Confessions of an Inman Rookie

It’s the Tuesday of Inman Connect in San Francisco, I’ve come directly to the Hilton from SFO, and I’ve worked in real estate technology for all of ten minutes. Maybe it just feels that way.

It’s my seventh day and I’m at the most influential real estate conference in the U.S. - surrounded by the industry’s most successful agents, brokers, engineers, and executives - and I have no clue what anything means or who anyone is.

Thirty minutes into awkwardly patrolling the perimeter of the throng of people crowded around the lobby bar and I’ve had the following conversation ten times.

“Are you an agent or a broker?” Neither.

“What do you do?” I manage strategic customer relationships for a data company called Onboard Informatics.

“What do they do?” Uhhhh…..

I’ve spent my entire career working in sales and account management for cloud-based data and analytics applications, so I’m no slouch when it comes to helping my customers turn data into dollars. I am however a millennial living in Manhattan whose only exposure to the real estate industry has been moving nine times in the last ten years. So needless to say, I’m a little out of my element.

You have an IDX sending data to your site from an MLS? You’re a member of NAR so you have access to RPR? You want a CMA? AVM? FSBO? TWFSQA? Ok, I made that last one up, but you get the point. Every industry has their own language flush with acronyms that outsiders don’t understand.  

Deep breath - what DO I know?

I know that my customers are trying to attract, engage, and convert their target audience. Who is their audience? Young, eager, increasingly tech-savvy individuals and families who are trying to find a home. Our customers are struggling to humanize relationships that are increasingly digitized.

Our CEO, Marc Siden, likes to explain what we do using this anecdote: When he receives an email from his daughter’s second grade teacher, he opens it. When that teacher calls him, he answers. Every time. Why? Because that teacher has information that he cares about and that is meaningful.

That’s how we help our customers at Onboard. We make it easy for agents and brokers to connect with home-buyers in ways that are meaningful. That connection is powerful.   

Whether through AVMs or CMAs or your local MLS, we are all trying to accomplish the same thing: to foster human connection..

Remind yourself of that the next time you find yourself in the middle of a crowded room filled with people you don’t know, speaking a language you don’t understand.

At Onboard, we know how to help our customers make those connections and everything I’ve learned at Inman has gotten me very excited to be a part of it.


 

Stop Getting Distracted with your Marketing

Last week I was invited to speak at the 2017 Inman Connect Conference in San Francisco.   My talk, Putting Data to Work for your Marketing, devolved into a frank discussion about staying focused on any marketing effort.  

If you read blogs like these or attend conferences like Inman's looking for ways to improve outcomes, things can get complicated in a hurry.  Let's take the simple sales funnel.  This is a graphic often used to illustrate the path of a typical consumer.  It's important to understand, but full of jargon and typical marketing speak that can be distracting.  So to start out the conversation last week, I made a new one:

You start out any marketing initiative by screaming.  You get to the highest platform or box or mountain you can find - even if it's digital - and you try to get the attention of as many people as possible.  After you exhaust your efforts, you hold back and you listen.  You listen for responses - for people who heard what you had to say and resonated with your message.  At that point, you start a conversation with that group in the hopes that you earn their trust - or their business.  If things go well, hopefully they fall in love with you and you not only get a client, you get a referral.

Each phase of the sales funnel can take many forms. Here are some examples: 

If you are a large company, you can scream from :30 TV spots or billboards or any number of media tactics.  If you're a smaller business, you still have access to scream through social media or a blog or your own website.  Listening involves things like lead capture forms, likes, comments, reposts, and more.  In the digital age there are more ways than ever to effectively listen to your target audience.  Discussions often happen through a CRM with ongoing nurture campaigns or periodic updates.  Each phase of the funnel can vary and each phase of the funnel can be measured.  

Here is an example of what you might measure at each phase of the sales funnel:

Between measuring time on site, conversion rates, leads, email delivery rates, click throughs, open rates, average costs per lead, acquisition and close and more, it can quickly become a full time job just to analyze the data coming in.  Regardless of if you are a large company or an independent contractor, marketing data can quickly lead to paralysis.  It's overwhelming.  

