By Sam DeBord
Online home valuations have a rocky history. From automated valuation models (AVMs) used in lending during the mortgage boom to consumer-focused products like Zillow’s Zestimate, the accuracy of these valuations has always been an issue for real estate professionals. Despite online valuations’ inability to consistently provide an accurate home value on an individual basis, one thing is clear: They’re very popular.
While the misinformation creates fairly regular confusion for consumers, the regular annoyance to many real estate professionals has simply become an opportunity for others. Consumers gravitate to online valuations in droves, so many professionals are starting to offer their own versions.
There are plenty of online valuation tools for agents and brokers available, and although they’re not a brand new concept, the number of companies offering them is growing. The simplest versions are standalone websites that do just one thing: get home sellers to enter their address and contact information, and deliver them an estimated value report.
Companies sell these websites directly to agents, and provide some training and networking online with other users to learn to drive traffic to them. We tested the product from Home Value Leads in California. Facebook ads and Google pay-per-click campaigns are used to attract home sellers who are curious about their home’s value. The sellers click on an ad about home prices in their neighborhood, fill in their address and contact info, and receive their value report. The agent can follow up to explain the inaccuracies that are inherent in an online valuation and offer a personalized follow-up or CMA to better educate the consumer.
Full-service website vendors are integrating the home valuation tools as well. The most recent one we tested was from Real Geeks in Hawaii. Customers simply add it to their current Real Geeks website with a call-to-action asking sellers “What’s Your Home Worth?” They can also drive traffic with paid ads. The same follow-up and personalized explanation with a consumer makes the process educational for the home owner and valuable for the agent. It’s tied in to the back-end of the agent’s current website, so the leads from sellers and buyers exist in the same database.
While it might seem like a simple form on a website could generate the same leads, the simplicity and single focus of encouraging a user to enter their address is the beauty behind these products. Conversion rates are far higher on these tools than when simply asking a user to fill out a form on a regular website. They’re built to prod each user along to the next step, and they do it well. Even without all contact information, simply getting an address from a consumer might be reason to send a postcard to the homeowner who might be thinking of selling.
Many of us roll our eyes when we hear “But Zillow says my house is worth X.” It’s a professional annoyance, but if we’re honest about it, it’s a genius marketing tactic. These new tools create an opportunity to get past being frustrated with the tactic, and to use it yourself to create some new customer contacts. With consumers now on your website, you can start the education process about home values right away.
Sam DeBord is a state director for Washington REALTORS®, and managing broker with Coldwell Banker Danforth. Connect with his team, Seattle Homes Group, at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com.