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Op/Ed

Are traffic metrics for the big three real estate search sites BS?

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For years, I’ve looked very closely at the traffic data for Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com, and it seems the race to the top is built on some very faulty assumptions because it doesn’t compare apples to apples. Yesterday, we broke the story that Realtor.com is severing ties with all search portals, even MSN Real Estate, stating that real buyers search through their site and mobile apps, not through third party portals. A lot of money goes into buying traffic, but if the traffic numbers game doesn’t work, companies must transition.

A few years back, ActiveRain had to clean their subscription house down to actual users versus ghosts in order to establish a real value. Despite going IPO, Zillow and Trulia avoided this very step, but why?

Let’s talk about the metrics that matter

There are several factors Zillow and Trulia have most in common in the reporting of traffic with Realtor.com, it’s a blanket total traffic number, but how those metrics break down is not made public, and therein lies the rub.

The data provided by third parties like comScore show desktop search versus mobile, but what percentage of those users are actual customers (buyers/sellers)? Further, in the reporting of subscriber accounts, what percentage are ghosts?

Realtor.com’s move makes a lot of sense because the aim is to go directly after actual buyers and sellers, which is likely smaller than the total number of views/users of any of the three. Also, it will give their customers (Realtors looking to make a spend) a better idea of actual users and behavior.

In the traffic metrics, I also wonder what percentage are actual Realtors or Professionals, versus actual real estate buyers and sellers.

Even more, I wonder what percentage of real estate listings on Zillow and Trulia are actual ghosts. Have you personally ever searched Zillow for rentals? The real listings versus scams nears that of Craigslist. Not to mention, dubious real estate professionals post listings that are pretty pictures, but the house is not available or worse, never was available.

Why would Trulia move ActiveRain into their domain, if the intent wasn’t to score another metric for traffic (not to mention the SEO benefits of the move (but that’s another story))?

I also wonder how many users of mobile apps are consumers versus agents in the field who use real time geolocation to continue to show properties while on the go.

Urging the big three to offer meaningful stats

Here is what I’m getting at. None of us really knows the total numbers within the traffic – real subscribers, and real listings on site are the determining factor of the quality of the lead opportunities provided to professionals.

These are the new metrics we’ll be asking about. Traffic is irrelevant except that it does increase odds in the numbers game of getting a real buyer, or a consumer uploading a listing.

My suspicion of why Zillow has moved to the top in traffic metrics is because Realtors are out to sell, not lease. Renters aren’t looking for Realtors, they’re looking for a house. Zillow takes renters very seriously, knowing full well the nation is in an inventory crunch. Obviously, Zillow or Trulia focusing resources on rentals gives a giant advantage to their total metrics score, but again, we don’t know, because the real estate world has us so focused on one big number to please investors and sound competitive.

How to compare apples to apples, not apples to BS

By now, most Realtors have invested in their own website, and understand that their internal metrics never match that of a third party company’s like comScore that takes data and extrapolates it. Further, they know there are many more metrics available aside from total traffic numbers.

That said, in order to compare apples to apples to help Realtors and brokers determine where they should invest their marketing dollars, the big three should report the following:

  1. One traffic metric that strips out all visitors to rental properties, FSBO properties, forums, or anything that is not directly a real estate listing for sale.
  2. Then, that metric should include two numbers: traffic from Realtors vs. traffic from real estate consumers.
  3. We’d also like to see mobile users broken down into consumers vs. agents.
  4. Eventually, the portals will need to report the number of user accounts that are inactive, just as social networks can, rather than reporting the whole number.
  5. Also useful is reporting the number of ghost listings versus legitimate listings (especially for Zillow’s rental section), or dumping them altogether, which they’ll say they do and have, but we know better from experience.

What the industry is desperate for is specificity and we’re not getting it. Personally, I believe that stripping out FSBOs, rentals, and real estate professional users, Realtor.com is still in the lead with consumer traffic looking to buy or sell a home (if you truly compared apples to apples). If Realtor.com spent as much time focused on renters as their competitors and more, Realtor.com would swallow them whole. Renters are future buyers after all, and this market is temporary.

The bottom line is that it’s time to change the paradigm on what we consider metrics, which should be similar to how professionals break down their own internal traffic data on their own sites. This way, real estate professionals and brokers know where their dollar is best spent.

Why does this matter? It’s your money.

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The Real Daily's Founder and CEO, Benn Rosales has dedicated the past two decades to consumerism in and out of the real estate space. His passion is adding value to professionals' lives and sincerely hopes that you enjoy The Real Daily - just one more example of the evolution of empowered real estate practitioners and consumers.

Op/Ed

The texting sin to never commit with your clients, period

(EDITORIAL) Clear communication with clients is important (and that’s an understatement). This study found one error that separated the sincere text from the insincere.

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I have enough issues making myself understood when I speak with someone face-to-face. Now I need to pay attention to how I text so as not to be misconstrued.

According to the latest findings from Celia Klin, associate professor of psychology and associate dean at Binghamton University’s Harpur College, the mere use of a period (.) can make a person seem less sincere compared to say, using an exclamation point (!), which, by the way, ranks higher on the sincerity meter.

