Home Valuation Websites
Home valuation websites facilitate the creation and delivery of an estimated “home value” to consumers. In a typical scenario,consumers enter information about a property, and an Automated Valuation Model (AVM) built into the system uses mathematical modeling combined with a database to provide a valuation. Most AVMs calculate a property’s value at a specific point in time by analyzing values of comparable properties. Others take into account previous valuations, historical house price trends and user-specific inputs (e.g., number of bedrooms, property improvements, etc.). Agents use these sites as part of their seller lead generation strategy. By providing home owners with the information they need to sell their home, they can better position themselves to ultimately earn that business.
Lead Generation Websites
Lead generation websites are one of the most popular forms of business generation in real estate, and several of the offerings in this category have waiting lists on products featuring geographic exclusivity. These websites are designed and intended for high-volume lead generation and lead conversion, and all of the products in this category are centered on a property search experience that is the primary attractor of traffic. In turn, the traffic is the stream of lead capture and conversion opportunities that is the engine of the concept.
For almost two decades, a website has been a de facto requirement for anyone wanting to put forth the appearance of being a legitimate professional. Now, with online consumer search reaching a level of ubiquity, having a web presence is simply no longer optional. Due to the uniqueness of fully customized sites, this chapter only covers those sites that can be used with minimal assistance. It’s worth noting that even though these sites can be “plug-and-play” (and use), they are still relatively fully featured, and many users will find them completely sufficient for their businesses.
The issue of the real estate portals is a hotly debated topic, as they play an increasingly significant role in the consumers search for homes, and for the agents who sell them. This chapter is not intended to be an overview of portals, as they were covered extensively in the 2013 Swanepoel TECHNOLOGY Report and in the 2015 Swanepoel TRENDS Report. Rather, this chapter focuses on the various programs offered by the portals that are specifically designed to help real estate professionals build their businesses. As such, questions about data quality, syndication or politics related to participating in portal programs are not addressed unless relevant to the offers or positioning of the portal in question.
Networking—creating and leveraging personal and business connections—has historically been the primary way real estate professionals create business. After networking, the second-most popular method is prospecting, a very powerful and proven way to generate clients. As technology and the approaches used to prospect have evolved faster and more complete access to more and better data, the proliferation of information sources, mobile technologies, sophisticated filtering and targeting methods, new and more efficient ways to communicate, etc.—the tools created to help agents prospect more effectively are becoming more sophisticated, and are producing more powerful results. In this chapter, we review several products that use technology to help agents build their businesses through advanced prospecting methods.
Lead Management Systems
Lead management systems is a specific class of software designed to administer and increase the conversion of leads created from a variety of sources. These systems enable sales teams and brokers to handle a high volume of inbound leads and distribute them to agents for follow up. They are intended to replace manual lead distribution methods, which tend to be difficult to track, organize and control. In many cases, using these systems improves client inquiry response times and increases sales conversion rates. If you have leads coming into your organization and agents to whom you want to send those leads, and you want to optimize the results of that activity, this class of product should be of interest to you. This chapter focuses on products intended to function as standalone lead management systems. If you don’t have lead management functionality, and you’re looking for a dedicated option, the products reviewed here will satisfy that need. If you do have lead management capabilities, the criteria in this chapter will help you evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies currently being employed by your team or organization.
Real Estate CRM
Real estate-specific CRM systems are a popular category of real estate software. Products in this space usually make use of relationshipbased contact information (e.g., clients, prospects, vendors, ancillary service providers, etc.) and real estate data, like property, listing and transactionbased information. This category of software is intended to make real estate practice easier by enhancing organization, follow up and marketing efforts. For purposes of this chapter, real estate CRMs are considered as being separate and distinct from other CRMs in the space. There are a number of these products, and most, if not all, clearly market themselves as being intended for and including functionalities unique to real estate, like listings management, transaction management, real estate-oriented marketing and contact plans, etc.
Real estate CRMs are also separate and distinct from prospecting CRMs or lead management CRMs. Prospecting CRMs primarily focus on working with data relating to people not yet a part of an agent’s current network. Lead management CRMs handle leads or inquiries generated by inbound marketing or advertising efforts, which usually involve parties not known to the agent. While some real estate CRMs have lead management or prospecting capabilities, it is not their primary focus. The Prospecting Systems and Lead Management chapters in this guide have more information about those distinct CRM platforms.
The end goal and the ultimate purpose of the real estate industry is to facilitate transactions for buyers and sellers. Those transactions manifest in real estate contracts, and beyond that, they involve a litany of other forms: disclosures, addenda, affidavits, etc. The goal of the products in this space is to make the process of filling out the forms associated with these transactions easier, faster, more efficient and more accurate.
“Digital Signatures” refers to a class of products designed to automate the process by which people execute legally binding documents, as well as the functions peripheral to the signature processes. In real estate, these products empower agents to have their clients sign documents remotely using digital devices without the need to physically print paper versions of the documents. This functionality, although in existence for many years, has only recently started moving into mainstream adoption. However, it must not be confused with an electronic signature, which is not a digital signature. An electronic signature is a hand-drawn, scanned or font-based representation of a person’s signature in an electronic document that is not alleged to be legal or verifiable. A digital signature is an authenticity verified signature generated by a computer for a specific document. Digital signatures utilize a number of technologies to accomplish that objective, including asymmetric cryptography, various methods of identity verification, digital security and auditable records of the signing process. For example, in asymmetric cryptography, a private key is used to sign a digital representation of a document, which anyone in possession of the corresponding public key can verify, but not forge. It also prevents modification of the document after the signature is generated. This allows one user to place a digital signature on a document, and allows other users to verify that the signature is authentic.
Transaction and Document Management
Transaction and document management systems are software products used by real estate agents, teams and brokers to manage the countless details and documents inherent in a typical real estate transaction: client contact information, key contract particulars, dates and deadlines, information regarding third parties involved in the sale, items required for compliance, workflows, templates and a range of additional features designed to help organize what can be a chaotic and fragmented process. Many of these products also feature integration with forms and digital signatures platforms, and some are “all-inone” systems that incorporate those capabilities.