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Thinking about Real Estate Search: Have the Portals Already Won?

search-homesThere was a lot of talk last week about search last week in New York at Inman Connect. From my discussions (both at the conference and recent offline conversations I’ve had over phone/email), the overwhelming majority of agents and brokers do not plan to try to compete in the search game with the portals (Zillow/Trulia/Realtor.com). And certainly not in the mobile search game.

Here is the search landscape we live in, as I see it…

1. A “decent” web search is the cost of doing business in 2014. If your search experience looks like the one Rob embedded in his post, go fix it.

Now.

Spend the money for Diverse Solutions, Real Geeks, Displet, or another IDX provider (see prior discussion about the best IDX providers) and bring your search into the 21st century.

2. There is room for Agents/Brokers in Web search. Sam is right; the volume that an agent or broker needs to generate is puny compared to the portals. The challenge I see, long term, is that eventually, web search will need to be connected to some sort of native mobile experience. That aspect will not be cheap, or easy, to build.

3. We live in a mobile world. You’re living under a rock if you don’t believe that mobile is a game changer. Every mobile adoption chart you see leads up and to the right, and it’s not slowing down. Consumer eyeballs are shifting, and if you want to reach them, you need to as well.

4. Building great mobile products is a lot harder than web. Had problems with website vendors & systems over the past 10 years? Expect the pains with building for a mobile world to be worse.

5. Building great consumer products is not a broker’s (or agent’s) core competency. Brokers and agents sell homes. Not build websites.

6. Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com (& Redfin) are dominating the market. And their lead is only growing.

7. Mobile Distribution is Insanely Hard. We’re already at “app overload”. And with every new app in the app store, consumer app fatigue grows.

All that said, does that mean the industry should just hand search on a silver platter to the portals?

No.

There is room to innovate both in lifestyle, personalization, and with hyper local market specificity.

I’m on record saying that bringing the agent into the search experience, in real time, is the next major innovation we’ll see in search. I’ve yet to see the right product, and the right product will certainly take some serious money and product vision to pull off. An agent or broker won’t build this. A franchise, or innovative tech vendor might. A portal most definitely can.

So, the ultimate question is, do you compete or do you cede search entirely over to the portals?

My answer is dependent on what role you play in the industry:

  • Agents: Cede search entirely, and use one of the IDX vendors listed here. Don’t worry about mobile.
  • Brokers: Cede mobile search, invest in a good web search, and plan for an integration of an Agentfolio-like mobile experience for your clients down the line.
  • Franchises: Nail the web search experience. Remember, less is more – just get the user to listings as quickly as physically possible, not go overboard with filters and options. Think long and hard about your unique differentiator in mobile. It’s not a game you should give up on entirely; you need to figure out how to get onto a buyers mobile phone to keep them in your network. But getting onto your clients’ phones may not be via search at all.

What’s your answer?

I understand I have a different view on this topic than a practicing agent or broker. I sincerely hope Sam writes a follow up to this piece from a broker’s perspective.

[Graphic via http://www.chicagocityhomes.com/]

About Drew Meyers

Founder of Geek Estate Blog / Geek Estate Labs. Zillow Alum. Travel addict & co-founder of Horizon. Social entrepreneurship & microfinance advocate. Fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kiva.

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  • Oh, boy. If only I could write it right now ;). Lots of great points, and then, when I have a chance, the others….

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  • yes.

  • Mobile is definitely key in reaching your target buyer (and seller) markets. You MUST go mobile (every industry niche, including and ESPECIALLY the real estate industry) to be relevant to your customers and marketplace.

    Some say go responsive, others say one for desktop and one for mobile/tablets. Either way, get mobile search enabled or lose traffic by not being cutting edge in search for real estate.

    Great article and professional recommendations on how search can be won by the smaller agency or the lone real estate agent. 🙂

    Ed

    • Well I’m not sure there is a “winning” strategy the lone real estate agent can afford..

      • Wanted to add one thing: I’ve spoken with an RE Agent down here near Portland, who has a lifestyle interest blog site going up and is partnering with a couple local sponsors, to “shoulder” the monthly social and SEO/search marketing investment. Shared traffic/shared costs/shared potential search success.

        That may be an option for the lone agent at capturing eyeballs, by creating their own “hyper-mini-portal” in their local area, by teaming up with 2-3 non-competing businesses and pooling their doll hairs for online marketing. 🙂

        • that’s the strategy I’d employ…goes back to team/community building. the most essential component of building a company, yet so few are good at it. For that strategy to work, you need to get buy-in from everyone around a shared common vision/goal..

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  • I realize I’m late to this discussion… but I think it needs to be pointed out, that the “search intent” of the mobile users is entirely different than desktop – and tablet (but not to the same degree). And, this isn’t exclusive to real estate. It’s well known that e-commerce mobile users are far more likely to make an “impulse” purchase with a good mobile platform than they would be on desktop – and by “impulse” I mean while they’re waiting for their oil to be changed, sitting in an airport, etc.

    For real estate, I do not agree with the “push” to mobile for individual agents. Is it a “nice thing to have” if you can afford it? Sure… But otherwise, I simply don’t think it’s necessary – again, I’m talking about the “average agent” or even a small team.

    For those of us who have enough traffic to study the metrics (and who **ALREAY HAVE** a mobile responsive site and/or apps – such as myself), it’s clear there are **huge** differences in what the mobile user is wanting to accomplish, vs. someone on desktop, or using their iPad while laying in bed.

    I won’t go into the reasons why… but after 2+ years of watching mobile traffic increase (and it’s plateaued), I’ve pretty much determined that for us, “chasing” buyers who are using a smart phone is not in our best interests. A very large percentage of them are on a particular path, or have a certain mindset, neither of which aligns with what we’re seeking.

    With this said, there are **no absolutes** (i.e. “Must” go mobile). Everyone should examine this issue carefully and decide for themselves before plunking down untold dollars to satisfy one segment of site users (which by the way, has several smaller segments within it).

    • Certainly, in the near term, there is room to get business without chasing the mobile crowd. But, that is going to shrink by the year and put you in a competitive disadvantage long term. IMHO, of course.

    • If you want to write a guest post with how you think about the mobile landscape, you’re welcome to. Did you read Sam’s follow up post?

      • No… I didn’t see his follow-up. I’ll check it out… LOL, a few more words, and I would have had enough content for a post already! 🙂 I might take you up on that offer…

      • Read his follow-up. Not surprising, that we agree. 🙂 Sometimes I think there are secret agents walking among us who try to to convince us to “let” the portals have their way – and for us, to get out of the way.

        I think the key is realizing that the portals and agent sites in fact serve different needs entirely. So, it’s not really a matter of competing so much as it is differentiating, and for some… perhaps “complimenting.” (*gasp*) But, I’m not to that stage yet… so let’s not push it. 🙂

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