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Op/Ed: One Billion Hits Can’t Be Wrong

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Op-Ed: One Billion Hits Can’t Be Wrong

By Bob Hale

Public MLS Web sites that promote broker listings to consumers are being hotly debated across the country. What I cannot understand is why. In Houston, Realtors have created HAR.com, which is averaging almost 1 billion (yes, billion, with a “B”) hits from more than 900,000 (yes, 900,000) unique visitors every month (yes, every month). And this is during a time when the national media is writing articles and broadcasting stories proclaiming a collapse of the national housing market.

Fortunately, the Houston real estate market has faired better than most, as our market has shown limited signs of the impact of the subprime lending and foreclosure issues. While single-family home sales are down from 2006′s record-setting pace, the truth is that 2007 will end up being the second best year on record for the Houston real estate market.

But the question of providing listings and information via a public Web site does not hinge on whether the market is going up or coming down. Either way, there are still thousands of consumers who are either looking to buy or sell a home. And where do they most often look first? The Internet.

In the 2007 HAR Survey of Home Sellers & Buyers, 60% of sellers and 56% of buyers said HAR.com was the most useful Web site they used to sell or buy their home. That was an open-ended question so they had to 1) have awareness of HAR.com, and 2) believe it was the most useful to them. That is tremendous brand penetration in a market. In fact, those 900,000 unique visitors to HAR.com every month represent nearly 20% of the total population in the greater Houston area, which means one in five Houstonians visits HAR.com in a given month.

Consumers are not required to register on HAR.com, and view it as a neutral site where they can view Realtor listings, open houses and new listings, and compare schools, high rises, golf courses and neighborhoods. HAR.com may also be viewed in French, German, Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Spanish.

More than 100,000 consumers have registered on HAR.com so they may bookmark their favorite listings, save searches and receive listing changes. Home buyers narrow down the homes they want to see to a few, and our Realtor members save time and effort by consumers utilizing HAR.com. Home sellers see their home for sale on HAR.com with up to 16 color photographs and recognize this as a value provided by their Realtor.

Throughout the site, HAR.com promotes Realtor value to consumers. One big member plus is when consumers search HAR.com for a home, they also have instant access to the listing Realtor via e-mail, text and phone. All of these efforts generated more than 550,000 free leads to HAR members in 2006 alone. When there are declining profit margins and other entities taking as much as 35% of a Realtor’s hard-earned commission, free leads seem like a no-brainer to me.

Today’s consumer will obtain the information from somewhere, and most recent studies suggest the first place they look will be the Internet. According to the 2007 NAR Survey of Home Sellers and Buyers, 91% of home buyers between the ages of 25 and 44 used the Internet in their home search. So the question becomes whether a Realtor’s public MLS site will be the place they go to find that information on the Internet-and how the value of the Realtor can be promoted at the same time.

I realize every market is different and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to provide the best service to Realtors and their clients, but based on the number of requests from other association/MLS CEOs to come to Houston to learn about HAR.com, I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few other markets across the country see Realtor public MLS sites created in the near future. RE

Bob Hale has been president and CEO of the Houston Association of Realtors for the last 19 years.

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