Let's stop getting distracted with data.

There are only two (2) things you need to pay attention to: 

What are you investing - that includes money, time, energy, and effort and what is the return that investment?  If you are going to spend your time measuring anything, measure this.  Think through your efforts by campaign or time period and really analyze where you spend your budget and time when it comes to marketing.  Then think through where your actual business is coming from.  That's dollars and cents.  

This is a great place to start, but if you are typical of many in the real estate industry, we tend to get distracted with leads.  We love leads and we want more, better, different, and higher rates of leads.  When you think about the sales funnel - that makes a lot of sense.   In effect, it's like taking out "scream" and "listen" and cutting right to the conversation.  

But that can be dangerous.  I'll explore the dangers of getting distracted by leads in my post next week.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.  

Why Customers Care about Geocoding (and you should too!)

In the new world of real estate technology and data, local information must be accurate down to the lowest levels.  It is one thing when your customers are physically visiting a property they are interested in. It is a completely different story when your customers are not only locating potential listings from a mobile or desktop application, but also reviewing comparables and points of interest (POIs) in the area.  In that case, any data you display must be geocoded.

Geocoding for real estate is the process of turning an address into a set of latitude and longitude coordinates. This may seem insignificant at first, but it is important to consider the ramifications that an incorrect lat/long may have on your customers.

Let’s look at the basic example of a typical listing page that shows property details, nearby points of interest, local schools, and a summary of the neighborhood demographics. The flow for your customer may start with a neighborhood search that shows them multiple listings in the area based on some basic search criteria for beds, baths, list price, etc. The customer might then select a property, view the details about home, and then look into the comparable recent home sales in the area. If they like what they see, they will then check out the schools and demographics information to make sure that this is a place where they can raise their kids. In the end, you have provided them with all of the tools needed to determine that they are going to call an agent to talk about buying that home.

Now let’s imagine that the address for the property being reviewed doesn’t have the correct latitude and longitude associated to it… The first issue that comes up may be that the neighborhood search doesn’t actually show the correct listings because the boundary data doesn’t include that property. If the customer is able to make it to that property, the school attendance zones may not line up with the listing and their kids can’t actually go to the schools listed on your site. Furthermore, the demographics data is showing for the zip code just to the south and the crime rate and weather don’t look very appealing.  

Geocoding all of the data used for this customer experience would ensure that the property really belongs in the neighborhood, has access to the highly rated schools nearby, and is in an area with the exact demographics that your customer is looking for. This type of accuracy not only makes for a better customer experience, but it is also an expectation from users of any application. It is important to understand that in places with new developments, low data density (e.g. rural areas), and multi-family homes, a geocoder may not be the perfect solution, but we will discuss below how the process works.

In order to deliver accurate data, there are a few steps that go into the process of turning an address into a location. Geocoders can have different levels of processes, but overall, there are three main steps that occur.

STEP ONE

The first step is to take an address and normalize it. This is important because not all data is gathered the same way and consistency can depend on the source of the data. For example, entering “123 Main Street New York 10009” as a single string needs to be broken up into the street address, city, and zip code in order to maintain consistency when locating the address.  The image below shows how a standard address would be broken down into individual parts in order to maintain a consistent data set for geocoding.

STEP TWO

Once a potential address has been identified, a number of potential matching addresses can be identified and ranked in order of likelihood to be a match. This is done using an algorithm that includes finding the Levenshtein distance, which basically determines the number of “steps” the information is from the potential options available for a match. The fewer number of “steps” that needed for a match, the more likely it is that the address entered is the address at the correct location.  In the example below, the closest match would be between “rcik” and “rick” because the only step needed to get from one to the other is to switch the “ci” to “ic.”

