UNTANGLING ONLINE LISTINGS - WHAT AGENTS MUST KNOW

In the first part of this two-part series on online property listings we spoke to the two most visited listing websites in Australia, realestate.com.au and Domain. Now it’s the turn of several of their competitors to show what they provide principals and agents

Real Estate Business approached a range of companies to participate in this article. Only two of these companies – realestate1 and allhomes.com.au – didn’t respond to our offer.

While we have not contacted every online property listings website in Australia, combined with our earlier article featuring realestate.com.au and Domain.com.au, we feel we have covered a large part of the market.

We hope principals and agents gain a clearer understanding of the companies operating in this important market, and of what they offer the industry.



ONTHEHOUSE.COM.AU

Onthehouse.com.au is more than just a listings website, say Michael Fredericks, CEO and managing director, and Jason Verstak, general manager of marketing, at Onthehouse Holdings

Included under the ASX-listed Onthehouse Holdings umbrella are the Console and PortPlus businesses, as well as 50 per cent of Residex.

“Onthehouse Holdings has over half of all the real estate agency offices in Australia as clients, with multiple ‘touch points’ across trust accounting, sales and property management solutions, data, CRM, portal feeding, websites and other services,” they say.

This means “agents will soon be able to manage their agency business through a single platform, providing a tangible value-add and cost savings to their business”.

There are also plans to give agents and principals access to national government sales data, which can be utilised in “more flexible ways” through Console and PortPlus.

According to Mr Verstak and Mr Fredericks, the onthehouse.com.au website provides both public and agent access to current real estate content and values for almost seven million properties.

“Our website offers consumers...real estate classified listings from the agents (for sale and rent), historical sales (including government sales data, sold and rented), comparative properties and valuation estimates (‘Guesstimates’).

The AVM product, the ‘Guesstimate’, will for the first time in Australia establish a resource like the major US real estate portal, Zillow.

User trends show most use onthehouse.com.au’s signature product, the property profile report. This free report provides consumers and agents alike with a record of any property, including unimproved land values; market history; a ‘Guesstimate’ value; property comparisons; and suburb profiling.

“As the website was established in 2006 in Queensland, there is a greater use within this state than others,” say Mr Verstak and Mr Fredericks. “However, this trend is quickly changing, with property data from across Australia available via our site.”

Agents also benefit from being able to upload their listings for free. Moreover, with its historical content, agents have the ability to claim past sales with individual photos and profiles displayed via the portal and other reports downloaded en masse by the public.

“This is free agent advertising,” they say.

The site also offers agents the free option to become ‘local area experts’, featuring advertising on a variety of sections.

More broadly, Australia has followed the first shift from real estate newspaper listings to online listings portals, a trend seen in international counterparts.

“The Australian public is seeking, and will continue to seek, greater information transparency around real estate content,” say Mr Verstak and Mr Fredericks.

Mobile technology, they add, is “a game changer for the industry”.

“Consumers today increasingly rely on mobile applications to get what they want, when they want it. The onthehouse.com.au mobile application, currently in its final stages, will provide consumers the content-rich information our website provides.”

Listing on onthehouse.com.au is currently free for agents, while they also have the benefit of the site’s tools and most reports for free.

“As we continue to advance with our performance, at some point a pricing structure will be introduced on a performance-based lead generation fee model,” they say, but add this isn’t anticipated within the next 12 months.

“Unlike the incumbent models experiencing pricing pressures, ours will be capped and well under market leaders.

“Our policy on private listing portals (including ones with agent’s licences) is not to accept their listings,” say Mr Verstak and Mr Fredericks.



REALSTATEVIEW.COM.AU

According to realstateVIEW.com.au’s general manager, Petra Sprekos, the most popular elements of the website from a consumer perspective are the data and commentary available

“We find consumers are becoming savvier in their research process and are demanding more detailed information to make informed decisions,” Ms Sprekos says.

RealstateVIEW.com.au receives around 70 per cent of its content and traffic – and activity in general - from Victoria, NSW and Queensland, mirroring national trends.

