Tag Archives: real estate

Inman SF Connect: Yelp COO Geoff Donaker

Yelp COO Geoff Donaker, subbing at the last minute for a “very ill” CEO Jerremy Stoppelman, told an Inman SF Connect audience that Yelp’s base of 24 million + unique “Yelpers,” seven million reviews and “thousands” of advertisers represents a rich opportunity for any vertical small business – including realtors.

Although Yelp takes a horizontal “lifestyle” approach to business categories and doesn’t break out real estate per se, if Realtors “spend 20 minutes to fill out a profile, they will see an uptick in business from Yelp,” said Donnaker.

Donaker noted that Yelp now has an active presence in 28 local markets in the U.S., the U.K. and Ireland. The service is not likely to be profitable for the full year in 2009, and may not be in 2010 either because of continued investment in the business, which constitutes three full floors of a downtown San Francisco building and another large office in New York. Things are going well, however, although selling the company or going public is not a “near term focus,” he says.

Looking forward, Donaker says the internally produced features constitute a rich (and free) toolset for businesses to use Products are added based on what customers want, he says. The iPhone app has been especially well received, and mobile, in general, now constitutes about five percent of Yelp’s usage. Video, however,, is not a high priority, with fewer than ten percent of businesses saying they’d like to use it.

The site’s reputation for fostering negative reviews is mostly unfounded, adds Donnaker. Eighty-five percent of reviews are three stars or more (on a 1-5 basis). Seventy percent have five stars. Just 15 percent have fewer than three stars.

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.

AH Belo Invests in Real Estate Pay For Performance Site

Newspaper companies are so far down we don’t pretend to offer comprehensive fixes anymore. That’d be science fiction. But we do track the incremental investments that leverage their strengths and often prove to be strong profit centers in themselves.

Last year, we noted AH Belo’s $2 million investment in ResponseLogix – an auto dealer leads management program. Now we’re noting another AH Belo investment, this time in Sawbuck Realty, which takes advantage of its broker’s status to list 100 percent of local MLS listings, rather than the portion that typically ends up in a newspaper from a la carte MLS deals and broker listings.

The service collects leads and funnels them out to agents, like realestate.com does. The similarity to realestate.com extends to its guaranteed discount referrals for mortgage brokers and escrow agents.

What is unique about Sawbuck is its business model. It generally takes thirty percent of a realtor’s commission, which is the same as a typical “referral fee.” The fee may ultimately come out higher than advertising would – but it protects the agent/broker because it is pay for performance. And home buyers are guaranteed savings. The Sawbuck service runs separately from other newspaper real estate advertising, which will remain available.

Belo is leading a $2 million round, with co-founders Guy Wolcott and Steve Barnes also participating. Some of that money will be used to extend Sawbuck Realty beyond the D.C. metro area into several new markets, including all three of Belo’s major markets – Riverside, CA; Dallas; and Providence.

Just launched are services in Southern California, including San Diego, Los Angeles/Orange County and Riverside/Inland Empire, where Belo publishes The Press-Enterprise. Sawbuck launches in Dallas and North Texas launch in early August. It is also launching services that month in the San Francisco Bay area and Chicago. In October, it launches in Providence.

Sawbuck’s pay per performance model is similar to Zetabid’s model for selling and listing foreclosures, which has been a major effort for The LA Times.

Apartments Increasingly Marketed on Web, Mobile

Apartments are in the vanguard among online marketplace verticals, as more apartment owners take advantage of Web and mobile features to target prospects — especially younger prospects.

Indeed, apartment owners are increasingly leveraging video to show off floor plans and surrounding communities. They’re also using social media such as MySpace to differentiate their communities and give them a “vibe,” especially for higher end properties. They’re also using mobile-enabled sites to catch prospects as they drive by.

Organic search also comes into play. NCI, which produces ApartmentFinder, has seen the site jump 52.5 percent in the last six months, according to blog notes from Chairman Dan McCarthy. Indeed, new data from ComScore for March shows that among traditional apartment shopper media with print and websites, ApartmentFinder now has the second most used apartments site after ForRent. (Apartment pureplays like Rent.com and Apartments.com might have higher overall traffic).

“We haven’t driven our growth through spending a lot of money on keywords and unqualified traffic,” says McCarthy. “We’ve focused on optimizing the long tail of organic search. We’ve focused on creating a simple product for consumers that gives them lots of ways to interact with the apartment communities we list.”

Cablevision Still Bullish on Newsday Synergies, Despite Huge Write-Offs

Cablevision bet big on synergy (and ignored the CW about the newspaper industry) when it bought Newsday from Tribune Co. last summer for $650 million. Today, less than eight months later, it concedes that it has written off $402 million of that investment (a significantly worse investment than Stephen Marbury of Cablevision’s Knicks).

Whether the economics of the deal ever makes sense, here’s the rub…. Cablevision remains extremely bullish on the possible synergies between the newspaper, the newspaper website, and the on demand video capabilities of its Optimum broadband service. On January 1, it launched the Optimum Autos brand across both Newsday and Cablevision on Channel 605. Looking forward, Optimum Homes, a real estate channel, has been slated for Channel 606.

