Tag Archives: inman

Realtor.com: IPhone App Boosts Phone Calls to Realtors

Realtor.com has gotten 1.3 million downloads of its iPhone app, which launched in January. “It is the fastest growing app in the category,” President Errol Samuelson told Inman Real Estate Connect attendees in San Francisco last week. “The content is free; the attention is priceless,” he added, riffing on the MasterCard ad campaign.

The iPhone app also provides real leads. People using it make 10 times as many phone calls to agents as email. But there is a dark side to that as well. “Seventy percent of voice mail leads are unanswered,” he says. That points to a real problem if agents don’t figure out a way to answer their phone soon, he says.

While Realtor.com has had success with the iPhone, it is also focusing on Android because it supports many more devices. Whether iPhone or Android, agents have got to not only focus on their apps, but also on their Websites. “People click on an app, then go to a website that is not optimized,” says Samuelson.

Redfin’s Glenn Kelman at Inman: 16 Markets by end of 2010

Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman told Inman Real Estate Connect attendees in San Francisco yesterday that his “customer first” brokerage is likely to be in 16 markets by yearend 2010. The site is currently in 12 markets and employs 100 agents.

Redfin’s apparent progress is seen by some as evidence that the advantage goes to brokerages that minimize their risk (namely, keeping agents around that underperform). With Redfin, agents are on salary and don’t do prospecting. Instead, they focus on customer service, and are paid, in part, based on satisfaction levels.

“We’ve been doubling every year,” and have had a good run for the last 12-16 months, despite the bad economy, said Kelman. The last two months, however, have been flat as tax incentives have expired. Kelman further noted that the Bay Area is Redfin’s most profitable market, although Washington D.C. and Los Angeles are the company’s largest revenue producers.

Redfin got in the national press recently because one of the 10 Russian spies had been employed as an agent. Kelman noted that the Boston-based agent was “a very dedicated person. It didn’t gibe with the person selling homes for us.”

Scoble at Inman: Location Represents Third Movement of Info

Blog king Robert Scoble, during a presentation at Inman Real Estate Connect today in San Francisco, said we’ve entered “the third movement of information” during the Internet era. All are necessary to boost appearances on Google, he told the real estate oriented audience. In 1998, we saw the introduction of the blog, he noted. In 2006, we saw the introduction of Facebook Fan Pages. Now we have FourSquare.

Location based services go well beyond whose mayor of a location, although that is very important, Scoble noted. Already, location based services and mobile are easily integrated into people’s urban lives. Scoble listed a wide range of LBS-infused services that he theoretically uses on a daily basis, including Glimpse, Trapster, Google Maps, Plancast, Goby, Google Earth, Gowalla, WHURR, TripIt, Craig’s List and Taxi Magic.

Inman SF Connect: Realtor.com CEO Steve Berkowitz

For years, Realtor.com has been widely predicted to fail, even with an audience that is more than twice the size of its next closest rival. Its technology has been considered un-innovative, the quality of its customer service has been questioned, and pricing has also been considered out of line.

But new CEO Steve Berkowitz, the search innovator who launched Ask.com and most recently ran MSN, says that the company’s brightest days may still be ahead of it. Speaking at Inman’s SF Connect, Berkowitz said the company has amazing amounts of real estate knowledge in its executive ranks, a “couple of hundred thousand” customers and has unparallelled customer service, whatever the reputation.

“We have 150 customer service reps taking calls every month from a couple of thousand of real estate professionals,” he says. “We’re willing to pick up the phone on an hourly basis.”

The biggest task confronting Realtor.com is probably getting its underlying technology up to speed, notes Berkowitz. The company has 200 engineers toiling away in three locations, but they have to grapple with a legacy system.

“We’ll take 25 percent of the engineering talent and focus on what needs to be done under the surface,” he says. “That will free up the front end” and let Realtor assume its more natural role as a marketing consultant offering products at every pricing level. It is a business that is so local that it really needs to be done at the local level,” he adds.

Inman SF Connect: Redfin’s Glenn Kelman

One of the big new ideas of the consumer resolutions during the past few years has been Redfin, a real estate service that provides consumers with comprehensive home buying tools and pays real estate professionals flat fees with bonuses based on the quality of their service as judged by consumers.

The company, which is in seven markets, recently suffered a round of layoffs. There have been predictions among the real estate cognoscenti that the service would have to evolve to be more like a ZipRealty discount brokerage than a customer centric portal. And that would be bad in many ways, since discount brokerages not only provide less revenue for agents, but also have been the most seriously damnged part of the real estate ecosystem.

Founder and CEO Glenn Kelman, speaking at Inman SF Connect today, however, says the customer-centric discount model cannot change. “You have to stand for something real,” he says, noting that Redfin’s usage has grown by 200-300 percent in the past year, and sales are up 40 percent. He says the service is even in the black, but that’s probably temporary, since that reflects the summer buying season.

Kelman says that the embracement of several Web trends, especially Web-based user ratings for agents have been responsible for much of the growth and apparent stability in the business. “Nine months ago, we didn’t even have a picture of an agent on the site,” he noted. Now the site has pictures and solicits reviews, providing “full transparency” on good agents and bad agents.The site’s conversions “increased 160 percent” the day it added that feature, he said.

