At Pipeline ROI, we’re big fans of marketing. Testing, measuring, optimizing, and of course…ROI.
In this post, we’ll look at real life experiences from brokers and agents who’ve spent (or spend) money with the big portals, and a few that don’t. As you know, it always comes back to your return on investment. Regardless of your personal opinion about the portals, the fact is, they’re an option for advertising and lead generation. The question is, what kind of return should you expect? (It’s also important to have a system in place that actually tells you dollar for dollar what your return is. Without being able to trace income back to the source and measure it against the cost, you can’t really know what’s happening.)
Here are some first-hand stories from agents/brokers I’ve spoken to recently.
Have you had a positive or negative ROI from spending money with the big portals? Add your story in the comments!
“We’ve never purchased zip code impressions. I was just a “Premier Agent” so I would be the only one that showed up as the agent on my listings. We were getting MAYBE 1-2 leads per month for every 10 listings. We were paying about $100/month for this feature, but our price recently went up to $250/month, so we immediately dropped it. That $250 can generate 20-25 PPC leads for me, so it became a no-brainer.”
“After gathering a full year’s data with Pipeline ROI, we were able to convince our owner to ditch Realtor.com on her team for their featured listing product. Those leads were only routed to members of her team (who has proven to be good at conversion). Over the course of a year, the team listed 119 properties and we received 107 leads from Realtor.com – less than one lead per listing. We were paying about $300/month. Conversions? Only two or three, but all of them were low end rentals – each one paid less than $200 to the agent for commission and on $200 and below for rentals, we don’t charge a split. So for $3,600/year, we as a company earned $0 and our agents earned a max total of $600. You can clearly see our ROI there, so we decided to cut them loose and invest the money elsewhere.”
“Overall, Zillow has had a good ROI for me. The secret sauce for me has been getting a lot of positive reviews, more than anyone in my market. Set the expectation early on for reviews, let your clients know how important they are to your business. Ask for reviews when you’re on a high in the transaction, when you receive a compliment. Don’t wait until closing to ask, buyers and sellers are moving on by then. Get it a day or two before. Also, a couple is TWO people, so it should be two reviews.”
“Zillow has single-handedly built my base of business. In a competitive market, I have found my marketing efforts on Zillow to give me the edge by exposing me to thousands of potential buyers. My experience was less than desirable on Trulia (prior to Zillow’s acquisition), so I pulled any marketing funds I had with Trulia and placed them with Zillow. I think Realtor.com is also a great source if you have listings. However, if you predominately work with buyers and do not have a lot of listings to promote (or are newer to the industry and do not yet have a lot of listings), I have not found Realtor.com to be as beneficial to the growth of my business as Zillow.”
“We’ve held paid zip codes with Zillow and Trulia for several years, with each resulting in closed sales outweighing their respective marketing expenses. Although our business is driven primarily by returning clients and their new referrals, the added use of these real estate portals has made a notable contribution to our overall sales and to building our client base. Most of these new clients generated have come from local and national market areas, while a few have been foreign investors from countries such as Canada, Italy, and China.”
“I’ve been a paid Premier Agent on Zillow for four years or so. I have a preferred lender who pays for half so it’s not as painful cost-wise.
1) Due to the high price point in my zip code, one sale a year more than covers my annual advertising cost on Zillow. I can directly attribute 6 – 9 sales a year to Zillow so it makes sense for me.
2) During listing presentations, I leverage the fact that as a Premier Agent, my listings go to the “top of the list” on Zillow. That fact definitely catches potential sellers’ attention and is a good “point of differentiation” from other agents.
3) I direct listing prospects and buyer prospects to my Zillow agent page so they can see my past sales and client testimonials. It’s a great way to “brag” without actually doing so.
1) Zillow is continually adding more agents to each page in order to monetize the site. I feel like the site is getting VERY crowded.
2) Like any lead generation tool, many of the leads are garbage, especially since Zillow has rentals, foreclosures, and other categories I don’t deal in.
3) As an online lead generation tool, I need to drop everything to follow up on a Zillow lead, which is stressful when I’m in the middle of a meeting or some other important task. I’m not a fan of auto responders so I follow up with every lead within minutes either over the phone or via e-mail.
