By Megan Oster
Lori Cromie of Residential Real Estate Services has consistently been a top seller for her office – so when she received zero sales from advertising on Realtor.com for years, she knew there was a problem with the website’s format. Cromie chose not to renew her contract with Realtor.com and instead invested in Zillow. The results she has seen after advertising for just one year on Zillow show, she says, that she made the right decision.
Cromie was drawn to Realtor.com at first because each listing posts on the MLS automatically appears on Realtor.com’s basic feed. The listing shows on the feed in a basic format consisting of four photos and a generic posting listing the features of the home at no charge. However, the free version does not allow agents to include their own verbiage, so she upgraded to the advanced version. Paying for advertising allowed her to add photographs as well as comments to each listing.
Paid listings on Realtor.com consist of the above data plus list price, address and bed/bath information – which Cromie found to be insufficient. In addition, the fee each subscriber is charged is based on the volume of his or her listings, including retro listings. Consequently, the service ended up being a bit pricey.
The lack of results Cromie received reinforced her suspicion that Realtor.com was not a good investment. Based on the number of listings she posted, she paid $76 per month, for an annual fee of $912. She received one rental and two to six leads per year, but not a single closed sale in the five years from the enhanced version.
“I found that Realtor.com was not cost-effective. We received barely any leads, and even fewer qualified leads. There just were not enough leads to generate any sales,” Cromie said.
When it came time to renew her subscription to the enhanced version, Cromie allowed it to expire (she continues to advertise at no cost using the basic version). She opted instead to advertise on Zillow.
“Existing clients kept telling me about listings they had seen on Zillow. It seemed to me like the majority of homebuyers were using Zillow. I figured that the savvy move was to utilize a site that was receiving heavy traffic. My theory was, why not spend my money where the majority of people were going?” Cromie said.
For the enhanced version, agents purchase a certain number of spots in the ZIP codes of their choice. There are four spots total available in each ZIP code, and agents can buy all four spots if they so choose. Each spot is worth 25 percent, so the more spots agents purchase, the more frequently their banner shows up when homebuyers search.
Cromie pays $71 per month, for 25 percent of the exposure in the 60120 ZIP code area of Elgin and 50 percent of the exposure in the 60107 Streamwood ZIP code area. She saw results almost immediately – specifically, she got a closing within two months in a ZIP code for which she had purchased just one spot. Zillow has been instrumental in netting three closings total for Cromie, who averages about 25 closings per year overall, since she started using the website.
“Considering I only spend $71 per month, I feel it’s a good investment,” she said.
Cromie attributes her success using Zillow to several key features of the website. In addition to the information Realtor.com makes available, a listing on Zillow also includes the estimated mortgage, sales history, square footage, lot size, year built, parking, rental value and an aerial map of the neighborhood.
One of the greatest values of Zillow, Cromie feels, is the ability to post all of her listings on a feature called PostLets – which gets fed onto additional websites including Facebook, Craigslist, HotPads, Trulia and Yahoo! Real Estate.
“PostLets helps me to pick up new clients in addition to getting more exposure for my existing listings,” she said.
For Cromie, the final advantage of using Zillow is the type of homebuyers she has witnessed the website attract.
“The majority of the clients I get from Zillow are educated clients. They are looking for information,” she said.
Cromie has considered advertising on Trulia, but feels it is unnecessary since PostLets feeds all of her listings onto Trulia from Zillow. She might consider it if Trulia would bring her more value than Zillow, however, she has not priced the two websites out yet.
Though Cromie eventually decided to drop Realtor.com’s paid version, she cautions agents against making a hasty decision in regard to where they spend their advertising dollars.
“You definitely need to give each system you try at least six months to a year to see if it will pay off for you, because it takes time to build leads, especially if you’re a new Realtor,” she said. “Also, some months are busier than others in regard to the market.”