Realtor.com released their new agent-branded mobile real estate app on the Apple iPhone and iPad this week (Android can’t be far off). With their previous version of the mobile app already being the most accurate nationwide real estate app (direct MLS listing data) and having the most advanced search (draw an outline of a neighborhood with your finger), integrating agent-client relationships is sure to increase this app’s use by professionals and consumers.
Before going into the new features, it’s important to see the value of this new version of the app through the eyes of a buyer’s agent. Realtor.com wants agents to push this app to the home buying public. Since consumers already have access to all of the standard features, the upgrades should be a value-added proposition for the agent-client relationship that encourages agents to share the app with their clients.
Buyers’ agents want two things from a mobile tool:
- Generation of leads by encouraging web visitors to contact the agent
- Retention/strengthening of current client relationships.
At first glance, this new app does a stellar job of strengthening current client relationships, and is just a couple of tweaks from becoming a true lead generator/new client creator
Strengthening Client Relationships
Keeping a current client and an agent in constant contact seems to be the primary goal of the agent-branded app upgrades. The process for signing up current clients is fairly straightforward (although it could still be slimmed down a bit).
- The agent downloads the app and registers using the “I am an agent” button
- Agent adds client’s email addresses to invite list
- The client receives an email with a link asking them to opt-in
- When buyer clicks the link, if they’ve already downloaded the app, it will create a “Pending Invite” on their home screen from the agent (if they haven’t downloaded the app yet, see the following image).
- Buyer accepts the invite from the agent and the agent’s contact info is added to the app
(There is a small flaw in the process if the buyer hasn’t already downloaded the regular version of the app. When the buyer clicks on the email link, an error message pops up stating that the address is invalid. The user must click “OK” to remove the error message, and then there is a link on the page behind it to download the app. This step isn’t intuitive. I’ve already had a couple of clients confused by this because it seems that the process has stopped working when the error message pops up.)
After downloading the app and starting it up, the client has a “Pending Invite” that they can select, and when it is accepted the agent’s contact info is loaded throughout the app.
Once the agent and client are connected, the features for interaction are phenomenal. When a buyer views a listing, they can save it to their favorites, request a showing directly from their agent, or even chat with their agent in real-time on the screen with questions about the home. The agent can easily access clients’ favorite home lists for setting up tours and send suggested listings to the client as well.
The interaction is seamless. As online users now do much of their scheduling on their mobile device’s calendar, this is a great way to keep a record of the interaction regarding showings and deadlines on the mobile device as well.
Buyers’ agents, at the same time, can feel comfortable that their clients are not fishing for a new site or app and being fed erroneous/expired/sold/stale listings from less reputable sources. Frankly, buyers’ agents can be paranoid about their clients calling other unverified sources for information. Their #1 business goal is to get that buyer in the car to see some homes, and build a relationship before another agent does. Agents want to be their clients’ single most-trusted resource, and by giving clients the best possible tools and an accurate database like the one offered by this app, they can strengthen that position.
Lead Generation (new unattached buyers)
This app also has the makings of a lead generation tool for agents. Studies of online buyers have shown two strong trends:
- Online buyers call the first phone number they see when they’ve found a home they like.
- The first agent a buyer meets in person for a showing will become that buyer’s permanent agent in the majority of cases.
From a pure business perspective, this should focus a buyer’s agent on two goals online:
- Creating accurate, attractive, useful tools that buyers appreciate and come back to use repeatedly (create value to keep buyers in your sphere)
- Making the agent’s contact info readily available at all times, and avoiding distractions that would cause buyers to contact someone else
With this in mind, we can look at the Realtor.com app from a different perspective. Would an agent with a popular website offer the app on the web to buyers they haven’t yet met?
The app’s current format requires an agent to have the buyer’s email address before they can offer the agent-branded version of the app. There doesn’t currently seem to be a way for the buyer to download an agent-branded app without the agent first initiating that contact through email.
