The real estate market is dominated by 3 brokers in the Pacific Northwest, Windermere, John L. Scott and Coldwell Banker Bain, followed by ReMax, Prudential and Century 21. The Puget Sound Business Journal has ranked the residential real estate firms by volume and had some interesting statistics. For instance, in 2005, it showed that Excel Properties with 37 agents, had $702M in sales. But Real Property Associates, with 32 agents, had only $168M in sales. Which begs the question, what made Excel’s agents more than twice as productive as RPA’s agents? Both companies are located in metropolitan Seattle and both, presumably, market the same homes in the same neighborhoods. (As a side note, Gordon Stephenson, owner of RPA, is also on the Board of Directors of Zillow.) And then there’s Ewing and Clark. They have 58 agents, and their sales for 2005 was $400M, also more than twice RPA’s sales. Lake and Co. also had about $400M in sales, but they had to employ 91 agents to do that. Another company with almost that many agents, Fireside Homes, had only $175M in sales.
Again, why this differential in sales?
Real Property Associates just redesigned their website to add MS Virtual Earth and Zillow map searches, so maybe that will help their sales performance (though, for some reason, their pages won’t fit within my browser and I have to scroll back-and-forth, to view.) Excel Properties has bought a John L. Scott franchise, but rather than using the fancy Scott site, they’re using a Realty Generator site.
John L. Scott added MS Virtual Earth to their site and Coldwell Banker Bain followed a day or two later. A few weeks after that, Windermere went live with it’s Property Point mapping function. Then, last week, John L. Scott added home sales values, with CBBain right behind them. Now, we read that John L. Scott is advertising on Microsoft’s Virtual Earth 3D maps. John L. Scott and discount broker ZipRealty are part of a beta group of advertisers who have launched virtual billboards inside Virtual Earth 3D maps. The 3D billboards are clickable hyperlinks, and John L. Scott appears to have bought the base of the Space Needle.
So, what’s next in search functions for our local real estate firms? What will work to attract eyeballs and what’s just a gimmick? Interestingly enough, the local real estate firm with the largest number of sales per agent, Williams Marketing, doesn’t even have a search function on it’s website. Williams Marketing specializes in condominiums and does mostly site-sales, but it’s still interesting that they don’t even bother trying to capture any buyers looking for condos.
Nationally, none of the top real estate search sites have interactive maps, not even www.Realtor.com. Neither does top San Francisco/Silicon Valley real estate purveyor Alain Pinel, nor does Real Living, GMAC, or the Corcoran Group.
Locally, the top real estate search site is Windermere which offers a map for viewing homes for sale via their PropertyPoint software. John L. Scott and Coldwell Banker Bain, who both use Real Tech, use Microsoft Virtual Earth. (BTW, both Scott and Bain are offering new “Home Valuations”. Except, they both call them “Comparable Sold Property Information Searches”, so it’s not mistaken for a Zestimate.)
So does having an interactive map on your site generate sales? Since the technology is still new, I think we’ll have to wait until year end sales close and assess the results at that time. Some of the more successful local brokerages such as Lake and Company, Gerrard Beattie and Knapp, and Executive Real Estate have not adopted this new technology. (Quorum which had $35M in sales, doesn’t even have a rudimentary search on its site and All American Realty, with $41M in sales, won’t even let you look at listings unless you give them your name and contact information) Time will tell whether or not this impacts their sales in the months and years to come. Newer, so-called “disruptive” sites, such as Redfin and Zip Realty didn’t even make the Puget Sound Business Journal’s list of firms ranked by sales volume for last year, but I’m guessing there will be some movement for 2006, and we may see a few other companies who have upped their PPC on Google and Yahoo such as The MLS Online, RealEstate.com, FirstExclusive, and JustListed.com — all which appear to have pretty deep PPC advertising pockets, make some in-roads onto the list. Redfin says it is paying $1000.00 a week to Google alone. Joel Burslem at Future of Real Estate Marketing has a story Searching Real Estate PPC Advertising with an estimate of what the larger online real estate sites are paying too. Interestingly enough, none of the traditional real estate players rank very highly in any organic search results, nor do they buy any sponsored links. We’ll be watching the end-of-the-year wrap-up for the results to see if all this PPC spending is paying off in sales for these “virtual” and “disruptive” real estate companies, and see how much market share of the sales they can take away from the traditional firms