Real estate agent referral websites are an ever growing breed – some call them industry disruptors and declare they won’t use them, others are happy to be sent leads. Either way, consumers are using them, so let’s explore the home seller’s perspective.
Having worked in different corners of the real estate industry, for more than a decade – namely for McGrath, Domain.com.au, and a real estate marketing software provider – I’d like to consider myself a well informed, strategically savvy, observer to the rise of the real estate agent referral sites. They’ve spiked my interest, and many of my clients ask me which one is best, so I decided to review the customer experience and see how they work from the perspective of someone planning to sell their home.
Capturing referrals from Google search queries
When I first saw the referral sites pop up, I got it – the benefit of these sites to the homeowner was that they gathered the sales statistics from across various web-based sources to create a leaderboard of real estate sales agents, suburb by suburb.
“From a digital marketing perspective, these referral sites are essentially taking advantage of a gap in search advertising that is not yet being effectively filled by real estate agents themselves.”
Targeting the queries made in Google search, referral websites pick up enquiries from home sellers when they are actively seeking out an agent. The portals then joined the party and were seemingly spurred on to start offering similar information for home sellers. Such as Realestate.com.au’s Find Agent by suburb pages, which allow a vendor to filter agents (rather than just agencies) by both suburb and the home’s attributes (property type and price range), to bring up an ordered list of agents by volume of sales.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
The referral websites are using search engine marketing, otherwise known as SEM, to claim a stake on Google’s paid advertising spots. There are 7 positions available on page one (4 at the top of the search results and 3 at the bottom of the search results page).
“I like to think of these ad spots as vacant land, and if the agents are not utilising these locations, then it makes sense that a 3rd party would build a ‘referral house’ there.”
There is no reason why an agent could not do the same and as part of my own Google research I came across Priscilla Schonell from McGrath Estate Agents doing just that. Priscilla has an advert running with Google Adwords that enables her to appear at the top of search queries related to Mosman based real estate agents. Well done Priscilla!
So, how can you use Google Advertising?
One approach you can take is to allocate an annual budget of say 20% of one property’s commission fee to Google Adwords. For example, agents listing in Mosman NSW might set aside $500 a month for Adwords. You can then have your own advertising listing running alongside the referral websites, mimicking their strategy, and potentially piping them to the post.
That’s a budget of $6,000 annually that you’d need to commit. Alternatively, you can let the referral sites capture the leads and pay them for the referral should you receive one – that’s no upfront commitment, but you pay per listing instead.
So, what do home sellers experience?
Let’s go back to looking at the referral service from the viewpoint of your potential vendor. Using the Mosman suburb again, postcode 2088, I gave each referral site a whirl to uncover the journey from a homeowners perspective. Approaching them all, in the same way, firstly, I attempted to use them to research local agents, then I placed a request for help and stayed engaged right through to receiving a follow-up call.
Here are my findings:
As a homeowner I was asked to fill in a detailed form and wait for an email – there’s no anonymity for a potential seller on this platform and no immediacy of results. I didn’t receive any information about agents in the area but instead had to wait for a followup email from the Local Agent Finder team. I also note that the price range only goes up to a $3 million property value, which is mid-range for the suburb of Mosman NSW (my user case study).
The referral fees for this site, as charged to the listing agent are:
- 0.375% of the successful sale price achieved + GST, payable at completion.
- 1 week’s rent, including GST.
Check out localagentfinder.com.au for yourself.
On this website, you have to provide your contact details as previously, straight off the bat, but you are then given access to a set of agent results. No agent names or contact details are shared with you, and there is a further step where you use what they refer to as ‘the smart tool’ to actually contact the agents.
Again, the highest property price range was quite low, being $900,000 and you have to give your contact details so that the OpenAgent sales team so they can contact you. You then go back to the start page where you can see agents pictures, sales, and testimonials, but there were still no names or contact details.
The referral fees for this site, as charged to the listing agent are 20% of your agreed commission. In comparison to Local Agent Finder above, if your commission fee is 1.8% or lower then OpenAgent is cheaper and if your commission fee is 1.9% or higher then Local Agent Finder would be cheaper. But at the end of the day its about who has the leads, I guess.
Check out openagent.com.au for yourself.
This site had a similar user experience to OpenAgent (with less information shared with the homeowner to start), so I would hazard a guess that they “leveraged” OpenAgent’s site functionality to build their website. That’s just a presumption on my part.
Once you have completed the Which Real Estate Agent form you see a list of agents, but only some agents headshot images are visible – there’s no clear reason why this is.
