Realtor.com Turns up the Heat and…

…I really like how they’ve mapped it out!  😉

The Realtor.com team recently turned on a “heat map” option within their home valuation tool.  Here’s a heat map of Ballard in Seattle where you can really see the detail of the more expensive areas (in particular the areas around the water!):

Realtor.com Heat Map Screenshot

It’s clean, fast and well implemented.  On my version of firefix (v 3) on a Mac, I’m not seeing the legend that others appearently can see, but that is the only hole I can find in the implementation.

To get an idea of just how detailed these maps are, it’s worth comparing to the previous implementation that exists on on the neighborhood page for this same area on realtor.com showing average neighborhood list price:

realtor.com heat map from neighborhoods project

I think it is also worth noting that neither Zillow or Trulia have done much to bring the same level of detail to the maps… For example, Trulia’s heat maps are limited to the neighborhood level with boundaries

Trulia Heat Maps

And the option to display heat maps on Zillow no longer seems to be available (although I did find this page which shows what they used to look like on Zillow).

heat map for the seattle area on Zillow

Anyway I love maps and think they can convey a ton of great information about neighborhoods and homes, so it’s great to see someone pushing the boundaries even if I’ve been giving the team a hard time recently for other issues (see realtor.com home values and realtor.com blog hack articles).

4realz Roundtable today: Tracking and analytics for agents

NOTE:  You can listen to the podcast and read a brief summary of the show at the bottom of the post!

As I mentioned last week, I’m putting together a list of resources for agents for a presentation at RE Connect…  and at the end of the process, I’ll end up with a list of the top 50 marketing tools for agents.   However, over the next month or so, I’m hoping to really dive into some specific areas and so I thought I’d start with tracking and analytical tools for agents by bringing the conversation to the 4realz Roundtable.

Today’s Roundtable will be at 4PM PST! And, as always, we’d love to have you take part!

If you’re an agent who’s eye’s glace over at this subject, I’m hoping you’ll try to stick with it a bit because I think there is no better way to find value in your internet marketing then measuring, tracking and adjusting your online marketing and I hope to get into some strategies with the participants of the roundtable today!

With that in mind, here’s a great list of tools from an email that was sent to me last week by Gahlord Dewald of Union Street Media last week (and reprinted with his permission!):

Survive the downturn by using analytics to listen to and observe your customers
  • Google Analytics. Survive the downturn by knowing more about your customers. More reports than you’ll ever have time to read. Free.
  • SiteScan GA. To save a few bucks you installed Google Analytics yourself. Did you install it correctly? Use SiteScan to find out. Free
  • CrazyEgg. Know exactly where on a page people are clicking and how soon after arriving they click. Ruthlessly prune links that don’t improve your conversions. Free.
  • 4q. Listening to your customers is important no matter if the market is good or bad. 4Q mashes analytics expert Avinash Kaushik’s brain with qualitative experts iPerceptions into a simple, easy to use 4 question survey to capture the voice of the customer. Free (this is the absolute best free “qualitative analytics” tool on the market).
  • FeedBurner. Sure it’s also great for simplifying your blog’s RSS feed. But it also lets you know what content your audience is reading and clicking on. Use this to help you write stuff your audience wants. Free
  • ClickTale. Ever want to observe exactly how visitors browse through your site including cursor placement, clicks and time? Clicktale is the next best thing to looking over their shoulder while they browse your site. WARNING: Time consuming and addictive. Free
  • GetClicky.  Where your visitors come from, what content they view, what links they followed, how they got there and more: in Real Time. Free
Survive the downturn by dominating your competition
  • Keyword Envy. You’re good enough to know which specific keywords matter to you. You can track your site’s performance over time at Keyword Envy. Free
  • Compete.com.  Competitive research on the web is notoriously fuzzy. But people still want it. If you want to do competitive research, use Compete.com for its combination of data sources. Free
  • SEOQuake. What is so great about the sites ahead of yours in the Search Engine Results Page? Install SEOQuake on your browser and find out things like latest cachedate, google page rank, number of backlinks, did they submit a sitemap and more right at the SERP. Free.
Survive the downturn by getting smarter
  • Web Analytics Wednesday. Once a week, in your town (or one near you) web analysts get together to drink beer, give a short presentation and talk shop. They love talking to real people with real business problems. Attend a Web Analytics Wednesday.
I found this list from Gahlord to be extremely helpful… and a GREAT jumping point into the world of analytics.  With today’s participants, I hope to get people talking about the tools they use and/or recommend… and why!

