Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.
Apart from the decision about how to syndicate listings—one typically made by MLS executives and board members—is the decision individual agents must make: Stick with the free basic listings and tools that aggregators provide or enhance their position on the sites through paid advertising?
NAR research shows that most practitioners go the free route. On average, REALTORS® spent only 10 percent of their marketing funds, or about $60 for the year, on online marketing in 2012.
More on the listing data debate
Jean Plourde of Keller Williams Realty Showcase Properties in Braintree, Mass., is one of the exceptions. She spends some five figures a year in advertising dollars on Zillow. “I would not be spending that money if it didn’t work,” she says.
“The old days are gone. People have to accept technology,” Plourde says. “When I have a listing, my goal is to sell that property for the seller, [so] I want it to be everywhere.”
Getting leads through Zillow is expensive, she notes, so it isn’t an option for everyone. In NAR’s most recent profile of members, sales agents reported a modest median gross annual income of $35,700. While that number was up from 2012, members’ expenses—which include marketing dollars—also rose.
The value of putting marketing dollars into an aggregator site depends on the company’s position in the market. Rosemary Allison spends money for enhanced listings on realtor.com® and says, even today, that site attracts more reliable buyers. “Realtor.com® is the number one source for the strongest buyers in the marketplace, [because] serious buyers are looking for the kind of properties they’ll find on realtor.com®,” she says.
Last July, NAR’s board of directors recommended changes to the RIN-RealSelect operating agreement. The agreement, put in place to protect the REALTOR® brand and the interests of REALTORS®, was preventing site enhancements that realtor.com® executives deemed critical to its competitiveness. The changes have enabled realtor.com® to expand the types of listings it displays, adding unlisted new homes and rentals, as well as homes listed by practitioners who aren’t REALTORS®. Since then, realtor.com® has added information on more than 48,000 new-home plans, more than 30,000 rental properties, and thousands more for-sale listings. “The broadening and deepening of listings content is a key component to our consumer audience growth,” says Alison Schwartz, vice president of corporate communications at Move.
NAR doesn’t run realtor.com®; nor does it tell members where they should spend their ad dollars. But the association is working with its partners at Move to emphasize the value of a REALTOR®-branded website. And Move executives say the company is making a concerted effort to marry “cold, hard data” with the humanity of a REALTOR®’s face to help consumers see why they should use realtor.com® instead of one of the site’s competitors.
“We have not done the best job of marketing our value proposition to consumers, [but] I think what you’ve seen us do in the last 12 months has been some really innovative, targeted, focused messaging,” Move CEO Steve Berkowitz said in a press event linked to the release of the company’s third-quarter 2013 results.
As a broker who’s returning to home sales after concentrating on managing her brokerage out of the recent recession, Allison says that having a REALTOR®-branded listings portal in this crowded field of aggregators is “very important” to her business.
“I love the name! I hope they never change it,” she says. “I think that the name ‘REALTOR®’ gives you a level of professionalism that you can’t get anywhere else.”