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The Results Are In : Real Estate Portals Survey

15 minute read

The Australian Real Estate Portals Survey is now closed and the results are in.  Overall we had over 500 people who viewed the survey and 92 participants complete it in full. None of the questions were compulsory and not every question was answered by everybody.

Several of the questions required choices to be selected against 16 real estate portals.  I tried to include a collection from the subscription, free, state based and niche portals, specifically the luxury portals.

Performance

It’s probably no surprise to anyone but the portal with the overall best result on performance was realestate.com.au with less than 15% of people indicating they were dissatisfied by their performance and over 68% claiming they were satisfied or very satisfied with their performance. The small remainder had a neutral response.

In contrast Domain had a significantly larger 27% of people dissatisfied and a lower 40% satisfied. Still we are talking about performance  here and Domain still delivers so all in all fairly good results in comparison to the rest of the portals. Domain Prestige on the other hand gave a pretty poor result. Despite the fact that only 20 people actually provided a rating only one person indicated they were satisfied by their performance.

Homehound and Myhome came in pretty similar with around 50 people providing a rating. Both have a few more people dissatisfied than they do satisfied but the most popular result response was in the middle with Neutral. I guess you can read into that they are doing an Ok job!

Google Real Estate had just 20% of participants indicate they were dissatisfied but a massive 37.5% indicated they were satisfied. That performance satisfaction rating was nearly as good as Domain’s and is really quite surprising. In just a few weeks I cant see how Google would be close to Domain on a performance level. Then you have the fact that Google just passes on the inquiry to their own website or one of the other portals so it would be pretty hard for the average agent to quantify the results from Google Real Estate.

Whilst the number of respondents for the two free luxury portals were a lot lower those that did respond did not find much to be satisifed about the performance in either Millionplus or Luxuryhomes.com.au.  The three state based real estate portals provided a mixed bag of results. The number of respondents for each was naturally much lower but Realestateview.com.au was the standout performer followed by REIWA and a relatively poor results for realestateworld who struggled with only two people wishing to record satisfied results.

Value

The standout performer in this category was Google Real Estate with just 6% of those that answered the question saying they were dissatisfied and a leading 58% saying they were satisfied.

Realestate.com.au had 1 in 2 respondents indicate they were satisfied but with nearly 30% dissatisfied the results were fairly polarised.

Domain’s results confirm the trouble they are currently having in the marketplace at the moment with just as many dissatisfied with their value as there are those that are satisfied at just over 30% each.

Given their free base subscription levels it is probably no surprise that Myhome and Homehound showed just 8 to 10% dissatisfaction levels on a question based on value. There satisfaction levels were around 3 times that which left fairly large Neutral vote. Results not quite as good as newcomer Google but something they should both be happy with as the industry obviously sees them as a value proposition. They both just need to do something about their perceived performance.

Realestateview was the clear leader in the state based portals with nearly half those that gave a rating saying they were satisfied with the value of the portal in comparison to just 5 saying they were dissatisfied.

Subscription Plans

Of the three different suggestions the survey offered of Flat rate unlimited properties, price per property and price per enquiry, they all had their fans but it was the unlimited option that garnered the most support. Price per listing also had good support but I was surprised by more than 40% selecting “Strongly Disagree”  for the “price per enquiry”.

Next 12 months

With the portal landscape in Australia entering a new phase and free options like Myhome, Homehound and Google starting to stack up and provide serious alternatives I thought it interesting to look at where the respondents see the future lies. There are a couple of standout messages from the results and the first one is not so good for Domain and to a much lesser extent realestate.com.au.

56 respondents indicated where their future lay with Domain and 10 of those, representing close to 1 in 5 said they will be cancelling their account. As the number two portal this has to be a very worrying indicator of a bad year to come for subscriber numbers. On top of this another 11 indicated they would be reducing their investment with the portal totally close to 40% reducing their investment or cancelling the portal totally.

Realestate.com.au also had 4 people indicate they would be cancelling their account but because they had a lot more respond in the survey which meant that it represented only a fraction of the cancellation rate of Domain at about 5%. What was particuarly high though was more than 25% of respondents indicating they would be reducing their investment in the portal. This is certainly better than the cancel rate experienced by Domain but indicates that the REA sales team is probably going to struggle to sell the add on features to the base subscription over the next 12 months.