Meanwhile, mobile internet usage in the property search has become significant, she says.

“Our research has shown nearly 10 per cent of consumers are now using mobile as their primary device to search for property, migrating from desktop web, whilst a further 28 per cent are using mobile as a secondary device to search for property.

“This doesn’t mean every agent should go out and develop an iPhone app, but what it does mean is that agents need to consider how mobile fits within the marketing mix to connect with consumers searching for property.”

“Savvy agents are also adopting technology for other uses.  We are now seeing a high number of agents doing sales presentations via iPads, which demonstrates they are ahead of the curve compared to other industries.

“However, agents also need to focus on their overall online strategy and not simply rely on property portals for an online presence.”

Ms Sprekos believes agents get good value from the online medium, and measuring activities online and the effectiveness of these activities is more transparent and easier to do.

“More and more agents and vendors are wanting to understand the effectiveness of their marketing spend,” she says.

RealstateVIEW.com.au is much more than just an advertising portal, she adds.

“It offers agents a range of tools to assist them in their business. For example, access to the most recent past sold data (via propertyDATA.com.au) and comparable rental information and prices. No other system can provide this.

“RealstateVIEW.com.au also has a range of website services such as website development, website powering and a multi-loading facility.”

In terms of pricing, “at the moment, nationally, the benchmark for all sites is a subscription model based on geographical location,” she continues. “In addition, agents who want to maximise exposure for their listings can purchase priority placements, which differ somewhat by portal.

“RealstateVIEW.com.au is no different. I think eventually the print model will be adopted online, that is, a price per individual listing. RealstateVIEW.com.au currently has a price per listing option for agents; however, the bulk of our subscribers are on monthly subscriptions.

Vendors don’t have access to

RealstateVIEW.com.au, and the site currently has no plans to allow it. “We will always remain an industry site where currently a requirement of subscription is having an estate agent’s licence,” Ms Sprekos says.



HOMEHOUND.COM.AU

Belinda Campo, product manager at homehound.com.au, says the best thing about their website is that there’s no cost to agents to list properties

Homehound.com.au boasts unique agent URLs and web pages, which allow individual agents to market their current listings as opposed to those of the agency overall.

In terms of traffic trends, the average age of browsers is 39, with just under three out of four (74.26 per cent) female. Ms Campo adds that 93 per cent of homehound.com.au’s property seekers are primarily looking for a property to rent or purchase, with the split between the two fairly even.

From the consumer’s perspective, the site is popular for its ability to schedule open for inspections and auctions to a property seeker’s calendar; a recommendation engine that suggests properties similar to the one currently being viewed; being able to register for property email alerts; searching by street address; and being able to get inspiration from the site’s ‘home style’ galleries, “an inspirational and aspirational visual search that allows consumers to get renovation and interior design ideas,” according to Ms Campo.

Consumers, who are now better informed about the market than ever before, expect more engagement with agents, she adds.

“The industry needs to refine its marketing strategies to meet expectations and adapt or risk getting left behind and losing potential clients,” she says. “Social media should be viewed by agents as a two-way communication tool between clients and their business.”

Asked whether agents – and vendors – get good value for money from using online listings, she says it’s a case of “yes and no”.

“The larger paid-for portals are more recently developing a view amongst the industry that they’re abusing their market position to push through excessive price rises year-on-year,” she says. “Agents around Australia have come to the realisation that it’s time to look at alternatives.”

“Unlike our competitors, we believe that the cost of online advertising should be substantially lowered – not increased – in such a growth market.”

Agents could be taking greater advantage of the site’s premium products and narrated video tours, she says. “When Homehound knows an agent has video content on a listing, we make it the most prominent part of their listing as we know it is something consumers want.”

Homehound.com.au is “100 per cent free” for licensed real estate agents to post regular listings, and there is no joining fee.

“Beyond these free base listings, we offer the opportunity for premium exposure to enhance an agency’s listings and profile,” Ms Campo says.

