This week on the Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Bob Seeman of Realtor.com joined Greg and Kevin to discuss why third-party listing sites are valuable to home builders and how they can improve your business.
As vice president of sales for realtor.com, Bob Seeman has worked with the country’s largest builders as well as its smallest, helping them to better understand how to harness the power of the Internet and specifically realtor.com's audience of ~100 million unique monthly users. Bob joined realtor.com in 2020, and it marked his second stint with realtor.com's parent company, Move.com. In 1998, he left his corporate marketing role at Ryland Homes to join HomeBuilder.com, another Move.com property. Bob was instrumental in growing Homebuilder.com into the nation's premier new homes listing site, running the Northeast region, and handling national builder accounts during his 10-year tenure.
Just prior to joining realtor.com last year, Bob was the national sales and marketing director for Century Complete, a division of Century Communities, helping to grow and expand that company's presence into 11 states and 21 markets. His career has led him to roles as a new homes sales consultant, a marketing director for a regional real estate broker; a sales and biz-dev VP at a growing new homes content provider, and as a co-founder of a national listing data syndicator. Although real estate has mostly defined his career, like many, Bob didn't start in the industry. He started his career in print, as a writer, editor, and general manager of several Delaware newspapers. A graduate of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Bob now lives in Severna Park, Maryland with his wife and three sons.
Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to today's episode of the Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine
Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with Outhouse.
Greg Bray: And we are excited today to welcome to the show Bob Seeman. Bob is the Vice President of Sales New Homes at Realtor.com. Welcome Bob. Thanks for joining us.
Bob Seeman: Thanks for having me. Excited to be here.
Well, Bob, for those who don't know, why don't you to start off with just that quick introduction. Help us to get to know you a little better.
Sure. I'm a 30 year industry veteran. So I [00:01:00] left the journalism industry in 1991 and now I'm dating myself a bit, but I have worked for a number of builders.
This is actually my second stint with a Realtor.com. Worked corporately for Century Complete, for Ryland Homes. Then worked for a number of dot coms all in real estate over the years.
Greg Bray: Well, Bob, that's a very professional introduction, but Kevin really wants something a little bit juicier, a little bit more personal that everybody doesn't really know, that little tidbit that keeps them coming back for secrets.
Bob Seeman: All right. So, I don't have anything too embarrassing or anything like that, but I was a journalism major, so that's interesting to most people in the industry. I actually wanted to provide for my family. That was a very low paying industry, so I did leave journalism. I'm an avid sports fan.
Love the Washington Capitals, the Baltimore Ravens. I'm based here near Annapolis, Maryland. The Naval Academy most people are familiar with. Play [00:02:00] basketball, big boater, Chesapeake Bay is right here. Just got a brand new boat.
Kevin Weitzel: Sailboats or the ones with motors?
Bob Seeman: The ones with motors. Sail boats are too much work for me. Now I do love getting out on sailboats, but I do not have one. I like to be able to leave work today at 5:30, 6:00 o'clock. Go out to the boat and cruise around a little bit and then an hour or so be at my favorite watering hole.
Kevin Weitzel: We talking about like a 40 foot, 50 foot?
Bob Seeman: It is a relatively small boat by boating standards, but for me, it's a significant upgrade from my last boat. It's a 23 foot Regal with an outboard, 250 horsepower outboard, so it gets around. I think when I took my initial test drive it got up to 52 miles an hour, so it can motor. A super comfortable boat, a real stable boat.
I wanted something to get out into the Chesapeake Bay, cross the bay, go to number of the little towns and restaurants over there without being tossed around a bit. If you haven't been in the Chesapeake Bay, the Bay [00:03:00] can certainly toss you a bit, especially if there's a little bit of wind and a decent amount of boat traffic.
Greg Bray: Interesting. Very interesting. So Bob, I'm sitting here going, okay, you're a journalism major, you're discovering that you can't quite pay the bills and you decid I'm going to get into home building. Where was that connection? Where was that leap there?
