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Fast Forward: Keeping Ahead of the Technology Curve

Dec 30, 2016 by

Technology is shaping the future of real estate, and in today’s dynamic landscape, fully leveraging technology is critical to success—for brands, brokers and agents.

Sir Arthur C. Clark, acclaimed science fiction writer and co-author of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” noted that any sufficiently advanced technology is equivalent to magic. Today, truly successful real estate professionals are leveraging technology tools to create magical experiences that amaze and delight their clients in a completely transparent way.

Zap—a network of brand, broker and agent websites with an integrated CRM being rolled out for all of Realogy’s brands—is just the starting point at ERA Real Estate. The brand, known for being the first to see the business applications of the fax machine back in the early 1970s, has continued to innovate with a forward-thinking approach. This approach is apparent in how ERA Real Estate has deployed Zap across its network.

As the first real estate brand to connect all of its affiliated brokers and agents on the same platform, we created a unique, competitive position for our brand,” says Chris Trick, chief marketing officer at ERA Real Estate.

In order to drive traffic to the new platform and maximize results for the entire ERA® system, the brand launched an aggressive digital media campaign, complemented by an innovative co-operative lead generation program called “Light It Up,” which matched broker commitments dollar for dollar.

“As a result, ERA.com site traffic has increased 70 percent year-over-year, in addition to a surge of organic traffic of more than 100 percent,” notes Trick. “More importantly, we’re starting to see positive shifts in lead source as we recapture a higher share of leads coming from ERA.com.”

Driving traffic to the site is just part of the strategy. Getting ERA-affiliated professionals to use the site is just as important. To that end, the ERA learning team created multiple touch points for gaining mastery of the Zap CRM platform. From live, in-market instructional workshops to virtual refresher courses, ERA taps into its own corporate team, as well as Zap specialists who have gone through a “train the trainer” course to become the go-to expert for their company.

Regional learning events devoted entirely to Zap bring together upwards of hundreds of ERA brokers and agents to learn, collaborate and share best practices.

The multi-faceted approach to increasing Zap engagement has produced results: those ERA-affiliated professionals who are most engaged in Zap are seeing high average increases in productivity—demonstrating a direct correlation between engagement and productivity.

“On average, companies that implemented Zap in 2015 are seeing a greater increase in year-to-date GCI growth,” says Trick. “This underscores the importance of focusing on adoption and engagement.”

To foster usage across the network and close out 2016 in a strong position, ERA amplified the brand’s incredible momentum with an enticing incentive called “Zap to the Future.” During the month of November, ERA companies that had 50 percent of their affiliated agents log into the Zap platform were entered into a drawing for a three-month SEM campaign. Additionally, each day in November, an ERA-affiliated sales associate who logged into the platform was randomly selected to win a prize. Engagement begins by logging into the platform, because as Trick points out, “You have to be in it to win it!”

Also in November, the brand premiered Zap/TV, a live, 90-minute interactive television event providing participants the opportunity to ask questions, learn best practices and experience a day in the life of a successful real estate sales associate using Zap. The show is hosted by Wayne Weaver, a former top-producing sales associate with ERA Team VP Real Estate in Chautauqua, N.Y., who has traveled across the country in his new role as a Zap instructor, hosting live learning sessions at ERA companies.

Just as the real estate industry evolves, so does the Zap technology. In fact, there’s a saying at ERA Real Estate: Zap is not a product, it’s a process. And in keeping with the idea that Zap is a process, the ERA network is encouraged to keep up to date with the enhancements and developments that continue to provide an unparalleled competitive advantage for Zap users. In just 12 months, more than 90 new product features and enhancements have been pushed out, and many more are in the pipeline.

“Improvements happen every step of the way,” says Trick. “Over the past few months, Zap has introduced several major new features, including the Zap mobile CRM app, the new consumer app and improved property search functionality that includes neighborhood sub-divisions and school boundaries. And coming soon, we’ll introduce improvements to website configurations for affiliated sales associates to allow them to further customize their sites.”

With technology and innovation as cornerstones of the brand’s value proposition, ERA Real Estate is ready to “fast forward” to the future, providing its affiliated brokers and sales associates with a competitive advantage for years to come thanks to the brand’s out-of-the-box approach to maximizing the power of the platform.

For more information, please visit www.ERA.com.

Nick Caruso is RISMedia’s senior editor. Email him your real estate news ideas at nick@rismedia.com.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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Are You Fast Enough? Homes.com Solves the Need for Speed

Nov 1, 2016 by

Remember the days when you had to wait for someone to return your call? And if you weren’t by your landline (simply known as “the phone” back then) when that person called back, forget about it—an endless game of phone tag would ensue before a connection was made and you could finally get what you needed.