Personally, I can still justify the expense since I’m getting a good ROI, but if the site continues to become more cluttered I would not hesitate to pull the plug on my advertising.”
“I have tried all three of the big portals. Realtor.com was by far the worst (at least 4-5 years ago) as far as overall quality and volume of the leads provided. In fact, they were so bad, I’m not willing to give them another shot. Trulia and Zillow have provided legitimate leads over the past several years, but the seller leads from Trulia were a waste of money. The big three are Market Leader, Trulia and Zillow right now, but I know Realtor.com claims to be making changes to get in the game of selling leads to agents.I’m always looking for new and better sources of leads and Pipeline ROI has been a great resource in tracking the return on investment.”
“Here’s my experience with all three:
Realtor.com: A steady consistent stream of leads from their zip code program. They claim a conversion rate of 1 in 25, but this has not been our experience (less).After all the follow-up (phone calls, showings, labor, etc.) and cost for the zip codes, the program is not, to this point, paying for itself.I have purchased six zip codes for more than a year, so there is definite history/data to draw from.
Zillow: We participated extensively in their zip code program and it was an enormous waste of time and money (one lead converted during the entire time). The fact that the Zestimate® is a badly flawed property value indicator (in many markets, including my own) compounds the problem with their lead program.Purchased five zip codes for 12 months.
Neither program is willing to offer guaranteed results (even minimal guarantees).I view them both as marketing machines whose claims are often unverified and whose bottom line benefit to agents is, in my eyes, questionable.
Interestingly, I have not purchased any zip codes from Trulia, but nevertheless have received three leads from them and managed to convert one!”
“In my experience, Zillow has the worst “lead per dollar” from running Trulia and Realtor.com at the same time for the same area.Trulia has made more money for me (about 18k in commission last year) but for sure has more junk leads than Realtor.com. With Trulia they sell multiple spaces of what they call 100% of a certain zip code.Mine happens to be six slots of 100% which is really just the percentage of time you show up.So if my market sold out, I would be one of 6 agents showing up on all listings that are not listed by an agent paying for a “Pro” package. Pro package agents get only their picture beside their listing. Then there are “mobile” spots and local or computer-based spots in their ad sales depending on what device the customer is using. So, if you pay 100% of mobile, you will not show up on a computer in that same zip! Realtor.com is for sure more of a quality lead per dollar spent. Also, you aren’t competing with another broker right beside your photo. With all that said, the magic is to get consistent with all three and not spend your entire budget on one site. I try to have a “large as I can afford” presence on all major sites and base my advertising budget on a percentage of last quarter’s commission made.”
“I’ve always had a difficult time with the concept of paying for leads generated by my own business. Unfortunately, because big box companies have sweet financial deals with these people I am forced to play the game to stay competitive. I recently had an opportunity to meet with a Zillow rep regarding the bad information from sold listings still showing active, Zestimates®, etc. Their response was “use it to your advantage.” Realtor.com is very accurate, but extremely expensive for very little ROI. All of it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I feel pressured to have a presence.”
“In my experience, all three of the big portals are not as promised. That’s about all I can say. Very pushy, and the leads I got were not scrubbed or anything. I will not ever go back to any of them, now matter what they offer. A lot of money spent for nothing substantial as far as leads go.”
“I’ve used Trulia and Zillow, (though not paid). I don’t know what the results were as it’s very hard to quantify their free service. Also, I used Realtor.com and honestly I didn’t get enough viable leads to justify what I paid for the service. It was very expensive!”
“I don’t pay for leads on any of the sites. I don’t need that many cold leads calling and e-mailing (too random and don’t pan out enough for the time invested…that’s my fear anyway…annoying, going-nowhere phone calls). Yes I know I could possibly convert them, but why, when warm leads are so much more fun? The problem we’re having with Zillow is listings coming up with the wrong city (100 miles away) or showing that something is for rent (from a long time ago ) or not for sale at all. It seems Zillow is not the end-all be-all. Even though the info they are pulling they know is wrong, they won’t override the system to correct it. Go figure…”
“I’ve been a Zillow Premier member for around 3 years, and it’s currently the only website I pay to advertise.Zillow & Trulia dominate most areas (as you know), and here in our market, Zillow is the predominant site, based on SEO, visitors, and general feedback from our clients. While one of my agents just got an email from Zillow stating her rates were going up (400%), the cost has been pretty consistent for me, even through the Zillow/Trulia merger.