Bob Seeman: Well, it's interesting. It all revolves around tech. In journalism there was the old cut and paste. You did your copy in strips of paper. You would put it into a waxer, would have people cut that copy out and paste it on sheets, right? Well, as technology grew and there were the first Macintosh machines, we were able to do pagination and we were able to put together these newspapers a lot more easily with these processes and tools.
It was through that and getting into running a small newspaper as a general manager for a couple of them. As a small newspaper, you have to do everything. You're the GM, you're helping with sales, you're helping with [00:04:00] production, paste up, all that. So I did add design and actually ended up leaving there to go be the marketing director for a large regional real estate broker, which is now part of Long and Foster on the East coast.
So, the same tools and skillset that I learned at the newspaper translated pretty easily over to the first iteration of your in-house ad agencies.
I don't think my kids know that cut and paste comes from really cutting and pasting.
I'm not sure that everybody remembers that's where the phrase come from. So that's a great reminder. Real paste, right?
It was a wax roller. So you put the wax in, heats it up, roller sends the paper through, there's wax on the back and you paste it up. Yeah.
Greg Bray: So Bob, you're with Realtor.com now. I think everybody's probably heard of Realtor.com.
I think it's kind of one of those websites that everybody knows about, but I think what you guys are doing right now is a little different. So tell us just a little more about the services, especially kind of focused [00:05:00] on new home construction.
Bob Seeman: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things I've found as a marketer and having had worked at Move Realtor.com right after leaving newspapers and then working for Ryland Homes, was that there was a real need for builders to reach consumers online, right?
We did that initially at Move through a company called Homebuilder.com. So for if you've been around a while, you probably remember Home Builder.com. It was the predecessor to what is now New Home Source. New Home Source gained attention to become Homebuilder dot com's first competitor in the new home space.
So we are a new homes listing service, part of Move.com. Realtor.com was our sister company. This whole notion that Realtor.com really wasn't focused or has never been focused on new construction actually is not the case at all. We were very focused on new construction up until about 2008, 2009, when we entered into a joint venture with BDX.
BDX basically [00:06:00] from that point on took the relationship with our builder customers, took what we had as our website. I think we transitioned from Home builder.com to a site called Move New Homes, same kind of thing, though, a new homes listing site. What Move lost during the years from whatever that is 2009 to 2020, where all the relationships with builders, right?
We were not understanding what builders needed. We weren't really satisfying customer needs. We lost basically that connection with potentially a huge part of our customer base. If new homes represent roughly 10% of the listings out there, we're basically to a degree, not on purpose, but ignoring 10% of our customers.
So we wanted that direct connection. We wanted builders to be actively involved with helping build our products, right? Letting us know what they need . Last summer, about this time I joined on board and the decision was made that, well you were going to leave [00:07:00] that relationship with BDX. BDX at the time was selling our media products, and they had wrapped Realtor.com into their listing product.
So if you bought New Home Source, you also bought Realtor.com, whatever it didn't come from MLS. So BDX no longer has Realtor.com as a distribution partner and channel. Realtor.com now gets content directly from builders. However that said, we do still get some content that comes from BDX to us because we don't want the builders to have to do extra work, right?
There's no sense in having them meet our own data spec if they have a data spec that they're using for BDX or Zillow. If we can get the data elsewhere, we'll get it elsewhere to make it easier on the builders. Most of the big builders that we're working with, or all the big builders we're working with, we're getting direct content so they send us XML feeds.
Kevin Weitzel: I've actually heard this from a few builders. It's actually a misconception from what I'm hearing. You're not necessarily competitor to new home [00:08:00] builders, you're actually a consultative home feed for the home builders. A lot of them think Realtor.com, they're thinking that you're just going to be a competitor to them selling homes.
Bob Seeman: Yeah, absolutely. That's actually a great point because we do have a number of builders that have that misconception that we're somehow related to National Association of Realtors and that they control us. We are a publicly held company owned by News Corp and are in Wall Street Journal and some major publications.
