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Realtor.com VP of Marketing Says: Quit Wasting Money On Tours

December 26th, 2011

Chad Jones sent me a quote from one of his best clients:

I want you to honestly tell me if virtual tours are in the way out of fashion because I have been on the phone with realtor.com complaining that no one is looking at the tours from their website on most all of my listings got the past 90 days and they say nothing is wrong with their system of capturing hits and it is just that people are in a hurry now a days and the just look at the 25 Photos and don’t care about that any more and I should quit wasting money producing them. I have gone up the line all the way to a VP of marketing and he confirmed what customer service said. I doesn’t seem possible that I can get Thousands of page views per week on many of my listings on Realtor.com which is still the main go to for Real Estate listings and not have anyone click to view the tour. We are getting some tour views from the other search engines based on the reports you send me.

Chad wanted my opinion on the subject. Here’s what I told Chad:

  1. I can believe that tour links on big national sites and brokers sites don’t get many clicks compared to what the listing pages on those sites get. Tour links are hard to find, don’t standout and there are so few tours on these sites that users are not used to clicking on tour links. But this is not a reason to give up tours.
  2. These sites want users to stay on their site, and not go clicking off to a tour and maybe never come back. So they are not inclined to highlight tour links or make them easy to find or be tour friendly.
  3. I believe the main benefit of a tour is to have a link where you (the agent)
    • controls the contents and has a place to use outstanding media that presents the home much stronger way than Realtor.com, Zillow.com or a broker’s site. Outstanding media can be, 360 images, large photos, music, narration track and video.
    • You can use the tour to use on the home flyer and the for sale sign rider.
  4. Which way would you rather have your home presented 1) Realtor.com listing page or 2) a custom tour. To me there is no contest, I’ll take the custom tour! This listing is my home I currently have on the market. I have a link to the custom tour on the for sale sign and flyer. I really don’t expect to have thousands of visits per week to this tour, but I want those that see the sign and the flyer (those that are physically close to the property) to have access to a knockout presentation of the home.
  5. I seriously doubt there has been any big recent change in tour usage. I did several studies of the North West MLS in 2006 and 2007 and tour usage was very low (around 8% of listings). I think this low percentage just shows that only the top agents are using tours.
  6. I kept track of the effectiveness of various forms marketing we did for our real estate business for 10 years and concluded that custom tours are effective and worth the cost and effort and make both the agent and the property standout. I believe that is still true.

Tours have always been about going above and beyond in your marketing and doing more than your competition is. As with everything else it’s only the top 5 to 10 percent that are going to be willing to go above and beyond. It’s always been like that and probably always will.

Chad and I would be interested in hearing others experiences on this subject. Do you think that tours are old fashion.

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25 Responses to “Realtor.com VP of Marketing Says: Quit Wasting Money On Tours”

  • Besides flyer and home sale sign are there other ways to help a broker advertise the custom tours we produce? I know twitter and other social media can be effective. Seems like we compete with the MLS, which many times for me is using my images too from broker

  • Tours are still really important.
    Firstly they stand alone on the web meaning they are searchable and will befound by one of the search engines if tagged and Key worded correctly. Its also important to keep promoting the same tour through social media. With a tour this is a 1 click process. In Essence a tour is not blanket marketing its far more precise.
    Hundreds of hits maybe nice, but in reality you only need the one buyer , who is searching for a similar property in the area/street/block/development

  • I’m from the UK so am not familiar with Realtor.com. But, I have gone over the listing of Chad’s home and cann’t find a link to the tour. Am I missing it ?

  • What I also think is a total waste is the 25+ photos – even a somewhat big 3k sqft house can’t use that many, let alone the more normal 1800-2500 sqft home

    but I would agree on the vtours – most were pretty useless, and even the decent quality ones were annoying at best

  • One of the reasons that I like to use The Listing Widget tour (even though building the tour is a little quirky) is that you can embed it in their eflyers which puts it in front of whatever agents I choose to send it to.

  • I think part of the problem is that realtor.com changed how the tours were displayed on realtor.com. It use to be an icon that jumped out, now it’s just a plain text link that gets buried and hard to notice. I’ve had a few angry calls from customers this year, eagerly wanting to know when the tour would be posted to realtor.com, but it was already there, they just didn’t see the small “Tour” link.

    Also, I’m pretty sure on the search results, that shows the summary of properties, in the past clicking on the virtual tour icon took you to the tour, now it takes you to the listing page (with the hard to find tour link) so someone would have to go searching for it after they already clicked on a link thinking they would be taken to the virtual tour (bad UX!)

    There was some rumor/speculation that realtor.com was going to get into the business of producing tours, and their tours would get higher visibility compared to third party tour providers, but I haven’t heard much about that lately.

    Larry RE#2 – the tours on realtor.com open in a new browser tab/window so realtor.com shouldn’t be too worried people about leaving their site.

    Larry RE#4 – I think agents want option number 3 – all of the above. They want the listing on realtor.com (and other sites) to show everything.