I average right at one closing per month from Zillow (I pay for nearly 20,000 impressions in a hot zip code), and co-market with a local lender who pays 50% of the fees. Without the co-marketing, this would still be a smart ROI, but the winter months sting a bit. It helps to keep the long view in mind.
Although the above sounds like it’s all puppy dogs & ice cream, I still see Zillow as kind of a necessary evil. The bottom line is, they’re making millions with our listing data and selling the leads back to us; or to our competitors. I’m cautiously optimistic about NAR & Realtor.com’s recent and aggressive approach to Zillow Group. But they have a long way to go I think. The good thing about the technology sector, is it’s a very fluid environment, so once a viable competitor steps up, it will only be a matter of time before change is upon us.”
“I have not had a lot of luck with Zillow. I’m sure part of that is on our end with follow up, but I think the “impressions” selling point is overrated and you really have to be the dominant person to get good results. A comprehensive lead conversion and marketing follow-up system with integrated platforms for tracking is much needed in our industry.”
“I decided to become a Premier Zillow Agent because Zillow has so many followers, and those customers need and are looking for help.Zillow is a useful tool to get started, but they were never meant to replace the knowledge of a local agent. Since the “Zestimate®” is not always accurate and the data is not as current as our personal websites, it’s helpful for the Zillow clientele to have an experienced, local agent who can give them the straight scoop. My mantra is that the sale or purchase of real estate may be one of the biggest, most important transactions in your life. You’ll be spending (hundreds of) thousands of dollars, so you owe it to yourself and to your family to know that the agent you select has the best qualifications, credentials, and experience in your market area.I’m that person in my market. Plus, in a recovering market like ours where prices are still low like the interest rates but with great potential to rise, now is the time to buy.We have a lot of new agents jumping into the business because of the activity. Be sure to use an experienced agent who can guide you safely through the process. I’ve been doing this for 20+ years, and I still use checklists and continuing education to get my customers safely where they want to go.”
“I am paying for a zip code on both Trulia and Zillow. I have been on Zillow for quite a while and receive a lead periodically. I’ve never converted a Zillow lead. A colleague told me they had better luck with Trulia, so I signed up for a zip code with them and have received more good leads from them than Zillow. The jury is still out on whether Zillow is worth the cost.”
“Let me start by saying the online portals are the bane of my existence as a real estate agent, but we have no choice but to utilize them because that’s where the consumer goes to shop for property.
Zillow is by far the largest and most used because it is user friendly, gives lots of information, is colorful and attractive, and people love it.I have not yet purchased any zip codes from them because they are pricey. I did have a little Zillow website last year for $10.00 a month but could not get decent SEO out of it. If I had, it would have been my only site. It is WordPress based, easy to use, easy to input information, and had full IDX available through my MLS. I do have an account with my profile because I want some control over how my information is presented. I can enhance my listings through my personal portal.
Trulia is nothing more now than a branch of the Zillow Group of companies and no one really knows what will happen to it as time goes on. Of the two portals, I like Trulia better and used to use their blogging platform quite a bit. I don’t anymore. I do have an account set up for the same reason as I gave for having a Zillow account. I do not buy zip codes from them either. Too pricey.
Realtor.com is trying to compete with the first two and it appears to be working somewhat. I did sign up for one zip code earlier this year as a trial run. I have gotten a few leads off of the site but found out very quickly that if you didn’t pay them their pound of flesh for the showcase enhancement, those leads dropped off pretty quickly. Not sure what I will do when the zip comes up for renewal. RDC really needs to step up their game more if they hope to compete with Zillow.”
“I’m currently using Trulia. Last year I closed $2.5 million in overall sales with Trulia leads only. So far I’m having pretty good success with it. I think the key is having availability to follow up quickly with leads, exhibiting professionalism, and setting yourself apart. That’s what wins the client. Also, knowing the zip codes you pay for is key. You have to make yourself the expert for that area. As a general rule, I stick with my specific farm areas for any zip codes that I purchase leads for, no exceptions!”
