Please Do The Analysis!

On today’s Power Hour Web Conference, I asked all Help-U-Sell brokers to do a little analysis.  I asked them to see just how accurate the big real estate aggregation sites (Trulia, Zillow, et al) are in their local marketplaces.  I asked that they search for homes for sale in a reasonable, manageable price range in their own Zip Code on, say, Zillow  and then to compare those results with the same search done on the MLS.  This is the same experiment the broker mentioned in my last post did – the one where she found 159 bad or questionable listings out of the 220 her search turned up on the aggregator site.  But I’m asking Help-U-Sell people to go one step further:  identify which listings on the aggregator site are not in MLS and then find out why.  Are they duplicates?  Old sold listings that have not been purged?  Are they FSBOs or broker listings not on MLS?  It’s probably an hour’s worth of effort but I think it will pay big dividends.

See, the aggregators are getting slammed right now for having bad or stale data.  It is my belief that the housing information available on your own Help-U-Sell website with an IDX feed from the local MLS is far more up to date and accurate than anything a national site could offer.  What I want to do is document that – locally, office by office.  We can then start talking with consumers about this and (hopefully) switch them off the national sites (where they are vulnerable to any agent)  and on to our own.

Please, Help-U-Sell Brokers: Get Busy!  Do this book work and share your results with me.  And if you’d like a little inspiration, check out this article from today’s Inman News


The Flaw In Zillow’s Strength: Your Competitive Advantage

Yesterday, Kendra Gemma sent me a link to an article in the San Diego Union Tribune about the real estate syndication flap.  That, in itself, is pretty amazing:  Kendra, who is in Sarasota, is sending me a link to an article in my hometown newspaper!  (Here is a link to the article)

The piece was a rehashing of the syndication battle but focused on one of the underlying truths about the big aggregator sites (Trulia, Zillow, Et. Al.):  their data is littered with errors and inaccuracies.  It’s easy to see why:  Zillow, for example, receives real estate listing data feeds from dozens of sources.  Your Help-U-Sell listing may get to Zillow via your MLS, your ListHub account, Help-U-Sell, personal input, and on and on.  Zillow has an algorhythm that kicks in when it spots duplicate listings and grants priority to feeds they deem most reliable, but it has to recognize the listings in question as duplicates first.  So there are duplicates on Zillow.  And status changes are often mishandled by agents and/or syndicators, so there is the potential for many homes listed as ‘For Sale’ on Zillow actually being sold and closed.

One San Diego broker did a test last month.  She went ‘one of the popular real estate search sites’ (unnamed) and did a search for houses in her Scripps Ranch Zip Code:  92131. She then did the same search in her MLS and compared the results.

There were 220+ results on the search site.

• 54 were not for sale on the MLS

• 46 were condos, although she limited her search to houses.

• 24 had sold. One dated back more than a year.

• 17 were contingent.

• 10 were in escrow.

• 8 were expired, canceled or withdrawn.

If you do the arithmetic, there were problems with 159 of the 220 results!  The article mentioned that this particular broker has a problem with syndication in general, and I have no idea whether or not that played into the results, BUT I think you’d be wise to do your own search and comparison for your area.  And, please, when you do:  share the results with me!

(Before we go any further let me remind you that I LIKE Zillow.  They took an opportunity on which the REALTOR community turned its back and quickly became the home search tool of choice for consumers.  Bravo.  Now they kick off leads like crazy to brokers who are sharp enough to pay their price.  Instead of moaning about how wrong that whole scenario is, I think it’s wiser to recognize that at this moment in time, Zillow is a lead generating titan, and to find ways to tap into that flow of potential buyers and sellers. )

Here is a lesson in packaging.  I found it  not in the article, but in the comments to it:

Mark and Karla Stuart, Prudential California Realty:  We were so frustrated with the innacuracies created by all of the different IDX sites, including Trulia and Zillow, we created our own….exclusively for San Diego County. It is 100% accurate, and doesn’t waste our client’s time with “Pending” and “Sold” listings, and is updated overnight, every night. Our goal was to be 100% accurate with regards to what is coming from the realtor’s database, the MLS. Though expensive, it has served our customers quite well.