In an incredibly short amount of time, however, technology has drastically changed how people request and receive products, services and information, and consumer expectations have evolved to reflect immediacy and urgency as key components of service and trust. Young, old, and all ages in between, we’ve become a culture that expects our communication and interactions to be in real-time—or close to—convenient, and now!

“Consumers want instant gratification at the moment of intent,” explains Stephanie Sullivan, CEO of technology provider CurbCall. “We have been spoiled and taught through technology to get what we want when we want it. You want a ride, you Uber; you want answers, you Google. Even Amazon is now offering (almost) instant delivery.”

Having grown accustomed to this instant-gratification way of life, when we can’t get what we want in a convenient “near-instant” fashion—whether it be a pair of shoes, a hotel room, a phone representative, or an insurance quote—we’re quick to discount the source and move on to another so we can get what we want faster. Real estate is no exception.

The Real Estate Response-Time Dilemma
Real estate professionals have seen these consumer trends, and are increasingly aware of the impact of response time, good or bad. Losing a sale to a competitor because of response time directly affects the bottom line. In a busy client-centric world, it’s a tough—and all too common—challenge for many independent (especially small office) professionals to juggle in-person interaction, prospecting, listing acquisition, and their lead pipeline. There just isn’t time.

david-mele_85x85“Time is perhaps the most precious commodity we have,” says Homes.com President David Mele. “We’re looking at a real estate market where inventory is tight, so responsiveness can be an edge for agents, and a definite win to engage consumers.”

There is plenty of research to back up Mele’s theory. According to an insidesales.com Lead Response Study, leads contacted within the first five minutes are 100 times more likely to close. What’s more, research from the California Association of REALTORS® (C.A.R.) shows that a majority of homebuyers view “responsiveness” as the most important quality in selecting an agent—beating out worthy characteristics like “trustworthiness” and “knowledgeability.”

Factor “always-connected” millennials into the equation and the importance of responsiveness goes up a few notches. In a 2014 C.A.R. survey of millennials, the majority (69 percent) cited “better communication with agent” as the No. 1 thing they would change about their home-buying experience.

The data is irrefutable, yet the nature of the real estate professional’s job works against the ability to provide an immediate response. High-performance agents spend their days running around town on listing appointments, showing homes and attending community events, not sitting by their phones waiting for inquiries the moment they come in. Voicemail is one solution, but most buyers will call the next agent on their list rather than wait for a return call. This raises the question: how can agents improve lead response time when their success is largely dependent upon serving existing clients and prospects?

The struggle is real. “Agents are really, really busy, while consumers are expecting quick responses during their digital home search activities,” agrees Mele. “WAV Group did a study that revealed almost half of inquiries were never responded to, and another report from PCMS and One Cavo said that 75 percent of leads were lost because of lack of response, or the length of time to respond. There’s obviously a huge opportunity for the agent who can offer responsiveness and speed—they stand a much better chance of winning the initial relationship.”

The industry agrees. “In an age where instant results are expected, responding to clients immediately is not only crucial, but mandatory,” explains Sellstate Realty CEO Arthur Darmanin. “Anything short of an immediate response runs the risk of harming your business. Sellstate understands this need and ensures our members are provided with the tools necessary to notify them of an inquiry as it is submitted, allowing them the opportunity to respond instantly, providing a higher and more convenient level of service to their clients and prospects.”

Confirming these evolving consumer expectations, industry veteran Gary Keller, co-founder of Keller Williams, recognized instant response as one of six technology trends that will reshape the real estate industry. During his opening speech at Mega Camp 2016, Keller noted, “The industry is beginning to leverage technology to improve a long-time weakness: response time.”

The Instant Response Solution
The stats confirm it, and consumers demand it, so it’s no surprise that real estate professionals need it: an actionable strategy to improve the response time on initial leads. To help agents and brokers achieve this goal, Homes.com recently launched its Instant Response Technology (IRT) toolset.

erin-ruane-2013-headshot“We started with two questions,” says Homes.com Vice President of Sales Erin Ruane. “‘How can we help agents and brokers meet consumer expectations of immediate contact?’ and ‘How can we help those agents and brokers save time?’ Our new Instant Response Technology answers both of these key questions to help drive our partners’ success.”

The new IRT toolset—comprised of Lead Concierge and TalkNow—is focused on helping real estate professionals respond faster and close more leads.