“Enjoying priority placement ahead of the regular search results for all their listings, and with their logo displayed, [comes] for a total cost of $89 excluding GST per month,” she says, adding that at the moment there are no plans to change this pricing structure.

The site currently does not accept private advertiser requests to list properties for sale or for lease. “At this stage, we’re just considering the option for vendors to list privately, but for a fee,” Ms Campo says.



THEHOMEPAGE.COM.AU

Ben Stockdale, CEO of thehomepage.com.au, is realistic about his website’s ultimate goal

“The site strategy is to get us up to be a really competitive third-place player,” Mr Stockdale says. In his mind, this would mean one million-plus unique browsers (UBs).

The company is building ties with larger real estate groups with a view to boosting listings. This in turn is designed to build the number of people – and agents - visiting and using the site.

Agents and consumers alike have commented on how they enjoy the “clever simplicity” of the site, Mr Stockdale says.

“Both love the minimalist design. The agents seem to like that we provide a really great quality listing – considering we’re free. We don’t skimp. Some of the other free listing websites may not give you the agency logo, or you might be unable to have more than one photo, or something like that.

“The other thing they love is the video, and that we allow any video [format] they want to be put up.”

The site’s approach to mobile technology also reflects user-friendly simplicity. While the company isn’t building a mobile app itself, according to Mr Stockdale it will probably “go with the new school of thought, which is to build your website to work like an app”.

“All of the good design cues that people are putting into their apps really should be put into their web designs as well,” he says.

Agents get good value for the individual property websites that Thehomepage.com.au offers, Mr Stockdale believes.

“These sites are pretty much a no-brainer for the price, $99, and are completely automated. It has a lot of that social impact built in if the agent knows what they’re doing,” he says.

“It’s an actual web page with its own domain name; it’s not just another page on our website.”

Listings on Thehomepage.com.au are free while ‘feature listings’, 2.5 times the size of a normal listing, cost extra. By contrast with other websites, however, they won’t appear at the top of the search but rather, ‘in line’. For example, if a listing is the fourth most recent, it will appear four places down the page.

Vendors, however, cannot advertise directly on the site.

“The free websites mean more people get the chance to see you, and based on Neilsen [statistics], a staggering amount of our 360,000 never actually visit Domain or realestate.com.au,” Mr Stockdale claims.

“Although we might [be small], that’s still a lot of listings that manage to get in front of a person who is not looking on the other sites.”



HOMESALES.COM.AU

Rhett Dallwitz, general manager of homesales.com.au, tells Real Estate Business that in the three months to October 2011, the website has seen agent listings more than double

“Even though homesales.com.au currently accepts only residential listings, we are on track to exceed 100,000 listings by December 2011,” according to Mr Dallwitz.

While the website “has always had a strong presence along the eastern seaboard”, he is also pleased with “strong growth in the Western Australian market”.

Mr Dallwitz believes homesales.com.au, as one of the brands that form the carsales.com.au network, has the credibility that gives consumers and agents brand confidence and the assurance they are dealing with a reputable business.

“This gives us an advantage over many of the new players in the online real estate space,” he says. “It also delivers direct access to the traffic that uses the carsales network of sites.”

He believes the site’s most popular elements include its image preview tool on the search results pages and the unique multiple suburb search, which allow consumers to move between their selected suburb lists with ease.

With the number of Australians who use their mobile devices to search the web growing exponentially, Mr Dallwitz sees a further opportunity for homesales.com.au.

“The carsales mobile website is the sixth most visited mobile website in Australia – across all site genres, not just automotive,” he says.

“Homesales.com.au’s mobile site will be launching in the coming months.”

Value is closely tied to online advertising, Mr Dallwitz adds.

“Online advertising is accountable – it can be tracked and measured to maximise return on investment. Agents can extend their reach even further by listing with low cost or free real estate websites like homesales.com.au, in conjunction with their paid providers.”

Mr Dallwitz would like more agents to take advantage of the website, although “further industry development is required to ensure some agents, and therefore consumers, aren’t disadvantaged because of restrictions with bulk-uploader providers and franchise groups.”

