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may08_cover_72dpi.jpgBy Maria Patterson

In today’s market, data rules-and CyberhomesTM believes it has cornered the market in terms of both quality and quantity of information. Hitting the market just last year, the website, backed by Fidelity National Real Estate Systems (FNRES), has gained fast fervor, as an increasing number of real estate firms and MLSs, and franchisors distribute their listings through Cyberhomes. And for consumers, while many other websites provide some of the things you might be looking for in a home, Cyberhomes believes it addresses everything you’re looking for in a neighborhood, too. To capture an even greater audience, Cyberhomes debuts its enhanced site this month, refined to make an even bolder statement in the market. At the helm is Marty Frame, delivering what he believes is the only address the real estate community needs to visit.

The New and Improved Cyberhomes

When Cyberhomes launched in 2007, FNRES understood that the site would hit the market with an impressive supply of information already in hand.

“We started with an enormous amount of our own content that was never frame_marty.jpgseen before by the consumer,” says Frame, Cyberhomes’ general manager. “But we knew we also wanted to license the content of brokers and MLSs in order to give a holistic picture of homes in the marketplace.”

With that mission, Cyberhomes moved quickly and beyond expectations in terms of growth. At press time, Cyberhomes had 2.6 million listings under license and was expecting 3 million by the release of this issue.

Cyberhomes is also resident on approximately 2,000 broker websites-from the very small to the very largest. And that’s without-as Frame says-“bombing the category with PR or advertising-all we did was build a site.”
Russ Bergeron, CEO of the SoCalMLS, was one of the many who quickly identified the advantages of licensing listings to Cyberhomes. “An application like Cyberhomes doesn’t compete with our brokers, but enhances their marketing plan,” says Bergeron.

“The bottom line for an agent with a listing is that you want that rouda_kaira_0407.jpgproperty viewed by as many people as possible,” says Kaira Sturdivant Rouda, president of Ohio-based Real Living, which has also syndicated its listings to Cyberhomes. “Partnering with companies like Cyberhomes is the way to do it. Listing data today is ubiquitous. The more credible places your listing appears, the better.”

Prioritizing the creation of “critical mass” in terms of listings and other content was highly strategic for Cyberhomes. As Frame explains, too many sites put functionality before content, which ultimately leads to a frustrated consumer.

“The consumer has a lot of choices for looking at listings,” he explains. “To go to a site for that reason and then not find the listing creates a bad consumer experience. The most deliberate thing we did was to hold off on providing listing search to the site until we had the listings. It seems like an obvious point, but most of our competitors have missed it. Having gotten to critical mass sooner than we thought, it became sensible to give the site a different look and feel in conjunction with the incredible partnerships we have formed.”

Enter Cyberhomes 2.0. According to Frame, the expanded site will include a new look and feel, personalized content and widgets, interactive charts and graphs and the continued “heavy usage” of other Web 2.0 features for which it has been known. In addition to valuations, property data, trends and analysis, neighborhood and school information, and listings already on the site, Cyberhomes will be adding personal finance content and new areas for renting, moving, and home and garden.

As robust and complete as that sounds, however, don’t call Cyberhomes a “destination” site. “I have an issue with the word ‘destination,'” says Frame, “because the ultimate destination in our business is the kitchen table-and we don’t have one of those: we’re here to facilitate the kitchen-table transaction.”

Getting to the Kitchen Table

Even before this month’s site update, Cyberhomes had already made great inroads with consumers in an effort to get real estate professionals to the kitchen-table transaction. With an average-user session that is “well north of 30 minutes” and an average user that returns to the site more than twice a month, Cyberhomes is obviously gaining noteworthy consumer traffic. These figures stand to increase significantly with the current expansion of the site and the commencement of Fidelity National’s consumer push.

“When our company does things, it has a history of doing them incredibly seriously,” says Frame. “We made a deliberate choice not to do a consumer promotion initially, which is contrary to everything I’ve ever done in my career on the Web. But we had a mandate to build it the way it should be built, and then promote the heck out of it.”

