The Real Estate Industry is covered by a lot of interesting people from a lot of interesting angles. Not all of them are REALTORS. For our inaugural interview, Real Estate Industry Watch’s Wayne Long caught up with the General Manager for Home Gain, Louis Cammarosano via email and interviewed him about HomeGain, the real estate industry and where third party lead generators like HomeGain fit into the real estate marketplace.
REIW: Can you give us a little bit of your background before coming to HomeGain? (Education, Business Background, etc.)? What made you choose HomeGain?
LC: I was a tenured school teacher in the South Bronx during the late 1980’s prior to attending law school. Upon graduation from the Fordham University School of Law, I worked at Cravath Swaine and Moore in New York and London. I spent most of the 1990’s as a corporate Mergers and
Acquisition and securities attorney working in London, Paris and Warsaw. In the early 2000’s I was European and corporate counsel to HomeStore(now Move.com). I joined HomeGain in early 2005 as General Counsel and worked on the sale of HomeGain to Classified Ventures. I was promoted to General Manager of HomeGain in mid 2006.
REIW: You are the first from HomeGain to venture into the Internet and engage the agents and brokers in conversations out on the web (in blogs, etc.). Why did you go this route and how have you found it to be?
LC: Blogging conversations give you insight into how agents and brokers view themselves, their profession, the competition and third party vendors. I noticed an array of opinions by reading blogs. I also discovered that while the vast majority of HomeGain customers are satisfied with our products and services, many agents and brokers that do not use HomeGain, not only have a negative opinion of our company, but actively encourage others not to use HomeGain. I thought by engaging some of these enraged bloggers that I might learn the cause of their dissatisfaction. Most of the complaints about HomeGain were based on an ignorance of what we really do and I was able in many cases to explain the value of our products and services to those willing to converse with me.
Having done so, I realized that commenting on other blogs was not enough. HomeGain needed its own platform to exchange ideas amongst our members. So we set up the HomeGain blog. After a few months, we decided to open up our blog to some of the country’s top real estate bloggers, including Brian Brady, Jay Thompson, Joseph Ferrara, Kristal Kraft, Pat Kitano, Mary McKnight, Nicole Nicolay, Mike Farmer, Carole Cohen and Thomas Townsend, many of whom had ill opinions of HomeGain. I wanted to give our agents the advantage to hear directly how these bloggers thought they could help real estate agents be successful – even if it meant that our agents would be successful by using other products or services or striking out on their own. From our experience with the guest bloggers we learned that blogging could be a valuable component to a real estate professional’s marketing strategy, so last week we launched the HomeGain Agent Blogging Platform whereby HomeGain Source4Sellers customers can set up their own blog and blog directly from the HomeGain platform.
REIW: Is there a reason that this was not done sooner?
LC: When I became General Manager I made it my primary focus to work on customer and employee satisfaction. These endeavors are time consuming but rewarding. I was less interested in how HomeGain was perceived by the outside world and more focused on making sure our customers got the value they expected from us and that our employees were focused on serving them. Having achieved some success in that regard – agent satisfaction based on quarterly polling of our agents has risen steadily since early 2007 and our employee attrition rate is now extremely low, I turned some of my attention outward.
REIW: You have successfully built the HomeGain blog and comment frequently on the other blogs. Approximately how many hours per week do you blog or otherwise interact on real estate via the web?
LC:Probably 7-10 hours a week. Mostly in the early morning, late evenings and on weekends. Having the guest bloggers as well as many of our agent customers blogging for us helps cut down on the time required. We also recently set up HomeGain Nation in beta form. HomeGain Nation is a social networking platform for our agents to interact. HomeGain Nation requires less time than blogging as I don’t have to provide content and merely moderate the forum.
REIW: The current market seems to have affected everyone to one degree or another? How much have your lead generation activities slowed?
LC: During the slow market last year our BuyerLink product produced record revenues and grew about 10%. This we attribute to a buyer’s market and because the product is a great way to participate in a cost per click program without having to manage key words. Our customers also tell us that the traffic purchase through BuyerLink converts much better than traffic purchased directly through Yahoo! Or Google. Our AgentEvaluator product and Source4Sellers products suffered declines due to the decrease in transactions year over year.
REIW: What are you doing to maximize the leads that you are generating?
LC: We are spending more time communicating with our customers and encouraging them to respond to all leads that we send them, to do it promptly and to customize their responses. We have created blog posts on this topic as well as emailed and called our agents to encourage them to treat each lead with care and attention.
In this market consumers need Realtors more than ever as selling a home isn’t just a matter of sticking a “For Sale” sign in the ground, holding an open house and closing the deal. Consumers who fill out our AgentEvaluator lead form don’t do so for fun – they are actively seeking the help of a Realtor. So we are focusing our efforts in making sure our agents respond to these invitations and make a good impression.
REIW: HomeGain is currently owned by a consortium of traditional media (newspaper) companies. How does this affect decisions you make day to day?
LC: It does not. Classified Ventures bought HomeGain in order to diversify their print holdings. We report our results to Classified Ventures on a monthly basis who in turn report them to the individual newspaper owners.
REIW: Do you collaborate with them and do you consider them competitors in cities where there is a strong newspaper owned real estate presence?
LC: Not at all. The newspapers’ real estate web sites and Homescape.com, Classified Ventures National listing site display listings and HomeGain does not.
REIW: Has that ever been an issue for you?
LC: No, indeed HomeGain collaborates with Homescape on many fronts, including sales and marketing and the placement of HomeGain’s instant home valuation product on Homescape.com.
REIW: What are your growth plans for HomeGain?
LC: We will continued focus on customer and employee satisfaction and strive to create products that are responsive to the market. We will also be spending more time than in the past promoting the HomeGain value proposition to real estate professions. We need to get the word out that we are a trusted partner.
Our success is based on Realtors’ success. We don’t use real estate agents’ content as bait to sell advertising. Indeed, all of our products focus exclusively on connecting visitors to HomeGain.com with Realtors, not third party advertisers. We need to get that word out better.
REIW: You obviously are taking HomeGain into the new age of the web…how does this play into your plans?
LC: We will employ whatever techniques or innovations that help consumers connect with real estate professionals. We won’t, however,have anything on our site if it only encourages pages views or creates buzz. We want our visitors to connect with our agents, so we don’t want to put anything on our site that may intrigue the consumer to the point of under playing the value of finding a Realtor.
REIW: We understand you will be speaking at the Bloodhound Unchained event. How did you get involved there and what will you be saying to the group?
LC: I was invited by Greg Swann and Brian Brady because I am a regular commenter on the BHB. Brian and I have become good virtual friends and he and I exchange emails and speak regularly. Brian is a guest blogger on the HomeGain blog. I am not going to the Bloodhound Unchained event with any agenda. I believe my participation will be on a panel. I will try to answer the panel questions in a manner that will help the real estateagents attending the conference gain some insights into how to be successful.
REIW: Parting shot…what are some things that you wish every agent knew about HomeGain, but that they just do not seem to ask?
LC: Realtor satisfaction and the promotion of Realtors are our only goals, we don’t have long term contracts, you can buy our products online, you can blog directly from HomeGain and reach a consumer audience, we pride ourselves on customer service and you can select a HomeGain product based on how you wish to pay – by monthly subscription (Source4Sellers), per visitor (Buyerlink), or only if you close a deal through a HomeGain lead (Agent Evaluator).
REIW: You get the last word, Louis. Anything else you would like to tell us?
LC: I’ve spoken enough already. Thanks for having me.