The study, led by Celia Klin of Binghamton University, and published in Computers in Human Behavior, suggests ending your text messages with a period makes them seem less sincere to the receiver.

Participants in the study read short exchanges with responses that either did or did not contain messages that ended with a period.

When the messages were in text message form, as opposed to handwritten notes, the messages that ended with a period were generally rated as being less sincere than messages that didn’t end in a period.

Klin points out that “Texting is lacking many of the social cues used in actual face-to-face conversations. When speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses, and so on.”

Instead, adds Professor Klin, people who text rely on what they have available to them: “…emoticons, deliberate misspellings that mimic speech sounds and punctuation.”

I’m not sure what the alternative to texting is. Lifehacker.com recently published its findings of what it feels are the five best alternative texting apps. But at the end of the day (or end of the sentence in this case) you are still texting and thus still setting yourself up for the dreaded improper use of a period (.)

That said, Lifehacker’s survey revealed that WhatsApp leads the pack. WhatsApp is a cross-platform messaging system that supports Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Blackberry devices. WhatsApp is popular because the service is backed by hundreds of millions of active users, and allows you to send text, photo, and voice/video messages to individuals and groups for free using mobile data or Wi-Fi. And there’s not a Period (.) in sight. You can see the rest of the top five contenders by clicking here.

In terms of expressing myself, the use of emoticons works perfectly for me. Trouble is, within a professional context the cartoon-like emoticon looks out of place. That’s OK. It’s the next best thing to speaking in person (which I’d rather do anyway) and it sure beats worrying about period (.) misuse.

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Op/Ed

Why an “Enough List” is the answer to your never ending to-do list

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It’s 12:17 a.m. I’m laying in the dark basking in the glow of my laptop, next to my sleeping sons, as I go back and forth between the clock and my to-do list, then back to the clock, then over to my children’s faces.

At this moment I imagine I feel similar to many other entrepreneurs, small business owners, and work from home parents. The day is done, it’s after midnight, but you’ve barely made a dent on all the things that need to get done.

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In the morning, you have it all

In the morning the day seems wide open, the world your oyster, and the list of obligations not quite intimidating, yet. It all seems manageable, in the morning. But all it takes is a hiccup to consume a couple of unexpected hours of your morning to throw off your entire day. A technology failure, an unhappy customer, an unexpected task, all of these can wreck a well-made plan. And even without these mishaps, regular distraction, email, a headache, or simply, writer’s block can disrupt one’s business processes as a whole.

Maybe a few more hours…

So, what’s the solution? I’m already working 100 hours a week, maybe another 10 or 15 will make it all fall into place? No, instead it’s the opposite. Know when to turn it off . Enough is…quite literally…enough.

When I read Melissa Camara Wilkins’ article about having an “enough list,” I dropped my laptop, slow clapped for about five minutes, then found a lighter and swayed back and forth until I realized I had a deadline I needed to meet. Wilkins talks about how she makes a short list – of three things exactly – that will be the focus of her day.

They are not specific tasks, she states, but may be as general as “make that phone call I’ve been avoiding” or “write an article” or “send that email”, but she only makes three, simple, goals a day.

Yeah, sure, that’s realistic

Wow. What a fantastic idea. I began to plan my day around this philosophy and then I woke up. Because, let’s be honest, I’ve got some serious stuff to get done. This idea sounds great on the surface but come on.

Who can seriously only focus on the examples provided in the article? Especially for someone running a small business or acting in a leadership position, the number of phone calls or emails that need follow ups, issues that need resolution, meetings that need your attention, and articles that need to be written are ongoing.

Know when to turn it off

That being said, the takeaway from the article is good – know when to turn it off. Since for me (like many of you) my to-do list never gets completed, instead it gets whittled down to “nearly manageable” but often escalates to “all hell breaking loose,” I was looking for a solution to keep my days as stress free as possible.

So I used Wilkins’ idea as inpiration and I started my “enough list”.

Milestones over tasks

I realized there was no getting away from my to-do list because, honestly, I need it to stay sane and know what expectations and deadlines are the most pressing. But now I also have an “enough list” that allows me to turn it off for the day.

This list designates when it’s ok for me to shut the lid of my laptop and put away my phone. Different from Wilkins, though, instead of putting tasks on my enough list, I put milestones.

I make goals for each day. My to-do list may be a mile long but for Thursday, I’m going to be satisfied with attending my two morning meetings, writing three articles, and responding to four key emails that I put off the day before. And at 6:30 I’ll turn off my laptop, put away my phone, have dinner with my family, talk to my children when they are in the tub, enjoy an episode of Breaking Bad with my husband after the kids go to sleep…and if I feel like it, because who am I kidding, check my email after that.

An enough list isn’t about putting a cap on your day; it’s more about prioritizing your time to make sure your to-do list doesn’t eat you alive. At least not today.

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Op/Ed

Culling the lazy, bloodsucker real estate agents

Liar. Cheater. Loser. Choker. Incendiary rhetoric seems to be in vogue this year. If we’re going to talk about improving the reputation of real estate agents, let’s stay away from oversimplifications. The answer is more complex than volume or business model.