“Of the three big portals, I got the most leads from Zillow. I just recently decided to switch to Realtor.com because it seemed like a lot of my clients were starting to ask about it (it seems to run in cycles with buyers and sellers and that was how I wound up on Zillow). My experience with Realtor.com so far is not good and I’m going to end it and go back to Zillow. Realtor.com seems to feel they have a monopoly and are charging 1.5 times what I paid for Zillow and I get much less for it. The thing I didn’t like with Zillow was when they started putting the number of transactions for agents. There are lots of ways to inflate that and it seems like the public gravitates to those agents. I deal with a lot of older clients who don’t use computers and thus don’t put reviews up and that hurts my ratings also. I will probably go back to Zillow for at least a short time.”
“We subscribe to Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com. We have Premier Agent status on all of them. We almost canceled Realtor.com after eight years of paying to be on the upgraded account. As our listing inventory has grown each year, they kept charging us more. We found this unfair as we are providing listings with full on video and maxed out photos for their visitors to search. They did give us a break on the price, so we decided to keep Realtor.com for now so we could optimize our listings on their site. It was a win-win at that point. As for Trulia, we just have a basic account along with many contributions and testimonials, not to mention on average 50 active listings, so there is no need to pay extra, we can do all we need to do with our listings on Trulia. As for Zillow, our franchise has worked out with Zillow a policy of “Our Listings Our leads.” This is part of the company culture and we are excited that they have negotiated this for us. We still do pay a minimal amount to make sure we can optimize our listings the way we need to with the extra photos, real video, and additional comments for the description. Our past sales and 45 testimonials are also a great help, as our track record doesn’t lie. I can’t really say that it’s been good or bad, but all our reps have been helpful. I would say for my Zillow experience (before we joined our current franchise), we were with another big box franchise.It was pretty frustrating that the buyers had to really search to find out who the actual listing agent was. We were losing those potential clients to an agent that paid to have their face next to our listing that we worked hard to get. Glad we are with a company now that has the kind of power to get us back our leads.”
“We buy buyer leads only from Realtor.com.We use TigerLead to manage our database of portal leads from Realtor.com as well as some Google pay per click leads that Tiger provides in our subscription.Not a fan of Zulia and haven’t paid for status upgrades on any of the portals…other than the Realtor.com Showcase upgrade. We tried leads from Trulia a few years back but weren’t happy with the quality of leads so we quickly canceled the agreement. The Trulia leads were awful.Realtor.com leads seem to be the most qualified and market-ready leads. We are having decent luck with our TigerLeads but only because we work the system hard and relentlessly.”
As you can see, experiences vary widely when it comes to spending money with the big portals. At the end of the day, it comes down to what works for you. Keep in mind, this is a small sample size, and these personal experiences and opinions may not be indicative of what you should expect. There are too many factors involved (location, budget, competition, follow-up tactics, etc.) to be able to draw larger conclusions based on these accounts.
Has your experience with the portals been mostly positive or negative? Tell your story in the comments below!
Thanks to the following agents/brokers for contributing to this blog post! (In random order)
- Mark Schweller Schweller Properties
- Bob Hertzog The Hertzog Team
- Terri Taydus Colorado Landmark Realtors
- Rick Perry Century 21 Jim White
- Carrie Clark Parkside Realty Group
- Rob Newkirk Newkirk Realty
- Tony Winslow Greater Triangle Home Consultants Inc.
- Adrienne Lally Team Lally
- Ereka Jones Royalty Real Estate Executives
- Mary Anne Windes Real Estate Professionals of Destin, Inc.
- Sandra Paulow Aspen Properties Inc.
- Nathan Hepler Hepler Realty
- Dwight Jabot Century 21 Preferred Realty
- Sherry Stapf-Tolisano Spartan Realty
- Roxanne Mercer RE/MAX Full Spectrum
- Skip Scoggin Mauti Meredith Scoggin Properties
- Rusty Miller Betsher and Associates
- Matt Stigliano Kimberly Howell Properties
- John O’Brien John L Scott Real Estate
- Gary Agner Forest Realty
- Frank Ferrell Ferrell Realty Inc.
- Rich Shelton RE/MAX Desert Showcase
All accounts provided in this blog post are the personal experiences of individual agents/brokers, and are believed to be accurate as according to the individuals. Pipeline ROI makes no guarantee, expressed or implied, as to the reliability or accuracy of the accounts, and as a result, can not be held liable for them in any way.