STEP THREE

The final step varies depending on which geocoder you use, but most use pieces of a road with ranges of addresses to interpolate how far down the street the address may be. The geocoder will continue to narrow down the potential matches until it lands on the correct latitude and longitude.  It is possible that some addresses can only be geocoded to a zip code or neighborhood level because of a lack of data for matching, but the more accurate results are obtained by looking at each property on a street and using the address to determine where that property belongs on a street segment (seen in the example below).

Now that you know the basics about geocoding and why it is important in your customer experience, you can implement some great functionality to showcase it. For example, you could find all of the best restaurants within a radius of a given point, sort airports by the travel distance from a location, or find all of the shopping in Cleveland.


If you’re interested to see how Onboard Informatics can help you get the data you need to power your products, check out our developer platform here. From our documentation, you can use the interactive docs to make the exact calls mentioned above and get real time data from our APIs to get started!

Video for my AVM now Ready to View

Last week, Brett Friedman and I hosted a great demo for Onboard's latest product, myAVM.  myAVM is the first AVM designed for millennials, which basically means it's an AVM that not only generates valuable seller leads for you, but also looks good.  Whether on mobile, in print or on your website, myAVM is a white label AVM that looks different than anything else out there.

In this demo, we review what myAVM can do for your business, how it works and what it costs.  If you have any questions or want more information, feel free to reach out to us via email at sales@onboardinformatics.com or by clicking the link below. 

We are really proud of myAVM and appreciate your interest in this product. 

Convert More Seller Leads

Over the years, we have spent a lot of time discussing how to get more seller leads.  There was a story on Commissions Inc and their launch of the Seller Suite, a simple tutorial on Four Ways to Get More Seller Leads in Real Estate, and Marc Siden's feature on how national portals generate seller leads.  Seems like well-covered territory.

This week, we're launching myAVM, so seller leads are once again on our collective minds.  We wanted to talk to some experts and see what they have to see about not only attracting seller leads, but actually converting them.    Here's what we learned:

Buyers buy Houses.  Sellers Buy Agents.

Buyers and sellers are apparently quite a bit different.  Buyers are more interested in seeing houses, and less concerned with who shows them.  Sellers are very concerned with who is representing their home to the larger market.  As a result, many agents say that making a good first impression, gaining their trust and building your own credibility is incredibly important. 

A Good First Impression

67% of home-sellers will end up using the first agent they come in contact with when starting their real estate process.  Making sure you are that agent is very important.  Using tools like social media, landing pages and Automated Valuation Models (may we suggest myAVM?) are a great place to pull in those leads and make sure they know who you are while they are still dreaming of selling their home or seeing what's out there.  Get to them before anyone else does.  If you wait until they are ready to make a decision, someone will likely be in front of you.

Become a Trusted Source

The number one thing home-sellers look for when choosing their agent is "responsiveness."  So returning phone calls and responding to emails is important here.  The second most important thing?  "Trustworthiness."   So how can you build your credibility?  By relaying important information when needed and by staying in front of them with your local knowledge.  Capturing seller leads is great because it makes you first in line, but unless you're nurturing that lead, you won't gain their trust and might still lose the deal.  The average home seller takes 11 months to consider selling their home and 3 days selecting an agent.   If you are staying in front of your leads with information on their property, community, and market, you will be not only building your credibility, but will be ensuring you are first in line when they're ready to move.  It's not enough to just capture the lead, make sure you have a plan in place to effectively nurture that lead as well.

Tips on Getting a Better Response

So you know you have to be first, be awesome and be consistent.  But what types of communication get the best results?  First, you want to vary your communication.  Try a phone call, then a text, then an email.

When writing an email, emails that end with "sent from my iphone" or "sent from my Android" get a better response than ones that don't.  People don't want to feel like they're getting a marketing email - they want to feel like they're getting your personal attention.

Simplify your messaging.  Emails should be punchy, short, and contain some type of valuable information.  Things like: "I just checked my numbers and there are 832 active buyers in your market today.  Let me know if you are ready to have a conversation."  Boom! Builds credibility, makes contact with your lead and let's them know you're there when they need you.