Wow!  Their website sounds like a dream come true!  No inaccuracies!  Just as up-to-date as the local MLS!  You can’t beat that! And you know what?  It’s the same IDX feed you have you your website. The feed you have on your Help-U-Sell site comes straight from the MLS, every night, and is as accurate as the MLS is at that moment in time.

It’s time to start working on how we communicate this to potential buyers.  It has to be done quickly and elegantly during the first meeting.  Something like:

Agent:  How long have you been looking?

Buyer:  Oh, a few weeks, I guess.

Agent:  You found me on Zillow, is that how you’ve doing your searches?

Buyer:  Yes.

Agent:  It is very easy to use, I know. . . but have you noticed how many homes on there are not really for sale?

Buyer:  Well, now that you mention it . . .

Agent:  They have a real challenge there; it’s because they’re trying to do a local job on a world-wide platform.  They get housing information from so many sources it even confuses them!  Listen, how about letting me give you access to the local MLS – without all the data from Boston and St. Louis and Puerto Rico gumming up the works!  You’ll have the most accurate and best information on houses for sale today in this market?

Buyer:  You can do that?

Agent:  Sure.  I just need an email address and phone number and I can set you up with a buyer’s account  on my website.  You can search to your heart’s content, save listings, even set up email alerts when new properties that meet your needs come on the market.  Plus, any time you have a question or want to see something, I’m just a click away.

Buyer:  Sounds pretty good.

It’s the same basic pitch the Listingbook folks use.  Of course, their feed is real-time, not once a day, and they have ways of tracking buyer behavior on their site that are very powerful.  But the same concept applies:  The most popular home search tool buyers have is loaded with bad data.  You can give potential buyers a better search tool without the inaccuracies.  I’m suggesting you set a registration threshhold on your website – use either option:  3 searches and then register or register to get detailed information.  When you use your dialogue and sign up a new buyer, you go into OMS, create a buyer account for them, and communicate it back to them via email.  By doing it this way (as opposed to having them do it themselves), you’re giving them something of value.  And since the perception of Value is a key consideration when choosing a real estate professional,  it could be the start of a wonderful working relationship!

(If you haven’t read our discussion about syndication, you can access it by following these links: Syndication Storm, Syndication Update, The Final Word on Syndication and Another Word on Syndication.


Syndication Update

We had a good discussion about the whole syndication flap on yesterday’s Power Hour Rountable call.  Everyone agreed that the whole concept of the syndicators using our own data to attract leads they sell back to us was repugnant.  However, they saw it pretty much as something we did to ourselves (we being Realtors in general).  We failed to give consumers what Zillow, Trulia and others gave them, and today, that’s where consumers go to look for houses.

The group was quick to accept reality:  this is the way it is today.  Sellers expect to be seen on the syndication sites.  If you can’t give that to them, they will likely go elsewhere.  They don’t care what your syndication baggage is or how indignant you are about using your data to attract leads for other brokers.  They just expect to be there.  Plus there was general consensus that the aggregator sites work.  At one point in the call Ken Kopcho got on his mobile phone and counted:  31 leads from Zillow!

Speaking for the group, I’d say we agreed to go full bore into mining this rich source of leads,and nobody wants to stop syndicating.  However, there was agreement with what Kirk Eisele said in his comment:  consumers will go wherever their needs are best met, and this is not a closed case.  When someone comes along with a home search tool that out-Zillows Zillow, that’s where consumers will go.  There’s no reason why that can’t be us.  We own our own technology, aren’t dependent on outside vendors who have to please masses of clients, and can do whatever we want with our web presence.

Go back in time, oh, 7 years I guess.  had outrageous web traffic.  And it excreted leads, one after the other.  There was a good reason why we, at times, had better traffic than much larger organizations:  we embraced IDX and used it when most of the industry was afraid to give that information to consumers.  Consumers wanted to go to one website and look at all houses available for sale in the local market.  Using IDX to do that gave us a big leg-up on the competition.