  • As a realtor I think that Realtor.com is shameless. Their #1 goal is NOT to serve the needs of buyers and sellers–it is to make money off realtors. To a lesser extent, so are Trulia and Zillow. My MLS allows a max of 35 pictures. But Realtor.com only shows 25 (unlike Zillow and Trulia). AND if you don’t pay extra for “Premier Service” then they only show ONE.

    Of course, the agents are not exactly demanding that Realtor.com change. I just did (2 minutes ago) a little snapshot stat gathering. Of 2,000 ACTIVE listings (single family only) the average number of pictures on my MLS is 18. Only 15% of these listings have virtual tours of any kind. And, less that 1% have an actual single house web site.

    I agree with Larry RE #4 that good agents do want it all. And I totally disagree with KH. I have a dedicated web site for every listing (except land). These sites have multiple tour choices–including tours of the neighborhood. Most of my house tours have 60-70 pictures, including several floor plan slides. The beach tours have more, including maps. The sites typically have tax data, deeds, field cards, septic plans and reports, etc. These web sites are all on the first page on any google search that is looking for their address–and on most listing it is the #1 hit. I put links to it is Craigslist, all the big real estate sites (which often requires hands-on attention, house signs, QR codes, house business cards, flyers, display cards, and all media ads. On the last house web site that I got analytics for there were more than 1,000 visitors to that site.

    Yes, buyers who don’t like the house don’t look through all this info or the long tours, BUT buyers who do like the house go back to see it several times–and they look at everything. At least that’s what they tell me. So I don’t think virtual tours are dead at all, they are just evolving. The next step for me is to add selective video and voice-over to the tours, and buyers and agents will still get to them through the house web sites.

  • @Alan – yes you’re right, they use to promote virtual tours very aggressively with an animated icon (the red spinning house!) but they no longer do this. I think partly this is due to MLS’s improving to support more/higher-resolution images over time; they just didn’t think it was worth it anymore to have users leave the site to see more pictures.

    To Bill’s point, Realtor.com’s main goal is to generate traffic to sell leads to agents. Realtor.com has little interest in agents successfully marketing their listings without realtor.com, so take their “advice” with a heavy dose of skepticism.

    There’s a point I always make about Realtor.com to people that are infatuated with it. I simply ask them, what market share do you think Realtor.com has in searching for listings? Most will answer 50%. While it is true that realtor.com is the #1 real estate search site, their market share is only ~7%. UPDATE: I stand corrected, when I went to look up a reference for this stat, I see that Zillow is now #1 in market share. In any case, this is a good way to make agents realize that Realtor.com isn’t as powerful as they say they are.

    http://www.hitwise.com/us/datacenter/main/dashboard-10133.html

  • I don’t believe the REALTOR.com/Custom Tour comparison is all that realistic. First off, if a buyer goes to REALTOR.com to see this house, they will not see the tour because this agent has not paid for that functionality. I have about the same opinion of REALTOR.com as Bill. If a great custom tour was created for a listing, but no one sees it, what’s the benefit? I do agree that the custom tour is many times better than four photos, but I will also point out that because it’s a better experience doesn’t necessarily get the property sold more quickly or for a higher price. Agents often advertise certain ways because the seller demands it, not because it’s the most effective method. I say this with 25 years of real estate brokerage experience. We only need to find one buyer for this property, the one who can’t live without it. Can a few good photos do this? I think so. I know I’m sounding all anti-professional real estate photography, but I’m seeing this through years of experience with buyers and sellers. Imagery is important because it could cause THE buyer to pass on the showing. The imagery should spark enough interest to cause the potential buyer to set the appointment. When custom tours become the norm, not having one might become a detriment. But until then I believe good photos are adequate.

    This doesn’t mean you wan’t see me working on my video skill though. Video is fun and challenging.

  • In many sales businesses, its the salesman that has to make the business happen, its normally the sales people that “do the extra” that go beyond whats expected that become the leaders. I think its the same in real estate sales, many agents just do what they were taught and that’s all. For whatever reason, they don’t “take in” all the available training, the abundant information giving all the information in the world that will help them be a lot more successful than they are. Many don’t understand, or don’t try to, the advances or maybe just don’t care, thinking this is how its suppose to be. I’ve been doing services for real estate for a bunch of years now, I’ve seen times when you almost couldn’t not sell a house, and now these days when its hard to sell a house. In all these cases I knew agents that complained about how bad the housing market was while the agent one cubicle over was having their best year ever! Its more than virtual tours, they help sell the whole package. The top sellers understand that Presentation is everything! At least a Good Looking presentation is everything. Go to any news stand, watch the people looking at magazines, watch them “flip” thru looking for what ever catches their eye, the photograph “worth a thousand words” that says this is interesting, stop here. Today home buyers have it made. Its much easier to sit at home and look on the internet for that house picture that grabs you to stop and look, spend some time here, and if you’ve spent some extra time and some money on getting images that show what this property looks and feels like their is a really good chance that home buyer will stop and choose you over the agent in the next cubicle. Virtual tours are not all of the answer, but they are an important, visible, part of the answer.

