“Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!”
~ Captain Ahab of the whaling ship Perquod
Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick chronicles the monomaniacal quest of Captain Ahab to chase a legendary white whale.
In many ways, that story parallels the real estate broker’s quest for a similarly mythic creature: the online seller lead.
We have spent much of 2015 working with our clients on ways to reach these people. There were inevitable peaks and troughs along the way, but many interesting findings as a result.
Here are a few different strategies we explored:
1. Engage the seller audience
Typically, the broker’s offering to sellers online has been somewhat of an afterthought, buried somewhere under a “List with us” heading or call to action. It can easily become a place to dump copy and stock photos of keys being exchanged or a yard sign planted outside a home, void of any real value to someone thinking about selling their home.
More recently, however, we have seen some brokers begin to approach the seller experience with a little more care and thought. They’ve enhanced their offerings with things like video, 3D tours, valuation tools, and buyer data, and have done a better job articulating and packaging the entire experience. Or, as in the case with LA luxury brokerage Partners Trust, they’ve decided to fully focus on the seller value proposition, front and center on their homepage.
2. Go big with data
The second way to reach sellers is to leverage sold data and create an experience for sellers to better understand the market in which they are about to list their home.
The good news is that this data will be easier for brokers of all sizes to access thanks to recent changes to IDX policy that require MLSs to provide a minimum of 3 years of sold data through IDX.
There are plenty of good tech options for small brokers to implement IDX-based search experiences on their sites (check out the 1000watt Index for many of them), but I haven’t seen many that focus on creative ways to display this sold data yet.
Hopefully, that’s coming.
3. Answer their biggest question
Answering the ‘What’s my home worth?” question is a surefire way to build affinity with sellers online. In fact, one big media company we all know built its entire reputation upon this hook.
We’re now seeing more brokers dip their toes into this pool, too. Rand Realty just launched a really nice take on the AVM. And so did Redfin.
Redfin says its home valuation tool, Redfin Estimate, has the lowest error rate in the industry. At this point, that’s a squishy claim, but it’s one that I don’t doubt. The Redfin folks take their data science pretty seriously.
In my own unscientific tests on my house, the Redfin Estimate seemed reasonably accurate.
Other companies, including RPR and CoreLogic provide AVM sources that brokers can implement. And with Rand and Redfin on the cutting edge, I sense that the resistance to this idea is breaking down – particularly when it includes a strong call to action to get more information from a Realtor.
To be sure, there are other ways of reaching sellers.
Seattle-based broker Surefield just launched a kind of do-it-yourself CMA tool they are calling Pricepoint. It is a functionally rich tool and seems hyper-accurate. But to be honest, it’s a little overwhelming even for me. I think you have to be analytically minded to grok it.
On a different track, online marketing platform Curaytor is experimenting with a good deal of success, with “fishing upstream” of the regular search channels and reaching sellers through targeted social media advertising.
And Opendoor is flat-out offering to buy any home for cash and guaranteeing sellers near instant liquidity in their biggest asset.
These are all viable tactics for reaching sellers and I think through 2016 we’ll continue to see more and more emphasis placed by brokers on chasing this particular whale.
And, just like Ahab, I don’t think they will be swerved.
[Full Disclosure: Fox & Roach, Howard Hanna, Partners Trust and Rand Realty are all 1000watt clients.]