Language like: "I have great news about your home," also gets a great response. 

A Different Approach for Home-Sellers

When you are trying to land a home-seller, you are not selling a home, you're selling yourself.   Here are the three things that will help you land more listings:

1.  Be first.  Get out in front of their process by generating leads through social media, landing pages, and valuation estimates.

2. Be consistent.  Have a system in place where you will reach out to them in a variety of ways over a long period of time.  Know that it may take months, but it will yield a good return.

3. Be simple.  Keep your messages personal (or personal-like), straightforward, short, and relevant.  You want to stay in front of them, but you don't want to bug them.  

Good luck getting those seller leads.  If you're looking for a turnkey DIY solution for attracting seller leads, join us tomorrow for our Demo on myAVM.  Register here.

 

The Pros and Cons of AVMs in Real Estate

AVMs have been a integral part of real estate technology since Zillow launched Zestimate.  Controversy seems to follow AVMs wherever they pop up, so we wanted to take a moment to lay out the pros and cons of using an AVM in your real estate business.

What is an AVM?

First things first.  What is an AVM?  AVM stands for “Automated Valuation Model.” It is a program that automatically analyzes various data points to produce an estimate on the current value of a home or property.  Most often, online visitors type in a property address and the engine uses linear and multiple regressions to form an estimate of that property's market value.  Data analyzed can include the age of a home, market values, trends, historical data, property features and more.  

Why do real estate business use AVMs?

Real estate companies often use AVMs to capture the contact information of potential home-sellers.  Home sellers are valuable leads in the real estate industry and the assumption is that people looking to learn the value of a home might want to sell that home.  Many solution providers sell versions of AVM, from Core Logic to Home Junctions.  Companies take those AVMs, put them on their website or page and try to identify people in their area who will likely enter the real estate market.

AVM:  The PROS

  • Consumers like them - based on the millions of users who used "Zestimate" enough to make it a household name, this is information real estate consumers care about.  It's a way to give them a sense of their property value without diving too deep in the real estate process.  It's interesting information and its a safe place for many to start the sales process.
  • An AVM attracts valuable leads - Seller leads are coveted for many real estate agents and they can be harder to capture digitally.  The AVM is a proven way to attract more seller leads.
  • AVMs can trigger online visitors to call an agent - If an AVM is positive, it might be an encouraging sign for someone thinking about selling their home.  The AVM might serve as the "tipping point" in making them decide to take action and call an agent for additional support.

AVM: The CONS

  • They are only estimates and can be misleading - It is important to position any AVM as an estimate.  It is not meant to replace more in-depth property valuations like in-home inspections or Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) tools.  It a springboard to encourage online visitors to call an agent, not a replacement.
  • Some areas of the country are more accurate than others - The average Zestimate is off (+/-) by $14,000.  This can go up or down depending on the availability of public records in that area.  
  • They are automated - because they are automated, AVMs don't take into account the human element of real estate.  This may include neighborhood changes that can be intangible to home improvements that aren't reflected in public records.  

myAVM

myAVM is the new AVM from Onboard.  It compiles our robust data base, including 38 million transactions (nearly 450,000 added monthly), tax assessment and liability information, recent home sales, market insights and more to create an informed, data-driven estimate.

myAVM is interactive, so users can indicate the condition of the property and the value will adjust accordingly.  This helps create a more nuanced experience and reinforce the fact that the AVM is just an estimate. 

Finally, myAVM is inviting.  It presents this important information in pleasing, fun way.  Most AVMs are fairly straightforward - like reading a book report.  myAVM is interactive and modern.  It's almost.....fun.

We're hosting a demo of myAVM next Wednesday and would love for you to join us.  Register by clicking this link.  If you have any questions on myAVM or any of the data-driven products at Onboard, click the "Get Started" link and one of our reps will contact you.

