Data Drives Decisions

Out with the old, in with the new.

New data that is. We live in a constantly changing world. How can we possibly keep up with the growing population count, changes in unemployment rates, and even things like how many homes have internet access? Where does all this data come from and who collects it?

Ever received a survey in the mail from the U.S. Bureau of Census?

These mail-in surveys might be time-consuming, and a little old fashioned, but the information they collect is crucial to maintaining the most complete and up-to-date demographic data for the U.S. population. They include basic demographic questions about your gender, age, race, and education level, as well as more detailed questions on your property, house, utilities, mortgages, income, and taxes.

Every ten years, the United States takes a census of the entire country, but a lot can change in ten years. The Bureau also captures data annually with the American Community Survey (ACS). “While the main function of the U.S. decennial census is to provide counts of people for the purpose of Congressional apportionment, the primary purpose of the ACS is to measure the changing social and economic characteristics of the U.S. population.” The ACS is considered one of the best sources for comprehensive data about the U.S. population. If you’re interested in seeing what kind of questions are asked, here’s a sample survey.

The Bureau of Census is just one of many sources of demographic data. There is additional data available from other locations like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, FedStats, and Current Population Statistics.

After all of this data has been collected, companies like Onboard can begin to organize it. We utilize a variety of sources, like county public records and The United States Postal Service, to offer data on more than 150 million properties, areas, communities, points of interest, and schools around the country.

So what do we do with this enormous compilation of bulk data and what does it mean to you?

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We start to translate it into information that is meaningful and valuable for our industry. This data provides the information that helps to paint the picture of the many communities located across the country.  

Most people who are buying a home aren't just looking for a house. They're looking for a community to join and our extensive community data helps give them an idea of the neighborhood. Home buyers want to know more about the area they’ll be living in, whether they’re renting an apartment in the city or buying a home in the suburbs to raise their children. They use our data to determine if they’re looking at a small, close-knit neighborhood or a large urban community. We can also tell them the average age of people who live there and some of are the favorite points of interest.

Products like Onboard’s Nav 2.0 put this kind of interactive data right into the home buyers hands. They can see the property reports and if they're curious, engage with the data.

Our customers also have also found new and engaging ways to use our community data to offer value to their clients. They can share statistics on weather risks and crime rates for different neighborhoods. The prospective homebuyers will be able to see the bigger picture when it comes to finding the right community. Other clients have looked for correlations in data to begin to accurately predict trends likes when and where there will be an increase in sales.

Finding a community that you want to be a part of is an important aspect of a homeowner’s search. We want to provide the most accurate and current data possible to our customers and their customers. With precise demographic data behind our community information, they can make informed decisions about their real estate investments.

Why Millennials Deserve Respect

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Millennial”?

A quick google search prompts you to finish the statement “Millennials are …” with negative descriptors that start with every letter of the alphabet. It seems like 18 to 35 year olds are facing such heavy criticism that “Millennial” has become a derogatory word.

This kind of reproach occurs with every generation. Elders consistently believe that their younger counterparts are foolish, lazy and entitled. No doubt there are members of Gen-Y who are accurately described by these words, but it would be a serious misunderstanding to believe that they are the majority.

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Most members of this generation are well-educated and well-informed. They march for equality and practice sustainability. Some are parents of young children and some have just graduated high school. Some are eager to start their careers after they earn their bachelor’s degree; some are attending graduate school to continue their education while researching freshwater ecosystems in Alaska or studying International Business in London. They are teachers around the world, teaching English in Tokyo or teaching Math in Boston. Some chose to be data analysts in New York and others chose to be non-profit workers in San Francisco. Some chose to start their own businesses as entrepreneurs; some chose to start their careers as interns.

The most important part about these 80 million millennials? They are wielding $65 billion in annual buying power and starting to buy their first homes. 34% of home buyers this past year were millennials, the largest share for the fourth consecutive year. It’s safe to say that these urban apartment renters and parents’ basement dwellers are ready to make their first big real estate investment.

Since the average age of a first time homebuyer is 33, most millennials have a few more years before they’re ready to commit to a home, but they are sure to make an impact on the market. Don’t underestimate this generation because of the negative stereotypes that surround them. When they want to buy a home, their business will be extremely important, especially backed by their sizeable purchasing power. Stay open minded, and Millennials will earn your respect.

Looking for a way to generate more seller leads? myAVM is our first valuation model designed with millennials in mind. It features a modern design, clever interface, and easy implementation. Contact us for more information.

Check out our infographic on important trends for Millennial Homebuyers.

Millennial Home Buyers

Video for School Data API Demo is Now Ready to View

Onboard has always offered comprehensive school information, but this week we announced that this information is now available through API.

Kevin Mattice and Jason Chen gave a comprehensive demonstration of the API, showing what information is available, how you can use it, and samples of what you can create.  

We now offer pay-as-you-go and free trials on our developer platform, so you can check out the school data today.  To get more details, watch the video below.  

3 Steps to Better Lead Nurturing Through Email Marketing

When it comes to nurturing leads, one of the easiest and most effective methods is through a carefully constructed email campaign. We’re not talking about an impersonal and generic email that immediately gets marked as spam. This is an email that shows up in your inbox from a real human with an enticing subject, filled with engaging and compelling content that is relevant to your prospective lead.