Cyberhomes’ stats to-date have compelled many brokers to offer up their listings. “For us, when we look at our partners, we look at sites that attract the kind of traffic we’re looking for,” says Rouda. “It’s about visibility-it creates a new consumer base that we wouldn’t have had the option of getting otherwise.”

According to Frame, consumers are visiting Cyberhomes for a number of reasons.

“Our business model is predicated on interacting with a variety of segments of the population that are interested in homeownership,” Frame says. “They are homeowners who have some questions, anxiety, concerns or confusion about the marketplace. Five to 10 percent are actively looking to buy or sell in the short term. Most of the users are people with questions around homeownership who want to understand how things are changing around them. We want to provide content that gives them the context for these changes-that’s where we’re seeing our repeat usage.”

One of the main attractions at Cyberhomes, therefore, is the home evaluation data, which Frame (and many others industry-wide) believe, is superior to other sites based on the sheer depth of information that is accessed from Fidelity National’s family of companies.

“Cyberhomes has better access to better quality data than other people,” says Pat Lashinsky, president and CEO of Emeryville, California-based ZipRealty, who utilizes both Cyberhomes and Zillow for home valuations. “Most of our agents feel like Cyberhomes valuations in a lot of markets are closer to being on target, but we like to use both in combination. From our perspective, the only way to determine a home’s true value is to have the agent look at the home. Showing both valuation models gives us the chance to say, ‘If you want to find out which price is right, talk to us.’ It creates a discussion point and allows you to have another reason to have a relationship with the client.”

“We’re very focused on having the richest and freshest data,” says Frame. “One of the things that’s different about us is that we don’t let it rest with tax and recorder data. Within our family of companies, we gather all the information we can and append it to our Cyberhomes data. That’s a huge differentiation from everyone else who is just using tax data.

“In the professionally automated valuation world, you’re doing well as a business-to-business provider if you’re in a range of 10 percent over or under at least 80 percent of the time,” continues Frame. “That’s the benchmark we adhere to.”

Happy Sellers, Informed Buyers, Successful Agents

Lashinsky believes that Frame has always been someone who knows how to create products that add value for consumers without hurting the real estate professional. “We started talking to Cyberhomes and then started downloading all of our listings within the first eight weeks,” he reports. “We wanted our sellers to be visible everywhere.”

Lashinsky joins a growing list of brokerages and MLSs that have chosen to syndicate listings through Cyberhomes. These executives realize that the connection with Cyberhomes will make the job of the real estate agent that much easier.

“What we’re always looking to do is build a stable of products and services for our customers,” Bergeron explains. “If we can give them some mass exposure and funnel all the leads back to them, then that’s great service. And it’s not like we’re a middleman saying, ‘Here’s a lead, pay me.’ That’s always been a complaint.”

As changing market conditions and accompanying negative media stories seriously impact consumer thoughts and patterns, Frame believes that Cyberhomes can greatly help the real estate professional’s cause by properly framing the information consumers are receiving.

“Our site helps by providing context around the types of information consumers are receiving about a property or the housing market in general,” he explains. “The more informed the consumer is, the easier, better and faster your job as a real estate professional becomes.”

“We think it’s important to work with Cyberhomes because it provides good information that’s valuable to consumers,” agrees Lashinsky. “We want to be as transparent as possible and share all of that information with our customers. We’re giving consumers access to good information that allows them to be smarter.”

“What makes Cyberhomes attractive,” says Rouda, “is the availability of its community data. What Cyberhomes brings to the table is a really deep knowledge of the real estate industry and consumers. From the service to [Fidelity National’s] depth of reach in the industry, they have a lot to offer-and we’re just starting to tap into that. We’re hoping to evolve into an advertising program with our agents so that our agents can enhance their advertising.”

Cyberhomes will take the home-shopping experience one step further this month, by allowing real estate companies to showcase their in-house mortgage operations through the site.

