According to "The Future Of Real Estate Brokerage," a new study by the National Association of Realtors, the traditional independent-contractor brokerage represents the most common model for the practice of real estate, but this is also the sector that is most challenged to provide Internet marketing technology services to its agents.
Defined by the study as firms with between one and 20 independent contractors (agents) in a single office, traditional brokerages number about 30,000 nationwide. They are relatively young firms, (9.4 years in business), and typically do not have an affiliation with a franchise, nor does the firm typically provide ancillary services for additional revenues. Only 15 percent of traditional firms belong to a national, local or regional franchise, says the report, and only seven percent participate in affinity arrangements to generate listings.
These firms are ideally suited to marketing on the Internet, where size doesn't matter, and niche and personal marketing thrive, yet they face challenges to do so. Despite the need to generate more listings and inquiries for agents, only a little over 50 percent of these firms have a Web presence, and one in six say they have no plans to create one.
For the first time in history, the NAR reported in its "2002 National Association of REALTORS(r) Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers" that, in 2001, as many consumers used the Internet as newspapers as a homebuying source. While the Internet has grown exponentially in use by consumers, (up from 2 percent in 1995,) newspapers have contracted, down from 51 percent in 1995.
This leaves real estate firms facing inevitable changes in their marketing strategies.
Office manager Rick Humbrecht of ERA Citation Homes in Falls Church, Virginia, says his company has been able to operate without a Web site until recently, but now traditional means of advertising are beginning to fail, he says.
The Harmon Homes in this area is getting thin, he says, and The Washington Postsimply isn't bringing in inquiries. "We're not getting the business we used to get," says Humbrecht. Now, he's determined to "find the people who aren't looking where we used to advertise."
Humbrecht is shopping for a Web site designer, but he is also painfully aware that the Website must also meet his criteria for cost, content, attractiveness, and lead generation.
Getting on the Web isn't as easy as it may seem, he says. Humbrecht's broker has been resistant to buying Internet marketing technologies for the brokerage. With most of the firm's twelve agents affiliated with the firm for over 20 years, the brokerage has been complacent enough to ignore recruiting. Near retirement age, and with many agents also near retirement, the broker simply doesn't want to invest a lot in change. Neither do most of the agents, handing Humbrecht a manpower problem. Most do not have personal Websites or e-mail. And others who do have e-mail, check it irregularly.
Then there is the competition for listings, which means that any Internet strategy he employs can't rely on listings to generate leads.
"About 90 percent of the homeowners in our county use computers and the Internet," says Humbrecht. "But then you have one listing for sale for every three agents. As of last Friday, there were 2,500 active listings in the MLS, and we have 7,500 agents."
Humbrecht is shopping for a Web site designer, and he is aware that his list of needs is long. First, he needs a company Web site, but he also needs the site to deliver leads to the brokerage. Then he needs to decide how to work the leads, and get the rest of his brokerage on board to do so, too.
"Costs have gone up and commissions aren't what they used to be," he says. "but it is also a question of attitude. When you have that kind of an obstacle, that your agents have to rethink how they do everything, you have to totally reinvent or change the way you look at things when you think about e-marketing."