Editor’s Note: This article is the May cover story in RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine.
For a company that’s been entrenched in the real estate industry for almost 20 years now, Move, Inc. is out to take the online real estate industry by storm. Fresh off a powerhouse acquisition by media giant News Corp, Move and realtor.com® are gaining momentum on an aggressive growth strategy that makes their business model even more relevant to the needs of today’s real estate professionals and the consumers they serve. And, given the rapid evolution of the online real estate space, the timing couldn’t be better to break away and grab the lead once again.
Searching for and discovering real estate online has become a simple fact of life. Not only do virtually all home searches now begin on the Web or mobile apps, almost half end there as well—according to the National Association of REALTORS® 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 43 percent of all homebuyers end up buying a home that they first spotted on the Internet.
But despite the fact that the all-things-online movement is advancing at warp speed, the human element remains an indelible—and indispensable—part of the real estate transaction. The NAR report also reveals that 90 percent of homebuyers who used the Internet to search for homes also purchased their home through a real estate professional.
These two indisputable facts are exactly what puts Move and realtor.com in such a uniquely advantageous position. No other portal has managed to link online real estate search with a live real estate professional quite the way Move has, where the REALTOR® is always a headliner.
And, with its acquisition by News Corp last November, Move is quickly bringing more of both—technology and people—to the equation. Thanks to this power surge, Move’s new ability to leverage technology and exponentially increase its consumer reach creates a whole new playing field where real estate professionals and consumers can come together.
“News Corp has tremendous assets,” says Ryan O’Hara, the News Corp veteran who became CEO of Move in January. “If you look at its different brands and products, they’re all leaders in their categories: Whether it’s The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch or Barron’s, we have a broad company with diverse executives and a lot of talent. News Corp is very good at synergies and encourages people to find ways to work together to benefit our companion businesses.”
O’Hara brings a rich history of multi-media experience to his position at Move, affording him some invaluable vantage points for the road ahead. “I’ve been fortunate to be put into different situations where there was good and fierce competition,” says O’Hara. “One of my first jobs with News Corp was with Fox Sports, where we competed against the much larger ESPN. At Fox Sports, we were able to carve a different path and bring consumers different values that translated into successes. This experience taught me the importance of being part of a team and the need to execute well to build a company.”
The News Corp acquisition has provided a way for Move to press the restart button, says Move CTO John Robison. “With News Corp, we’re a start-up again, and we’re hiring people with that personality and mentality,” he explains. “We are retooling the team to be more agile and we now have a much faster pace of software development. We have room to innovate and can take bigger risks because we’re not a public company so we don’t have to manage Wall St. expectations. We’ve been around long enough in the portal space to position ourselves as the innovator again. We are gunning for the No. 1 spot.”
The News Corp Factor
Since the News Corp acquisition, the buzz surrounding what lies ahead for Move and realtor.com has been mounting.
“With new leadership and new momentum at Move and realtor.com, we are more excited than ever about the potential for growth in the digital real estate industry,” says Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp. “When we acquired Move, the intention was to turbo-charge this business, and that’s exactly what’s happening now, to the benefit of consumers and property professionals.”
From NAR’s perspective, it’s a huge positive. “The National Association of Realtors® remains excited about News Corp’s successful acquisition of Move, Inc.,” says NAR President Chris Polychron, executive broker with 1st Choice Realty in Hot Springs, Ark. “Realtors® are about making consumers’ real estate dreams a reality, and the unique strengths of News Corp, Move, and our REALTOR® members will enhance our ability to do that. NAR is committed to working with News Corp and Move, Inc. to seek and develop new opportunities that help REALTORS® and consumers flourish in today’s real estate marketplace.”
Of course, the most obvious thing News Corp brings to the table is exposure. Through News Corp’s world-class media platform, it is already beginning to amplify brand awareness for realtor.com and REALTORS®.