Lead Concierge—Your On-Demand Call Center
Lead Concierge is designed to empower brokers and agents to work smarter, not harder, by providing a call center service that represents them, acting as a first response to consumer inquiries; in the event the agent or broker cannot be reached for a qualified lead transfer, Lead Concierge offers immediate communication until agent or broker follow-up is possible.

Incoming calls and email inquiries are answered by a well-trained Lead Concierge Assistant on behalf of the agent or broker, with Lead Concierge adding an important step by screening calls with a series of qualifying questions, such as:

  • Are you currently working with an agent?
  • What is the time period for your home purchase?
  • Has a budget been determined?
  • Have you been pre-qualified for a mortgage?

Leads are considered “disqualified” if a caller is already working with another agent, is looking to rent rather than buy, or is inquiring about a property below a certain price threshold. Qualifying leads are transferred to the agent or broker, while other leads are sent to the agent’s dashboard for follow-up at their convenience.

“In essence, we’re providing a personal assistant to real estate brokers and agents to help them work efficiently,” says Mele. “They can’t be everywhere at the same time. If they’re actively engaged with a client, they can’t stop and answer the phone or send a text. Lead Concierge will perform that service for them while helping qualify and prioritize leads.”

TalkNow—Making Real-Time Introductions

mobile-post-submission-iframe-3-1Homes.com takes IRT even further with the launch of Homes.com TalkNow, an app that instantly connects consumers searching for properties online with a real estate professional. When a homebuyer is interested in a property on Homes.com, he or she can simply click the TalkNow button to alert local agents that a request to connect has been made. Instead of sending a form and waiting to be contacted, the inquiry is instantly sent to TalkNow, which matches the consumer with an available agent in the coverage area for that listing. The agent can then choose whether or not to accept it. If they accept the request to connect, TalkNow provides the agent with links to text or call the prospect immediately.

mobile-iframe-form-4-1

“TalkNow is like Uber for a real estate agent,” explains Mele. “Participating agents let us know when they’re available to take inquiries—they can turn themselves on and say, ‘I’m available now,’ and TalkNow will connect them with consumers who are wanting help on specific properties right then and there. These are about the hottest leads you can get.”

iphone-6-2-request-pop-upAccording to Sullivan of CurbCall, this type of technology is critical to a real estate professional’s livelihood. “If an agent does not respond instantly to a consumer’s request to connect, the lead is gone, or the consumer is off doing something else,” says Sullivan. “The instant connection to agents is what consumers have come to expect. It is imperative that agents connect instantly to real estate leads at the moment of intent, or they’re lost, losing the brokerage firm the money it has invested in generating leads and the potential commissions.”

Ruane explains that Homes.com’s Instant Response Technology is geared toward meeting the demands of an evolving consumer. “The mindset, especially among millennials, is that the word ‘faster’ equals ‘better’—and, in their minds, ‘faster’ equates to ‘instant’,” she says. “We introduced the IRT toolkit to help agents connect better, faster and instantly. Research proves that the first real estate agent to respond to an inquiry often wins the consumer; we’ve introduced technology that helps them make those instant connections and, as a result, leverage new opportunities to win more business.”

And real estate professionals get that. “There has been a lot of talk within the industry about how important instant response is to the bottom line,” says Ruane. “That buzz has paved the way nicely for us; it makes adoption and understanding easier.”

A Competitive Must-Have
With responsiveness standing out as a leading differentiator for consumers, real estate professionals must find a way to improve response time…or risk getting left behind.

Mele believes that Homes.com’s Instant Response Technology offers real estate professionals equal footing. Unlike other portals, Homes.com requires no minimum spend to take advantage of Lead Concierge and TalkNow.

“What we really want to do is level the playing field for the agent,” says Mele. “Responsiveness is a differentiator, and size of spend should not factor into the equation.”

This philosophy goes hand-in-hand with Homes.com’s longstanding positioning of quality over quantity. Not only do Lead Concierge and TalkNow help brokers and agents respond more rapidly to leads, they ensure they’re responding to the right leads.

“Other portals are chasing bigger and bigger—we aren’t doing that,” says Mele. “We’re chasing better and better. It’s not about how many unique visitors and pageviews we have, but having the right visitors and engaged pageviews, because that’s what will drive results.

“We attract a lot of ‘top of the funnel’ consumers—75 percent of our buyers aren’t working with a real estate professional yet. That’s a great opportunity,” says Mele, “to make a valuable connection with qualified professionals through local brand advertising.”