“Real estate companies have actually benefited from the change in the lending environment and now have the best pricing and programs. Cyberhomes will help consumers be the beneficiary of that,” says Frame. “We now have a way of promoting and helping companies monetize their core services for free.”

The Competitive Advantage

With several valuation models and listing aggregators entering the marketplace, Frame believes Cyberhomes stands out for two main reasons, one of which speaks to Fidelity National’s wealth of information: “We just fundamentally have more content from within our family of companies, and access to even more still-like subprime and foreclosure information.”

An even more important differentiator, says Frame, is the company’s focus. “We see a field of competitive sites that, until recently, have all fundamentally been doing the same thing. But now these folks are beginning to differentiate. Certain sites are becoming a paid classified site; certain sites are trying to go more toward the community aspect-where to get the best pizza in town or find a babysitter. Our focus is shifting toward helping the consumer find a lot of different data in a way that makes sense to their objectives and goals, and can help lead to a more frictionless transaction experience. We think we can do that better than anyone else, because of our heritage as a company. And then there’s a punch line that gets you to the kitchen table. We’re leveraging Fidelity National’s technology to take some of the fat out of the process to make it go faster or be cheaper-or both. Ultimately, we want to help real estate companies package different options for consumers, whether they want to buy a home, get insurance, get a loan-all the homeownership services real estate companies have to offer.”

Bergeron agrees that the biggest advantage of Cyberhomes is that it is so much more than a home valuation model, but rather a “complete package.” “What they did with Cyberhomes is smart-they started with the valuation model,” he explains. “Customers can find out what their home is worth but then see what else is out there as well as get brokerage information. Cyberhomes has a full package that is good for our customer and good for the consumer.” RE

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Creating Relationships in Cyberworld

Keller Williams CTO David Therrien explains why CyberhomesTM is the perfect solution for brokers and agents.

What’s driving your current initiative to revamp Keller Williams’ tech offering to its agents?
In 2006 and 2007, our focus was on providing the capabilities or platform in which to operate in a cyberworld. Now the focus is on building those relationships online.

therrian_dave.jpgWhy is Cyberhomes an important part of your Keller Williams Listing System?
The biggest part of our value proposition to consumers is our ability to systemically market their home for sale to as many people as possible who may be interested in purchasing that home. Syndicating listing data becomes paramount in the cyberworld. Cyberhomes is an organization that is consumer-focused and agent-supportive. They’re looking at not only presenting information about homes for sale, but other types of real estate information a consumer would be interested in, such as schools, culture, the environment, and religious organizations.

Why does Cyberhomes stand out from other syndicated listing sites?
Fidelity National has been in the real estate industry for a long number of years. A major portion of the residential real estate transactions that close every year go through their organization, so the depth of their information database is significant. Their ability to provide the consumer with a lot more depth and content is significant.

Why is increasing listing exposure an important marketing tool for agents?
We talk about being service-oriented as an industry and that’s what the consumer is funding when they pay commissions. Marketing is a big part of the selling proposition and it has to be as expansive and comprehensive as possible in order to generate the greatest number of potential buyers and get the seller the best possible offer. Sellers look from one agent to the next and compare them.

How does a product like Cyberhomes help make important connections with consumers?
As a consumer, I want to have involvement in all those aspects of my life that have the potential to be a major, impacting factor in my happiness. Certainly buying a home is one of these events, and the more information I have access to, the better I feel and the more I am able to influence the outcome. Cyberhomes provides me with tremendous resources to acquire and access information that can impact my life and control the process of buying or selling a home.

How can a site like Cyberhomes help agents and brokers do more business in a tough market?
The market is the market. If you’re going to fish, put your bait in the water. If I’m not responsive to the market, then I won’t do business. As an agent, I can look to Cyberhomes to leverage exposure of my listings and provide inquiries about my listings back to me. The day of the agent being the sole repository of information and knowledge is long gone. There is a collective effort of many professionals coming together to bring the real estate transaction to fruition. Those agents that are successful understand this. The leadership in Cyberhomes is a very significant factor in an agent’s success.