and obviously make sure you have some excellent ways for consumers to search for homes on these sites (you knew we were going to say that). Second, get some tools that will help you actually see what return you’re getting from traffic to these sites. Where is the traffic coming from? What leads is it generating? When those are done, find targeted marketing vehicles that send traffic you can actually measure to these sites at budget levels you can afford.
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 don’t think it’s a different set of steps for new agents. In fact, I’d say following the above list is even more important for a new agent who may not have an installed referral base.
What do you see as some of the biggest changes coming to online real estate in the next two years?
I see three things on the horizon. First, I think there will be a shakeout of wheat from chaff. Businesses that can’t add real value to both the consumer and the Realtor in a way that proves profitable, are not going to make it. Second, I think there will be a real premium placed on great product. This industry needs to catch up (and we’re seeing that happen). Sites that offer excellent experience will rise to the top. Finally, like many, I think mobile is going to become a huge force in this industry both from a consumer and Realtor perspective.
UPDATE: Joel just published a video interview with Alex on Inman News that is definitely worth checking out!