Gap 1: Web accessible link for buyer-initiated download
There are two gaps that need work, in my opinion, but a common link should fix them both. First, the current app without specific agent branding will present a buyer with advertising and phone numbers for other real estate agents on every listing. If a buyer’s agent advertises a link to this app on his/her website, the agent is essentially handing the website visitors a marketing magazine for hundreds of other agents. The agent would be increasing the likelihood that the buyer would call another agent first.
The picture above illustrates the difference in how listings are displayed before and after confirming your agent (unbranded app vs. agent-branded app). The listing page is an advertisement for the listing agent in the first picture, but after the buyer has confirmed their agent, the listing page instead directs the buyer to contact that their own buyer’s agent.
Gap 2: Double confirmation
The second gap is similar in nature. After a current client receives an invitation email from their agent, clicks the link to connect, and then downloads/logs in to the app, they must re-confirm their agent for the branding to kick in. If the buyer doesn’t fulfill the second confirmation (which is easy to skip), they will be using the standard app, again full of other agents’ advertising and contact information. Two of my clients that tested the app with me didn’t get the second confirmation, and told me they couldn’t find my contact info anywhere on the app. Clearly the second confirmation isn’t as intuitive as it could be, and more importantly is an unnecessary extra step in the process. It creates more potential for an agent to lose business.
Remember, we’re talking about buyers’ agents deciding whether or not to email this app to buyers who they may not have met in person yet. They may have the buyer’s email, but they are still in the protective (paranoid) early stage of their relationship with these buyers. The only marketing tools that the agent wants to send them are those with only his/her own contact information already in place. Realtor.com has to convince these agents to “sell” this product to their buyers, and that means removing the anxiety of losing clients.
The answer: Pre-populated branding via a public app link
The client has already clicked on a link in the email which confirms that they know the agent and they want to “Connect Here.” There is no need to reconfirm at the app level. The client should automatically have their agent’s branding pre-populated in the app after they click on the confirmation in the email. They can have the option to opt out/change their agent later, but the agent should be confirmed the first time the app loads. This would easily solve our first issue.
To solve the second issue, a public link with the same outcome as the email link could be offered for agents’ websites. Realtor.com could offer it as a widget to guarantee that it is displayed correctly. If we were able to offer our visitors on SeattleHome.com a link to the Realtor.com app that already had our company contact info preloaded, it would be prominently displayed on the home page. Our web traffic averages around 200 mobile device visits/day in the high selling season. A large number of these mobile visitors would download the Realtor.com app with our branding every month if we could offer it preloaded. Without my team’s contact information preloaded in the app, however, the download becomes a potential diversion of business and we are resigned to continue sending visitors to our current mobile site with our team’s contact information. We would only invite clients with whom we already have a strong personal relationship to download the app in its current format.
The Best We’ve Seen Yet, Nearly a Category Killer
Although there are some flaws, the entire package of the agent-branded app is an outstanding development and a more sophisticated product than we’ve ever seen in the industry. Agents who are trying to stay interconnected with their clients will find that this tool is a huge boon to their business. That being said, if Realtor.com’s goal is to drive mobile traffic, creating that last link to a publicly-accessed, pre-branded agent app will open the floodgates in terms of accessibility.
The Future: Team and Brokerage Branded Apps?
While I’m at it, I might as well be greedy: A team-branded or brokerage-branded app would take it to the next level. Buyers could download their Coldwell Banker Danforth-branded app directly from the brokerage’s website. At the time the buyer chooses one of the office’s agents, the broker could assign that buyer to a specific agent and have his/her contact info propagated throughout the app. This would attract home buyers earlier in their search process and likely have them using the app for a longer period of time.
The mobile real estate search world is evolving faster than probably an other area in real estate right now. Realtor.com’s agent-branded app is as big of an agent-focused push as we’ve seen so far. With a few more tweaks, many brokers like myself will have a clear solution for our clients’ mobile search needs, and the fact that the app is free will give it the potential to be a category killer.