Friday, March 31, 2006

Marketing Success

We are luck to have a very high-touch business, with literally thousands of customer conversations every day via email and phone. Because of this, we get a lot of feedback - about our products, about improvements, success stories, etc. Not only does this provide invaluable first-person research on what's working well and what we should build next to make our customers successful, but it also provides us with a constant flow of customer success stories that motivate and inspire customers, prospects and employees alike.

Many of these success stories end up taking the form of what we call Profiles in Success, which we make available via the Agent Success Network (examples here, here and here). But customer success stories take many shapes.

Below is a brief Q&A with a new HomePages subscriber in Georgia. He's one of many agents nationwide realizing that his customers are online, and his HomePages subscription gives him a critical advantage that's significantly accelerating his listing presentation win rate (hard to beat 100%).

Bryan Lazaroff
BuyAgent Realty, LLC
Acworth, Georgia

Q: Why did you join HomePages and purchase the Showcase Marketing Package?
A: I joined HomePages to have another marketing advantage in generating listings and more leads.

Q: How is HomePages impacting your business?
A: I love it! It is helping me close 100% of the listing presentations! Also, I have received a handful of leads from the volume of visitors alone.

Q: What specific features and/or tools from HomePages do you use in your business?
A: I use the signs for every listing along with the Home ID#. The additional signage in the seller’s yard directs traffic to my HomePages site, which is a big plus. Neighbors interested in selling take notice of the signs on the listing and become curious. I also have customized the HomePages Listing Presentation and use it every time! In addition, I send out all my pre-listing packets using the HomePages folders.

Q: What do your customers find particularly valuable?
A: Sellers benefit from the national exposure of their listings, while buyers find value in getting property and neighborhood information from the site. They also find comfort of using an extreme tech-savvy agent through HomePages!

Q: What would you tell other real estate agents and/or home buyers/sellers about HomePages?
A: With approximately 80% of real estate interest geared toward the Internet, positioning yourself with HomePages is leverage at its best! Agents can utilize their own HomePages Web site as a marketing tool as well as for leads.

Q: What objectives and goals do you have for HomePages?
A: I plan to continue to promote my listings as well as driving traffic to the site.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Success with HomePages, caught on tape!

Sherry Daminski yesterday hosted our latest Mastermind Conference call, speaking with several thousand HouseValues customers about what she's done to grow her business. Her story is amazing - more than 15,000 prospective customers in her pipeline, with a slew of creative marketing ideas to boot. She's a classic example of an Agent CEO.

On the call, Sherry also talked about how she's recently been using HomePages to impress her customers and win new listings. Check out this audio clip from yesterday's call, in which Sherry describes how HomePages has been integrated into her listing presentation, and how she's been able to differentiate herself from other agents in the market with a more effective, Internet-based marketing strategy.

Powerful stuff, and I can't tell you how excited this makes us for the impact we're having on the lives and businesses of our customers.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The perfect house just wasn't good enough

Heard an interesting story from a subscriber in Texas today. She had an out-of-town buyer contact her last July to look at listings. Wasn't quite ready to buy just then, but a couple weeks ago called back and was ready. Offer written and accepted on a house earlier this week. Great testimonial to the fact that consumers are researching early, but it takes patience to be there when they're ready to actively buy or sell.

What was most interesting about this story, however, was how played a critical role in the home buyer's decision-making process. The consumer had used to search for not just listings in the Plano, Texas area, but also local neighborhood amenities - especially schools. You see, the home buyer is a vet, and has many pets. She actually didn't want to live anywhere close to a school, for fear that one of her pets might tangle with the kids, or visa versa.

Great example of how important the neighborhood context is when people look for homes. For this buyer, knowing what was in and around the neighborhood was critical to finding just the perfect home for herself - as well as her many roommates.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Reflections on the MIT Enterprise Forum

I just got back from the MIT Enterprise Forum which was all about the future of real estate featuring myself from HouseValues, the founder of Redfin David Eraker, the CFO of Zillow Spencer Rascoff, a broker from Coldwell Banker Bain Jim Reppond, and Gordon Stephenson who is a broker owner at Real Property Associates as well as a Director for Zillow.

It was an enlightening evening, and upon reflection, I personally learned a lot. In the spirit of David Letterman (on my tube right now as my two-month-old dozes next to me), I figured I would create a top six list of things I learned from the evening:

6) MITEF: Kudos to all those involved in the MIT Enterprise Forum. The MITEF put together an excellent program and discussion of very different business models that are changing the real estate. The MITEF provides a great service for the Seattle community and I am very proud that I could participate in one of their programs.