Overall I think the top two subscription portals would not be too happy with those results.  It seems to indicate that many agents are looking to reduce their expenditure to subscription portals. Those with two portal accounts seem likely to drop the second subscription and in most cases that is the domain account and a few agents seem to think they dont even need a subscription portal at all.

Other than these there were two other standouts. For Google Real Estate there is a strong indication that agents will increase their investment in the portal. On a state level despite reduced numbers of respondents RealEstateview.com.au showed a very high percentage indicating they would be increasing their investment. This is a great endorsement and something that they should be proud of.

For the rest… it was generally a matter of “No Change” that stood out.

Industry Trends

In a general sense the majority of respondents believe the trend for the next 2 years will result in a reduction of market share for the subscription portals in favour of the free portals and in particular to Google Real Estate. In fact a massive 85% of those who responded believe Google will increase their market share and only 1 person believed that they will decrease their market share… What was that person thinking?.. Was that you Simon? 🙂

The majority also believe that subscription costs will increase but their value to an agent will decrease. Another thing that really stood out in the results was the strong belief that Free Portal will become more effective over the next 2 years.

Percentage of Buyer and Appraisal Enquiry and Source of Sales from Portals.

The survey asked respondents what percentage of buyer enquiry did Real Estate Portals generate. The answers that could be selected were across 7 categories. Generally most people responded that real estate portals provided between 45% and 90% of all buyer enquiry. This was broken up into three categories covering 15% increments that returned 20. 25 and 30% of the. responses respectively. This really shows that there are some agents who rely very heavily on portals to deliver their buyer enquiry and just how economically tied to the performance of Real Estate Portals they have become.

Real Estate Portals were a lot less capable in generating appraisals with 31% responding 0 to 15% and 34% responding that the portals generated between 16 and 30%. That certainly represented the majority of respondents but again some agents indicated just how much they rely on the portals with nearly 11%  suggesting that portals were responsible for over 60% of their appraisal enquiry.

Next we asked what percentage were the real estate portals responsible for sales in an agency and there was again 7 categories. This was really a mixed bag. Whilst 31-45% was the most popular category with over a quarter of the votes all other categories  up to 90% received a significant response. Only one person indicated the 91-100% category. Whilst they are clearly a significant buyer source for just about every everyone the percentage of actual generated business really ranges quite significantly.

Quite clearly there are offices that through other initiatives have strong sources of buyer enquiries, appraisal enquiries sales such as emarketing, CRM and print advertising fully outside and away from the portals.  For these agents the business traffic generated by portals is significant, but still only a part of their overall business. On the other hand there are offices that rely just about totally on the portals for all their business.

Real Estate Portal Issues.

Someone who chose to remain anonymous implied that because I asked about issues I was trying to skew results. I left these to the end of the survey so they played little effect to the survey responses. The issues raised were what I personally believe are the major issues today facing the industry relating to real estate portals. If the questions were skewed the results any then discussing the issues on sites like www.business2.com.au would do even more so. Unfortunately its a case that if you want to see whats important you have to bring that to the fore.

Saying that, these things were clearly issues that concern many agents so as you would expect this was evidenced in the results.

The increase of subscription costs was nearly a clean sweep with around 85% of those that responded saying they were concerned or very concerned. In comparison only 52% of people were as concerned with the value of subscription portals decreasing.

The increasing add-on costs was also a concern with 72% claiming to be concerned or very concerned. The biggest single response was left for the matter of Private Sellers on Realestate.com.au where by a massive 57% of respondents indicated the single category of “Very Concerned”. When combined with the “concerned” response this means that nearly 7 in every 19 agents will be very displeased if RealEstate.com.au ever considers allowing private sellers to their site.

Over the past 12 months the changing economic situation has meant that the majority of agents have seen dramatic reduction in revenues whilst portal costs have increased significantly. Even a promoted price freeze was not really a freeze at all, merely a price cap and that cap had been increased inside the 12 month period anyway.