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Liar. Cheater. Loser. Choker. Incendiary rhetoric seems to be in vogue this year.

“The consultants are like bloodsuckers. They’re ten times worse than a real estate salesman or broker, ten times, which is saying pretty bad stuff.” This was the biting yet confusing commentary from Donald Trump, a real estate salesman himself, at a recent political rally.

Inside the industry

The shots at real estate agents are coming from within the industry as well. Keller Williams’ Chairman Gary Keller recently said that agents who buy leads from Zillow “are lazy and don’t want to do the work.” Surely many of his top agents and teams who effectively use the leads would disagree.

Zillow’s CEO Spencer Rascoff recently told CNBC that the company no longer wanted to work with agents who weren’t “great” (they don’t spend a lot of money on advertising). So they’ll be “culling” those agents who aren’t up to snuff. While a practical business move, avoiding a term associated with slaughtering inferior or surplus animals might be item #1 for the PR team’s next executive media coaching session.

Real estate classism

Before we get self-righteous about these leaders’ word choices, though, it’s worth noting that this kind of language pervades much of the industry’s conversations on the quality of real estate agents.

There’s no shortage of snobbery and classist speech among agents and brokers.

Just ask a high volume agent how we should raise the bar of professionalism in the industry:
“Raise Realtor dues by 1000% and we’ll lose 90% of the deadbeats who bring us down.”

Talk to boutique brokers about their counterparts:
“That head shop will hire anyone who can fog a mirror. Their agents are bottom feeders who don’t sell anything and make us all look bad.”

You hear it from speakers at industry conferences:
“Let’s use the 80/20 rule. We need to get rid of the 80% of crappy agents who are making us look bad, so that the good agents who do 80% of the volume are the only ones left.”

There are some really important conversations to be had about the quality of real estate agents in our industry. We want clear answers as to how we fix them problem. We want the answers to be simple.

Unfortunately, big answers are often necessarily complex. When we group real estate agents into simplistic silos to try to fix our issues, we do a disservice to ourselves.

Volume does not equal quality

We can all agree that there are real estate licensees without the experience, ethics, education, or conscience necessary to serve their clients well. There are bad apples in our midst. They’re a poison on our reputation and should not be allowed to sell real estate.

Let’s not overreach with our reaction, though. This rhetorical journey usually ends with lower producing agents or those with non-traditional business models being given the scarlet letter and pronounced as a scourge on the industry.

Volume does not equal professionalism or quality. We’ve seen sweatshop practitioners become real estate celebrities, only to later lose their businesses and licenses when their practices came under scrutiny.

On the other hand, some of the lowest-volume agents often have the most experience to with which to guide their clients. Agents who are nearing retirement will often shrink their active client base significantly. The buyers and sellers who work with them are afforded all of the benefits of an agent with decades of experience and insight, as well as a greater share of that agent’s attention.

The client who works with an agent who has only one client at the moment may be the client who is receiving the most comprehensive personal service possible.

Then there are those “lazy” agents who buy leads, or pay fees/splits to others who prospect for them.  Since when was specialization of skill and division of labor a sign of laziness?

Selling vs. lead generation

Admittedly, this comes from my position of personal bias. We’ve brought agents on to our team who were low volume producers before they joined. Most had experience, but didn’t want to prospect anymore. They just wanted to work with clients and sell.

Meet “Jane”. She sold for 30 years before joining us. She is one of the smartest, most dependable, respectful, and effective agents we’ve worked with.

By many counts, she should have been tossed from the industry the year before because she only sold two homes. She sold 15 homes last year, a healthy business in a market like Seattle. It still probably wasn’t enough for the sales police to label her volume sufficient. She’s “lazy” because she’s relying on others to generate leads and focusing on her core skills of selling. She might just be “culled” with the other low-rung agents who provide outstanding service and consistently receive raving reviews from their clients.

It’s more complex than that

To be fair, we’re in an industry that has an unhealthy obsession with sales numbers. I’ve stopped counting the number of times someone asked me, “What kind of volume do you do?” within the first two minutes of a conversation (It almost sounds like “How much do you bench, bro?”). So it’s not surprising that an agent’s volume is often the first metric many look to for a frame of reference. Volume makes a big difference in finding out whether or not an agent is good for your team, your office, and your business model.

Let’s just not let it creep so far into the conversation about who deserves to belong within the greater industry. There are a lot of different business models, and different roles that fit within them. Not everyone needs to be a solo, door-knocking, cold-calling top producer to provide great service to clients.

“Jane” isn’t. Her clients will scoff if you tell them that her volume and prospecting system make her a bad agent. If we’re going to talk about improving the reputation of real estate agents, let’s stay away from oversimplifications.

The answer is more complex than volume or business model.

It’s about education, experience, dedication, and professionalism. Those are difficult things to measure, but improving an industry isn’t supposed to be easy.

Let’s skip the simple labels. They’re part of the problem.

This editorial originally published on March 7, 2016.

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