5) The Role of Real Estate Professionals: It was really interesting to see the entire panel agree that real estate will continue to be a professionally assisted transaction. Spencer contrasted buying and selling homes with buying airplane tickets, and separated the Zillow management team from the Expedia and Amazon business models that ultimately disintermediated travel and retail. I feel very passionately about the fact that real estate professionals will continue to play a crucial role in the home buying / selling process, because the home purchase is and will always be large, complex, infrequent and unique for the majority of buyers and sellers.

4) Real estate agents and entrepreneurship: Technology entrepreneurs get a lot of press, but the world is filled with entrepreneurs, particularly in the real estate industry. Real estate agents, real estate brokers and mortgage brokers are entrepreneurs by every measure of the word. I feel very lucky for having gotten to know Jim Reppond, a broker with Coldwell Banker Bain and one of their top producing real estate brokers in the country. Jim has really approached real estate as a business, investing in the right people, marketing and tools to be successful. Jim is an ideal example of the “”Agent CEO” who has been scaled from a sales agent to a broker to successful business owner managing a large real estate practice in Seattle. Way to go Jim!

3) Courage: David Eraker at Redfin is pursuing a discount, limited service buyer agency business model. In general, Redfin is pursuing a very different model than HouseValues. David was on the hot seat for much of the night for working outside of the traditional real estate industry and commission structures. At the same time, I have a lot of respect for David for not backing down, defending his position and his company’s business model. David is a pure entrepreneur, pushing the envelope in real estate. Redfin will appeal to some percent of home buyers and sellers, and the market will determine how big that percent will be.

2) Accuracy: There was a very interesting discussion about the importance of accuracy in the creation of home valuation. Zillow publicly states that they are within a 10% margin of error for the homes in the US that they cover. Spencer stated that they provide free information to consumers and that their current service has its limitations, and that if a consumer is interested in an accurate home valuation, they should contact a local real estate specialist – a real estate agent, real estate broker or appraiser. At HouseValues, we wholeheartedly agree! We believe strongly that accurate local home valuations should be provided by the real estate professionals that specialize in the neighborhoods where people live and work.

1) Know Your Customer: I feel very fortunate to have worked with the founder and Chairman of HouseValues Mark Powell. One of my personal learnings from Mark was a simple fact: you MUST know your customer inside and out. HouseValues has done very well as a company by intimately understanding our real estate agent customers as well as home buyers and sellers.

Hopefully everyone in the audience learned as much as I did. It was great program that spurred a lot of discussion. I would love to continue the discussion, as I feel the book on the future of real estate is far from written.

Happy prospecting everyone and best of luck!


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

That's some big toast!

Toastmasters has been a big deal at HouseValues for the past couple years. It was an organization that founder Mark Powell felt strongly about, and learned from early in his career, and he encouraged sales and customer service reps at HouseValues to give it a try. Several did.

Today, the HouseValues Toastmasters Club is the second largest in the Puget Sound area (behind only Microsoft), and is also the second-largest in Western Washington. It's been a great way for employees to hone their public speaking and presentation skills in a safe environment.

As the club continues to grow in size, it's expanding beyond just regular meetings & events. It's getting involved in local youth leadership programs, including work with Toastmasters groups at local junior high and high schools, to help more young people develop skills and confidence that will benefit them in almost any profession.

Online real estate discussed tomorrow night

Tomorrow evening, HouseValues VP of Corporate Development Nikesh Parekh will join executives from other local online real estate companies, including RedFin and Zillow, on a panel discussion sponsored by the MIT Enterprise Forum. According to the folks who organized the event, this event sold out quicker than any they've ever done, and the % of local real estate agents and brokers in attendance is expected to be large.

It's been particularly interesting to watch the buzz growing for this event in the past few weeks. Some interesting pre-event commentary can be found here, here, and here.

We don't tend to do a lot of events like this, but the forum should be a great opportunity to share with a local audience of both real estate and technology professionals how we're different, and how we've been able to successfully build an online real estate category-leading product - both for consumers and real estate professionals.

More than 16,000 real estate professionals nationwide now use HouseValues to grow their business, including more than 700 real estate agents in the Seattle market alone, and hundreds of thousands of consumers every month request information from a real estate professional across our network of sites.

It should be a lively discussion tomorrow night, including Q&A from the audience. Look for a recap of the event on this blog later in the week.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Congratulations Ray Singhal!

Yesterday morning more than 75 million Sunday newspaper readers flipped through Parade Magazine's annual "What People Earn" issue, in which the magazine features dozens of Americans - including what they do and what they earn. It's always a fascinating read, but this year was extra special because four-year HouseValues subscriber Ray Singhal was featured on the cover!

Ray has been with HouseValues since August 2001, and with his wife Nimi has worked the HouseValues system diligently, building an enormous and highly-lucrative pipeline of business that clearly has been paying off. When he first joined HouseValues, Ray had been in real estate for just three years. In 2005, Ray earned more than $600,000 in commissions.

