C21 revamps Web strategy

Century21 Real Estate LLC is leveraging its strong brand with new interactive tools to make real estate easier for consumers to find. The real estate franchise has launched a new Web site to make it easier for house hunters to man­age their shopping profiles.

As the downturn in the real estate market has made selling houses more difficult, Web 2.0-based tools focusing on real es­tate options have flooded the mar­ketplace. Experts say that listings presented online are becoming increasingly important.

“The real estate industry is going through a transition and, as we look down the road, it is all going to be about promoting and selling houses online,” said Kevin Pollack, senior director of e-commerce mar­keting at Century 21.

In the past, real estate agencies owned their own listings, but thanks to a ruling last month by the Department of Justice against the National Association of Real­tors, Internet brokers now have full access to multiple listing serv­ers (MLS) — databases of all the homes for sale. This makes the presentation of listings key.

This development is a big rea­son for the Century 21 redesign, which began after Century 21 teamed up with interactive ser­vices agency Zeta Interactive in March. It incorporates a number of optimizing plans, including an entirely new e-mail campaign plat­form and a paid search program, as well as a revamp of the real estate company’s in-house CRM tools for agents and brokers.

As part of its restructuring, Century 21 worked with Zeta Interactive to create a new e-mail program. This included rebuild­ing the creative and the program’s structure from scratch. The new e-mail program lets potential customers create profiles on the Century 21 site, based on how far along they are in the house hunting process. Depending on what stage they’re in, buyers will receive weekly e-mails with information catered toward their needs for five to 10 weeks, as well as a monthly newsletter.

In addition, consumers can use the revamped preference center on the Web site to save various searches, including a certain type of house they are looking for in a specific ZIP code with specific crite­ria — for example, a condo in New York City with two bedrooms and a fireplace. A user can then request daily e-mails based on new listings that come onto the market with these terms.

The goal of this part of the redesign is to make it easier to use the site, Pollack said. “As real estate moves online, content is ultimately a commodity [that] is appearing across multiple sites,” he added. “So, it’s about how you present those listings to consumers that matters.”

The Century 21 revamp also includes an update to the intranet’s CRM system used by brokers and agents. This update, which is still being completed, will make it easier for brokers to set up a list for their individual customer base.

The new site launched on June 23, but updates are continuing to be rolled out and promotions are still running. The brand is using its TV, radio and regional ads to drive people back to the new Web site. E-mails were also sent out to the entire list to alert customers to the new site. In the future, Century 21 plans to look into other ways to increase customer acquisition.

Century 21 is not alone in its pursuit of the online homebuying crowd. Real estate search engines, including Trulia and Zillow, have recently gotten attention. According to a ComScore report in April, Trulia ranks as the seventh most trafficked real estate site on the Web.

Trulia reports seeing 5 million unique visitors per month, and last week it secured an additional $15 million in funding for a total of $33 million in venture capital.

“The housing slump has permanently altered how people search for real estate,” said Pete Flint, co-founder and CEO of Trulia, in a press release. “[It] is also a unique time to help real estate brokers and agents transition their marketing efforts and services online.”

Coldwell Banker has also recently unveiled a joint venture with Dash, a GPS firm, to add its housing listings to GPS devices in cars, so that consumers can hunt for houses while they are out on the road. The firm has also added a link to final sales in the area to help buyers assess the market place.

Real estate-focused social networks are also gaining popularity. ActiveRain, a free online community for real estate professionals that is specifically designed to help them promote and grow their busi­ness, debuted a new site called Localism. Localism was created to give consumers hyper-local information on neighborhoods. It describes itself as the “world’s most com­plete ‘neighborpedia.’”

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