In January, realtor.com set an all-time record with 37 million unique users, and February comScore/Experian data shows that realtor.com surpassed Trulia and regained the industry’s No. 2 position. This upward traffic trajectory continued through March.
“Ecosystems do better when everything’s healthy, and with the News Corp acquisition, realtor.com experienced an all-time high in unique users in February,” says Move EVP of Industry Platforms Luke Glass. “We’ve always been focused on delivering the most transaction-ready consumers to REALTORS® and now we can increase the flow of high-quality leads to the funnel.”
Realtor.com will also leverage News Corp’s abundant content resources to make it more relevant to today’s consumers. The website’s News & Advice section already features articles from the WSJ Mansion section, mortgage rates and other data from MarketWatch. “By increasing the focus on editorial content and creating a better user experience, we will continue to drive the right traffic to realtor.com and keep them coming back,” says O’Hara.
The implications of the News Corp acquisition are not lost on brokers and agents. In order to support the rapid growth of Ohio’s Cutler Real Estate, General Manager Andy Camp took a careful look at the players in the online real estate space.
“Beyond getting a data feed, we wanted to figure out what direction would be best for consumers and REALTORS®,” he explains. “What really prompted us to reach out to Move was when News Corp came into the picture. We looked at who would offer us the best long-term strategy for top-of-mind awareness with consumers and online support of our initiatives. We wanted to focus on one national partner who complements what we already have in place with our online department. So, we reached out to Move and realtor.com and quickly realized they were the partner we were looking for.”
As Always, at the Center, the REALTOR®
From the moment consumers type “realtor.com” into their Web browsers, the real estate professional becomes part of their real estate journey. The trust consumers and real estate professionals place in realtor.com is one of the key reasons News Corp was attracted to Move in the first place.
“We have a deep connection with the industry through our relationship with NAR,” says O’Hara. “Since joining Move in January, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time getting to know the leadership and members of NAR, brokers and agents, and tap into their varied expertise. We think it’s the best place to be and we’ll always be tightly aligned with the interests of this industry.”
Brokers and agents really like this fact. “Of all the players out there, realtor.com is the most broker-centric and real estate industry-sensitive,” says Tom Hosack, president of Northwood Realty and chairman of the Realty Alliance. Northwood’s 38 offices and 1,000 agents serve the Western Pennsylvania and Northeastern Ohio markets. “Our industry is only helped when the product helps people buy and sell homes, and helps agents do their jobs.”
“One of the key, guiding principles at realtor.com is to make sure the consumer trusts and values the REALTOR® before a meeting takes place,” says Glass. “Our goal is to have the most accurate and complete data so that when the consumer reaches out to a professional, they already have a trusted brand affiliation.”
That’s why, when it comes to technology innovation, Move focuses on advancements that benefit both real estate professionals and consumers. “We made a major change to the way we create and deliver leads,” says Robison. “We now provide context around a person’s search, so when an agent gets a lead, it’s more than an address and phone number. It’s also where a person’s interested in living and the type of homes they’re interested in. This allows the agent to be more intelligent when they respond to the lead and the consumer gets a more relevant interaction.”
Quantity without Quality Is…a Waste of Time
The ability to better leverage technology and exposure all points in one direction for realtor.com: more and better leads.
In the race to online supremacy, leads are usually the determining factor. But today’s more informed brokers and agents are finally getting wise to the fact that leads for the sake of leads just don’t cut it. Quality leads are becoming the only game in town, and thanks to its stronghold on data accuracy, Move believes it has cornered the market on leads.
Here’s why: Through relationships with more than 800 MLSs, realtor.com displays 98 percent of all for-sale properties listed in the U.S. More than 90 percent of those listings are updated every 15 minutes and the remainder are updated within 24 hours. In addition to its historical MLS relationships, realtor.com is expanding its presence in markets not served by an MLS, as demonstrated by recent agreements with five of the largest brokerage firms as well as a leading syndicator in New York, adding thousands of New York City listings to its national database.