In Ray's own words:

"HouseValues is the best real estate prospecting tool for generating leads that we know of. We have more time for ourselves and our children. The HouseValues features are just awesome! They allow us to cultivate prospects in a professional and timely manner with no cold calling, while enriching our lives with more personal time. If you can learn how to work the system, you are guaranteed to succeed!"

Congratulations, Ray, on your continued impressive achievements. You are an insipiration to HouseValues subscribers and other real estate agents nationwide!

Friday, March 10, 2006

And now, a word from our customers

Like most businesses, we hear from our customers around the clock. Many tell us how we can improve our system, and those calls are vitally important to us. But many others are from customers who are sharing their successes, and in some cases sharing how HouseValues has changed their life.

These are an inspiration to us, and further proof that the hard work we put in every day is benefitting consumers and real estate professionals alike.

Below is an example of the kind of messages we receive, this relayed based on a phone conversation with one of our sales managers.

From: Joyce
Sent: Friday, March 10, 2006 8:41 AM
Subject: Andrea Bliley- phenomenal success!

Wanted to share with you one of our biggest success stories in Richmond, VA...

Almost exactly 1 year ago (03/18/05), Andrea Bliley called in and asked about a HouseValues subscription. She was a referral from our top success story in Richmond, Jennifer James. I spoke to Andrea and she signed on the spot!

Not only did she have almost immediate success with JustListed, I later found out from a subsequent referral of hers that when she started with HouseValues, she was on the verge of quitting real estate and going back to waiting tables because she just couldn’t catch a break.

I called her today and she informed me that she has 13 closings this month, 4 of which are from HouseValues and JustListed leads and an additional 2 are from referrals from HouseValues and JustListed leads! In April, she has another 3 scheduled and 2 of those are from our leads as well. All of her success she attributes in part to Market Leader. As of the end of March she will have closed 15 transactions so far in 2006.

I gave her a lot of kudos because we have other agents in her market not doing as well as she is. When I told her that she stated, “That’s because they’re not working the leads hard enough!” She says that she’s been approached by other lead generating and branding companies and tells each one that they will never get her away from HouseValues. She told me that HouseValues is the best thing that ever happened to her and that she loves us!

She is planning on attending the HouseValues seminar on Tuesday.

Thanks and have a great day!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The undivided attention of 500+ employees

Tami Boni, a HouseValues subscriber from Keller Williams Realty in Tacoma, Washington, was at our Kirkland headquarters this afternoon to speak at our all-hands meeting. She spent aboug 15-20 minutes sharing her story and answering questions from the assembled team. Her story was truly inspiring, and was the buzz of the office for the rest of the day today.

In a nutshell, Tami joined HouseValues more than two years ago - just 40 days after receiving her real estate license. Today, she's one of the top agents in her office and manages a database of more than 1,000 prospective customers.

In front of more than 500 employees, Tami told several stories of how HouseValues has changed her life. She talked about the sales rep who brought her onto the system first, with which she is still friends. She talked about her coach, who wouldn't give up on Tami during those first few months when she was figuring out how to best use the system. She gave numerous examples of how her business has grown steadily and significantly over the past two years.

And then she talked about the two-month period last year when she was in a hospital after a very serious accident. She couldn't work, half the time couldn't remember her name, but her business continued to run. Three days after getting out of the hospital and back to work, one of her prospects listed his house with Tami - thanks in part to how well Tami "kept in touch" with the prospect over the past several weeks.

While Tami was in the hospital recovering, her Market Leader system kept her in touch with more than 1,000 of her prospects.

As you can imagine, Tami was mobbed after the meeting. More stories, plenty of laughter, lots of hugs. Even a few specific feature requests that I have a feeling will show up in Market Leader very soon.

Tami was a great reminder to all of us why we're here, why we do what we do, why we put in so many long hours. It's about people like Tami, and how we're making a difference in her life, and the lives of thousands of other real estate agents nationwide.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Great Ideas from HomePages Customers

We recently asked customers what they're doing to leverage HomePages in their business to win more listings and get more customers. The response was overwhelming, and very creative. There are some incredibly smart marketers out there, already innovating the HomePages opportunity to make it a more powerful marketing tool for real estate agents.

Here are a couple examples of what HomePages customers are already doing:

Jay from Tucson, Arizona writes:

"I held an open house recently and had my laptop computer open to my HomePages Web site with a close-up of the property so guests could see the surrounding area. I let them navigate the area and showed them shopping centers, schools and parks. They were very impressed. It also gave them visual answers to questions that most buyers have, rather than simply giving them stats and numbers. I gave out printed flyers of the HomePages map of the property and my contact information."