But of course, in time the competition leveled the playing field by dropping their hysterical resistance to giving the public free access to information and adding IDX to their own sites.  We suffered a major blow when one large competitor went to our vendor and basically bought them out from under us.  We went from being the darling of Internet lead creation to . . . nowhere.  That’s why, today, we own our own tech.  We built it, it’s not available to anyone else and it does what we want it to do.

We have an opportunity today to take back some of what we gave up to the aggregators.  The shift will come when we give them everything they get from Zillow and MORE.  Today?  I have to run because I just got 5 new leads from my ad on Trulia.

Five Timely Truths

  1. When consumers want information about residential real estate today, they go to  I say that because my Brokers tell me Zillow consistently produces quality leads.  Trulia comes in a (usually) distant second. is not even on the map.
  2. Data mining and manipulation of real estate information has progressed so far and so fast that 95% of the people in the industry have no idea how to use it.  Ok:  maybe that’s a little hyperbole.  But I am impressed that the data guys are to the point of predicting buy and sell behavior via algorithms and so much more.  They have taken their business way out there and the rank and file Realtor – who is still trying to figure out how to resize their prom picture so they can use it on their business card – has no clue.  The good news is that the 5% (or 15%) who do have the desire and the smarts to use this new information will survive to be the next generation Realtor.
  3. Virtual companies (at the moment) suck.  I encountered yet another that has one broker in one city, holding licenses and ‘managing’ hundreds of salespeople all over the State.   While I believe that systems and technology may make it possible to supervise transaction activity at a distance,  it hasn’t yet evolved to where a Broker might watch an agent with a buyer or seller or to allow a Manager to casually overhear a phone conversation.  The Broker’s duty to supervise becomes a ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge,’ item.  But the real downside – at least today – is that these companies have become an alternative for non-productive agents who otherwise would probably get out of the business.  For a small fee they can continue to be ‘active’ and do 3 or 4 deals a year.
  4. By devoting themselves to the preservation of the Status Quo, by fighting tooth and nail every step of the way to keep information out of the hands of consumers, by not insisting on production standards for members, Realtor Groups (NAR and it’s affiliated State and Local Boards and Associations) have made themselves largely irrelevant.  It’s probably too late to wake up and realize that things will NEVER be the way they used to be, that real estate reality has changed, and changed significantly.  The next generation real estate professional is not at a meeting at the Board of Realtors.  He/She is online, networking and discovering the tools that will enable them to do more transactions and provide better service.
  5. Help-U-Sell, with proprietary technology that we created, own and control,  is the only national brand positioned to lead the industry into the new tech-efficient real estate age while preserving a razor focus on the needs of the consumer.  We’ve always been a consumer-centric company and now we can bring that focus to bear in a leaner, more efficient, tech-driven industry.  Every time I go to a real estate trade show I get tickled when people tout the latest and greatest tech innovation (Mobil phone websites, QR codes, map searches, online lead management, syndication and on and on)  . . . and it’s all stuff we’ve had for a couple of years.


Negotiating Tips For Buyers and Sellers

Everybody wants a deal today.  Buyers, understanding that they hold the keys to the kingdom, want the best house at the lowest price and the most favorable terms.  Sellers, often facing some kind of loss (even if it’s just a loss in perceived value) want to cut a deal that will be least painful and put them in the best position moving forward.  One of the things they look to us for is help in negotiating.  We advise and then work to advance and protect their positions.

But your ability to negotiate effectively on behalf of a client is dependent on many things within the client’s control.  They have to be realistic and flexible.  They have to be very clear on what’s most important.  They have to be creative.

This morning’s Trulia newsletter has a nifty little piece presenting negotiating tips for buyers and sellers.  It’s a snappy summary of the attitudes and strategies your clients need to embrace to be most successful in a negotiating situation.  I think it would be a great item to reproduce and share with your clients at the beginning of the relationship so that when you get down to offer and acceptance they will understand their role a little better.

Here is a link to the full article.

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