Homesales.com.au’s pricing structure is to offer free listings to agents. “Our genuine no-charge model has no lock-in periods or hidden catches, and we don’t have any plans to change it,” he says.

“We are currently building a number of unique products that will be available to the market shortly at a small cost. However, they will be optional for agents.”

The site also allows vendors to list, but for a fee.

“We have found that those vendors who list on our site usually go on to purchase from agents listing on homesales.com.au whilst the vendors that come to our site to sell with an agent use our ‘Agent Quote Finder ‘ system to find [an] agent.”



VIEWPROPERTY.COM.AU

As Real Estate Business went to press, viewproperty.com.au’ s CEO, Ross Bulman, explained that his soon-to-be-launched website site will be entirely “industry owned”

The site was set to launch once it had 50,000 listings, expected to occur in November.

“Agents will have the opportunity to have both ownership and a level of control over the site, together with substantial cost savings,” he says.

“Consumers will benefit from a simpler, less confusing site focused purely on delivering precise search results without layers of confusion and being ‘upsold’,” he says, adding that initial interest has been positive.

“The registrations and listing feed applications have come evenly from all parts of the country,” Mr Bulman says.

“Our biggest challenge is to cope with the overwhelming demand we have had from industry members to get on board and the resulting volume of listings. However, we will cope with this, and it’s a nice problem to have.”

Promotion of the site to consumers will also be important. “Once we achieve certain initial goals and complete the shareholding phase, we will begin to market the site to consumers through a targeted approach, including radio and press, and possibly TV.”

The site will access agents’ existing feeds, or they can upload to the site through its CRM system.

“Together with the existing established feeds flowing from the major brand offices, we also realise the importance of populating the site with all independent and specialist brands and offices across the country, in keeping with our pledge to provide an equal and unbiased opportunity for all agents nationally,” Mr Bulman says.

Consumers are increasingly making decisions on whether to visit a home for sale/rent purely on its online presentation, he adds. This means it “needs to be spot on every time, hence our focus on providing what the end user demands rather than ‘marketing’ to them”.

He would also like to see agents provide better property images. “Even in the 21st century, we still see at times very poor photographs appearing online, which is a critical mistake,” Mr Bulman says.

“We will also see more use of video online in the short to medium term.”

Viewproperty.com.au will have a six-month awareness period during which the industry and the public will be able to explore the site so it can gain the required traction.

Subject to its meeting several key performance indicators, including traffic volume, search engine prominence and continuing member support, seven months in “we will begin to levy a small monthly administration and operation fee of $79 per month”, Mr Bulman says.

“As a guide, we project $149 in year two and $199 in year three, with only CPI increases ongoing.

“Early supporters can take advantage of ‘foundation memberships’ that will include 12 months’ free subscription to the site plus other value added benefits.”

Vendors will not, however, be given access to the site.



REIWA.COM (WA ONLY)

Charlie Gunningham, manager of reiwa.com (owned by the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia) says the website is the fastest growing real estate site in WA

Data for September show Reiwa.com’s average daily unique browsers (UBs) are rising by 13 per cent, respectable growth by any yardstick.

Mr Gunningham says apart from property searches, the website’s most popular feature, users are spending time with the ‘Find a REIWA Agent’ search, ‘Real Facts’ (the latest market statistics, updated weekly), and their reiwa.com TV show (a new one every month).

Thirty-nine per cent of people who responded to a survey undertaken by an independent research company entered ‘reiwa.com’ as their first mentioned site (non-prompted), while 29 per cent named realestate.com.au and 12 per cent named Domain, he adds.

“When prompted and given a list of a dozen sites, reiwa.com came up top with 85 per cent recognition, Domain 75 per cent, and REA [realestate.com.au] 62 per cent,” Mr Gunningham says.

When those respondents whose preferred site was reiwa.com were asked why they preferred it, their reasons included the “wide range of listings, easy search and the site’s being easy to navigate/use”.

“I emphasise, they did not know REIWA was organising the research; it was independent,” he adds.

Emerging trends include social engagement online, the shift to mobile devices including iPads and tablets, and lifestyle-based searches.

