Which Site is the Best: Zillow, Trulia or Realtor.com?

By Amber Statler-Matthews

The October 2011 issue of Realtor Magazine reported in September Realtor.com had more than 50 million visits. Zillow.com saw more than 28 million in that same month while Trulia.com had more than 21 million visits.

But which of these three sites brings the most value to real estate agents in Galveston/Houston? Which ones do agents say deliver the best leads? And how does homes.com stack up against the others?

Realtor.com
Christina Stevens, owner of Realty Associates, has been a realtor in the Galveston/Houston market for 8 years. When consumers search for properties in the area, her website (www.galveston4sale.com) is usually one of the first ones they see. Since 2004, she’s been on the first page of most search engines including Google’s.

According to Stevens, many Houston area agents no longer use Realtor.com because it costs too much. She says agents get more value using Zillow, Trulia, and homes.com. “To me Realtor.com is becoming a dinosaur,” added Stevens.

But that’s not the case for Marsha Mitchell, Director of Agent Technology, with Prudential Gary Greene, Houston’s No. 1 company for listings sold. Mitchell says agents with the firm rely on Realtor.com.

“Our package on Realtor.com allows our agents to enhance their listings with more photos and information – including headlines on their listings – separating themselves from competing properties.”

With Realtor.com’s Showcase listing, agents can post up to 25 photos on each of their listings. They can also add full-motion videos and open house alerts. Showcase Listings comes with multiple leads forms, making it easier for potential buyers to contact listing agents.

However, it can be more difficult to determine the costs of Realtor.com’s featured listings, because the company charges different fees depending on a real estate agent’s market location and the number of listings this agent has. As Realtor.com explains on its site, traffic varies in different markets based on the number of potential homebuyers and sellers searching online.
At the same time, the more listings that a real estate agent carries, the more circulation they receive on Realtor.com. This website also offers monthly pricing to those agents who don’t want to pay for a full year of enhanced listings. Monthly pricing, though, does come with a 12 percent surcharge.

Click here to view a PDF of the Realtor.com chart

Stevens believes her money is better spent using her own site and Point 2 agent. This way she can post as many listings as she has available. “My website is $49.99 a month and I get national coverage for my clients.”

She sends her listings and Point 2 automatically posts them on Zillow, Trulia and homes.com. “For the whole year, I pay $599.88. But I handle my own SEO, via blogs, links and the appropriate venues to successfully market my website.”

When comparing the big three websites’ advertising packages and what they offer agents (see our charts throughout this story), you’ll notice that the pricing, and what you get for that price, is similar – but when you ask what you get for a specific ZIP code or the type of ad bought and shown within a purchased ZIP code, things start to get trickier, prices start to increase and answers aren’t as clear-cut.

According to Stevens, when searching for real estate in the Houston area, Zillow pops up first, followed by Trulia, Realtor.com and homes.com.

Click here to view a PDF of the Zillow chart

Zillow has been a source of frustration for Mitchell and her team at Prudential. “Unless an agent or broker has claimed their listings, the consumer has a choice of three or four agents who appear on the listing – which may or may not be the listing agent or company.”

Mitchell believes the big three websites have forced agents and brokers to spend money to get leads off of their own listings. “It is not fair to the consumer or the agent, for an inquiry on a property to go to an agent who does not know that particular area.”

For those agents who find value in Zillow and Trulia, they can pay for enhanced listings. Zillow Platinum, which allows agents to run 50 featured listings a month, starts at $128 a month. The site’s Silver level, which allows for 25 monthly featured listings, costs $79, while its Basic level, with 10 monthly featured listings, costs $39 a month.

Trulia Pro also has three different levels. Its most expensive allows agents to post 50 featured listings a month and costs $149.99 every month. For $79.99, agents can post 24 featured listings a month. If they spend $39.99, they can post 10 featured listings.

Click here to view a PDF of the Trulia chart

Since partnering with Trulia in October, Prudential Gary Greene property views increased 200%. “We also experienced more leads going to our agents and our traffic from Trulia to www.garygreene.com increased 81 percent,” explained Mitchell.

Leads
Both Stevens and Mitchell agree it’s difficult to pinpoint which website generates the best leads. Prudential Gary Greene has the most listings with Realtor.com. But Mitchell admits it can vary.
“The quantity and quality of leads generated seem to vary according to which part of town, where the agent is featured and the price point of the listings.”

For Stevens, it’s clear the least viable leads come from Realtor.com. She believes the best leads are the result of paying attention to the smallest of details. “Like the photos of a property are a major component of selling a home, since the public can now view the home online before ever picking up the phone.

Data
More importantly than working the leads, how can agents know whether the programs they are investing in are, in fact, good buys? How can they tell if it’s worth their money?

“Of the three sites, Realtor.com seems to have the most accurate information as far as the updates of price and status,” says Mitchell. According to her, Trulia and Zillow struggle with removing market listings from their database.

“With Texas being a non-disclosure state, many national aggregators do not have the correct model for guessing home values in Houston or Texas, for that matter. Their algorithms may work in other states but are not as accurate in Texas as a the Houston Association of Realtors could advise.”

Stevens’ says her website tracks the critical data she needs to determine if her marketing strategy is working. She can find out how much time visitors spend there, which zip code they live in and how often they return to the site.

Best Value
There’s no question real estate agents find significant value in using online websites to list their properties. “As far as investments with these three heavy hitters, we feel that having the most listings sold in Houston last year was our ROI,” explained Mitchell.