The Inman conference, of course, attracts a high percentage of agents. It isn’t necessarily a friendly forum for the Redfin experience, which has great customer tools but potentially undercuts agent revenue. One speaker said that her experience with Redfin has, in fact, been a bad one, with house buyers pretending not to be represented by RedFin so that the transaction process would go through like a full service sale.

Kelman apologized for the bad perception of the service, saying that it is “totally lame” if clients are not being upfront. “Sometimes they are scared that the home buyer or seller “is not going to like them,” he said. But looking at the bigger picture, “the industry is screwed up. There are too many agents, and not enough closing. Brokerages don’t have a brand that means anything. We came here to change the business.”

The focus on better customer service also results in better business for many agents,” he said. Agents associated with Redfin earn revenue from six to eight transactions a month, compared to the industry average of six transactions per year – although that number is based on just 23 agents currently exployed

He also says the company’s social media tools have been highly popular and effective. “Half come to the site via a home tour; 15 percent from asking people a question; 13 percent come from people saying they want to make an offer.

Inman: Social Media is Real, Mobile Will Be

Social media may not be worth much as an advertising medium right now, but it has become a critical part of real estate marketing, according to speakers at the Inman Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco. “It is not just FaceBook or MySpace,” notes Sami Inkinen, Co-founder and COO, Trulia. “With Trulia Voices, you ask a question and within 20 minutes you start receiving answers from 100,000 real estate professionals. It is connecting buyers and sellers every day.”

Inkinen also says that mobile can hardly be hyped enough and has its own set of rules. “Mobile is very very important,” he says. He says peak usage for the iPhone for real estate searches is Sunday afternoon, when open houses are at their peak.

It is very different than other mobile apps, such as dating, where the peak time is after 1 am on Saturday morning “when the bars close.” (He used to work in the wireless dating buisness). It is also a very different experience than on the PC with a 21-inch monitor. “You have to tailor the experience” to each channel, he says. Trulia’s analysis has gone into the development of an iPhone app, which is nearing launch.

The importance of mobile was also emphasized by Move.com President Lorna Borenstein, who cited research showing that 50 percent of Realtors will be using smart phones by the end of 2008. “People do their research on line, then they start driving,” she says.

Borenstein also cited the importance of “accuracy, freshness an comprehensiveness” in the database. By the end of the summer, every Realtor.com listing will be time stamped,” she says. Currently, 2 million of Realtor.com’s 4.5 million listings are updated every minute. (Realtor.com is Move.com’s premier online property).

Having large, numerous magazine style photos is also key. Borenstein says she was “surprised at how much large, numerous photos are used by consumers. If they don’t see them, they doubt the credibility of the Realtor.”

The popularity of large photos has a direct impact on usage. In Las Vegas, for instance, usage of the MLS grew substantially after it started featuring large photos. We can get a 300 percent boost” with photos, she says, noting that Move.com sells them to its 265,000 Realtor advertisers as a premium. That analysis played a large role in the redesign of the site, which is geared “100 percent” around photos. “Before that, I was buzzing about video,” but it isn’t nearly as important, she indicates.

MyNewPlace CEO John Helm says that apartment listings also are highly dependent on photos. “Fifty percent of listings don’t have photos. But without a photo, you will get just 25 percent of the lookups.”

Craig at Inman

Craigslist is arguably the number one real estate site with real estate-oriented page views in the “low billions per month.” So it makes sense to have founder Craig Newmark address the first day of the Inman Real Estate Conference in San Francisco.

Newmark never reveals very much about the service, humbly referring to himself as just one of the site’s Customer Service Reps – even as Silicon Alley Insider estimated his net worth as possibly $5 billion. I find him to be really funny, and he interestingly discusses a wide range of topics (The Constitution, Israeli-Arab peace etc.) But for tea leaf readers out there, here is what he is saying.

The site now has 26 people. Sixteen are engineers. It runs on a couple hundred servers. “Ninety-six percent (of users are) coming from the U.S. Most of the rest is in Canada. We are in 567 cities,” he says.

He also argues “the technology is sophisticated. The hard part is getting the site policed to deal with the bad guys, or the innocent people who want to get attention. The site gets one billion postings a day.

Fees for job ads are charged in 11 markets and make up the bulk of Craigslist revenues. “We are discussing charging for job postings in several other cities.” NYC brokerages are also charged.

The key issue with the site is the enormous amount of spam that hits it. If more fees are introduced, it would mostly be to scare away spammers. Craig also said he was open minded about a suggestion that he charge more for rich media URL inclusion in ads — a major sore point for many brokerages. which constantly see their ads cut out.

He also said the site will work harder to warn the Craigslist community about changes in policy, rather than just cutting them off, as they do now.

While the site remains resolutely low tech to the common eye, Newmark says there has been some experimentation with thumbnail photo postings of used bicycles in San Francisco. That might be extended. He also sees a greater role for mobile devices, but he doesn’t think it is very good today, and maybe won’t be good enough for perhaps two years.