A Full-On Digital Marketing Strategy
Homes.com’s Instant Response Technology is a logical addition to its suite of digital marketing offerings.

“We’ve always seen our role as helping the real estate professional stand out and differentiate themselves through SEO services, websites, quality lead generation programs, and, as a natural progression, we are able to offer services to accomplish what many agents and brokers can’t or shouldn’t do on their own,” says Ruane. “We’re helping them differentiate themselves. Homes.com is doing what we’ve always done—we’re just applying it in a new way.”

Among the firm’s most popular digital marketing services are its SEO Fuel and Social Fuel tools. SEO Fuel takes a complicated and technical—yet necessary—task out of the real estate professional’s hands, helping them gain important ground in search engine results.

“Search engine optimization requires active, hands-on management,” Ruane explains. “That is an area where real estate brokers and agents are not going to be as efficient as they’d like to be. We’d like for them to look to us as the expert.”

Brokers and agents also need to stand out on social media, the modern-day version of “word of mouth,” Ruane believes. “Social media can be an effective lead generation tool, but only if actively and thoughtfully managed,” she explains. “Is the content appropriate? Is the posting happening at the right time? The goal is to have a two-way dialogue versus a one-way content push with the end result of increasing engagement and generating leads. Homes.com Social Fuel helps agents and brokers use the power of social media to brand themselves, to connect to their social sphere, and to promote their listings.”

From onsite branding opportunities like Featured Ads, where agents can market themselves in a city or zip code, and Local Connect, which enables agents to position themselves on listing detail pages, to off-site opportunities like SEO Fuel and Social Fuel, Homes.com offers real estate professionals a digital marketing strategy that’s focused on branding and connecting with active buyers and sellers. Lead Concierge and TalkNow are taking that mission to the next level by solving the dilemma of faster response time.

“It’s a pretty powerful toolkit,” says Ruane. “Add in the fact that Homes.com is a search portal that’s proven to attract transaction-ready, well-qualified consumers, and it’s a winning combination for agents and brokers.”

As Mele says, “Homes.com is more than just a portal. We’re helping round out the digital marketing strategy for agents and brokers, while helping them remain competitive.”

For more information, please visit connect.homes.com.

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2016 Home Sales Increasing Twice as Fast in Counties with Low Hazard Risk

Aug 27, 2016 by

The recently released ATTOM Data Solutions 2016 U.S. Natural Hazard Housing Risk Index found that home sales in the first six months of 2016 increased 4.2 percent from the same time period a year ago in the bottom fifth of U.S. counties with the lowest level of natural hazard risk — more than twice the 1.9 percent increase in the top fifth of U.S. counties with the highest level of natural hazard risk.

More than 3,000 U.S. counties were indexed based on risk of six natural hazards: earthquakes, floods, hail, hurricane storm surge, tornadoes and wildfires using data collected by ATTOM’s neighborhood research portal www.homefacts.com. ATTOM also analyzed home sales and price trends in more than 800 counties with at least 100 single family home sales in the first six months of 2016. Those 800 counties — which combined have more than 70 million single family homes and condos — were divided into five equal groups (quintiles) based on the natural hazard risk index and assigned to one of five risk categories: Very High, High, Moderate, Low, and Very Low.

“While price and affordability along with access to jobs are the primary drivers in local markets with strong increases in home sales activity in 2016, it’s evident from this data that natural hazard risk does make a difference to homebuyers and investors who are active in this housing market,” says Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions. “Even among the subset of counties where the median price is below the national median as well as among the subset of counties where home prices are still affordable for average wage earners, there is a consistent trend of stronger increases in home sales volume compared to a year ago in the lowest-risk markets for natural hazards compared to the highest-risk markets.”

Counties with highest natural hazard risk
Among the 804 counties analyzed for home sales and price trends, those with a Natural Hazard Housing Risk Index in the Top 5 highest were Oklahoma County, Okla.; Monroe County, Fla. (Key West); Cleveland County, Okla. (Oklahoma City); Nevada County, Calif. (Truckee); and Lake County, Calif. (Clearlake).

Among 78 larger counties with at least 5,000 home sales in the first six months of 2016, those with the highest risk index were Oklahoma County, Okla.; Riverside County, Calif. (Inland Empire of Southern California); Collier County, Fla. (Naples); Miami-Dade County, Fla.; and Santa Clara County, Calif. (San Jose).

Counties with lowest natural hazard risk
Among the 804 counties analyzed for home sales and price trends, those with a Natural Hazard Housing Risk Index in the Top 5 lowest were Milwaukee County, Wisc.; Kewaunee County, Wisc. (Green Bay); Racine County, Wisc. (Racine); Knox County, Maine; and Kenosha County, Wisc. (Chicago metro area).