Both Mitchell and Stevens agree banner ads are not successful for selling properties but they may benefit brand promotion. Also agents who appear in an ad on the general search results page can generate some clicks for agents especially those who have purchased a greater percentage of ad visibility. And, Mitchell adds, for Prudential Gary Greene, some of the best investments have been to make sure leads from their listings, go to their agents and not someone else.

“Some agents buy 100 percent of a city/zip and others may opt to show just 20 percent of the time,” she says. “The more you are seen, the more you may be remembered.”

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  • Pat Keegan says:

    In this economy, it is expensive to keep up the websites unless you have a solid book of high-end business I would think. I am temporarily sitting it out, the expenses for an independent broker are way out of line, just joining the Realtor association and MLS, the dues are part of the “overhead” that afffects profitability in this market for independents – yes, all agents are independents but not charged the “Broker” fees if associated as a “salesperson”.

    The industry discriminates against the “lone Broker” and charges the same as companies who have dozens of agents paying part of the fees.
    It’s just not reasonable or smart. Why can’t the Board address this?
    What’s wrong with the competition, few agents have Broker’s license and would go rogue so to speak, and become Brokers?

  • Robert 'Ross' says:

    Accurate DATA is KING in real estate. While Realtor.com can provide accurate data the others cannot. Homes.com lets listings that have sold, expired, terminated or withdrawn continue to be advertized for sale as does Point2. Zillow uses data from CADs for their zestimates which is misleading to the public. Trulia just wants to make money off of agents for leads as well as trulia and homes.com. I get so confused from all the spam calls from Trulia, homes.com and zillow it is hard to tell them apart. Agents look desperate to me when they leave their listing advertized on these sites after they are not active anymore because after all a phone call is what agents are after no matter that it appears like BAIT n SWITCH. Check the listings yourself if you do not believe me. Only Realtor.com can really police the listings the others cannot or will not because of “MONEY”. All my opinion.
    Robert ‘Ross’ Westerman Broker/Owner
    Featherstone Properties
    Houston (Kingwood)

  • Robert 'Ross' says:

    No, I am not a happy camper that HAR feeds homes.com, trulia and zillow data and access to our email addresses so they can sell ours leads back to us. Not happy with Point2 either.

  • Jay Thompson says:

    Howdy, Jay T. from Zillow here.

    “Unless an agent or broker has claimed their listings (on Zillow)…”

    One important note. All an agent has to do to claim their listings on Zillow is create a free profile, and make sure the email address in the profile matches the email address used in the listing feed to Zillow. It’s a one-time process that is free and takes three minutes. Once a profile is created, listing agents appear in multiple places on the listing pages, and are identified as the listing agent with full contact info available.

  • Lane Mabray says:

    Well, my pet peeve has come up as a subject. Trulia, Zillow hits are a waste of time. I have to laugh about the Zillow market values. I have yet to see even ONE come even close to the market value. and Yes,Robert Ross, you are absolutely dead on. I actually have relegated Trulia to go into my email “junk folder”. Zillow has been there for a long long time. door knocking is better than those two for GOOD leads percentages. Most sophisticated buyers go to HAR.com.

  • Joanne says:

    Realtor.com promises 26 leads within a 6 month period. I recieved a lot of made up email address and dead end leads. It was a waste of my money. Out of the 26 leads I recieved I have not made a dime.I would not recommend them to anyone.

  • Joanne: Agents using the program you mentioned are seeing a lot of success, so we’d love to chat with you and see what we can do to help. If you send me your contact information at deidre.woollard [at] move [dot] com I will be happy to discuss this further. Our customers mean the world to us and we always want to take the time to listen and do what we can to help.

  • I would like to thank Amber for taking the time to talk with me. I would also like to correct one item in the article. Pete Merritt is the owner of Realty Associates. I serve our clients in the Galveston/ Houston area. I would like to make one point and that is Zillow, Realtor.com, Trulia, etc all pull our listings that are online regardless if we are associated with them by choice and we have no control over when we can stop them from advertising a home/ rental after it has been sold or expired for instance.

    My point to Amber was the BEST investment you have is marketing your skills and not just yourself. Make a website that can track your traffic. No website system like Point2 is perfect but it’s also how you navigate the system. I hate to see an agent name their site http://www.BobSmith.com (Bob Smith is just an example). Google has no idea that Bob Smith is a Realtor. Bob Smith can blog all he wants but he will have a much more expensive journey getting noticed. Your business is about your market so market yourself that way. My husband and I both do SEO and have gotten sites to the top of Google in less then 6 months.

    I am on all these sites and I have not paid a dime to be one any of them. It is not the mark of a bad agent when Trulia does not note a home is sold because you literally have no control over this in most cases.

  • Thanks for the run down. Realtor.com is getting more and more expensive and finding less and less direct traffic from it as other stand alone well fed options for blogging, websites, video platforms exist to link to social media circuit. Whatever works in your area, stick with it. But if it sags, back off, redirect the time and resources with marketing stream adjustment of the wind in the “sales”.

  • Dee Pardue says:

    I started realizing that Realtor.com wasn’t a good value for me with a $132/mo. charge –I was getting more and better leads from Zillow.com for half the price. I tried to cancel, but they said I couldn’t since I had “renewed” for a year. I never signed anything, so might fight them on this–but just too busy right now to take the time to do it.

  • Petey says:

    Try all three. NoMoreAgent.com will syndicate your listings around the internet AND they offer flat-fee MLS listings if that’s something you’re into. I had a great experience selling my home on there.