The industry 'circles the wagons' around Realestate.co.nz

by Alistair Helm in


The real estate industry has been rallying around their industry owned website since the radical price change implemented by Trade Me Property a year ago, in a manner somewhat akin to circling the wagons. 

The resultant boycott, although somewhat patchy on a regional basis, has seen the relative strength of Trade Me Property slip from what must have been 100% of licensed agent’s listings to around 75% - a figure that does not seem to have changed much over recent months.

The real estate industry may judge the initiative a success. However the messaging within the industry around the role of the industry owned website may need some refining as a recent video by a loyal and passionate real estate licensee shows.

The video entitled “Support Realestate.co.nz !“ is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek news alert to fellow real estate agents which uses the analogy of “not putting all your eggs in one basket”.


Here is the script of the video:  

Hi, I’m Dave Umbers, I’m a real estate agent, salesperson, licensee, principle. Short message for you all today.

Our industry needs your support, our industry is Realestate.co.nz, these eggs here they represent our listings, if we give them away to someone else to look after we loose control of those eggs. So, keep our own eggs in our own basket by putting them all on Realestate.co.nz. Your business will flourish, our industry will have a future, and everybody will be much much happier.

I’m Dave Umbers, please, please I urge you, this is our website Realestate.co.nz. It’s the goose that lays the golden egg.

Whilst Dave Umbers begins the video with a statement that “This message is unsolicited” the intention is clearly to spread the word widely within the real estate community and seek unified support to bolster the standing of the industry site. 

I find his analogy of the egg basket very interesting. To suggest that placing listings on Trade Me Property is in someway akin to putting all your eggs in one basket is in my opinion naive at best. The real estate industry continues to try and convince their clients that the print media publications from the Christchurch Press, to the NZ Herald and from the Dominion Post to the Property Press are the best form of advertising flies in the face of this characterisation of Trade Me Property. Either the real estate industry genuinely believe online is the best form of advertising or they don’t - they should not speak with forked tongue!

I further find the reference to “loose control of those eggs” equally fascinating. These ‘eggs’ as Dave describes them are adverts for their clients listings, nothing more, nothing less. Adverts that are created under an agreement with those clients to act in their clients best interest to successfully sell their home. So how do they ever imagine that they are “loosing control” of these listings as adverts. The agent has a legal contract in the form of a listing agreement providing them surety to exclusively provide services to their client in the sale of their client's home which includes among other things advertising. So could they possibly think that Trade Me Property is taking control and endeavouring to null and void that agency agreement?

The video somehow portrays the website of Realestate.co.nz as some form of industry foundation using the phrase the “goose that lays the golden egg”. I am sure many in the real estate industry know full well that Realestate.co.nz is not a charitable foundation. It is a private company and its shares are held in part by individuals or companies who are not the subscribers or customers of the website and who one day may well decide to profit directly from the website in the form of profits or sale. So the phrase “the goose that lays the gold egg” may well be prophetic as it may turn out to be the nest egg for some of those shareholders one day to the exclusion of the likes of Dave Umbers and others of his colleagues across the country.

The final reference made to the benefit of placing those listings exclusively on Realestate.co.nz providing the industry with a “future” is fairly dramatic. Does the industry really fear their own viability as a result of an advertising platform changing its pricing model? Does the industry not believe that they deliver value to their clients beyond the choice of where to advertise a property for sale? I do. I believe that real estate agents deliver significant value, unique value in the aspects of market knowledge and intelligence, skills of facilitation, negotiation and that persistent ability to work tirelessly to deliver a positive outcome for their clients. Choosing where to place an advert and worrying about the cost of that advert at $149 pales into insignificance as compared to the overall service they collectively deliver 75,000 times a year.

Sure having an industry website is great. Many of their colleagues in other countries around the world wished they had an industry website, but those colleagues are not fearing their business future over a website platform and how much they charge. Advertising whether in the form of print media or online has always been a part of real estate. Whilst I was not involved in the industry 20 years ago but I am sure there were times that agents were up in arms about the annual increase in fees charged by the NZ Herald, The Christchurch Press, the Dom Post and Property Press. I am sure they felt blackmailed by the then media at the time. Equally I am sure in 20 years time the real estate industry will be up in arms about a media cost for reaching an audience. In that future it may not be Trade Me Property, it maybe Facebook or some future media platform, who knows?

The key thing to remember here is that buyers need to find out about property for sale. Agents need to represent their clients' properties to as wide an audience as possible. To reach that audience they have a professional duty of care to use all and any media that can deliver that audience. In today’s world that is online and for NZ online has to include Trade Me Property as well as Realestate.co.nz. My view would be never put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to advertising whatever the colour of the basket. Always provide clients with options of different advertising platforms.


Property musings on Facebook - 24 October

by Alistair Helm in


Here are the articles posted on Facebook over the past week - short, spontaneous insights and observations which I felt needed immediate discussion and didn't warrant long-form articles written.

 

1st home buyers should look to apartments


Realestate.co.nz invests in new commercials when they should be investing in the user

by Alistair Helm in


Realestate.co.nz this week unveiled its new TV commercial. It’s another execution is what has seen a barrage of advertising undertaken by the second places property portal in the past 12 months, as it has stepped up to compete more aggressively with Trade Me Property as it has weathered the wrath of backlash from it pricing model changes last October.

The new advert is funny which is a great attribute for TV advertising and reading some of the comments posted on Facebook, their followers seem to like it as well. Judge for yourself.

From a marketing perspective rather than a purely consumer perspective I have some concerns. I make these in an objective manner without bias to provide a perspective to the commentary I regularly make as to the competitive tension that exists between these two leading property portals in NZ. I have similarly made the same critical review of Trade Me Property TV advertising in the past.

This creative execution is built around the proposition of comprehensive content “The most homes in NZ”. This is the rational takeaway message that the campaign tries to convey. This message forms a part of the print media campaign and is in the voice-over of the TV commercial. However turn off the sound (which is always regarded as the acid test of TV commercials) and you are seeing the message “Realestate.co.nz Where property finds people” - a very different message and brand promise.

I have a problem with this campaign. We have a clever execution in print with the Monopoly theme - bit of humour and good instant contextual referencing. Then we have a different execution around hats - sure there is the great lyricwherever I lay my hat - that’s my home” but it feels somewhat of a stretch. Then there is the DIY execution which I do get (just) but when sharing it with friends at the weekend most didn’t. Some thought it was to do with The Block or was Mitre 10 now part of Realestate.co.nz?

I also find a disconnect between the campaign idea of most homes for sale - being about the greatest choice, best solution when looking for property and the tag line “Where property finds people”. I know it is play on “Where people find property” - but why not say that or better still use a line which failed the complaint raised by Trade Me Property to the ASA back in 2006The only place with everyplace” - although that would still fail today as Trade Me Property is the only pace to find private sales.

That brings me to the major problem. This campaign is vulnerable!  It could well be the case that given the revised pricing model announced by Trade Me Property in early August, the point of difference of “The most homes in NZ” will become null and void and once again Trade Me Property will claim ascendancy to the mantle of “The most homes in NZ” and these ads - the whole campaign in fact will have to be trashed.

Whilst “The most homes in NZ” has become a point of difference in the context of the competitive powerplay between Realestate.co.nz and Trade Me Property I also have to wonder if it actually has more relevance to real estate agents than to the average property searching buyer jn NZ. When they go to either portal they have no interest in the fact that Realestate.co.nz has 37,892 and Trade Me Property 31,369 nor that when searching in Tauranga there are 1,241 listings on Realestate.co.nz and 1,834 on Trade Me Property (oops looks like Trade Me has regained ascendancy there) - what people are really interested in, is what properties are on the market and for this they rely on email alerts - a process that provides no context to relative inventory as if inventory is relevant.