Among larger counties with at least 5,000 home sales in the first six months of 2016, those with the lowest risk index were Cuyahoga County, Ohio (Cleveland); Lake County, Ill. (Chicago area); Kent County, Mich. (Grand Rapids); Maricopa County, Ariz. (Phoenix); and Montgomery County, Penn. (Philadelphia metro area).

Home values and home prices lower in lowest-risk counties
In the 161 counties in the top quintile for natural hazard risk (Very High Risk), there were a total of 21 million single family homes and condos representing 30 percent of all homes and condos in the 804 counties analyzed. In the 161 counties in the bottom quintile for natural hazard risk (Very Low Risk) there were a total of 10 million single family homes and condos representing 15 percent of all homes in the 804 counties analyzed.

The average estimated market value for homes in the lowest-risk counties was $ 187,291 — 33 percent below the average estimated market value for homes in the highest-risk counties: $ 279,570.

The median sales price of single family homes and condos sold between January and June 2016 in the lowest-risk counties was $ 156,245 on average, 39 percent below the median sales price in the highest-risk counties during the same time period: $ 255,160.

Price appreciation stronger in highest-risk counties over past five years
Median home prices in the first six months of 2016 have increased an average of 6.5 percent compared to a year ago in the highest-risk counties compared to a 3.2 percent average increase in the lowest-risk markets during the same time period.

Median home prices in the first six months of 2016 are up 42.4 percent compared to the first six months of 2011 (near the bottom of home prices) in the highest-risk counties, while prices are up 23.8 percent during the same time period in the lowest-risk counties

10-year price appreciation, homeowner profits stronger in lowest-risk counties
Median home prices in the first six months of 2016 are up 9.5 percent from the same time period 10 years ago in the lowest-risk counties compared to a 1.9 percent increase compared to 10 years ago in the highest-risk counties.

Furthermore, homeowners in the lowest-risk counties have gained an average of 27.8 percent in home value since purchase while homeowners in the highest-risk counties have gained an average of 20.7 percent since purchase.

Home sales and price trends by type of natural hazard risk
Over the past five years, increases in home sales volume has fallen below the overall national average in counties with the highest risk of earthquakes, hurricane storm surge, wildfires and floods while counties with the lowest risk for those natural hazards have seen home sales volume increase at a faster pace than the national average over the past five years.

Conversely, home sales activity over the past five years has been stronger than the national average in markets with the highest risk of tornadoes and hail while markets with the lowest risk for those natural hazards have seen below-average increases in home sales activity.

View the full report here.

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Homes Selling Fast As Prices Hit Record Highs, Says Realtor.com

May 30, 2016 by

The 2016 homebuying season is in full swing, with homes in May moving as fast as we’ve seen since the housing recovery began – even as asking prices continue to hit new record highs.

Based on preliminary May data released by realtor.com, the median age of properties on realtor.com in May was 65 days, which was the same median age as a year ago and three days faster than last month. The median home was listed at $ 250,000 – 9 percent higher than one year ago and 2 percent higher than April. For-sale housing inventory also continues to increase on a monthly basis, but is still lower than one year ago.  More than 550,000 new listings have been added to the market so far this month.

“Based on our early read of demand and supply data in May, this spring’s real estate market is coming in strong, just as we expected,” says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist of realtor.com. “Pent-up demand and low mortgage rates are driving consumers into the market with urgency. However, the recurring issue of limited supply is leading to record-high prices.

“Thankfully, we are finally seeing gains in new single-family construction and new home sales to provide a pressure release. Potential buyers are finding they can avoid a competitive bid situation if they elect to sign a contract on a home to be built. As the share of new homes sold goes up, we should eventually see signs of more balance in the existing home market, like lower price appreciation. However, we clearly aren’t there yet.”

Key Statistics:

  • Median age of inventory is estimated to end at 65 days, the same as May 2015 and down 4 percent from April.
  • Median listing price for May should reach a record high of $ 250,000, a 9 percent increase year over year and a 2 percent increase month over month.
  • Listing inventory in May is showing a 4 percent increase over April. However, inventory decreased 4 percent year over year.
  • com’s Hottest Markets receive two to three times the number of views per listing compared to the national average. In terms of supply, these markets are seeing inventory move 19-25 days more quickly than the rest of the U.S. They have also seen days on market drop by an average of three days from April.

For more information, visit www.realtor.com.

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