Google did not escape this category though with 1 in every 2 agents concerned about Google controlling real estate information online. Since Google only shows limited information provided by third parties and is about passing that traffic on to those that actually host that information I can only put this down to a lack of understanding how Google fits into the mix. They are a path not the destination so their control can only ever be limited and the concern in the industry is probably from a lack of communication. I think all they have done is one press release that never really made the papers whilst the media groups have released a us versus Google articles.

Overview

The market leader, realestate.com.au comes out pretty strong from the survey however there are messages loud and clear that they should be listening to. In short terms agents are concerned over some key issues and more importantly, agent believe that their current market position and value to an agency will erode over the next 12 and 24 months.

Domain on the other hand obviously has some problems to look at and they need to start thinking outside of the square and come up with something that changes their image in the market. Some good stuff has come out of there recently but this needs to continue to make a real impact.

Google is generally seen to be adding significantly to the industry over the next 12 and 24 months. They are the new kid on the block and because of their pedigree they are being given a remarkable amount of support from the industry. Time will tell if they live up to that support.

You can view the results page for the exact responses numbers for each question here http://bit.ly/zXY1h . As promised anybody who wants the raw data which provides a better detailed view of the responses needs to send me an email at glenn@nfn.com.au.

The survey resulted in quite a lot of comments so here is a small selection of them

“Realestate.com.au have too much power”

“I still believe these mediums are cheap considering the return. We carry a mix of approx 40 listings at any given time (Sales + Property Management) meaning each listing costs approx. $17 a month to advertise. Beats any alternative, and REA and Domain provide us with huge results. No complaints here…so long as the prices don’t skyrocket (thanks to Google, they shouldn’t) , we’ll stay on board.”

“Subscription costs are getting out of hand, need to ensure no private sellers allowed”

“realestate.com.au have been increasing their costs by large percentages each year – way above the CPI. They claim they are delivering more visitors but are individual agents receiving any more inquiry. Monopolies are not good, we have been down this path with newspapers which have had monopolies in cities and agents have no bargaining power on costs because there are no alternatives. We must keep portal competition alive and ensure there are enough major portals to keep prices fair.”

“With google coming in as a real player ,the power can be regained by agents as they are always the source of the primary content”

“REA is our standard portal. The costs are beginning to become inhibitive and we would welcome a less expensive yet effective alternative.”

‘Far too high subscriptions and no customer service. Agents are their customers but they don’t seem to see it that way”

“Cost – That being said, it is much cheaper that the old days when print ruled”

“They are completely over priced and the problem is you really dont have a choice but to use them”

“Portals play one agent off against the other for things such as “Guaranteed top stop””

“Subscriptions on the main portals are good value”

“I think Google shows alot of potential but was surprised that there were many glitches in it – hopefully that’s not a reflection of their commitment to make it excellent”

“To be blunt, i believe Domain sh*ts all over REA with regards to customer service, their site is cleaner, arguably more user friendly, and they don’t give everyone 5-10 FREE Feature Listings, so ours genuinely stand out on Domain. The other portals are non factors to us, as we don’t invest in them.”

“They are giving too much information to the public that we as agents provide after working extremely hard! We also pay them for the privilege.”

“if every portal and every property was listed the same way without any priority listings in date order the market would move a lot smoother and everyone would have a fairer go.”

“I think the real estate portals have a rough road ahead, some will survive, but many will fall by the way. We do, however, need some competition to keep the playing field level to some extent.”

“I have a growing concern that our industry will simply hand Google all our relevant information again on a FREE basis then head lock our industry – before charging us a fortune in 2 years time.”

“The dominance of REA the others need to get their act together. to many ads on their site, we are paying for the properties to go onto the site, no need for the ads all over the pages.”

“They are like the newspapers- the customer is unimportant and only there to be milked”

“RE portal owners see agents as a huge income source. They have done a fantastic snow job on the majority of ‘technically uneducated’ agents. Agents don’t appreciate by subscribing to these sites they are helping those sites grow and thus taking business away from those agents”

More Surveys?

If anybody is interested in assisting with further surveys over the next year I would be interested in talking with you.

My initial thoughts are that we would need the assistance on two levels:

  1. The first is wider audience. Ideally I would like to get a survey in front of a much wider audience to all agents and salespeople and someone that could assist in that would be appreciated.
  2. The second is financial. A higher featured survey system allowing for conditional questions, branching and break the survey into smaller sections. Also prizes for those that enter would increase the take-up rate.