Mr Gunningham says agents now receive 90 per cent of their enquiries from online sources, but only spend 30 per cent of their budget online. “They should be reducing spend elsewhere – spending more online, but saving the rest,” he says. “The smarter ones are doing just that.”

Agents should be “buying up feature properties and banners, to brand and differentiate themselves. They should also be ‘SEOing’ their own sites and raising their own traffic more,” he says.

Reiwa.com’s pricing model is based on a set amount per month. The rate is $358 (metro price) for an entire agency, including GST, for all its listings. The site also has a cheaper rate for regional areas, and for small operators with a few listings only.

“We did not raise our subscriptions at all this year, unlike our major competitor,” Mr Gunningham says.

Vendors aren’t able to sell on the site: “You have to be a REIWA member to take out a reiwa.com subscription,” he says.



RENT.COM.AU

While most property listing websites include rental accommodation, CEO Mark Woschnak says, that’s all that rent.com.au offers

Rent.com.au’s CEO, Mark Woschnak, believes his site has about two-thirds of all available property rentals, and that is increasing at the rate of about 10 per cent each month.

Traffic to the website may appear small when compared to other listings sites – in September it was around 300,000 visitors – but Mr Woschnak feels this is high when, anecdotally at least, as little as 20 per cent of people who are searching listings sites are doing so for rental accommodation.

Moreover, around 50 per cent of visitors have not been to Domain, and more than 35 per cent have not visited realestate.com.au.

Agents acknowledge the site reaches their key target audiences of renters and landlords directly, and that 100 per cent of traffic and site usage is dedicated to the renting process.

Renters gain access to properties that are not listed on any other website, and they can receive instant email alerts for properties listed. “Most importantly, use of the rent.com.au website is free for agents,” he says.

An upgrade package is also available, Mr Woschnak says, “that allows agents to specifically build their rent roll and increase their property management profile to renters and landlords.

“With rent.com.au now integrated with almost 95 per cent of all popular upload systems, the ease of using rent.com.au is also a highlight for agents using the website.”

Using technology to centrally manage the advertising of agents’ properties via multiple media is a continuing trend, providing efficiency and accuracy, according to Mr Woschnak.

“It is becoming increasingly important for agents to be able to demonstrate to their landlord clients that they have done the ‘best possible marketing’ to find and secure the best letting results,” he says.

Mr Woschnak says agents get excellent value for money from online listings, particularly in light of the reach and depth a listing can offer.

For instance, renters are able to evaluate the suitability of a property online, reducing time wasted on inspections. Secondly, as online listings can be viewed anywhere, the market is extended to people moving into the state or from overseas.

Mr Woschnak believes there is no reason why more property managers can’t charge landlords for the advertising of their property.

“Due to the fact that rent.com.au allows private landlords to list their rentals, there is a direct benchmark cost of $99 for a once-off listing that agents can use to justify or value position their services to agents,” he says.

To help recoup advertising fees, or to at least show their landlords the value they’re providing, rent.com.au can provide agents with an ‘Internet Listings Statement’.

“[This] can be printed for every property an agent lists on rent.com.au and shows the date listed, details and it contains a statement by

rent.com.au that the RRP is $99.”

The base service model for agents is free.

“If agents want to upgrade, they pay a fixed monthly subscription fee incorporating access to property management leads, banner advertising and other related services. This has been a set rate regardless of size or location of an agency,” he says.

“More options for agents to advertise through banner advertising on the website are being introduced over the coming months.

“Additionally, a new range of services for agents will be introduced next year that will be based on volume pricing for the number of properties they wish to promote, as well as timeframe options and services that will specifically help property managers enjoy more automation efficiency.”

Mr Woschnak adds that having a large renter audience, high demand from advertisers who want to reach this audience, and revenue from landlords means “we intend to stay commercially very competitive compared to other portal costs.”

Rent.com.au allows listings from private landlords, who pay a fixed price per property listing based on type of property (residential, holiday, share) and the duration they nominate for their advertisement.

 

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