3 Oceans Real Estate, A Boutique Real Estate Brokerage Serving the San Francisco Bay Area header image 4

Are Newspapers Dead?

May 17th, 2007 · 9 Comments

I wanted to have a compelling title for a little experiment I recently did with my listing at 206 Palmita Place in Downtown Mountain View. It’s a newer construction home and I thought the location and price would appeal to couples or small families. Based on that demographic, I assumed more people would be searching for homes online, so I built a custom website for the house, and posted links to it on a number of real estate websites in addition to the ones like mlslistings.com that link to data on the MLS.

I also followed conventional wisdom and ran ads in the Palo Alto Weekly and Mountain View Voice newspapers, and an entry in the Open Homes Section of the San Jose Mercury News.

I then did some informal polling at the various open houses, asking visitors where they found out about the open house, leaving it as an open ended question. I also tracked hits to the website and looked at who the referring domains were. I found the results interesting and surprising.

Where did they come from?

Over the course of 4 days of open houses (Thurs and Fri evenings, Sat and Sun afternoons) we had 135 groups of visitors through. Of these, only 2 said they came based on the ad in the MV Voice, 1 from the Palo Alto Weekly and 1 from the SJ Merc. Another 11 groups had seen the open house directional signs (I blanketed the neighborhood) or the For Sale sign in the yard as they were passing by. That’s 14 out of 135 groups, or about 11%. The other 89% of visitors either found the listing online or were referred by their agents.

Online sources

I also tracked where hits to the website came from. There were over 2200 hits to the website, and initially 70% of those came from Movoto which is an online real estate information / referral site. After the first two days, mlslistings.com caught up, and after the first week was the source of about 70% of the hits. The house went under contract after a week, so I stopped tracking then.

While I admit that I am biased, I have had a theory for a while that newspaper ads for listings, especially in Palo Alto and surrounding communities, are more for advertising the agent and getting him or her more clients than getting potential Buyers into your home.

The National Association of Realtors estimates that 74% of home buyers begin their search for a home online, and the estimate for Silicon Valley is 92%. I’m still running an ad for my new listing in Redwood City, but it is only 1/4 page and that is because the sellers believe that potential buyers read the paper. I am also flooding the internet with placements and links, and I’m trying an experiment by posting the home on Zillow as well. It’s another experiment, and I’m partially doing it to get under Kevin’s skin as Zillow is a hot-button for him.

I’m tracking the marketing response on the Redwood City house as well, and I’ll do a post on the results from that when it goes under contract. In the meantime, I welcome your comments and hope for a bit of banter on online vs. print marketing.

Thanks for reading.

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Tags: Real estate

Tackling the Single-Property Website Conundrum

April 11th, 2007 · 11 Comments

For my upcoming “most Internet-advertised” listing, I — naturally — want a website for the property. There are lots of opinions out there about the efficacy of single-property websites (see, for instance, what Mary McKnight, Greg Swann, and Joel Burslem have said).

Here’s my take: they provide

  1. Great property marketing — If done well, a website provides a convenient place to get out your marketing message. The property I reviewed yesterday, for instance, has its own web site — www.655-14thAvenue.com — which is very easy to remember.
  2. Terrible SEO — No matter how well done, a single property web site is not going to have good SEO since it’ll be competing with sites like Movoto and Trulia for searches like, “Menlo Park Fair Oaks real estate” and “Homes in Fair Oaks neighborhood” and “655 14th Ave Menlo Park.” Remember: Real estate professionals and experienced home buyers and sellers may well know where the local MLS site is, but many people go to the same place they always do to get information: Google or Yahoo.

As an example, consider the property I reviewed yesterday. A search on Google for 655 14th Ave Menlo Park lists

  1. Movoto.com
  2. ListingProducer.com (the company hosting www.655-14thAvenue.com, but clicking on the link gives you all recently created ListingProducer sites, and the property in question quickly gets buried)
  3. My write-up from yesterday

The actual web site itself is nowhere to be found!

So how do you combine the marketing cachet of a single-property web site with the SEO benefits of an established blog?

Matt Dunlap from Realivent recommended purchasing an appropriately-named domain, and then redirecting that domain to a subdomain under an existing well-established site, and that’s what I’ll be doing for this project.  PropertyAddress.com will be redirected to 3OceansRealestate.com/PropertyAddress.