I am open to assistance from anybody including industry magazines and even real estate portals.  Whilst somebody might choose to sponsor a survey it would remain independent and as transparent as possible. I have a range of survey topics in mind including:

  • Mobile technology looking at smartphones, mobile phones, laptops and tablets.
  • Technology in the office looking at the number and type of computers, internet connection, network topology and ancillary equipment like printers etc.
  • Print Advertising
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11 Comments

  • James
    Posted August 8, 2009 at 3:01 am 0Likes

    While the results would indicate some trends I think that given there are some 9000 offices across Australia that the level of respodents that you received is too low to make any accurate assumptions from the survey.

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted August 8, 2009 at 8:24 am 0Likes

    James.

    Accuracy is the key word there. The larger the sample size the less you have to extrapolate them up to an industry wide assumptions. The smaller the sample size the more chance for error.

    But as you say there are certain trends that standout and thats what we are looking for. I would like to think that if we could force the whole industry to take the survey the results would not change that much on percentage level… But nobody knows if thats true. It is an indicator at best.

    As a percentage of those actually responding the sample size of this survey is actually far more representative of the real estate industry as a whole than many political polls that are conducted in this industry and that fill our newspapers. In Australia, sample sizes for political polls typically vary between 400 and 3,000 to represent the whole country.

    Also, because it was promoted through the blog and twitter the respondents are probably skewed to the more technically literate of agents.

    It’s not perfect, not even close .. it could be much better, but its the best we have got at the moment.

    I would love realestate.com.au or domain.com.au to get involved with future surveys. With their client databases to broadcast to and maybe a prize or two we could improve the sample size and the accuracy of the surveys.

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted August 8, 2009 at 9:03 am 0Likes

    I should point out that some political polls obviously have much bigger and very finely tuned and weighted samples as well.

  • Shane Dale
    Posted August 8, 2009 at 9:58 am 0Likes

    Glenn, I think its a worthwhile survey – thank you! – sure its not the defininitve or all encompassing report as some grizzle about, but its the best available, its free and its indicative of the industry. Certainly better than none at all!

    Its also worth considering basic human behaviour here in the overall results – ‘twice I did good and that I heard never, but once I did bad and that I heard ever” – i.e. people are more motivated to complain than applaud service levels. All portals have their past sins but all represent great value compared to print.

    Having said that – the lessons need to be learned by all portals ( certainly including myself and myhome), as there does seem to be an increasing level of “noise” in the industry about the major 2 portals.

    Challenger players like Myhome and others need to try alternative routes – we will be reviewing closely the survey results for options. Although there are many many things in train for release over the next 6 months.

    My suspicion is that the larger portals will take this survey in discussion but there only real influence is usually financial – they respond when there is a risk to their model, client satisfaction levels are not enough to impact their bureaucratic decision making processes. In short these comments will be more used by challengers than encumbent portals I think. Challengers have to try harder with less resources usually.

    Regarding performance – alot of agents dont really have anything other than their “gut” feeling and overall impression to judge effectiveness by – so if you are a small contributor to their leads, you can get lost in the oevrall mix, even if you statistically performed well for your traffic level compared to larger portals ( esp in price terms!)

  • Kylie Emans
    Posted August 8, 2009 at 11:25 am 0Likes

    I think your survey showed great initiative and does show trends. It is a shame that more real estate agency’s didn’t respond, if the industry doesn’t contribute then it is not helping itself!

  • Nick
    Posted August 10, 2009 at 1:24 pm 0Likes

    The survey shows some interesting points, but a lot of it is too indecisive.
    People chose ‘Neutral’ or equivalent far too much and didnt want to provide a opinion.

    It was a small sample set, but I think it was good enough to reflect general views.

    “Then you have the fact that Google just passes on the inquiry to their own website or one of the other portals so it would be pretty hard for the average agent to quantify the results from Google Real Estate.”

    You are slightly wrong there. I’ve found it incredibly easy to quantify results from Google Real Estate.

    The performance tab in Google Base works quite well for general stats, with its graphs and CSV output, but even more information comes from website logs.
    From the logs you can extract loads of information.