We have Real Estate.com, AU, the largest real estate a website in Australia. We've got major websites in Southeast Asia. So globally, we are the largest listings in content provider for real estate. We are still affiliated with NAR and that we get feedback from NAR, but we're a wholly own ed, publicly held company and we're totally committed to customers, users of our website, and our paying customers, [00:09:00] builders and real estate agents. Real estate agents are still our customers. They purchase leads or will enter into a referral program with us. The misconception that we're working with, NAR is one that we face all day.
Greg Bray: So if I'm a builder and I put my listings on Realtor.com, you are not sending those leads to a realtor, you're sending them back to the builder to use with their sales team?
Bob Seeman: Yes, if they purchase our products. So it's the same as a realtor that provides their listings to us. Any listings that we get, the unpaid version goes to either an agent directly, or through a referral model. So we'll match up an agent. We have five to 600 people in Austin, Texas that actually pick up the phone the second someone calls off of the listing or when a lead comes in, responding and calling that lead immediately and connecting them, using data science with the appropriate agent.
So in that case, we're absolutely connecting[00:10:00] consumers coming in off of resale listings and new home listings with agents. However, if an agent wants to participate with our program or more specifically for us, a builder wants to participate with our program, they can get all the leads back themselves.
Greg Bray: So Bob, I think sometimes builders think well to get on those types of platforms, I have to put my listings into MLS in order to get them on Realtor.com. So I just want to clarify that we're not talking about putting listings into MLS, correct?
Bob Seeman: Correct. That's a great distinction because up until we launched with this new product in February, anything that a builder put into MLS was on Realtor.com. Anything that they may have put through BDX that came on to us was also on the site, but the MLS listings always trumped anything that came elsewhere. Today builders send us data directly, whether or not it's an MLS and anything, they send us trumps anything that is an MLS. So if we get content directly [00:11:00] from a builder that content appears on Realtor.com.
Greg Bray: So when builders are now, okay, I've got my data feeds coming, whether that's from the website or something in house, I'm pushing that data to you and it's showing a Realtor.com. How competitive is it with the other builders in my area and how do I start to try to differentiate when somebody is looking at that page on Realtor.com. What kind of options do I have there?
Bob Seeman: There's not a ton outside of common sense. What I say that is really content is king, right? We all know that for digital, right? So the more complete content you have, the more attractive content you have, the better you're going to do.
The reality is, as simple as that sounds, most builders if you score their content are below an acceptable level. The correct images are huge. It's the depth of content and the quality of content that really will help [00:12:00] a builder.
Kevin Weitzel: So let's assume you have Builder A and B. Builder A has a similar listing as Builder B.
They're both on the same level playing field, similar type of products, they market share. Through Realtor.com, can they, and this is just a curiosity question, more than anything else, can Builder her A a more premium listing to where they get a bold or at the top of the page or auto sorts?
Bob Seeman: Not through our organic search results. So that is an algorithm that is more complicated than I even could explain and even understand myself. I would say, one of the biggest components of that are data completeness, data freshness. So, if your listing is 200 days, it's going to, if everything else being equal, it is going to be way further down than a listing that's two days old. Right?
Kevin Weitzel: So basically it's not that they can buy their way to the top, they can just perform their way to the top is what you're saying?
Bob Seeman: Yeah, absolutely. Part of that algorithm includes an understanding of what consumers have seen in the past, [00:13:00] right? So when you as a consumer go in and look, if you've looked, just using K. Hovnanian as an example. You looked at this K Hovnanian property in this kind of search range, that K. Hovnanian property was viewed the most. That along with the data freshness are the two biggest components to determine how high that's going to appear in the search.
So your past success will help determine your future success.
Greg Bray: So Bob, you mentioned that you see a lot of lacking shall we say in the content that builders are providing? I mean, now you've been on the builder side before, and you've been the guy having to create that content and find it and put it all together, why is that so hard? Is it that the builders don't care or they don't know? Or what's your thoughts there on why is it so hard to get such good content?
Bob Seeman: My experience, having lived it, is resources. Builders, as you guys know, are wearing many hats and they're pulled in a lot of different directions.