Let's be clear, in my mind Realestate.co.nz are smart to be investing in brand building and the results prove it - their traffic has grown faster than Trade Me Property and they have narrowed the gap from a factor of 4 to close to 2.5.

However brands are not about messages and facts, they are more around heart and minds. Brand loyalty and advocacy comes from memorable experiences and this is where some of the investment money should be being spent. Developing the user experience of the platform on both desktop and mobile. Adding killer features that are standard on property portals around the world that still allude both of these portals in NZ. These investments would be sustainable and drive brand switching which TV adverts can never do. TV adverts at best only stimulate trial. 


Selling your home - a personal perspective: 3. The Marketing

by Alistair Helm in


Property marketing is one of my favourite topics and something I have shared my opinion on for many years both on the Unconditional blog which I started in 2007 and on this site. As regular readers will know I have in all this time been consistent about one thing. That is, that digital marketing has taken over from print media in the minds of the consumer and consigned this former stronghold of property marketing to the dark ages - never to return.

So it therefore should not come as any surprise that when it came to selling our home recently I was committed to a purely digital marketing campaign. 

So having gone through the process of choosing a real estate agent to handle the sale of our house as detailed in the second article of my four articles detailing the personal perspective of selling our home, we came to the decisions around the marketing of the property

In my view having spent the majority of my career in marketing focused roles, I judge that marketing covers a wide gamete of components and is not simply the reserve of advertising placement. It is far more about what, how, when and where. In the case of property marketing it focuses on the form of marketing as in the platform of sale, the positioning of the property, the presentation of the property, the promotion of the property and the performance of the marketing through the campaign. Let me review and share the approach of each of those 5 P’s.

 

Platform of Sale

This refers to the various options - By Negotiation/ Auction / Tender / Priced. An imperative for me in property marketing is the need to drive the process. I think it is ineffective and lacking in focus to simply announce to the world through an online listing and a sign board, that this property is for sale and then hope that someone makes an offer. Urgency is a tool that should be leveraged. The reality of selling a property is there may well be a buyer out there who will judge that your house is simply the best, and the house they have always wanted, and that they are willing to pay way over the odds for your house. The cold hard fact is that though this could well be quite likely and even possible, what is highly unlikely; is that this ideal buyer just happens to be in the position to buy your house now. So you have to be pragmatic and deal with market today - this month, and focus on the reason why you are selling - you want to move. If you don’t want to move then don’t put your house on the market, the real estate industry really doesn’t need another listing that sits on the books for a year or more.

For this reason I have a preference for Tenders. They appeal to me for the reason that they establish a deadline by which time buyers need to commit themselves. Are they in or out? Offers submitted as Tenders can be either conditional or unconditional. Tenders force buyers to put an offer price on a contract that is their ‘full and final offer’ - with no knowledge of what anyone else is offering. This compares to auctions which are public spectacles in which the winning bidder secures the property for a small (relative term) amount more than the unsuccessful bidder. Finally Tenders allow the vendor to calmly and in their own time examine and consider the submitted Tenders and accept, reject or negotiate with any of the submitters.

I have sold by Tender in the past and therefore had a preference. However I listened to my agent. Blair accepted all of these views as well as hearing (or knowing) my reluctance to the Auction method. He articulated very well the benefits of an Auction. It was a focused method which had a deadline. It ensured buyers were focused. He spoke of the recent sales experience with very similar properties in the area that he had sold by Auction. He also shared the experience that Tenders were less common and therefore could create wariness in the minds of prospective buyers. We were persuaded, not easily I should add, that an Auction would be the best method.

Another component of the platform of sale is the duration of the campaign. Given our pragmatic approach to recognising that you have to accept that the market will only deliver buyers who are ready to buy; it was our decision to go with a 3 week campaign. This would allow sufficient time for all interested parties to view and assess the property whilst keeping the whole process moving along at a good pace and keep marketing impact high.

 

Positioning of the Property

Positioning is all about identifying your buyer profile and creating the look and feel to attract them to view the property. In our area of Auckland there is a very common minimalist villa renovation-look which dominates - white surfaces, lap pools and large bi-fold sliders. Our house (as a reflection of our own taste) is what we judge to be a more sympathetic modernisation of a character villa appealing to people who want modern convenience without loosing the heart of the property. This recognised that our house may not appeal to city dwelling young families but more to older generations who crave the convenience of the city suburbs but like the character detail. Positioning is not so much about choices as to how you might position a property as few people will be re-designing or renovating prior to sale. It is more about recognising who the prospective buyers may be and how to best appeal to them.

 

Presentation of the Property

Presentation is all about creating impressions. Put it another way its about creating an experience which ideally limits criticism of the property. It may be hard to believe, but often people judge properties not on the attributes which are easy to see and tend to be presented in the listing details, but in the drawbacks and general criticism. Don’t like the curtains! the bathroom is too small! there was a strange smell! could see the neighbours messy back yard etc! 

Presentation is about literally ‘courting’ prospective buyers when they check out the property at an open home. Working hard to minimise criticism and capture the hearts of those prospective buyers.

 

Promotion of the Property

For me this was the easy part - online. That’s it!

A key part of promotion is quality materials. This starts with professional photography. Blair recommended Open2View which I have high regard for and was happy to agree on. As well as a comprehensive photo shoot I also insisted on floor plans. These in my view should be mandatory - I find them invaluable and feel that they provide a great reminder for prospective buyers are they reflective at home after a day of open home visits.

The online marketing was naturally Trade Me Property and Realestate.co.nz - again with the solus  focus online the judgement was that a plain listing was not enough so a Super Feature on Trade Me and Premium package on Realestate.co.nz were booked.

The traditional elements of a street sign and brochures were not in despite - they are a necessity.

With this comprehensive package of advertising and photo portfolio the question was still asked by Blair as to an advert in the NZ Herald. I did not criticise Blair for bringing this up. I can see the rationale for the belief that there could be a random opportunity of a buyer viewing a Weekend Herald; for them to see a house and fall in love with it. However I remained true to my principle. I would not pay for print, that did not stop Blair placing a quarter-page advert at his own cost!

Our investment in marketing totalled $1,850. This included costs for a premium featuring on Realestate.co.nz for $400, listing and premium featuring on Trade Me Property for $400, Photography and floor plan from Open2View for $650 and then signage and brochures for $400.

 

Performance of the Marketing

The ultimate performance of the marketing campaign is judged in the result of the final sale, as to how much interest was generated and how competitive was the interest from prospective buyers in wishing to bid for the property. That outcome I will share in the final article.

In assessing the performance of the marketing campaign I will let the numbers speak for themselves.

Online advertising and profiling consisted of four websites. In addition to the premium advertising on both Trade Me Property and Realestate.co.nz the property was featured on Open2View and the Bayleys website. Across the 3 weeks a total of 6,174 views were made of the property with Trade Me Property accounting for more than half of all views as detailed in the chart below showing cumulative views across the four sites for the 3 weeks of the campaign:

 

The chart reminds me so much of the typical performance curve of online listings which I analysed on Realestate.co.nz a number of years ago. The peak interest for a listing is in the first few days as the combined impact of email alerts and ‘top-of-search’ result pages drive huge awareness. That awareness and consequential views declines to a plateau very quickly. This firmly demonstrates the critical importance of ‘launching’ your home onto the market with a fanfare and grabbing the market opportunity quickly. There is an often-heard comment within the industry that the “the first offer is often the best offer” - this may have even more credibility than some may accept as early interest is high from real committed buyers who want to act.


Our agent was very effective at not only providing the stats of web views he also prepared and delivered a written weekly report (not an online dashboard - which I would have loved). This report provided the following key stats which I think are the KPI’s of the property marketing process.