The Zamarelli team in Warren, Ohio writes:

"We’re meeting with owners of restaurants, cafes, and other businesses listed on HomePages in our area. I bring my laptop and show the business on the HomePages map on my Web site. I ask them to link to our site from their Web site, if they have one, and in turn we will link to them from our main Web site.

I also invite them to keep a guestbook that asks for each patron’s name, phone, email address and also asks if they would like to be informed of discounts or information. We collect this information from each business and send each person an email with an offer provided by the business, such as a coupon or event announcement.

I regularly send out these emails on the business’ behalf. It’s a win-win for both of us! The business address and a "see us up close" link to our HomePages site appear in each email. The business gets repeat customers, and we get first-time and repeat visitors to our HomePages site. Customers may also find our HomePages site from the business’ site. Every person who requests home information is managed in Market Leader!"

Monday, March 06, 2006

Ring that triangle...

Back in Yakima today for our third new employee group to start since the satellite office opened in January. I continue to be impressed by this group. High energy, with lots of passion for their jobs and their new customers.

Some observations:

- They have a big metal triangle that rings every time someone gets a sale. It's been going off all day today.
- The energy level is high - they're helping each other be successful, and cheering each other's sales.
- They started their own dodgeball team. I just think that's too cool for words.

Just in time for spring home-buying...

The combination of new real estate Web sites and the impending spring home-buying season is generating a ton of press attention, including a great story by the Associated Press this weekend about new resources for buying & selling a home, particularly in an increasingly dynamic real estate market. It looks like this AP story in particular got significant distribution over the weekend, as our Web servers for HomePages were working overtime to keep up with the traffic.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

All roads lead to HomePages

As we built HomePages last year, we knew the neighborhood context was key when people looked for their next home. Allowing people to access a bird's eye view of the neighborhood not only helped them understand the home they would buy, but the area in which they would live - including nearby businesses and amenities, but also nearby parks, how close neighbors were, topographical features and more.

But also important to consumers were the actual roads. As of this weekend, consumers can choose to view roads and street names on their maps as well, to help them navigate a given area they might not know very well, and help them drive around to homes they are particularly interested in.

It was important for us to make this an optional feature - to allow consumers to turn on and off this road information. Some consumers want it, some don't need it. As has been the case for HomePages since the beginning, it's all about consumer empowerment and choice. Giving consumers access to all of the information they might need, all contextually in one easy-to-use site, and then giving consumers the opportunity to personalize their experience - all of this is key.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Put my home on HomePages, please.

A senior member of our sales team got a phone call recently from an agent in Morgan Hill, California. The agent said she wanted to subscribe to HomePages right away.

Not a surprising phone call, since we've significantly ramped up the advertising machine for HomePages in the past two months, but this agent was particularly adamant about getting herself up on the site quickly.

Turns out, a home seller had walked into her office earlier in the day, ready to sell her home. The seller said she would be willing to list her home with the agent's brokerage, but only if her home could be featured on

This wasn't the first time we'd heard such a story. Agents nationwide are reporting that HomePages is their new secret weapon to winning more listings. And it's fantastic that consumer awareness and demand is growing so quickly, and driving equal demand from real estate agents.
And we're just getting started. Wait until you see what we have coming next...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Celebrating 19 quarters of success

Yesterday, HouseValues celebrated its 19th consecutive quarter of profitability (as reported for Q4 of 2005). Following his call with investors and a few analysts & reporters, Ian shared with employees some of the excitement he and our board of directors have for the most recently-reported results, and the opportunities ahead. In an email to employees, Ian shared several key accomplishments in 2005, including:

* More than 16,000 customers, up 43% from the previous year
* The launch of
* The growth of the mortgage business, including The Loan Page and JustListed Connect
* HouseValues customers spent 6,600 days at seminars and 43,000 hours on Mastermind calls
* The launch of our new facility in Yakima

There is a strong sense of excitement and anticipation here for the year ahead, with lots of exciting projects brewing at every level – for real estate and mortgage customers, for consumers, and for entirely new products & markets as well. Ian’s email to employees put it best:

Our vision is to be the leading player in the online real estate and mortgage category, and that leadership position is more attainable today than it has ever been. Achieving this vision will require hard work and significant investments in 2006. The strength of our business enables us to continue to make these investments while at the same time profitably growing the company in 2006 and beyond.

As we invest in our core assets – including our network of consumer Web sites and the great services we deliver to real estate and mortgage professionals – we will be laying the groundwork for success in the coming years and growing HouseValues into a multi-billion dollar business and a clear category leader.

Plenty of announcements to come, and we’ll keep this blog updated even more frequently with progress reports.