They're putting up new sales [00:14:00] centers. They're not just doing online marketing, they're doing flyers, they're out in the field. They're helping schedule a grand opening, or an open house, or a realtor event. So they're wearing a lot of different hats. Most builders don't have the depth in staffs to really build out that content. Which also is, I think, one of the challenges with builders determining ROI with their advertising, right?
Builders have a difficult time determining what I'm getting from where and what's happening downstream. Even with CRMs, a lot of times some of the CRMs don't connect with sales and when you're not connecting with sales, then you're missing a key component.
Kevin Weitzel: So you make a pretty interesting point in the fact that builders, when they do release the purse strings and spend money on good technology and quality materials and virtual tours and stuff. Let me ask you this because it's pretty well known that Zillow used to make it extremely difficult for builders that have [00:15:00]Matterport content to have that on their listings.
Then lo and behold, when Zillow rolled out their own competitor to Matterport now mysteriously, you can easily put the amount of core content on, but it was very difficult up to that point. So if a builder has that content, is that something that's easily incorporated in to Realtor.com?
Bob Seeman: It is, and we're doing a much better job of surfacing it. Keep in mind, builders, while they don't have the staff, they definitely have deeper pockets than your typical agent does. So builders are investing in, to your point, Matter port tours, virtual floor plans, interactive floor plans, et cetera.
So that content is crucial in terms of differentiating yourself against your competition.
Greg Bray: So, Bob let's dive in just a little bit to this kind of generic idea of third-party listing sites as a whole and why builders should care? I mean, I'm a builder, I've got my own website, I'm doing my SEO, I'm doing my paid search. I'm doing all these things to generate leads. Why do I even need to worry about a [00:16:00] third-party listing site? Any thoughts on that?
Bob Seeman: Absolutely. So the short answer is there's no where else a builder can go to get the audience and I'll mention our competitor and us, Zillow and Realtor.com.
There's nowhere they can go. I mean, Zillow, I don't know what their internal numbers are. We've been over a hundred million unique users per month this spring, into the summer. So a hundred million people looking at new construction. When you look our audience specifically, we do a lot of internal research and what we found is that we have a consumer set that is very high in terms of purchasing.
So I believe it's about 60% are looking to purchase. I hate to throw out this number because it's off the top of my head, but it's a high percentage, but I do know that two thirds of the audience is willing to look at and consider purchasing new construction. So if we're looking at an audience of over a hundred million unique users on a monthly basis, you're looking at an audience that's [00:17:00] approximately 70 million unique users looking for homes that we consider new construction. You can't find that audience outside of Zillow and Realtor. com.
To Kevin's point earlier in terms of differentiating and buying yourself to the way at the top, you can't do that within our core listing product, but you can actually purchase display. We have what we call native ads and those native ads look very much like a listing, except they have a headline.
And instead of being an actual listing, they drive traffic to the builder's website and land on that. You know, land on that listing within their own website. So that is one way to get yourself to the top and they perform very well. I just wanted to be clear that we do have an option for that, but not within the organic searches.
Greg Bray: So based on those numbers that you just kinda threw around there. When they finally reach out to a builder and say, I'm interested in your stuff, they've looked at a lot of things. There's a lot available to look at and so it sounds like a pretty solid lead.
Bob Seeman: Yeah, well, we believe so. Having worked at [00:18:00] Century and having dug into our results, I can't share specific results and percentages and numbers, but I can say that from a close and cost per sale perspective, Realtor.com was our best ROI.
To that point, it's a very high intent audience that when they're engaged, they're typically engaged and interested.
Greg Bray: So, can you give us any secret tidbits, Bob, on new things that are coming for Realtor.com or what you guys are working on or ?
Bob Seeman: We have a lot of plans for new construction. Highest on my list is to surface new construction listings more easily for consumers. You can find new construction. We have filters on there to allow you to search by new construction. We have dropped down menus, but it's not as discoverable as I think it needs to be.
We can do a much better job on that and our team is looking to do that. Just from a general traffic perspective, we're looking to drive traffic specifically to new construction in addition to just driving to the [00:19:00] brand.