The referral fees for this site, as charged to the listing agent were not available anywhere. If they are available for homeowners to read, then they were well hidden.
Check out whichrealestateagent.com.au for yourself.
Once again, this referral website showed a similar resemblance to another site, this time; it was LocalAgentFinder.com.au – which made me wonder if they were one and the same. So, I scrolled to the page footer to look at the About information and “Voila!”, they are!
Why would Local Agent Finder create another version of itself you ask? Well, Google only lets you advertise your website once in the paid ad spots for any given search term or phrase, so to get around this you create a duplicate website with a different URL, and you gain 2 out of the 7 ad spots. I am taking a guess and making a presumption again that this is the reason (and am happy to be informed otherwise).
To explain this in real terms, using Priscilla’s advertising example again; by her taking an ad spot for a bunch of Mosman related search terms, and linking her advert through to her McGrath page, she is actually blocking any other McGrath agent from advertising on those same terms.
Note this is only if the other agent wanted to link to their individual agent page on the McGrath.com.au website. If another McGrath agent were to link to their own agent website, they would be fine – hence another reason to have your own agent website – alongside the fact that you can incorporate a lead form on your own website to capture those leads you’ve paid Google to help you find.
Check out agentscompare.com.au for yourself.
Once again, you have to enter your property address before you are given any statistics that are useful to you as a homeowner. You then have to either phone the Agent Select team or request a call back from “Bianca”, whom I am sure is very nice, but I’m still waiting for her call. (All jokes aside, I did receive a call but it was from Paul and he was the first of all the sites to ring me back).
Alternatively, you complete a form to give them your full property details AND you are given an opportunity to tell them the name of an agent you are presently interested in (who is helping who here?).
Once again, the referral fees for this site, as charged to the listing agent were not available anywhere that I could find.
Check out agentselect.com.au for yourself.
This referral website has a slightly different strategy to many of the others. When you first land on the website you are given the impression that they are an agency, but you very quickly work out that they find agents for you.
It seems to be a Melbourne based business that is targeting search results for Melbourne and NSW suburbs.
I assume this business would also liaise with you, as an agent, and ask you for a referral fee that’s akin to splitting the commission on the sale with them – there was no detail in this regard that I could easily find.
Check out bestperformingagent.com.au for yourself.
This one has its own unique strategy, “Woo hoo!”, something different!
Leveraging a popular search term and popular content marketing material, they have focused their referral site around a ‘guide to selling your home’. They offer you an insightful downloadable “Home Seller’s Guide” unsurprisingly!
And once again, you need to complete a form to ask them to contact you.
Unbeknown to me at the time of research (but a fact I learnt later from Tom Gajic) is that Home Seller Guide is a site owned by OpenAgent.
Check out homesellerguide.com.au for yourself.
I’ve been aware of this service since they launched in 2014, so alongside OpenAgent they were one of the first referral type websites to appear.
Unlike many of the other sites they describe themselves as an ‘Agent Review Platform’ rather than a referral website, so they have a different home seller proposition and totally different revenue model to all of the others.
They are a subscription based service with current pricing including free and paid options, for $39 and $69 per month.
With this proposition, I loved the fact that I could do research on real estate agents in an area without needing to hand over my contact information – so the vendor is given something of value before they have to give something of value in exchange i.e. their contact details.
The top 3 agents on the site for Mosman correlated with the same research on Realestate.com.au, but this time, it’s based on the number of reviews, and you get to see a star rating based alongside the reviews of both their past sellers and buyers.
Also, there’s the option for an agent from the area to push their profile to the top of the results by paying a premium, and the most recent reviews were also listed (whether you were paying extra or not) – giving any agent a little extra visibility.
Ratemyagent.com.au is also a website that has popped up as trending on the Google Trends website, which declares that it is currently growing 15% faster than most other real estate industry websites.
Check out ratemyagent.com.au yourself.
Reviewing verses referring
So, from a home seller’s perspective, there is a distinct difference between a review website and a referral website.
The two services where I was able to get direct details of the agents – where I could make my own selection and action contacting the agent in my own time – was via Realestate.com.au’s Find Agent feature and the RateMyAgent.com.au website.
With all of the referral sites – who are most certainly filling a gap in the vendor’s journey and willing to spend the digital marketing dollars that agents are not – I had to wait for them to become involved in my search. These sites are casting the digital net and filling a well-needed marketing gap. They are great in the sense that you pay nothing until you receive a lead – but if you want to be more in control of your visibility, over and above your nearby real estate competition, your next best step is to create your own agent website and put in place your own lead generation strategy.