 

Join us Aug 2 for a demo of myAVM

August 2, Brett Friedman and Dean Soukerous will be holding a demo and Q&A for the new myAVM, the only AVM for millennials.  The AVM uses the trusted data Onboard has been aggregating and proving to some of the largest names in real estate for 15 years.  It's created for any size brokerage however, and can be displayed either on an independent web page or directly onto your own website.

myAVM's beautiful design will get you noticed by more home-sellers.  If you are interested in learning more, sign up for the demo here.

 

The Video for the Developer Platform is Ready to View

Thank you to everyone who participated in our Demo of the new Developer Platform from Onboard Informatics.  Kevin Mattice, Senior Product Manager, and Jason Chen, Business Support Data Analyst reviewed what data is available on the platform, what you can build, how you can access the right data and where to sign up.

It's a great crash course into everything the developer platform provides and a great way to get started with Onboard.  

Enjoy the video and if you have any questions or need more information, reach out to use at support@onboardinformatics.

 

Onboard Informatics Revolutionizes API Developer Platform for Real Estate

‘Onboard API’ now has more flexible payment options, new datasets, and easier, risk-free access to information on every property and community in the country

NEW YORK – July 10, 2017 – Onboard Informatics today makes it even easier for developers to create next-generation real estate solutions with the relaunch of OnboardAPI

This single gateway enables partners to access a diverse range of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for critical real estate information like property information, value estimates, market trends, points of interest, and key demographics. The platform now also includes property owner and mortgage information. 

The robust APIs, developed at the company’s headquarters in New York, will help partners build, scale and enable tomorrow’s real estate solutions.  To make this as easy as possible, OnboardAPI is also introducing a new pay-for-what-you-use payment option for early developers.  While they continue to offer free access to build solutions, now innovators and entrepreneurs will be able to launch their products without committing to expensive annual contracts.  The pay-for-what-you-use model is based on a fixed cost per API call and allows those starting a new business to ramp up without a heavy upfront investment. 

“We’ve always been proud of our Developer Platform,” said Jonathan Bednarsh, President of Onboard Informatics.  “This relaunch solidifies our commitment to enable our clients and partners along with their developers to innovate and grow their business.  We want to empower the next big thing in real estate– not stand in the way.  OnboardAPI allows us to do just that.”

Partners can easily connect and integrate with four categories of APIs: property, community, points of interest and area.  All data can be cross-referenced for easier search functionality and can be accessed through a single API key.  The broad categories of data include robust datasets like Property Value Estimates, Owner Data, and over 5 million public and private establishments. All data can be linked to premium boundaries by zip code, city, state, neighborhood or residential subdivision. 

“Instead of people spending time aggregating data, OnboardAPI allows them to focus on building their applications while offering a consistent interface to the data,” said Kevin Mattice, Senior Product Manager.  “This platform gives people the flexibility to pull the data they need, instead of sorting through bulk data in different formats.  With the new pricing option, it is now easier than ever to get what you need and only pay for what you use.”

The new OnboardAPI provides a streamlined experience and clear, developer-friendly interactive documentation. This year, the platform has enjoyed double the traffic from 2016 and increased registrations 41%.

If you are interested in finding more about the platform, Onboard is hosting a webinar on Wednesday, July 12 to review the basics.  Register and learn more about the webinar here.   

Key API Categories in OnboardAPI

Property:

  • Property Details
  • Recent Home Sales History
  • Recent Home Valuations
  • Owner and Mortgage Details

Area

  • Neighborhood / Metro / Residential Boundaries
  • Core Based Statistical Area
  • Counties in a State
  • WKT and KML formats

Points of Interest

  • Restaurants, Banks, Shopping and More
  •  Search by Address, Lat / Long and Area
  • 14 Business categories
  • 120 lines of business types

Community

  • Crime, Population and Education
  • Weather stats and averages
  • Commute Times
  • Search by Area

If you're interested in learning more about the Developer Platform, join us for a demo this Wednesday, July 12.  Register here.