Real estate advertising is a long-time staple for newspapers that is collapsing under pressure from multiple directions. Real estate agents increasingly are reaching customers directly. Other digital advertising sites are attracting some of the dwindling real estate advertising dollars. And the turmoil in the housing and banking markets has slowed home sales.
Newspapers historically have provided more useful content about homes to support the print section housing real estate ads, at least on Sundays. But we haven’t approached the possibilities for providing day-in-day-out valuable information for homeowners.
As with cars, the principle here is to broaden the homes-related jobs that we already do for homeowners and renters across the community as well as helping the businesses that want to help people do those jobs. Most real-estate verticals do just two jobs: Help me find a home to buy (or rent) or help me sell a home (or find a renter).
We must consider using answerbases, community engagement and other tools to expand our real-estate vertical and do more jobs relating to people’s homes. If people turn to us frequently for the jobs that come with being a home owner, this will be the first place they look (and thus the first place real estate agents will want to be seen) when they are ready to move to a larger or smaller home. (Admittedly, many home buyers are just moving to the community, but an effective site that people are using regularly will generate referrals from new co-workers. And if these resources are part of a community answer center for newcomers, we will connect with new people before they arrive, identifying us right away as the all-purpose answer source.)
As with driving, some of the best existing answerbases for home owners are typically found in a news site’s data center rather than in the real-estate vertical. We need to develop and present answerbases that answer questions about such home-related issues as property taxes, property records, property sales, property assessments, mortgage foreclosures, tax delinquencies, contractor violations and annexation.
We need to develop a multipurpose answerbase like EveryBlock, The Washington Post‘s Local Explorer and The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s CinciNavigator show how you can use one tool to search multiple databases, answering a wide range of questions at the neighborhood or block level about crime, schools, home sales, events, new businesses, recent news, restaurants and other nearby businesses and attractions. Under the terms of the Knight Foundation grant that funded his project, Adrian Holovaty will soon release the code for EveryBlock. Zack Kucharski and I have already discussed the importance of bringing the EveryBlock approach to Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and possibly across Eastern Iowa or statewide. When Holovaty releases the code, we need to make this a top priority for Zack and our data team as well as for our IT staff.
Again, we need to follow the approach suggested for the driving vertical by engaging homeowners in community forums where they can tell stories, swap advice and share pictures of first homes, dream homes, remodeling projects, flood-recovery projects, landscaping projects and so on. Using BlockTalk (our hyperlocal mapping tool using Newsgarden from Serra Media), we can engage leaders of neighborhood associations, inviting them to engage with each other and their members in blogs.
As with the driving vertical, real estate ads are not the only revenue source. We must enhance our homes vertical by cross-referencing appropriate categories from iGuide. This helps both products, providing another avenue into the iGuide and giving continuing value to the homes vertical. As with driving, we could develop an emergency-services database, where contractors available on short notice that day might register their availability. Or we could make this email-driven: Instead of calling around for a plumber in an emergency, the home-owner enters an address and we send out emails to plumbers (or whoever; it would be easy to send out notices by category) who have asked to be notified of jobs in that part of town. Those who are available and interested respond by an email that goes through our site. Businesses could pay either for the leads or the actual jobs or, in a two-tiered fee structure, they might pay a small fee for the email contact and a larger fee if they land the job.