A very interesting analysis of the marketing. So we 42 visits to our property over the 3 weeks. Without doubt the largest driver of visitors (19) identified their source of info as the web and the largest driver of that was Trade Me Property.  It was interesting to note that what is not detailed on this report was email enquiries. There was just 1 from Trade Me Property. To my mind this was a success! Let me explain. The listing provided all the necessary information and we held weekly open homes. The photos and floor plan gave all the necessary insight into the property - so why would you need to send an email. Email is not a key indicator of performance, if the marketing is well executed.

 

With the 3 week campaign completed, 42 visitors groups and 6,174 online views the key question was. Had we done enough to attract a buyer and was there a buyer out there who's appreciation of value in the property matched our expectation of the value of the property? That test would come on the day of sale.


Previous Chapters:

1. Method of Sale

2. Choosing an Agent

 

Future Chapters:

4. The Sale!


NZ Property Report

by Alistair Helm in


I fundamentally believe that access to better property data will empower property buyers, sellers as well as the real estate industry. Data needs to be timely, accurate, credible and ideally open (in the sense of access to the raw numbers).

This was my view back in 2009 when at Realestate.co.nz we put together the first NZ Property Report for March 2009. The concept of the report was to provide insight into the supply side of the property market. At the time we had insight into sales volumes and sale prices from REINZ and QV but we had no data as to number of new listings, the asking price expectations and the level of available inventory of property on the market. All vital indicators to the state of the property market.

This data is the core of a property portal, especially as Realestate.co.nz had the most comprehensive database of listings going back to 2006 when the site was launched. 

We cannot claim the credit for the invention of the NZ Property Report as ever the best ideas are shared, refined and developed. I was inspired by the Rightmove House Price Index from the leading UK property portal.

There were two key principles I set down at the launch of the report:

1. The data would be collated, analysed and published on the 1st day of each month for the month just finished. This was a principle of the fact that being a website the data was accessible immediately so the report could be produced so quickly following the close of the month

2. The core data would be made open and accessible to all, so that anyone could use it to make their own analysis

Five years later and the report has grown to be of great value to a wide audience. I have created the Property Dashboard from the data. The commercial banks use the data and I know from discussions I had with the Reserve Bank Governor at the time that the data was valuable as another indicator of the market for housing, not to mention the media interest (great PR!)

So it has been with growing frustration that I have awaited the May report since the 1st of June and today is the 13th, that is 9 working days. Now I would like to point out I hold no animosity to my prior employer. I am simply an independent property consultant, analyst and commentator who relies on this information, and I have people who also rely on what I produce.

I have been patient, I sent an email to Realestate.co.nz on Friday the 6th of June requesting an update as to when the report would be published. I have not had a response to that email. I spoke to a media colleague on Tuesday the 10th to see if he had heard any information as to a date of publication, he was told that "there would be further delays and this month's Report might be a bit brief".

I believe that Realestate.co.nz has a professional responsibility to this report. If they are having trouble or have other issues they should inform their audience. They have a website to which they could post an update. They could publish the raw data to assist those who rely upon it. What I think they should not be doing is going silent.

I hope that the report will be published - today ideally. Sadly this will make it the last report of the month given we have had the Barfoot & Thompson report, the Harcourts report, the QV report and likely as not the REINZ report today - from 1st to last!


UPDATE

In someways not surprisingly as I was writing this piece the May report has been published 9.30am Friday 13th June. I did think that I might delete this article but I feel the comments and opinions expressed are still valid and need to be heard by Realestate.co.nz - I will leave you as the reader to judge whether thats is the case or not


Realestate.co.nz - Where to from here?

by Alistair Helm in


I have been fascinated over the past 6 months with the issues facing the real estate industry and Realestate.co.nz as the industry grapples with the issues related to the new pricing policy implemented by Trade Me Property. I have commented on these matters a number of times, each time though, I have thought  "what would I have done if I were still running Realestate.co.nz"?

For over 6 years I was the CEO of Realestate.co.nz and in that time faced many challenges and implemented many initiatives. I got some things right and some things wrong; ultimately though I parted from the organisation largely the result of an impasse with the board as to the future direction of the company. I had a view as to the level of investment and structure required to drive the future development and create the leading property website in NZ, it was not the view shared by the board. I lost, that is the reality in business.

Subsequently the company has invested in new developments and undertaken up-weighted marketing as it has sought to leverage the dissatisfaction of the real estate agents to the policy changes at Trade Me Property. These investments have paid off as Realestate.co.nz has strengthened its position which I am delighted to see. However I still reflect on what plan I would have adopted in such a situation.

So purely as a hypothetical exercise and in an open manner for the benefit of the real estate industry I have outlined here my thoughts around a strategy for the future of Realestate.co.nz, a strategy to power it into being the leading digital property platform in NZ. Now clearly this plan is by no means guaranteed to work or would be in any judged to be full-proof. It is merely my opinion and in writing this I am in no way criticising the current management or board. I simply felt the desire to articulate my thoughts.

There are 4 distinct components to my proposed strategy:

 

1. Engage your customers

In my mind this is the most important strategy for the company. For whilst the website has to deliver a valuable experience for consumers searching for property for sale or rent, the business will be of no value without the support of the real estate industry. In this regard I am not simply  talking about support as in the listings. I am talking about support in an evangelical way - you need to empower the industry to support the site and advocate the site. I often stated during my time in the role that the salesforce for the company were not those few account managers (excellent though they were!), but the 10,000+ real estate salespeople who through their everyday contact with consumers could become our full time evangelists.

Real estate salespeople are independent contractors and whilst in the past the decision as to online listing was a matter for the office manager and the admin team the critical importance of online marketing now and in the future requires all salespeople to engage with online marketing for every listing and with every client. To achieve this involvement and evangelical support requires investment in field based sales people together with comprehensive training. The real estate salespeople are the channel to future marketing products and services and need to be supported. I believe that currently neither Trade Me Property nor Realestate.co.nz has more than a couple of field based account managers and/or trainers compare that to the Australian market where REA group alone would have over 250 field based people dealing with customers - that would translate into the equivalent of 50 in NZ, now that might be excessive but I can be sure that if a customer in Morrinsville saw a visit from either Realestate.co.nz or Trade Me in the past year (or two) I would be surprised!

Beyond the critical customer group of real estate salespeople there is another subset of customers whose support the company needs, they are the business owners. Business owners are the 600+ individuals who own and operate the majority of real estate companies around the country. For whilst 80+% of the industry operates out of the 5 major brands, these are brands are franchise groups. The real influence and ultimately the buying-power rests with these business owners.

To empower and engage these business owners you need to provide them with motivation to support the company and nothing screams motivation more than “skin-in-the-game” and that in the case of the company this means real equity. Equity in Realestate.co.nz would be the motivation to ensure commitment of marketing budget and loyalty. That would provide the security of commitment for the company to attain the future vision to be the outright leader in the market.

Realestate.co.nz uniquely could enact this as it is notionally industry owned and a private company. For whilst the current shareholding is split between the REINZ and the 5 leading real estate companies, the reality is that the 10,000+ sales agents and 600+ business owners are disconnected from ownership, particularly as the shareholding of the large real estate companies is tied up in the franchisors to whom the business owner pay their franchisee fees. Effectively the business owners particularly are being asked to continue to support a website that benefits their franchisors at their costs - effectively making them pay twice.

Imagine if a cooperative structure was established much along the lines of Fonterra. Business owners having an equity stake in the website business through a capital raising by the existing shareholders. Shares could only be held by a subscribing and  active real estate business. Dividends would be payable based on usage support commensurate with shareholding. Shares could be traded to allow for businesses to enter and exit the industry and thereby allow business owners to realise the value in their continued support of the company.