Are you an analytically-minded agent or someone who wants to get more technical in your online marketing? Join us at 4pm to let us know what tools you’re using and get some feedback from others from the roundtable on what you could do better in the future!

Note about the Roundtable

I’ve had more than a few questions about what it takes to get involved… Essentially, the answer is not much.   If you want to listen into the conversation, then you need only log in from the talk shoe site.   If you want to ask questions live (as oppose to the chat), then you’ll need to call in using any phone.   ALL the information needed to get involved is on the TalkShoe site!

UPDATE:

What an awesome show!

There was a great group of people on the call including Andy Kaufman, Kevin Tomlinson, Mark Eckenrode, Grant Freer, Jeff Turner, Todd Carpenter, Gabe Hoggarth, and Jim Marks.

We covered all kinds of topics including a few websites not mentioned above like Have a Mint and Woopra.  However, I think the real value for most agents will come from our discussion on how much agents should know (and need to know) about SEO.

If you’re an agent interested in understanding what you need to know about SEO, tracking and analytics in order to improve your business, I can only imagine that you’ll find this roundtable discussion very enlightening:

Google’s Street View for everyone…

DotHomes, Trulia, and RealEstate.com (and I’m sure others) have added Google’s Street Views to their home search tools.   Despite all the press releases flying around about this feature, the real innovation is on Google’s site since everyone is just tapping into their stuff and becoming ever more tied to the Google mapping solution.

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!  

The 4realz Interview with Alex Chang of Roost.com

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…

Roost LogoI 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!

Rumor has it that NAR’s Second Century can’t fund…

…starts-ups that feature listings thanks to the non-compete clause with Move.

This begs the question: What benefit will the VC fund actually bring to its members if they can’t help them market their listings?

(On a side note, I REALLY want to thank everyone who has been sending me tips lately… It definitely makes checking my email more fun!)

DotHomes Launches US Home Search Tool

I’m somewhat of a night owl, so I thought I’d have no problem waiting out the U.S. launch of the UK site DotHomes. But it is getting pretty late and the U.S. version of the site still hasn’t gone live. 🙁

However, TechCrunchUK published their story (with the not so promising comment: “The question, is will the US – packed to the gunnels with property search engines and in a sub-prime slump – actually notice?“), so I thought I’d give my analysis based on what I learned from a good, long conversation with one of their co-founders, their press release and a bit of playing on their UK site.

Let’s start with the good stuff:

  • They have slick crawling technology that does a great job indexing home listings from a variety of listing sites
  • They have a well developed one-box search that allows for all kinds of inputs and actually delivers decent results
  • They have a healthy sense of flair as demonstrated by their “I’m feeling wealthy” button

Whereas the recently released search site Roost.com appears to be going for the “kayak of real estate”, DotHomes is clearly going after the “google of real estate”. Like Google, they display only the teaser information on listings before sending you back to the original source (the crawled website) for more information. So far, so good!

However, I’m a bit skeptical this site will generate much interest or buzz in the U.S. for a number of reasons (none of which are fatal, but…):

  • DotHomes is following less than a week after the release of the Roost.com site, which got some great buzz around the RE.net for having a listings aggregation approach that made sense (i.e. get all the MLS listings!).
  • Besides entering a crowded space, DotHomes is also opting for a crawl approach to get listings, which will never compete in either comprehensiveness or timeliness with direct MLS feeds.(although it does allow for more freedom to add other listing types).
  • And finally, I didn’t get the impression that the DotHomes team really understood oddities of the existing US real estate market. Some of the background material they presented made me think they hadn’t really done their homework in terms of really understanding the complex dance of agents, brokers, brokerages and MLS organizations that allow listings to get placed on the internet in the first place.

With all that said, I’ve been following the cofounders of this site for quite some time (including back when the site was called Extate.com). Artemi Krymski and Douglas de Jager are extremely smart guys and I’m sure that after they get some U.S. experience with this launch, they’ll regroup, adjust their tactics a bit and continue to produce interesting products that will keep us talking.

The VendAsta team starts out by tackling online social reputation management with…

this blog post by Brendan.  While it doesn’t provide much info on the VendAsta “product” it does start to shed some light on what the crew is thinking beyond setting up lots of Dell computers!

If you want more, they are equally vague about their actually product, but always interesting, on this video:

Here are my notes on how Branden describes what they’re building:

“Help existing real estate profesionals leverage existing social networks to connect with their constomers further upstream… long before they are ready to buy a home… and establish and build those relationships…   Social networks… any of them… we’re betting on them.”

(Thanks to Jay for starting me down the path of writing this post!)