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By Maria Patterson

RISMEDIA, June 12, 2008-Long famous for being two steps ahead when it comes to technology, it’s no surprise that ERA Real Estate began investigating the possibilities of creating an online listings distribution model back in 2006 when firms like Zillow were just out of the gate.

“We understand the changing marketplace and the fact that so many consumers are first going online to do their initial home searching,” explains ERA Senior Vice President of Marketing P.J. Martin Smith. “We want to be where consumers are looking for listings-and it’s important for sellers that we’re able to provide their property the full exposure of the entire Internet.”

ERA quickly developed arrangements to distribute ERA listings through several online listing channels, including sites such as Google Base and Zillow. The idea is that consumers will travel from these sites to the portal, and then to individual ERA brokers and sales associates. Put simply, ERA is using its online distribution channels to drive consumers to ERA listings and their agents.

Bill Cogan, vice president of interactive marketing at ERA, explains that it’s important to work with several channels in order to reach as many consumers as possible. “You have consumers that become comfortable with one site and trust it as the source for homes, and then you have customers who are surfing the Internet and looking at many sites,” he explains. “Using different sites allows us to touch more customers-one customer might like Google, but another customer might like Zillow.”

At press time, Zillow was recording five million visitors per month, with 90% of Zillow users reported to own a home. One of the key draws of the Zillow site for these homeowners is its “Zestimate” valuation feature, which lets visitors get an idea of what their home is worth. More recently, Zillow has added features such as Zillow Discussions, a forum where visitors can talk to each other, and “Dueling Digs,” where site visitors can get home improvement ideas by choosing between two pictures and picking their favorite.

“Zillow’s unique features have proven to be most useful for those looking to buy or sell a home, and as a result, current and prospective buyers and sellers make up approximately two-thirds of our audience,” says Jorrit Van der Meulen, Zillow’s vice president of partner relations. “This highly targeted audience makes Zillow an invaluable marketing channel for our listings partners who are not only looking to distribute their listings broadly, but to reach the most relevant audience possible.”

While Martin Smith stresses that a well-thought-out online distribution strategy is important in any market, she concurs that in today’s tougher climate it’s even more important. “Historically, the greater exposure a seller gets for the property, the higher the chances of getting a buyer in quickly and of getting the highest price for that property,” she explains. “What better way to gain exposure than through multiple channels on the Internet?”

According to Cogan, online sites like Zillow give ERA agents a competitive edge in the marketplace. “Our agents have an advantage when doing a marketing presentation to homeowners,” he explains. “They can show them all that they will do to market the property to consumers.”

The changing market, in fact, is bearing witness to an increasing number of sellers who are coming to expect this type of aggressive marketing of their properties via the Internet. Martin Smith says, “home sellers are looking specifically at what we can do to expose and attract buyers to their homes. They’ve seen on the Internet what they can expect in terms of exposure for their properties, and by using multiple distribution channels, ERA has the ability to tell sellers that they are even further exposed to consumers.”

Cogan also believes that brokers are quickly recognizing the advantages of working with multiple online channels. “I feel that since we started our listing distribution strategy, brokers have embraced it and have seen the value in increasing exposure for listings,” he reports. “I think this is really the future of the business.”

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