 

 

2. Focus on experiences

The company needs to invest. It needs to create a compelling digital platform that delivers experiences for users that excites and delights. Experiences across all platforms to provide solutions to property buyers and renters, helping them navigate the buying or renting process.

The tablet experience is the most critical at this time, this is the device that you want users to fall in love with your brand and service, capture the emotional early searching part of the home buying process and thereby guide people to then go on to use the more functional smartphone app. Win the app environment and you can effectively ring-fence your users and secure competitive advantage.

The company also needs to think laterally to envisage the next experience opportunity. How could the smart TV be a complement to the lean-back tablet browsing experience? 

Realestate.co.nz is a technology platform for the real estate industry. It needs to showcase innovation to the users and go as far as to assist the customers in their quest to better understand the future of digital engagement.

 

3. Empower consumers

Consumers need to feel engaged and empowered especially around decisions that are complex and involve high risk. The advent of the internet has opened up access to enable consumers to be better informed and to have a true sense of involvement in so many aspects of their lives. This is not reversible. Real estate in someways epitomises this and yet at the same time it is the most opaque industry for data and empowerment. From the simple process of how to find and evaluate an agent, to what is really going on in the real estate market, and what is the best method of sale, there are as many answers as there are individuals willing to share opinions on the questions.

This situation opens up the opportunity for Realestate.co.nz to create a digital oasis of insight and assistance, to be a partner to the home buyers and sellers. This positioning for the company could provide it with an unassailable position of influence, respect and trust. Developing this in partnership with it customers ensures that the two sides operate in tandem and both benefit. It all comes down to data. If the customers could have the confidence to trust and influence the way the market data of transactions is collected, analysed and reported then a single repository of knowledge through Realestate.co.nz would benefit all stakeholders in the company.

The final component of empowering the consumer is almost akin to the final blow to the competitive threat of Trade Me Property to which I refer to private listings. These listings will for ever be the differentiator that enables Trade Me to retain its massive hold over the real estate industry. Cutting them off from this unique differentiator would finally allow Realestate.co.nz to create the winning move. There is no valid reason why private listings should not not be displayed on Realestate.co.nz. To the consumer it makes not a jot of difference, all they want is comprehensive content on a consistent single platform, nothing more frustrating for them than hopping from site to site to ascertain the total portfolio of listings on the market.

As for the attitude of real estate agents to private listings, surely by now the logic must be established that this approach to selling your home will not go away, nor will it undermine the role of the agent. If agents somehow believe that by not advertising private listings on Realestate.co.nz they are in some way cutting off oxygen to these sellers they are mistaken. Equally if they think that denying private sellers access to Realestate.co.nz is some how a demonstration of a value proposition for agents, then the value of agents is not valuable enough. As a final sweetener, surely the potential of $6m of revenue a year would quieten the loudest sceptic, especially if they were a shareholder of Realestate.co.nz

 

4. Build passionate brand adoption 

With a laser-like focus on the customers, a cooperative structure of ownership, matched to a resurgent investment funding to power new innovation, the last component of the strategy would have to be building the brand identity such that the brand becomes a byword for the process, a trusted and recommended single solution to all aspects of the property market.

Clearly the emboldened financial situation for the company as a result of greater support matched to a capital raising would create a war chest worthy of a major brand campaign, however burning the budget on flashy TV adverts does nothing more than stoke the coffers of the TV companies (even if one of them is state owned). What would be needed is an approach to marketing that created a real sense of why Realestate.co.nz is the logical solution. It should be as much about the innovation and experience as it about creative messaging. It should literally wrap itself around the agent process and support the agent in their day-today work as a part of the very foundation of the industry in all aspects of training, materials, communication and success. The brand should be there with the agent in the home of the potential client on the day of the first presentation as much as on the day the contract is signed, as on the day the keys are handed over and then the brand should live on with the consumer through the life of the property. This takes time and takes commitment, however the goal is audacious and yet highly achievable.



That is my proposal to the industry. My view as to how to push home the advantage and ultimately remove Trade Me from the equation, or at least marginalise them to the role of auctioning tractors with a 20 acre farm thown in!

As to the measure of success for the adoption of this strategy, which by no means is guaranteed, you need look no further than the overseas markets whether the digital real estate marketing platforms are reaching stellar levels. 

In the UK a market of 60 million population the leading property portal (Rightmove) as a listed company has a market cap of $4 billion and the #2 (Zoopla) is about to list at an estimated cap of $ 2 billion. The US has two leading property portal players both listed companies in a market with a population of 320 million - Zillow has a market cap of $5 billion and Trulia a market cap of $1.5 billion. Finally Australia with just 5 times to NZ population with its powerhouse property portal REA Group topping all of them with a market cap of over $6 billion. These valuations are not reported here as inducements to demonstrate the upside of the future value of Realestate.co.nz, for with this cooperative structure why would the future shareholders sell? The key demonstration of these numbers is to highlight to the industry as to what to expect if Trade Me is given a free run at the future, as its aspiration is to emulate these performance metrics from the real estate sector, and as a consequence the industry directly or indirectly will end up paying to generate the revenues to create the profit to support these levels of profitability, many times their current level.


New boundary view - a step forward down a narrow lane! (Updated)

by Alistair Helm in ,


Trade Me Property has announced the introduction of a new feature for property listings, the boundary details of properties. This service complements the existing map view and street view. It is not universal across all listings as it needs an accurate address detail. Scanning the site randomly checking listings from different parts of the country showed that it is somewhat 'pot luck' as to its availability.

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This new feature is sadly long overdue, firstly as it a core layer of content that has been available through both Terralink's 'Property Guru' service and Property IQ service for many years - these two competing services are only available to real estate agents and other property related companies as a subscription service, although it has been on the Zoodle and QV sites.

Secondly it is the first innovation we have seen from either Realestate.co.nz or Trade Me for a very long time - we have seen both of these companies prepared to spend millions of dollars recently on advertising campaigns trying to prove who is biggest! - yet sadly the consumer as a buyer of property has not seen any innovation. This is in marked contrast to overseas property portals where innovations flow on a weekly basis and provides the competitive tension between players in other countries - the consumer being the winner whereas here the TV companies are likely to to be the winners.

Speaking of competitive tension, it will be very interesting to see if and how Realestate.co.nz responds to this innovation. In the past there was a degree of a partnering of the two major property websites with the two property data companies - Trade Me with Property IQ and Realestate.co.nz with Terralink. However effective 1 January 2014, PropertyIQ NZ Limited and Terralink International limited officially came together as CoreLogic NZ Limited. This came after the Commerce Commission cleared the merger between the two businesses in November.

So now there is effectively only one player in town when it comes to detailed property mapping and if Trade Me has secured CoreLogic as a partner as this latest innovation suggests then it leave Realestate.co.nz out in the cold. Far from the principle of how the Commerce Commission saw this situation.

In the documents relating to the merger and in the findings in favour of the merger the Commerce Commission stated that:

“The Commission considered that PropertyIQ will continue to face competition from existing and emerging competitors in these markets. Furthermore, we consider that new competitors entering these markets are able to access the key datasets through negotiations with local Councils and other sources and will also constrain the merged entity,” said Commerce Commission Chairman Dr Mark Berry.

Certainly when it comes to general mapping there are numerous suppliers - Google being the main service used by both property websites, however when it comes to boundary details this is a very local mapping service here in NZ and 'drawing' this detail on maps will continue to be done by one company (as it was in the past) the main difference is that in the past 2 competing companies could sell this service - now there is only one player to offer this service, in my view lessening competition and denying the consumer a valuable service across their property website of choice. 