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted August 11, 2009 at 9:47 am 0Likes

    Nick,

    I think the point here here is I was referring to the “average” agent.

    Most agents do not have an analytics program installed to see this data coming into their website. .

    You have access to Google Base performance reports because you upload to them but very few agencies do this themselves. It is normally uploaded by their data host or by their head office. That is who has the Google Base account it is uploaded as.

    Whilst it is certainly possible to get the information as you pointed out I think at the moment it is out of reach of the average agent.

  • Brandon Green
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 4:10 am 0Likes

    Insightful poll! Agents should consider creating their own sites rather than relying on the home office.

  • Sal Espro
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 11:52 am 0Likes

    Do you mean individual agents as distinct from their agencies, Brandon?
    This could certainly be possible under an agency’s brand i.e. 5 agents all having their own websites attached to the ‘parent’ agency’s. After-all, I guess an agent is really an individual business operating under a shared brand.
    I think the only struggle would be when/if leaving an agency, you couldn’t expect to take your listings with you.

  • Jenni
    Posted September 24, 2009 at 4:38 pm 0Likes

    Hey Glenn

    I generated a report from Website Grader and they suggested that title, meta keywords should be limited otherwise the affects are diluted. Whats your thoughts?

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 9:29 am 0Likes

    Hi Jenni,

    Over the years many things that were important for seo on a page have lost importance. The title keyword is not one of them and is probably more important now than ever. With the title tag there is another major factor to consider when you are deciding what to use. The title tag is what search engines use to display your website on the search engine results pages.

    Good SEO might get you higher in the list but inviting text can increase your clicks. I will be discussing this in the next SEO article.

    Back to the length.
    There are certainly two schools of thought here. One that concentrates on having short page titles so the saturation of specific keywords is always high. This is probably the ideal view and the one the majority of seo experts will follow and is best suited when you have a lot of other pages covering other keyword combinations.

    If you have a limited number of pages on your website but you want to cover as many keywords as possible then an option is to jam the title with many keywords. A long page title still works (see http://www.hobo-web.co.uk/seo-blog/index.php/google-you-can-put-50-words-in-your-title-tag-well-read-it/) but the effect is that diluted.

    Your title tag just on your home page is pretty full.. way too full.

    Centrepoint First National Real Estate – Mermaid Waters Real Estate, Mudgeeraba | Clear Island Waters | Mermaid Waters | Robina | Broadbeach Waters | Benowa | Carrara | Highland Park | Surfers Paradise | Southport | Pimpama | Isle of Capri | Labrador | Merrimac | Chevron Island | Gilston | Broadbeach | Burleigh Waters | Varsity Lakes

    You have far too many suburbs in here, suburbs you might have just one or two listings over a whole year.

    Your other problem is that you have the same page title for all you pages.. so the page title for your Property Appraisal page is exactly the same. If this page was to come up when somebody searched “Mermaid Waters Property Appraisal” (which it wouldn’t because you don’t mention appraisal anywhere) would you click on it?

    Just using these two pages as examples I would suggest you make your home page title something like

    “Centrepoint First National Real Estate – Mermaid | Mermaid Waters | Clear Island Waters”

    This concentrates on your core trading suburbs and your Property Appraisal page should have some like

    “Property Appraisals – Centrepoint First National Real Estate”

    or

    “Real Estate Property Appraisals – Mermaid | Mermaid Waters | Clear Island Waters”

    or

    “Property Appraisals – Mermaid | Mermaid Waters | Clear Island Waters – Centrepoint First National Real Estate”

    Always use your company name on your homepage. If you are a well known agency or brand then also use it at the end of your other pages. Only the first 70 characters will be displayed on Google but the rest will count from an SEO perspective.

    Try and make the first 70 characters count as much as possible. This is a good page to visualise what the public will see http://www.seomofo.com/snippet-optimizer.html

    You also have a problem with your page description. They are all the same and they need to be unique and describe the page as they too are used for the search engine results page.

    To cover the other suburbs create individual pages under the “Local area Info” section. So you might have page titles like

    “Mermaid – Gold Coast Suburb Info and Property for Sale – Centrepoint First National Real Estate”

    Create a page each of your targeted suburbs.

    Hope that helps.

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