Beating a path to the Front Door

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Inman News reports that Prudential Real Estate Affiliates will now be sending listing information to HGTV’s Front Door site, about a 140,000 of them. Dustin Luther sees this as yet another wake-up call for NAR and Realtor.com to start some retooling or risk losing market share.

There’s just no rest for the weary.

Today I am glad I hadn’t gotten around to setting up my agent listing feed at Front Door. It has been on my “look into” agenda, but never quite made it to the Now Appearing, upper quartile of my to-do list. And it’s a good thing. When Prudential started feeding all company listings to Zillow in January, nearly a year after I had been including my own listings there, it took me a full month to untangle the mess.

Agents are typically in two camps – no, make that three. The first is the camp that either doesn’t have a clue where their listing data is being displayed or doesn’t care. They should both know and care, but that is a subject for another time. The second is the group that sees the online, third party aggregators as interlopers simply trying to make a buck off of the agent’s work and, in many cases, sell the “leads” generated from the agent’s listings back to the agent. This is not entirely untrue, of course, but it troubles me little. I fall into the third category: Agents who want their listings everywhere. And, there are several reasons I am more than happy be a good little sharer.

If agents only think of their online efforts in terms of the “leads” that they can generate for themselves, then it makes perfect sense to continue to scream “mine” while clutching that MLS input sheet to your chests. If, on the other hand, agents are going to continue to beat the “I want what is best for my clients” drum, then there can be no justification for not exposing your clients’ homes for sale to the widest possible audience.

Make no mistake – I have agonized more than a little over the past couple of years about the “lost lead” scenario. I am, after all, human, and we are trying to run a business. It does grate on me that potential buyers interested in one of our seller’s homes online may be shuttled off to a another agent’s, or even my own company’s, web site never to be heard from by me again. But the cause of my consternation has been twofold. There is this obvious lost opportunity; they may not buy this home, but they may buy some home, and I would quite certainly rather it was with me. More importantly, however, we go to great lengths to portray our selling clients’ properties in the best and most comprehensive light. Every time a potential buyer is redirected away from my site and to another, the information they are exposed to on this particular home is incomplete at best, thereby putting my client and our marketing efforts at a disadvantage. 

I’m over it, and if you are an agent continuing to belly-ache about losing control, you should consider getting over it as well. It’s too late.

Success for the client is ultimately about maximum exposure, and success for the agent is about making a distinction, distinguishing themselves from the millions of other licensed agents purporting to offer the same levels of service and expertise. The MLS horse is out of the barn. Where yesterday, a tech savvy agent could separate himself by simply saying, “I put your home on Trulia,” today nearly everyone’s listings are there. With the dozens of third-party sites available to the consumer wanting to search for homes, sites populated with hundreds of thousands of national listings, how does the little agent web site compete?

Very well, thank you. The big Brokerages are finally doing what the progressive agent has been doing for years – beating a path to the third-party door. It’s about time. And the consumers will be beating a path to the door which offers them more of the information they are looking for. The Front Doors and Zillows, the Trulias and Realtor.coms, even the Zip Realty and Redfin sites will be the first stops for the majority of consumers, but the agent web sites and blogs will be the last. It is macro versus micro, and an agent website that consists entirely of a Search for Homes button and an About Me page can not compete. But the smart agents already know this, and they are responding by creating something deeper and more content-rich on a smaller scale, a place the big sites can’t go. Ultimately, the consumer will find this place, because real estate is local.

On our site, for example, we have floor plans – dozens and dozens of them. We have our neighborhood overview mash-up in progress, and we are soon to have a complete mash-up showing Homeowner’s Associations and fees for our little community. We are working on an inventory of community services, and we already provide local (in many cases, down to the neighborhood level) information on sales and trends. The casual home shopper having decided he might like to live in California may initially find his best information on Realtor.com, yet the buyer further down that path to his next home, having decided he would like to live in San Diego or even Scripps Ranch, will ultimately find his best information on a local agent site. My goal is that it be mine.

As the consumers continue their migration online and in droves, the jockeying among Brokers and agents and third-party players for their attention will continue. It’s like a college fraternity rush, and everyone wants the customer to come to their party. Absent that, they want to see and be seen hanging out at the same places on the off chance someone will notice them in the corner and ask them to dance. So now I see too many agents, recognizing that they can’t possibly throw the biggest party with the most impressive keg or most popular band, clamoring to at least make the guest list. The Trulia Voices are deafening, and there is an agent downpour at Active Rain. We lend our names and our likenesses, our credibility and our checkbooks to tens of sites, listing aggregators and social networks and group blogs, at any one time in our harried attempt to be everywhere and be noticed. Yet, just as the online evolution brought us to this place, it will eventually take us to another.

There are too many parties going on right now, too many doors from which to chose. For the individual agent, I think online success will ultimately be found in the smaller after-party. This party will be held at the agent website. The gathering will be more intimate, the menu more personalized, and the experience will be more satisfying. It is so easy to get lost in a crowd, and I think it is time we redirected our efforts to being the perfect hosts at our own soirees. How will they find us? We will still send out our invitations, of course, but the invitations which will generate the greatest number of meaningful attendees will be the ones sent locally. Most home buyers and sellers will attend the big parties first, for the free booze and food, but they will join us for dessert. It is not where they start the evening but where they end it that matters most. That will always be closer to home.

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