During an analyst call today, COO Tom Rutledge said that Cablevision continues to believe that it can better manage the transition of Newsday, which counts a million users a week for its newspaper and website. News is one aspect – Cablevision has been an industry leader with local 24/7 news. Classifieds are the other.

“Optimum Autos has great content related to Long Island, it’s a respected brand and it will continue to attract the same advertisers and consumers that we want to reach,” said Rutledge. “That’s ultimately the value that Newsday offers to us.”

Optimum Autos itself is poised to leverage the combined dealer base of Newsday, Newsday.com and Cablevision. A quick count looks like they may have around 300 dealers between them.

The rebranded site, which switched from Cars.com to Adicio Motors on January 1, provides “the best of all worlds,” per company press release. It has “maximum coverage across print, interactive and cable TV platforms, easy to use technology for uploading, searching and reporting, and a customizable local environment.”

The release went on to note that Optimum Autos includes “multiple color photos for each listing and one-click dealer contact. It also has hundreds of promotional video clips from leading auto manufacturers.”

Adicio Motors GM Deep Menon told us that after 11 weeks, the implementation has been going very well. By using Adicio’s reporting tools, Optimum Autos can show dealers their ROI based on the number of qualified leads they are getting. They can also get exclusive leads.

“Dealers have many ways to maximize their visibility, especially with video reviews, says Menon. At the same time, “the site can also sell pre-roll and video sponsorships by car make.” More advanced technology is in the works.

Real Estate Coup: The Washington Post Quits HomeFinder for Trulia

The Washington Post is switching its local real estate search from Classified VenturesHomeFinder.com to Trulia. The switch takes place in April, and is being announced just after Classified Ventures’ introduction of the Home Finder brand, which replaces the HomeScape brand.

The move from a Classified Ventures, Inc. (CVI) product is somewhat surprising, in part because The Washington Post Co. is a CVI shareholder, along with several other newspaper companies. CVI also runs Cars.com, HomeGain and Apartments.com. A Post spokesperson says that the company will continue to work with Cars.com and maintains its relationship with CVI.

While The Post has a history of paying top dollar to customize vendor products, Trulia CEO Pete Flint notes that Trulia’s price – “free,” with shared advertising revenues – appeals to newspapers during this economic downturn. Trulia already works on a “free” basis with 150 local media properties, including The St. Petersburg Times, The Bakersfield Californian, The Press of Atlantic City, and various TV station sites from Fisher Communications and Belo.

Pricing may, in fact, have been pivotal in the decision. Classified Ventures raised feeds for Cars.com as it became a strong national brand. Some non-owner affiliates resisted those price increases. Up to now, however, CV’s owners haven’t generally cut ties (unless you count The New York Times Co., which has sold its interest in the consortium several years ago).

Flint told us that he sees the signing as “a great vote of confidence” in Trulia’s search technology. Users can refine their search results on Trulia based on criteria such as open houses, neighborhood, price, property type and new listings. Users can also view detailed maps, local price trends, property descriptions and other buy/sell related info. Noting that Trulia is co-branding the real estate site with The Post, Flint added that “we are very much looking forward to collaborating on their content and sales relationships.”

In making the deal with The Post, Trulia antes up the competitive front against Zillow, which is working with certain members of Yahoo’s Newspaper Consortium (and others) on real estate search and services. Zillow recently indicated that its partnership with the newspapers, while promising, is unlikely to have a very large impact on its business. According to ComScore, Zillow and Trulia are basically tied in monthly traffic with a million unique visitors (in general, audience counts for real estate sites widely vary.)

While Trulia has a national sales force, The Washington Post “has a very strong local sales force,” said Flint. “This really allows us to extend our reach in the DC market. It is a bigger deal (for Trulia) than any other.”

Flint also noted that Trulia has been in talks with The Post for “a couple of years,” although only seriously for the last four months – or roughly double the tenure of new GM Goli Sheikholeslami, who took over last July. The deal does not include any syndication efforts across Trulia’s network for WaPo content, including columns from real estate legal authority Kenneth Harney and others, but it could become part of a broader deal in the future.

Largest MLS Launches Consumer-Facing Real Estate Portal

Multiple Listing Services are generally seen as technologically backward sites restricted to Realtors. But this may change, if a new consumer-facing model takes off. Specifically, Local Matters, the social media vendor launched by MapQuest founder Perry Evans, has teamed with MRIS, the mega-MLS based in the DC Metro area, to launch homesdatabase.com.

The site is similar to major real estate portals such as Realtor.com. It enables users to browse all the listings for sale and rent on the market; get fresh data straight from the source; search using simple natural language phrases; and receive email alerts on listings and open houses.

The latter is especially attractive, with houses featured in list views, or photo or map views, and easily zoomed on. Brokerages names and logos are also prominently featured.

In development for over a year, the project signals “a new local consumer portal that leverages the content and brand of the local MLS, and presents a robust and useful tool for local consumers,” according to a memo from Evans, who said he has worked on real estate innovation since 2002.

“Does the market need another consumer real estate portal?” asks Evans. “I’d answer that with a resounding YES! The focus in online real estate has been national, national, national, while we all know the market is local, local, local. We believe the MLS can be empowered to operate a consumer portal that best serves the local consumer, and evolves into a thriving trusted local marketplace for qualified and quality interactions between consumers and agents.”