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By Glenn Houck

RISMEDIA, Feb. 5, 2007-Converting Internet leads in real estate is like trying to find needles in a haystack, and since each needle is worth $6,000 or more in commissions, finding that golden needle is extremely rewarding.

It's a widely known fact that nearly every home buyer starts their home search online. And, according to the California Association of Realtors, Internet buyers nearly always use the very first agent who responds to their inquiry. The trouble is that in addition to all of the actual buyers, there are millions of other individuals who at best are doing research, and at worst are just surfing the Net just to waste your time.

To find the hidden home buyer, you need to make sure your agents respond to each and every Internet inquiry, and do so within seconds or minutes (not hours) of the buyer pushing the lead-submit button.

Sounds easy, right? Agents are salespeople, and salespeople are compensated to make prospecting calls to close deals. If this is the case, why are 48% of all Internet leads in real estate ignored? And, why is the average response time on the rest of the leads greater than 16 hours?

Here are a few reasons agents don't respond (hint, it's not their fault):

1. Internet leads typically convert to a closed transaction less than 3% of the time. Agents are not accustomed to being rejected 97 times out of 100, and it's especially frustrating for those agents who attempt to call each lead, quickly
2. The sheer volume of low-quality inquiries quickly leads to agent burnout, causing agents to cherry pick, to delay their response and even to not respond at all.
3. Agents are outside sales professionals, and are not always in a position to make an instant response to an Internet lead. Should they stop their face-to-face conversation with a qualified prospect in order to call a lead that has less than a one-in-30 chance of becoming a sale?

A Solution: One large, progressive broker has found a solution by implementing sophisticated call center technology that allows the brokerage to respond to every lead within minutes, and then transfer only the qualified candidates to an available agent in the field. Those leads not interested in being transferred to an agent are placed in an e-mail harvesting database until they become ready to transact.

This broker's average response time seems to be around nine minutes on each lead, making them the first to respond to just about every lead in their market areas.

Implementing a system like this is extremely complicated and expensive to build and is costly to manage, but the rewards can be significant. If such an endeavor is outside your budget, you should consider outsourcing this capacity, where similar or better results can be found at a fraction of the cost to implement.

Glenn Houck is co-founder of LeadQual, LLC and was previously a senior vice president at HomeGain.