Updated - Friday 28th Feb 10am

I tweeted this post and received this reply from Trade Me Property

Now I think I understand the tweet - if I am right what they are saying is that the code integration to create these boundary link images takes about 4hrs and at tis time the system is busy doing open home data load.

If this is right then the question is why not do all this code loading on a beta site before releasing it publicly. The images being shown under boundary views are images (as a picture file) and therefore all it requires is a database look up on an address and then bring into the website the weblink from the CoreLogic image server - if no file then don't show.

If I have this wrong then I have asked Trade Me Property to comment below to clarify.


TV campaigns by Trade Me Property & Realestate.co.nz

by Alistair Helm in ,


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The new year has kicked off with the two competing property portals slugging it out in a marketing war to capture the greatest attention and thereby assert their respective role as the platform of choice for advertising property in NZ - or is that really the story?

Trade Me was the first to kick off with their campaign. As a company they historically have not been a significant advertiser across what is generally described as traditional media - TV, radio and print media. The exception to this has been where they have faced significant competition (as in the case of Trade Me Jobs vs. Seek) or where they have a new proposition to convey (as in the buy new retail strategy). 

The reality is that Trade Me enjoys unprecedented spontaneous awareness and engagement such that they really have no need to tell people that they exist or how to use the site or the benefits of the service.

When it comes to real estate these facts are indisputable. Trade Me is used by all real estate agents and private sellers, it is the most effective means of advertising property for sale or rent. Buyers and renters go to Trade Me first and most often to check out the properties on the market as well as being driven there by email alerts. So why is it that Trade Me is running TV adverts as well as other media?

The simple fact is this campaign is not targeted at property buyers in an effort to secure greater usage of the site, nor is it really targeted at property sellers trying to encourage them to list on Trade Me Property as the creative would suggest. They have undertaken this campaign to put pressure on the real estate industry to secure continued listing support under the new pricing model implemented late last year and ensure the threatened boycott does not eventuate. The ads are very much a trade marketing campaign using consumer messages.

 

There are three 15 second commercials in the campaign each supported by other media using the same animated stylised imagery somewhat reminiscent of clipart characters. This is a new creative execution very different from the new products campaign run last year and the Trade Me Jobs campaigns.

The commercial are very focused on features, rather than benefits as befits the trade marketing strategy, example being “4 times more potential buyers than any other property site or No. 1 source of property buyers”, in this regard the commercials feel a trifle wooden. Trade Me over the years has built a close affinity with the population of NZ. A warm and engaging sense of the underdog championing the individual to allow them to buy and sell anything and be in control. To do things easily, cheaply and for themselves and in so doing become a trusted place “run by good people like us”. I get none of this sense from these adverts, they seem disconnected from the brand values of Trade Me and in someways have a smugness that suggests that they are overly sure of their position and merely need to state the fact that they are the No1.

Realestate.co.nz on the other hand are launching a TV campaign clearly with the intention of building brand awareness and through that to drive traffic.

The commercial plays heavily to the mobile platform and the iPhone app as the access point to the content. Unlike Trade Me the advert does not use unique features or facts to sell the message it simply takes the generic requirement of the market and state - “browse through thousands of properties throughout NZ - anytime anywhere”.

 

The short time frame of the commercial does not allow the opportunity to establish a classic call to action - such as to download the app or check out specific aspects of the site. The reality is that 15 second adverts as this is, are best when used as recall ads supporting a longer form 30 second or 45 second that establish the premise of the campaign. To rely solely on the 15 second version as this campaign seems to be doing leaves a risk of insufficient impact.

Realestate.co.nz has not used TV advertising since the launch campaign for the website back in 2006 and therefore they are effectively starting out as a new brand - pitching into the wide ocean of TV viewers. This is likely to see massive dilution of the message. Given the likely budget, the money would have been better invested into media where their core audience are more likely engaged.

Not knowing the scale of the expenditure behind these campaigns it is difficult to assess the relative impact. Clearly Trade Me has a considerably larger war chest of marketing dollars and could outspend Realestate.co.nz many time over, however I doubt they will. Their campaign as stated is really targeted at the industry as a trade marketing push, in this regard merely to be doing the campaign and telling the industry about it supported by the outdoor advertising will achieve the objective of exerting pressure for industry support without a massive expenditure.

Realestate.co.nz on the other hand in my judgement are caught as the expenditure of the campaign I suspect will not be sufficient to really influence consumer behaviour or drive action. Certainly they will benefit from trade support in that they will be seen to be advertising which has long been a call by the industry. 

Overall I am left with the distinct view that the total campaign of these two competitors is a complete waste of money. The beneficiary of this campaign are as ever the TV companies. The losers the real estate industry. The expenditure in the case of Realestate.co.nz takes money away from smart investment in the site and the apps and in the case of Trade Me the expenditure is a small investment which will ensure continued usage of the site and thereby further their financial ambitions to take more of the marketing dollar from the real estate industry.

If these campaign were really about seeking to market to property buyers and sellers the respective marketing teams would have bypassed old media and looked to established deeper consumer engagement within the respective groups through online campaigns and social media marketing.


It's all change at Trade Me Property

by Alistair Helm in


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Trade Me Property is the most important component of property marketing in NZ. As I have written before, without Trade Me Property, a house on the market for sale or rent is effectively not being marketed as the vast majority of buyers (and sellers) rely on Trade Me Property to provide the definitive picture of the property market. No other medium has as comprehensive a selection, nor an audience of its scale.

This pedestal though is being tested effective the 1st November by the implementation of a new pricing structure applicable to real estate offices detailed in an earlier article I wrote. The news has certainly been a wake-up call to real estate offices who have up until now absorbed the costs of subscription based listings on Trade Me.

In the article I wrote, I included a quick poll asking readers to let me know if these new charges should be passed on by real estate agents to vendors as an advertising cost of around $200 or if the cost should be absorbed by the real estate agents.

Over the past month I have been collating these responses. Now the survey is hardly statistically valid as in total I have had 53 responses but the results have been to my mind surprising. 

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An overriding majority of readers who have contributed with their vote (for which I appreciate the response) have proposed that the industry should recharge the costs of Trade Me advertising, just as with other advertising costs! 

I would interpret this response more as a demonstration of the value and criticality of Trade Me as the advertising platform of choice for all sellers than as a reflection of the principle of vendor-paid-marketing on top of the commission fees. This would somewhat seem to somewhat fly in the face of the comment made by the CEO of the Real Estate Institute who commenting on the Trade Me fee increase described the outcome as likely to result in Trade Me becoming "an 'added extra' for vendors, rather than automatic when signing up with an agent"

 

Change of leadership at Realestate.co.nz

The other big news from Trade Me Property last week was the very surprising announcement that Brendon Skipper, the Head of Trade Me Property since 2006 was leaving to become the General Manager of Realestate.co.nz. 

The board of Realestate.co.nz made the announcement ending a period of more than a year since I left the company as CEO in September of 2012. During this period the leadership of the company had been undertaken initially by the Chairman and then by Philip Dunn who assumed the role as acting CEO from his role of COO.

I must admit I am very surprised by this decision and have fielded a number of calls from within the industry also expressing surprise. Brendon is a very capable person who I have known over the years and he has overseen the significant growth in Trade Me's role and relevance within the real estate industry from being a little trusted challenger to the industry to being a much trusted and highly valued part of the marketing portfolio for the industry.

Why then with this success would he leave the No.1 online business in NZ - a company valued at over $1.7billion, with a property business which commands an audience 5 times that of its competitor, to take up the role running a much smaller business. A business which is not a listed company and in many ways not a true commercial entity given its shareholding securely locked between the Real Estate Institute and 5 of the large real estate companies. A company which from all reports is solidly focused on cost control and tighter integration with the Institute as a member benefit rather than an ambitious consumer focused property service business.