So that's new for us and somewhere where we're going to continue to grow. We've made tremendous efforts on our SEO. We've been up and down pretty close to Zillow over the last six or seven months. Been ahead sometimes in terms of results for real estate related terms on Google, which is one of the things that we track.
That's really helped us. Our growth, by the way, Zillow is still the number one in terms of unique users, but they have a little different platform than we do. Number one, they have Zestimates and we all know someone who's gone to Zillow and looked at its Zestimates that wasn't looking for a home. I have a lot of people that look at Zestimates.
There's that component to their audience and there's also the fact that they have a larger rental channel that drives a lot of traffic as well.
So when we look at us and Zillow, we look at our audience intent on searching for purchasing homes, whether those be resale or new, it's fairly comparable. Beyond that we've been growing a little faster than Zillow too. [00:20:00] We've been growing 23 out of the last 25 months at a much faster, like a six X rate compared to Zillow over the past few years.
So in terms of what we're looking to do, surface that content, grow that audience and then make the home buying experience a little bit more intuitive, the home search experience a little bit more intuitive for users. In other words, when you're looking at new construction, you should be able to see what you're getting and have a better feel for it.
It goes to those things that we talked about, Matterport, virtual tours, along those lines that will help a consumer better visualize what that home is going to look like. Maybe not just the home, but the lot and the community. So those are things we're looking at.
Greg Bray: I think too, Bob, just kind of going back to why people should think about these third party sites.
You mentioned your investments and your efforts on the SEO front, and trying to work there. No offense to the builders out there, but you guys have got a lot more resources to spend on that than a builder does as far as somebody [00:21:00] searching on new homes and my city name. The chance that you're going to pop up in front of those builders is probably a pretty reasonable.
So it's another good reason to have your content on sites like yours, to take advantage of that opportunity as well.
Bob Seeman: Yeah, absolutely. I'm going to throw both of you in my age, probably minus 10 years or so, but let's say that that's the case. You probably know a lot of people that have bought or sold homes in the past few years. I don't know any of them that don't go on one of our sites to comparison shop. I mean, it's not just the audience that depth of content matters. As an educated customer, you want as much information as you can possibly get, and that's where you're gonna find it.
That's one of the things that we hang our hat on at Realtor.com, we get direct data feeds. This doesn't really affect the new home side, but in addition to getting them from builders, we get them from 98 plus percent of MLSs across the country. So [00:22:00] our content is always refreshing.
In fact, every 15 minutes, contractually we're requiring them to update that information every 15 minutes. So what that has led to is a greater consumer confidence in what they're looking at on Realtor.com is accurate.
Greg Bray: No, that's fascinating insight and I honestly, I didn't realize some of the history of how some of these things all connected back.
So that's been really interesting too. Well, we want to be respectful and mindful of your time today, but wanted to give you a chance here, just to share any last thoughts you'd like to leave with our listeners today.
Bob Seeman: Well, obviously advertise on Realtor.com, but in addition to that, find a way to spend the time on analyzing your media investments.
If you're spending 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, we have customers that are half a million, three quarters of a million dollars a year. Those tend to have the resources to analyze them. The quantity of leads is only important to a certain degree, right? If you have a hundred leads and you get one sale out of those hundred [00:23:00] leads, but you get 10 leads and you get five sales out of those five leads, which is the better value.
Right? So I think a lot of our builders tend to focus on quantity of leads, just because they don't have the machines in place, the people in place, to analyze that and I think they're doing themselves a disservice and have a huge upside opportunity if they actually do that.
Greg Bray: So Bob, if somebody wants to learn more and connect with you or even get their listing set up, what's the best way for them to get in touch?
Bob Seeman: Sure. It's Robert dot Seeman. S E E M A N@realtor.com.
Greg Bray: Well, thank you so much, Bob, for spending some time with us today. I know I've learned some things about the service that I didn't know before, and I think it's great information. So thank you.
Bob Seeman: Pleasure to talk with both of you. Enjoyed it.
Greg Bray: Thank you everybody for listening today to the Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with BlueTangerine
Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with Outhouse. Thank you.