All Internet Marketing is Not the Same
Real estate and internet marketing is a popular topic; you’ll probably hear a lot about it, especially if an agent is soliciting your listing. You should anyway. But very few buyers or sellers really understand the real estate industry and how listings are advertised on the various websites. When a Realtor says they list your home on the internet, what does that really mean?
Brokers and Agents – Who Has the Listing?
Let’s first talk about homes and how they get listed. All home listing agreements are with the broker, who is represented by the agent. For our purposes, we’ll say that the broker owns the listing. The agent adds the listing to their local MLS, Multiple List Service. With the permission of the seller, the listing can be “syndicated” or distributed to the websites that specialize in advertising homes for sale…Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, Homes.com, etc…and the list is large. These websites get a direct feed from the local MLS…the same listing information.
There are Differences
These real estate sites, or “listing portals” may look different, they may arrange the information differently or add statistics and demographics from other sources, but the information all comes from the local MLS. Sometimes the information can contain errors. The listing information can have terminology that doesn’t translate well across platforms, or sometimes it isn’t updated like the original MLS. There are several ways that the information found on these “third-party” listing portals can be inaccurate:
- Status changes may not be up-to-date. This is one of the biggest faults of the portals…you can find homes that have been under contract or even sold that still show as active. There are several theories as to why this kind of information is delayed, one being that it keeps more information on the site and helps the site show up when someone is searching for that home.
- Price changes are sometimes not up-to-date. Sometimes they are just inaccurate.
- Often, the details are not fed into the third-party listing portal from the MLS, or they are not in the form or terms that translate to the portal. This means the Realtor needs to sign in and update or add the correct information. Sometimes Realtors do this extra step, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the information is not possible to add or correct.
- Sometimes information just doesn’t appear. The listing portal site would like to keep you on their website as long as possible, for as much information as possible. If any information leads to another site, for instance the real estate agent’s site for details, or their YouTube channel for a video, that information will be left out.
- Real estate agents pay for premier placement on the third-party listing sites. The information on each listing is geared to direct you to that agent, not the listing agent. This is not a negative thing…just something that isn’t well-known.
Estimates and Internet Valuations
This is probably a Realtor’s biggest headache. Zestimates and Valuations are horribly inaccurate. These sites are pulling in housing information from all over the country, applying mathematical algorithms to compute home values. This is fraught with errors by the very nature of the computation. These algorithms can never take into account local nuances and variations.
The local expertise of an agent can never be substituted by a mathematical algorithm. Homes that offer comparative value to any particular home cannot be chosen by a computation. Two homes that are similar in every way, but are located 2 streets away from each other can have completely different values. Neighborhoods vary, traffic varies, school districts make a difference, and many other local issues that only local real estate professionals are aware of.
In a recent Washington Post article, a Washington D.C. brokerage was quoted for documenting that Zestimates are getting worse. Of 500 estimates, the values ranged from 62% under, to 150% over the actual sold figures.
More on Zestimates Below ⇓
Several news articles and advertisements have come across my computer screen in the last few weeks that have prompted me to write this response. Let me illustrate with several of the things I’ve heard real estate agents say:
1. “We put your listing all over the internet within 24 hours of listing it.”
Yes. We do that too. You can see from the above explanation, that all listings* get syndicated, or distributed, to the websites that show homes for sale. Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, Homes.com, etc. all get the same information fed to their websites from the local MLS sites.
*Unless the owner abstains from internet advertising, or the brokerage opts out of syndication.
2. “Your home is a featured listing on the front page of our website.”
That’s great…did they happen to mention that there are thousands of real estate agents in the area, each with a website. Add to that the hundreds of brokerages, all with websites. In truth, your “featured” home is hidden down on page 25 of the [Google, Bing, or Yahoo] search results, where it will never be found.
What makes a Real Estate agent stand out in the crowded space of the internet? A lot of hard work! Agents who know how to create information that get’s found on a web search are not the norm. It takes a lot of continued learning, dedication, website work… and blogging.
3. “There is no ‘secret sauce’ when it comes to websites. Agents just need to buy top placement on the big real estate websites like Zillow and Trulia”
Each of the major listing portals make part of their revenue by selling ad space to real estate agents and lenders. Advertising and paying for top placement on these sites is a legitimate business model for real estate agents. (I’m not faulting the strategy at all, just pointing out some truths…)
To sellers: My question about the notion of top placement…Are the questions about your home being fielded by your agent, who knows your home better than anyone? Or are they being hijacked by the highest bidder? When an agent buys a front page placement on Zillow or Trulia, or any of the other portals, that does not make them a neighborhood expert, much less an expert on your home.
To buyers: A similar question: Does buying top placement on a listing site automatically make that agent a neighborhood expert?
The Secret Sauce
Although it’s not a secret, creating a website that gets found in search is difficult. Many people who can’t or don’t do the work of internet marketing refer to it as the “secret sauce” of search engine optimization, or SEO. It is far from secret, because real estate agents who have taken the time and effort to create content and work on their websites have discovered it. [you found this article and are reading it because of my not-so-secret sauce!]
Real estate agents who blog regularly experience much greater traffic to their websites. Most of it is organic traffic, or people who go online, searching for real estate information. Real estate agents who blog become the local experts online, and people go to them as a source of answers for their questions.
The not-so-secret sauce is to create an online presence that continually draws traffic and creates a platform that people find useful. It may not ever be as large as the big sites, like Zillow and Trulia, but will be the platform for the local information that people are looking for, and cannot find on the big sites. The value of useful, local information for buyers, as well as sellers, is invaluable!
Today’s buyers are more internet-savvy than ever. Recent studies show that as much as 92% of buyers are looking online for their next home. They search online for information on much more than just homes for sale. Buyers are looking for local information about what it’s like to live in a community. They are looking for a lifestyle just as much as they are looking for a home. This is information that usually comes from a local expert, one who really knows the communities and neighborhoods. Local real estate bloggers are able to bring consumers that in-depth neighborhood information (including video and photography) as well as details about the processes and steps involved in a real estate sale or purchase.
All Internet Marketing is Not the Same
This kind of targeted information brings buyers who are already pre-qualified by their interest in the neighborhood and the lifestyle. Blogging about real estate information brings buyers who already have an interest in purchasing, not just a curiosity. In today’s consumer-driven, sharing economy, a real estate agent who is successfully marketing on the internet will have so much more to offer than someone who is not. When you are considering hiring a real estate agent, ask these very pertinent questions:
- Are they really a neighborhood expert?
- Do they have a robust internet presence?
- Do they blog regularly?
- When you do an internet search for them… do they show up? In more than just the third-party sites?
- Are they using Hi-definition video and photos?
- Can they explain their marketing plan? Do they have an internet marketing plan? Or do they just buy premier placement?
Stay tuned for the next chapter in this series about internet marketing: What Does Social Media Marketing Have to Do With Real Estate?
For more in-depth reading about Zillow and Zestimates, several of my colleagues have written some great informative articles on the subject:
- Zillow’s Inaccurate Zestimates – by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts area
- Are Zillow’s Las Vegas Home Values Accurate? – Debbie Drummond, The Las Vegas Home Pro
- 3 Reasons Why Local Real Estate Websites Are Better Than National Ones, Andrew Fortune – Great Colorado Homes
- Zillow’s Home Value Estimates (Zestimates) Accurate or Not? – Kyle Hiscock, Rochester’s Real Estate Blog
Contact the Highland Group for a real Comparative Market Analysis. We’ll give you the human computation.
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