I wish Brendon well and hope we may see more innovation from Realestate.co.nz as a result of his new position. Realestate.co.nz is in my judgement a true specialist property portal rather than a horizontal retail marketing portal with a property section, however being defined as something does not make it that way or prove its value to its target audience, that has to be earned through the value judgment of its customers and consumers.

 

 

 

 


Digital marketing - the solution for selling or renting property

by Alistair Helm in ,


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Whether you are a property owner of an investor there is certain to be a time when you need to sell a property, or find a new tenant. 

You may well decide as part of your strategy that engaging a real estate agent or a property manager is the smart decision, after all they are professionals and they know best. They are self-employed and earn their living doing exactly that – finding buyers or finding tenants.

Whether you choose to use such a professional or you choose to do it yourself, in my mind there is no excuse for abdicating responsibility for the marketing of your property. For despite the well intentioned job title of many agents who profess to be “Marketing Consultants” very few actually are functionally trained or experienced in marketing and even fewer are up-to-speed on digital marketing.

I make this assertion; as over the years I have been astounded by the lack of appreciation by most agents as to the power, impact and cost effectiveness of digital marketing. Too many agents fall into a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to marketing a property, or to be more accurate advertising a property.

They are very likely to come out with a spiel such as “We’ll undertake an extensive 3 week advertising campaign starting with letter-box drop to local addresses, weekly full or half page advert in the local property magazine and newspaper and of course we will display an impactful 'For Sale' sign outside your house. I will then undertake an extensive telephone outreach to my database of buyers which will secure great attendance at the weekly open homes and should secure a strong buyer interest within the first couple of weeks”

It is highly likely that this proposed ‘personalised’ marketing campaign would have been recommended 20 years ago as much as it is the generic line for most agents today. The only addition that has crept in over the past decade is the additional line “of course we will also feature the property on our website and of course Trade Me and Realestate.co.nz” – sadly often thrown in as an after-thought.

Contrast this with the fact that over three quarters of all property shoppers, whether looking to rent or buy a property use the web as the first and main source of information and more commonly these days use mobile devices. This data sourced from the annual Nielsen Real Estate Report is unfortunately a couple of years old, but logic would say that the percentage has only risen. These savvy online property shoppers use multiple services such as daily email alerts for new properties, saved searches on their favourite website, as well as planning open home schedules on Google maps.

There has been some heated debates as to whether a property can be marketed entirely online or whether there continues to be value and unique appeal in print media. In my opinion we have pasted that point – you can successfully and confidently market your property entirely online. Simply put, the reason print media advertising of property still exists is entirely for the benefit of real estate companies and agents. They love the branding and exposure, the solid blocks of multiple consecutive pages where the property image fights for attention against the company branding, providing questionable value to home shoppers, as after all what they want to see is all the properties in an area at a price point, not what Agent X has to offer!

Having made this firm assertion, the next question is how should you advertise online and where?

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The where is easy. Whereas in the past multiple website profiles was seen as beneficial, the fact is today there is no incremental value in being on more than 2 websites – Trade Me and Realestate.co.nz. Why so?

Trade Me is the most viewed NZ website for people looking to buy / sell  / rent anything – if you are not on Trade Me you are not online. If this comes as a piece of news to anyone I would be surprised! Realestate.co.nz on the other hand is valuable for two reasons. Firstly it has reputation as a specialist site, and whilst people who use it to search property more than likely also use Trade Me, they do show a strong loyalty to the site as well as more importantly the mobile app. Secondly, there are a number (albeit few in number) of real estate agents that still hold out from using Trade Me. I know it seems unbelievable but some of the smaller independents do.

Do you need to use any other sites? No.

So the question then becomes how can you make sure your listing attracts more attention / visits than other competitive listings. You need to think about advertising your property for sale or rent as a competitive play. If you don’t attract the right buyers or tenants you will diminish the value of what you offer.

There are just two golden words to remember PRESENTATION & PROMOTION

PRESENTATION

Presentation is all about the photos. Recent research has shown that when it comes to real estate listings 95% of people, when viewing real estate websites view the first photo for around 20 seconds. It’s all about the photos; as the study went on to find that a staggering 4 out of 10 people completely ignored the agent spiel in listings. People trust their eyes and not (so it seems) agent hyperbole.

Get a professional photographer to do a broad portfolio of your property, this is as important for rental properties which suffers as all too often landlords forgot how important photos are to presentation online. Take the time to photograph the rental property between tenants when it is clean and tidy, with a minimum amount of furniture, just enough to show the feel. You can then reuse these images again and again.

I believe that the optimal number of photos for a property is around 20 and for most properties you can really show all aspects within this portfolio. It is unlikely that an investment property needs more. As important as a good number of quality photos is the critical aspect of choosing the first photo. This photo is the one that really has to work hard to grabs the attention of the shopper. It has to be of the most relevant aspect of the property, in the case of a standalone house it must be the exterior as seen from the road. In the case of a townhouse or apartment the living area is probably the right choice.

A final point in regard to the photos, if you organize the photography directly and I would; then ensure the agreement with the photographer means that you own the images and thereby you can use then when you like – too often photos are notionally owned by the listing agency despite the fact you paid for them.

PROMOTION

Promotion is all about creating standout. The base cost of listing on websites is often free. Generally the agent will include the cost of a listing on Realestate.co.nz, and possibly Trade Me as well. As a private seller Trade Me listing for sale, only costs $349; or $399 if the RV is over $450k. Given these minimal costs there is more than enough scope to invest in promotional features on these sites. This type of promotion does work to ensure your listing stands out from the crowd of other listings.

If you chose to use an agent to sell your property then your marketing costs should not need to be more than $1,000, this would comprise the photography of around $300, a Super Feature Combo on Trade Me for $299 and a Quality Package on Realestate.co.nz for $250. Compare that with a single page in a Property Magazine, which will cost you well over $1,000. That print advert lasts barely 3 days and is only seen by locals as compared to the online campaign which lasts 3 to 4 weeks and is potentially seen by a global and local audience.

If you chose to do it yourself you would need to add the listing costs for Trade Me, but then in that case you would not promoting the property on Realestate.co.nz as their listings are by real estate agents only so you could step up the promotion on Trade Me.

Digital marketing for property is easy, accessible and affordable – take control of the marketing of your property, get engaged and benefit from being a smart operator online, it’s that simple!

This article is also published in the June edition of NZ Property Investor Magazine

 


Making sense of the monthly property statistics

by Alistair Helm in


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We are fortunate in NZ to be blessed with a rich and comprehensive database of property statistics. Many countries have to wait many months between data releases, which tend to provide quarterly trends. We have the benefit of insight into the property market with stunning regularity, all crammed into the first 10 days of each month.

However a common complaint is that the data is not consistent and it is presented using different metrics; for example median price, stratified median price, average price, valuation, seasonally adjusted truncated mean asking price, rental rates, to name but a few. So as a smart property buyer or seller it is important to understand what these metric can tell you and what you should pay attention to, to be ahead of the game.

There are 3 sets of data that I consider critical. These are property sales data (the measure of what is happening as a function of buyer activity), property listings data (the measure of what sellers are doing and how they judge the market) and then rental data (the measure of how landlords are pricing their rental properties).

Property Sales Data

This is probably the best-known sector of real estate data with both the Real Estate Institute (REINZ) and QV pitching their data to the market within days of each other. Data that on first impression appears similar, but on further investigation is somewhat different and the difference can be significant.