Why is lead nurturing essential? 30-50% of qualified leads aren’t ready to make a purchase when they initially seek out information about your business, but 75% of those leads become sales-ready within 12 to 18 months. So as a marketer, what should you do for the next year while you wait for that lead to be ready to make a purchase? Take a year-long vacation and hope they remember you? Friend them on Facebook and invite them to your next birthday party? Maybe. Or should you create an engaging, helpful and unobtrusive email campaign to keep your business top of mind until they have a need for your service?

Definitely the last one.

Remember: out of sight, out of mind. The key is to cultivate a long-term relationship with the person or company that will continue even after they’ve made their first purchase.

Step 1.  Send a welcome email

welcome

When a lead becomes a lead, start by sending them an immediate welcome email.  Studies show that 35-50% of sales go to the vendor that is the first to respond to an inquiry. Make sure it's written like a real human sent it, with a touch of personality and friendly flair. When you write emails with personality, it creates a stronger connection to your recipient. Go one step further and turn your welcome email into an opportunity to learn more about your lead. Include a brief questionnaire that segments your lead into a buyer, seller, or tire kicker (as an example).  Not only with this help prioritize your time, so you know who to respond to first, but it will also help you segment future emails.  Segmented emails get 100% more clicks.

Step 2.  Follow-up with a variety of messages

After your introductory email, follow-up with your leads periodically. Try experimenting with diverse types of content to see which sticks. There is an endless amount of content and even more opportunities for content creation. Some leads will find wordy content interesting, like neighborhood reviews or quarterly recaps, others will prefer more visual content like videos and infographics. A study shows that 66% of buyers believe that “consistent and relevant communication provided by sales and marketing organizations is key in choosing a provider.” It is crucial to initiate and continue the conversation with inbound leads by sharing relevant content and being available to answer questions. Sharing this information also builds your credibility as an expert in your field.

Step 3.  Listen to feedback and act quickly when you hear it

When in the follow-up phase, it’s crucial to listen to feedback, direct or indirect. If your contact is saying they’re just not that into you by unsubscribing or marking your emails as spam, make sure they don’t get any more emails. Repeatedly sending emails to these leads will hurt your deliverability rates and reputation. Nurture by sending content, not promotional messages and keep their interests in mind.

When your leads are ready to make a purchase, they’ll likely take action and contact you by replying to an email or filling out a form.  Respond quickly to these leads as studies find nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.

All an inbound lead needs to convert to a sale is a friendly welcome, engaging follow-ups and a detailed follow through. Add your personality to your emails and start building relationships with people and companies who show interest in your business.

Are you looking for a product that can help you capture more inbound leads? Nav 2.0 easily captures and nurtures your website visitors. Leads receive personalized neighborhood updates twice a month directly from you or your company.  Contact us for more information.

Nav 2.0

5 Trends from Inman Connect that Have nothing to do with Technology

Inman Connect,  a real estate technology conference, was this month in San Francisco. Connect is always full of bright people talking about interesting things.  What struck me in both discussions and sessions this year was how many of the conversations had very little to do with technology.  Here are some key takeaways from the most recent Inman Connect. 

1.  The Power of People

There was a lot of talk about the importance of training and working with the right people.  There was also a trend around being the type of agent you would want to hire when finding your next home.  While a lot of this felt like going back to basics, it was a good reminder that in real estate, we are all in the people business and surrounding yourself with the right people is critical to success.

If you aren't going to invest in people, get ready to pay for their mistakes

- Alyssa Hellman

2. Go Communal 

As a real estate expert, you are representing the community in which you serve.  It's not just about beds and baths but your knowledge of the local area that builds credibility.  The only way to really be an expert is to actively participate in your community.  This is not something you can dial in, this is something you must invest your time, energy, and effort in cultivating.

"If you have to tell people you're active in your community, you aren't."

- Scott Straten

3. Beyond beds and baths

This has been a common theme for years, but there was a common theme of lifestyle and neighborhood gaining importance in real estate.  With campaigns like Trulia's "The House is Only Half of It," more and more people were talking about the importance of neighborhoods and livability factors like crime and convenience.  This theme goes hand in hand with understanding your community (above) as the nature of a community becomes more important to real estate consumers. 

"It's not just your home.  It's your life and the way you live."

- #ICSF

4. RIP Patience

Patience is not a prevailing attribute of any consumer today and we've seen that drift into real estate as well.  When consumers are ready to act, they expect instant response and immediate action.  It also seems like they have less and less time to sift through inventory or messages that don't relate to what they care about (see above).  So personalization is also something that is becoming more important.  

"It's about immediacy, convenience, and personalization."

- Errol Samuelson  |  Chief Industry Development Officer   Zillow Group

5. Stop Selling.  Start Telling.

Kindra Hall had a great talk as part of the Marketing Track on the power of Storytelling.  In an age of technology development that causes whiplash, it was refreshing to hear that something so fundamental to human history still has such power.   Rather than advertise another listing, think about telling the story of that home. Rather than advertise your skills as an agent or your brokerage, think about the story of how you came to be and the people whose lives you've changed.  It's a slight shift, but one that can make a huge impact on your business.

"The power of storytelling is everyone feeling the same thing at the same time."

- Kindra Hall

This is a small smattering of the wealth of knowledge and ideas shared this summer in San Francisco.  Certainly there was a lot of talk about technology as well with things like predictive marketing and artificial intelligence, but a lot of the conversations all brought it back to the essence of a home and connecting not only to the transaction - but to the values of your consumers - whether that's through hiring compassionate people, taking part in your community, or simply telling a good story.

Were you at Inman?  We'd love to hear your thoughts below in the comment section. 

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.