As the real estate industry continues to expand, the digital presence of the MLS is not cutting the mustard. People are seeking tools that not only sell houses, but facilitate and digitize the process. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors, 44% of buyers found their home online. That’s almost half of the market in one place!
Most professionals in the industry are familiar with the big names, like Zillow and Trulia, but do you know which sites truly provide the best lead sources? The answer can get complicated.
Zillow Group, Inc.
The two biggest brands in the business (Zillow and Trulia) are owned by the same company. Founded in 2006, Zillow operates as the country’s largest real estate search engine and lists more than 110 million homes across the United States. The site is thorough, effective, and offers pictures, a value estimate, and sales comps for every home listed. Although branded in real estate, Zillow is considered a media company and generates revenue through posting ads.
In terms of generating leads, it also depends on how you work it. The site has been falling off in recent years as the market has become flooded. Plus, they continue to raise fees and charge agents to be exclusive on a listing. Nobody is really happy about that. Additionally, Zillow allows FSBOs to list but MLS providers still IDX the site.
Trulia started out as a separate entity but was acquired by Zillow in 2014 for $3.5 billion dollars. The site runs a tad differently than the big Z and acts more like an aggregator; connecting sellers with buyers, renters, and agents. Real estate forums tend to say the same thing about the site. The buyer leads are good, but the seller ones—not so much. Many agents complain of being contacted by other agents or sellers simply perusing the site. However, Zillow Group, Inc. is still the largest online real estate company in the country. So, if you are looking to cast a big net, these two platforms are a good place to start.
Although Zillow and Trulia can provide users advantages at scale, it is also susceptible to stagnation due to a lack of fierce competition. All of that is beginning to change, however, as new sites offer greater benefits, better features, and zero costs.
The Alternative Platforms
Unbeknownst to many agents, the Zillow Group isn’t the only one running the show. There are plenty of other incredibly informative platforms that offer a good alternative to agents, and perhaps, fresher leads.
This brand may be more familiar to some agents due to their massive TV and digital marketing campaign, but the site is also popular because of its efficiency. Although all data is MLS current, the features and benefits are more simplistic than their larger counterpart Zillow. Easy sales comp comparisons also make for a user-friendly experience. More of a listing service, some agents find that using Realtor.com in conjunction with one of the larger sites, is often the best strategy for obtaining new leads.
Providing users with information regarding neighborhoods in the U.S., Neighborhood Scout works much like Zillow and Trulia. Once search criteria are entered, the listing will populate with data like:
- Average home values
- Local school data
- Hyperlocal demographics
- Crime rates
- Traffic data
- And much more…
A top advantage of the Neighborhood Scout platform is their subscription service. Once agents subscribe to a monthly or yearly plan, they have access to information that is not available on Trulia or Zillow. This makes it a viable alternative to the top dogs, at a much cheaper rate.
Although most of the sites on this list have a corresponding mobile app, Homesnap is the only platform where an agent can snap a photo of a home and instantly retrieve data. The online page allows users to search with an intuitive map-based function and subsequently displays a robust amount of property data.
The mobile app also gathers leads unlike any other platform on the web. That’s because it even works for unlisted homes and condos. Agents can look up data on properties that have yet to hit the market.
Functioning much like the other real estate search engines on this list, LoopNet sets itself apart by focusing solely on commercial properties. The search function allows agents to filter by property types, including retail, office, industrial, etc.
According to the site, LoopNet has a database of over 25 million property records and 800,000 commercial listings. Sellers can promote their post through several listing exposure options. Buyers can search properties by free-hand drawing. One firm calculated LoopNet’s conversion rate at 2.5%, with agents subscribing to all various levels.
Online Marketing Systems
Another method for gaining quality leads online is through real estate marketing platforms. These websites are created to assist agents with generating online leads and essentially doing all the work for you, including some of the following benefits:
- Personal website to manage your leads
- Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
- Search engine optimization
- Lead management and metrics
Of course, these services have varying costs, but here are some of the more popular ones that agents find success with:
Commissions, Inc. is a platform run by CINC that serves every aspect of an agent’s business. From marketing to lead generation, contract to closing, and all the analytics in between, this site is quickly becoming a favorite in the industry. It’s not just a lead magnet, it’s also a prospect funnel and a conversion driver. One agent calculated their conversion rate at 2.5%, generating 100 leads a month on $1,000. It’s also a great site to use in conjunction with other tools like Zillow or Realtor.com.
Following the same business model for marketing platforms, Boomtown combines CRM technology with smart lead generation. They also give agents a customer-facing website to funnel leads. The best part about Boomtown is that it can be custom fit to each agent and their brokerage. The only issue you may face with these platforms is that they own your website, so if you ever choose to move to another platform, you may lose a lot of data.
The Best Leads
Deciding which leads get the best return on investment often depends on the agent and their lead generation strategies. The idea is to find the fastest (and least labor-intensive) means of collecting leads, and stick to the formula. The smartest and most successful brokers will often tell you they diversify their strategies.
What does that mean? Many people often use more than one of the sites on this list. It is important that agents consider a variety of lead sources to pad their ROI. If your entire investment lies with one source, it’s almost like putting all your eggs in one basket. If anything happens to that platform, there goes all your data.
Diversifying your lead sources also means that when one platform isn’t performing well, there is another to fall back on. There are a variety of different ways in which an agent can collect leads online:
- Direct paid
- 3rd Party (like Zillow and Realtor.com)
When it comes to determining which of these leads pays the most to the pot, it really is a personal preference. There are some statistics that have come out on how these different leads generate revenue. According to a recent Inman survey:
- 27% of agents use Facebook advertising.
- Compared to Zillow and Trulia, Facebook ads are faster and cheaper.
- Agents spend an average of $200 per month on leads, with buyer and seller costing the same.
- 26% of agents stated they don’t pay for online leads.
- Unpaid leads delivered via agent profiles, property details pages, and discussion forums on listing portals generally deliver the highest ROI.
- Leads generated by search engine and Facebook ads generally provide the best return on investment among paid online real estate leads.
There is no perfect science to grabbing the best leads on the internet because leads are people, and people can be unpredictable. The advantage of using a conglomerate like the Zillow Group, Inc., is the ability to cast the widest net possible. However, that also means everyone else may have the same idea. This could flood your database with bad information and other non-leads, like agents.
If you are listing a commercial property or cruising a neighborhood, use those opportunities to consider the best possible lead source. If you see a house you like, HomeSnap is going to be your best bet over Zillow. LoopNet may be the most advantageous should commercial be your cup of tea. Make sense?
There is no rule that you must stick to just one site. There are free services with a lot of these platforms, but you won’t get much. Diversifying your lead sources also depends on your budget. Consider starting with a few hundred dollars and at least two sources. Also, don’t forget about the power of social media. When used in conjunction with these sources, you are sure to pull the best possible leads online that allow your greatest return on investment.
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