REINZ provides rich data on property sales, median prices and days-to-sell, across not just the major regions of the country but right down to clusters of suburbs. Sadly the full data set is not accessible online in a machine-readable format, rather it is published as a pdf with prior year and month comparisons.

The data is collated by the reported unconditional sales of properties by licensed real estate agents who are members of REINZ, submission (as I understand it) is not compulsory, but in spite of that it is very comprehensive, and its timeliness provides for the prior month insight within 10 days of the end of the month. The data goes right back to 1993 and using their online tools you can access databases for particular suburb clusters.

REINZ present the majority of pricing information in the form of median price, this is statistically appropriate as it ensures that extremes of sale prices within data sets don’t skew the data. However in preference to the raw median price I tend to focus instead on the Stratified Median price, this data set developed in cooperation with the Reserve Bank is sadly only published for the 3 major cities as well as the national figures. It is a far more accurate indicator of true price movements as it applies modeling to ensure that higher sales volumes in high price suburbs for example are normalized and thereby don’t result in an overall rise in prices.

QV produce a well-recognised set of statistics on the property market based on their rich database covering every house in NZ in their role as the government rating valuations organization. This database is updated on a daily basis by the transactions of settled sales as registered by LINZ. This process captures all property transactions irrespective of whether the transaction was undertaken by a licensed agent or a private sale (estimated at around 10% of all sales).

QV do not report selling prices, rather their business is valuation estimation and it is this index, which is published monthly. Their computational models analyse the actual sales prices for individual properties matched to prior valuations and thereby create an index of house price movements. This provides a good representation of trends of price movements rather than actual figures for property prices regionally or nationally.

One drawback to the QV data is that it uses a broad time period, each report is based on the prior 3 month’s settled transactions. This is further impacted by the fact that long settlement on some properties could mean the property sold unconditionally may not appear as part of the QV dataset for anything from 3 to 5 months. Despite this timing issue the trend indicators of price movements from QV are very useful and accurate.

Property Listings Data

Property listings data provides a vital insight into the supply side of the market and has only become available since the ascendency of the web as the definitive search process for buyers. The monthly data is provided by Realestate.co.nz in their monthly NZ Property Report published within a day or so of the start of every month.

The report details the number of listings coming onto the market in the prior month, the asking price of these listings as an indication of the sellers / sellers’ agent’s expectation, as well as the level of stock of houses on the market at the end of the past month. The report is very detailed in printed form and also provides the ability to download the full data sets with both raw data and seasonally adjusted data.

As the originator of this report during my time at the company, I believe the report  holds a unique insight into the supply side of the market, as a key lead indicator of the market. As an example of this is the fact that the current shortage of listings was flagged as early as April 2011 in the report by which time there was a clear trend as to how this would lead to price pressure in the medium to long term.

One key data set within the report that I think is worth focusing on is the Inventory as a measure of available stock of property on the market. This is presented not in absolute numbers but as a representation of the number of weeks that it would take (based in current rate of sales) in theory, sell all of the houses on the market. Nationally this has fallen from a high of over 52 weeks (a full years supply) to now barely half that at 27 weeks.

I have recently taken these key numbers and produced what I call a Property Dashboard - this simple gauge shows where each of the 19 regions of the country are at, in respect of experiencing a sellers market, a buyers market or a balanced market.

Rental Data

Weekly rental rates are published from the Department of Housing and Buildings (now known as The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment)

Tenancy Bond database. This monthly data is published in the NZ Property Investors magazine and provides great insight into the state of the rental market.

The Agency has recently opened up their data sets going back to 1993 by each local authority, so if you are keen to play with spreadsheets to analyse the data this is highly valuable.

Trade Me has also started providing some valuable data on the rental market. It is sadly rather infrequent, being on a quarterly basis and not as detailed as many would like, however I am sure that with the passage of time they will provide richer information, as they hold an incredibly rich data set of listings, rental prices and transaction pace, covering every property type, size and location.

Having begun by saying that we are fortunate in NZ to be blessed with a rich and comprehensive database of property statistics, I would actually conclude by saying that we are actually lacking real in-depth information and statistics. In a recent article I posed the question "Do we really have the property data we need?" I hypothesized as to what type of statistics would be really valuable, for example how would it be if we could for example understand:

  • What is the percentage of residential property buyers that are sold to first-time homebuyers, typically what are they buying, where and for how much; how has this changed over the years?
  • Equally imagine if we could understand how many properties in Auckland are bought as investment properties and how many of these are managed privately as opposed to being managed by a property manager?

Such rich data would provide so much more insight and assist consumers, economists and many other businesses to better plan and offer services.

This data is not beyond the bounds of capability. Real estate agents or the Real Estate Institute could capture all of this data in its capacity as the organization representing the industry and its professional practioneers.

This article is also published in the May edition of the NZ Property Investor magazine


Realestate.co.nz mobile app gets important upgrade

by Alistair Helm in ,


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You can now sync your favourite properties between the web and your iPhone or Android powered smartphone using the Realestate.co.nz mobile app.

Launched in late 2010 the Realestate.co.nz iPhone app was the first geo-locational app for property buyers and renters in NZ – some 18 months ahead of Trade Me’s own property app. In that time the app gained ascendency and well over 100,000 downloads making it the leading mobile app for property in NZ. The Android version was added in 2011.

However as I stated in a review of the options for mobile property apps back in March, my choice was the Trade Me app simply because it provided full syncing between web and app; and Realestate.co.nz at the time did not. 

Well now that shortcoming has been addressed, and I have to say I am back in favor of the Realestate.co.nz app for all the reasons I stated in my original summary. It is a better and more intuitive app that more fully uses the inherent GPS capability – it makes discovering property for sale or rent so much easier.

In addition to this critical feature of the latest version (Android 1.2.1 iPhone 1.4) there are a couple of extra features. Here’s my take on what’s good and bad.

The Good:

  • The syncing is great.
  • The property details now carries over auction and tender dates – nice.

The Bad:

  • Signing in - I did notice a problem. As with many people I could not remember my password so I had to reset my password and await a new password. With the app open I then entered my new password only to find i was not accepted! I found that you needed to re-start the app so you could sign in with the new password. Its not surprising, but more than a little bit frustrating.
  • When you download the latest version in the mad rush to benefit from syncing your favourite properties, pause a moment to consider that all the favourites you have on your phone with the previous version will be lost and not integrated in the new version.
  • On the iPhone version only, when you first sign in to My Property, no listings show – you need to ‘pull down’ to refresh – this really needs a prompt as you like me probably sit there expecting to see your saved properties and they are not there! The Android version works a treat.
  • The summary of the new features says “Plus when homes are withdrawn or sold we will keep these in My Property under an archived section for 30 days” However when I set up my phone I found (on both Android & iPhone) that this section showed saved properties I had favourited showing up from over 2 years ago – these properties are no longer on the web or in the My Property section of the website and interestingly include full images but no description!
  • Another aspect of the summary says that you can “view all saved homes in a map” – well try as I might I could not find this feature – was I missing something?
  • A final note – the syncing between the web and the app only works when you touch the “Sync” button on the app (to be found top right on the iPhone app). There was no notice of this and by comparison to the Trade Me app this is not as slick.

The missed opportunities:

  • Still no social interaction from property listings, I can only email a listing, no Facebook or Twitter integration.
  • No ability to capture and sync the notes and photos that form part of the ‘inspection’ component of the app.
  • The iPhone app still using Apple maps as the base layer, this mapping solution is terrible as compared to the Google maps. As I understand it the Google maps API can be used to power iPhone apps. The benefits are huge as this example below shows:

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I am pleased that the Realestate.co.nz app has got this much-needed upgrade. What slightly surprised me was the fact that I found out about this upgrade all by myself – no press release, no notice on the site – even the landing page for apps makes no notification – nothing on Twitter or Facebook about this great improvement, so I am glad I can share this news!