I’m looking forward to building this site, using some of Matt’s expertise, widgets and plugins.

Stay tuned!

Update:  Matt gives more of his thoughts on his blog.

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Tags: Industry · Movoto · Online advertising · Real estate · Realivent · Trulia

Shackprices launches

December 13th, 2006 · 3 Comments

Last weekend, this Bay Area resident was shocked — shocked!!! — at how affordable homes are in the Seattle area. (This might be scant comfort to those who just moved to Seattle from, say, Boise.) To satisfy my curiosity about just how cheap real estate really is there, I (naturally) poked around a bit on Zillow for a sense of historical home values, but since Zillow’s inventory of actual listed homes is still pretty low, I needed to find an MLS-sourced site as well.

Fortuitously, Galen Ward (frequent Rain City contributor, entrepreneur, and guru on allshackprices.png things real estate-search related) emailed me yesterday to give me a heads-up about his brainchild Shackprices’ launch today. I thought I’d give it a test run; here’s what I found…

The site’s home page is sparse, as it should be. Having a zoomable, draggable, clickable Google-maps based search page is pretty much de rigeur these days, and Shackprices does not disappoint. That feature alone puts it way ahead of most broker and MLS sites, but does nothing to set it apart from, say, Movoto or Redfin.

Shackprices offers a nice intuitive way to refine your search: you can add criteria (like square footage, lot size, or property type) by selecting from a drop-down box, and removing criteria is also intuitive: just click the “x” next to it. Very nice, very Web 2.0.

Clicking on a home icon gives all the expected details — without requiring user registration, showing that Shackprices understands that in the Web 2.0 world, the only way you attract people is by showing that you trust them to come back without holding their email address hostage.

For each shack you examine, you can get suggestions, which show similar, nearby homes. You also get information on nearby recent solds, a clear indication that the NWMLS (of which Shackprices is a member) has finally woken up to the dangers that Zillow presents to those who would hide information as a way of maintaining control. Unfortunately, only a few comps are available per house, perhaps by design, more likely by NWMLS fiat.

Shackprices also provides the expected neighborhood information about nearby schools, parks, and shopping centers. A pleasant surprise was the link-up to Flickr (to show pictures of the area) and to 43places (whose site was unfortunately down). I’ve been dreaming for a while of a real estate/outside.in/neighboroo mashup, and Shackprices goes pretty far in providing that.

Overall, it’s a very pleasant, well-designed, intuitive, and informational site. The bigger question, as always, remains: What is their business model?

At least for now, Shackprices appears to be an agent referral site; though they’re a registered broker, they “do not employ any agents.” They make it clear that they’re not trying to replace agents either — a much-needed caveat in today’s world where agents find the bogeyman of disintermediation in almost anything online.

If they do decide to become a regular brokerage, I wonder whether they’ll have the cool factor (and discount model) to compete with Redfin, or the reach and reputation necessary to succeed as a more traditional broker. Another possibility would be to enter the admittedly crowded agent search web site provider, a la Realbird.
Here is my challenge to Galen and his crew: how about a Zillow mashup that has all solds and all listed properties on the same map? That would definitely take the real estate search wars to the next level!

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Tags: Flickr · Movoto · Neighboroo · Real estate · Realbird · Redfin · Shackprices · Zillow · outside.in

Slick real estate search on the cheap

September 16th, 2006 · No Comments

So I run a real estate blog. It’s gotta have some real estate search capabilities, doesn’t it?

The problem is, most off-the-shelf search solutions are, to put it generously, uncompelling. Build my own? I don’t have the funding, the inclination, or the web programming savvy to put together the next Redfin or Movoto.

Enter Google and its brilliant “let a thousand flowers bloom” mapping strategy. By continuously upgrading its mapping API and encouraging widespread experimentation, you can now build a mapping-based search site much more easily than before.
I just signed up for RealBird’s Google-maps-based one month trial search service, and with just a few minutes of drag ‘n drop coding, I now have a pretty good search offering on my own blog! It’s at least 50% as good as Redfin’s — and it’s only going to cost me $13.25 a month! Plus, given the constant new functionality in Google’s mapping API’s, RealBird’s offering could be 75% as good as Redfin’s within a month and close-enough-to-make-no-difference within 3 months.

RealBird — $13.25 per month –>
Redfin: A whole lotta VC dough!

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Tags: Google · Movoto · Real estate · Realbird · Redfin