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.
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.