Disclaimer: From 2006 through to August 2012 I was CEO of Realestate.co.nz. The views expressed here are my personal views as an independent observer. I hold no lasting connection to the Realestate.co.nz Limited company, aside from a passionate desire to see it succeed.


Property searching on the go - a review of mobile apps

by Alistair Helm in ,


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The evolution of the web has undoubtedly transformed property searching over the past decade; however the emergence of smartphones and the associated vast array of mobile computing devices just 5 years ago is set to transform property searching at a much faster rate. Already most property website operators report close to half of all engagements with their listings are from mobile devices and is rising everyday.

Mobile searching is intuitive. As we all know the only really effective way to assess property is to get out there in the car and walk around; sure the web is a great starting point but what you really want to do is capture your hit-list of property options and carry them with you, as you drive around, that is what the mobile device is designed for.

Checking out the Apple app store or Google Play Store for Android offers up a number of property apps for NZ and a vast array of others for overseas markets. For NZ there are a few small operators who have taken advantage of the open API (access to the raw database) from Trade Me and produced mapping solution. Sadly these under a variety of names are best steered clear of, as they lack the functionality of the only two which are worth considering – Trade Me and Realestate.co.nz.

However before reviewing these two I would like to mention an app from the ASB that is so close to being great, but sadly misses the mark. The Property Guide uses the data feed from Trade Me to create rich content of listings, to this is added the QV data of legal description and government valuation for every property on the market. This is the only app that offers this valuable data and is the only single source of this data freely available on the web. The app though fails on almost every other criteria. The listings are often out of date. There are no contact details of the agents listing the property and so on. Maybe the app will improve, time will tell.

Trade Me and Realestate.co.nz are the trusted apps as they are the trusted property websites; their respective apps have been downloaded over 100,000 times and really hold the greatest value interest to buyers and investors.

Realestate.co.nz was first to launch an app for the iPhone in late 2010, Trade Me followed mid last year with its dedicated property app for the iPhone and iPad. Those with Android devices really only have the option of the Realestate.co.nz app at this time.

So which is better and what are the most valuable features on these apps that can save you time or improve your buying process? I have evaluated the two apps on these 3 criteria of (i) content (ii) ease of use and (iii) storing & sharing data.

Content is critical and both apps present as close to the full complement of listings on the market. Trade Me has the edge when it comes to property for sale as it features private sales as well as agent listings. When it comes to rental property Trade Me dominates with more than twice as many listings. However the important thing to note is that listings presented on map view comprise only those properties for which the agent has supplied an accurate address – no address, no pin on the map! At this time around 1 in 5 properties on the market do not have an accurate address. Given this issue is common to both apps, no advantage can be gained by either company.

Free Realestate.co.nz iPhone App - Realestate.co.nz-1-1.png

Ease of Use is vital for mobile devices given the smaller screen and lack of a mouse. Getting to relevant data fast is so important with as few a number of taps or swipes the better. In this regard Realestate.co.nz app scores highly. From the home screen one tap takes you to property “Near Me” showcasing property for sale within a 1km radius. This focuses the app entirely around the GPS capability inherent in the device and presents content in a map view as the default.

Trade Me on the other hand opt to default to a list view as per the website, and sadly lacks a “Near Me” option thereby requiring 3 taps to get to a map based view of property around you.

Both apps showcase individual properties equally well with full screen swipe gallery view.

Realestate app with open homes and new listings.png

An advantage again for the Realestate.co.nz app is that on the map view open homes are displayed with a distinctive blue flag separate from the red pin for property location. Additionally all new listings for the week are shown by a distinctive red flag, which highlights the newest listings – a very useful way to assess properties. Trade Me simply relies on a red pin for all listings.

Trade me Property Watchlist.png

Storing & sharing property information is at the heart of smart property searching and this would be the most critical aspect I would judge for the smart investor. In this regard Trade Me wins hands down. The app offers synchronization between the website and the app – save to your wishlist on the website and it appears on the app. Sadly Realestate.co.nz app offers local storage of favourites on the app but there is no synchronization between the website and the app. Additionally it is a little frustrating that properties stored as favourites on the app remain that way until deleted even if the property comes off the market – this is annoying as you end up with a lot of surplus data on your mobile device.

Despite this shortcoming the Realestate.co.nz app does have a useful feature called “Inspection” which is a notepad capability linked to each property. It allows for notes and photos to be kept for each property so when visiting an open home you can collate further information and especially those critical photos not included by the agent on the listing so you can review later on aspects of the property. I would judge this to be a great feature, but somewhat weakened because there is no means of synching this data to your home computer as an integrated file for each property.

Trade Me Property iPad app | Trade Me.png

When it comes to a choice between these two apps I believe that for the serious investor looking to use the app as an effective tool for property searching the Trade Me app is the better choice. I make this judgment purely on the feature of synchronization. I believe this is the single weakness of the Realestate.co.nz app. When you are searching property you want to be carrying with you at all times your portfolio of prospective properties with full information. Your primary search is likely to be in an office environment and you want this process to seamlessly carry across to your mobile device. So for me Trade Me wins for this functionality alone – it is weak as compared to the Realestate.co.nz app in many other aspects and I hope that they address this or maybe Realestate.co.nz app could hurry up and release a modification with synchronization.

This article is also published in the March edition of NZ Property Investor Magazine



Online marketing is the new prospecting tool for real estate agents

by Alistair Helm in ,


Transient

The time honoured approach to prospecting for new business by real estate agents has largely consisted of door-to-door leaflets, local business networking, endless coffees and the ubiquitous press adverts comprising smiling faces alongside successful sales results.

Today - more and more the power in prospecting is online and the leading property portals around the world are reaping the rewards as they deliver just what agents want – sellers.

I came across the excellent, simple and highly effective advert from Zillow in the US which succinctly ‘sells’ their Premier Agent service, which provides a profiling of agents as a prospecting tool.

Here in NZ there are just under 9,000 active agents. All of them are self-employed contractors who whilst operating under the banner of their chosen branded company are solely motivated to become the most successful agent in their chosen geographical area. This hyper-competitive environment is what keeps on attracting people into the profession, yet it is also what makes real estate so challenging for new entrants. This has been the rich harvesting ground for the print media for the past decades and now become the cash generating machine for online property portals as the last of the print media for real estate finally dies.

Building a profile is tough as a rookie agent, as is it is for an established agent competing against all the noise of rookies trying to raise their profile.

It reminds me of a piece of advice I heard back in 1995 when I was first investigating this industry and undertook the real estate salesperson course at the time.

I was told that there wer three things you needed to be a real estate salesperson:  (i) the money for the course – c. $1,000 at the time (ii) a car to take people around to see houses and (iii) a house. This last requirement was nothing to do with a home-office, and everything to do with the fact that if you could not generate any leads in the first couple of months, you could always list and sell your own home. Not to save the sales commission fee, but to be able to then showcase that you had a listing – and thereby demonstrate achievement of the first rung on the ladder!

This new online profiling tool is being marketed in NZ on realestate.co.nz as the featured agent service which places an agent advert adjacent to the listing result – spend enough with the company and you also get a photo adjacent to all your listings – why is it that real estate is one of the few industries where everyone is driven by their image, on the business card, online etc?? (a question for a later post I suspect).

In Australia the leading site of realestate.com.au has grown a business nowadays turning over in excess of A$250m from advertising of agents and listings with a company solely focused on online real estate valued in excess of A$2 billion.

It is clear that all types of real estate marketing, albeit property related or agent related is moving online at a pace so clearly it begs the request that the last to advertise in the newspaper, please switch off the machine!