  • Thank you all for your responses and clarity. This is going to help me with my meeting with him this week before he goes over his budget for 2012.

    I have to hold the agents hands a lot of the time, which I am sure all of you understand. When they go talking to someone new or some outside sales person fills their head with the “It’s easy as 1-2-3” junk, it all comes back to me in the form of questions like this one. I have been with him and this company for over 6 years, so they have trust in my opinion on these kind of matters.

    I have looked at the stats on homes in the low income bracket and his homes in the higher incomes for where he works. Realtor.com is sometimes 5th or more down the list on referrers. Zillow, trulia and redfin are always higher in hit counts across the board. But the lower income homes see very little traffic. The upper end homes have about 2-3 times as many referrals from Realtor.com. Number one is always direct or referrals from the properties domain website.

    The other reason for lower traffic that I wasn’t mentioned that I think is also relevant is the consumers ability to narrow or limit the search criteria on these websites. I think this has had a big effect on a home coming up on these syndication sites. If the price is not right or the bed or bath is one off, the home will not come up. One criteria check box and your home is off the results list. Does anyone else agree with me on this?

    I do everything but print products for my clients. I do custom riders with SMS or QR codes, property websites with domain, email fliers, html fliers for craigs list, aerials…

    The social networking like Twitter and FB, are only as good as the networks of the agent with which they are sharing it in and the users overall presence in those networks that make marketing on those channels effective. A lot of agents I work with do not have any clue on creating a marketing plan for these services. Most are fed the “easy as 1-2-3” line from the 1 or 2 hour seminars they flood to. When they actually sit down and think through the time it is going to take to build these networks, they realize its not as easy as 1-2-3. I try to help where I can, but the agent needs to be the voice and the character behind the posts, not some robot or feed.

    I agree with you all on how realtor.com monetizes everything as if they are the end all of real estate search sites. They are in the business of generating traffic and keeping it for as long as possible because that leads to conversions on ads and keeping its persona of being the dominant player. It’s all about conversions for them and anything to make that conversion ratio higher is what they will do. They are not in the business of selling homes. They are in the business of buying and selling traffic.

    @Alan P. Thanks for that link, that is a stat that will hit home with him. Agents like numbers, so this will definitely help.

  • A couple thoughts on this…

    1. Realtor.com definitely wants to keep people on their site. When they first rolled out virtual tours on their site back in 2001, they only offered tours through them (under the brand Snap123). That was the old Bamboo/IPIX style of tour – four 360’s – nothing more. Later on, they came out with the PicturePath program to enable other virtual tour companies to upload their photos into the Realtor.com template (yuck!). This had a $25 fee, to “cover the hosting costs”. Another year later, responding to “tremendous pressure” from agents, they decided to allow virtual tours to be linked from their site – no more hosting of images – but the fee stayed in place. In the 10 years we’ve been working with them, they have always had an antagonistic relationship with virtual tour companies – even as we sell products for them and write them big checks every month.

    2. Realtor.com has probably seen a decline in purchases of the “Realtor.com Virtual Tour Link” from providers like us. This is because, as was pointed out earlier, they have dramatically reduced the visibility (and therefore the value) of the link. It used to be a very large spinning red house, then it got shrunk to a little red spinning house icon. Now it’s a text link that is buried. I believe this trend is based on Realtor.com’s attempts to force consumers to use their site how they want them to and maximize the eye-ball time on the ads on their site.

    3. When Realtor.com had the “show virtual tours first” option in their search criteria, they claimed that 70%+ people checked that box when searching for homes. I think that would be a stronger indicator of what consumers want and what they are looking for when they search for property.

    4. Looking at our internal stats, Realtor.com used to be the highest referring site – now it’s Facebook, with Craigslist in a close second. Yes, virtual tours are evolving. So is the way people are finding real estate. When a tour is complete and the seller posts it to their Facebook page, their friends see it. Some of those friends are often neighbors, who can’t resist looking in their neighbor’s house – and who know friends and relatives that they would like to live next to. From what I can see, social media is really taking root in this space and is marginalizing sites like Realtor.com.

    5. Virtual tours are definitely still a huge differentiation opportunity for top producing agents and those that are up and coming. Nationwide, less than 15% of listings currently have a virtual tour. The last deep study I did showed that agents that used virtual tours (from any company) to market their listings had 9 times more closed transactions sides per year than agents that didn’t use any virtual tours but had at least one listing. I don’t think virtual tours can take ALL of the credit for this effect, but there’s definitely something different about the mindset of an agent that respects their listing enough to do a virtual tour on it.

  • My biggest problem with the slideshow-type tours is always how poorly they show photos. I know I will be bombarded with links to tours that are supposedly great, but I have seen them and they really aren’t. I wanted to offer these types of tours to my agent clients, but it just wasn’t worth it because the design on them is SO BAD. If the design is simple enough the UI is clunky or they are just plain slow to load. I have a good connection and from talking to people in the RE industry and people looking for homes, they just want to see the photos as quickly as possible to see if it is on a “would like to see in person” list or not.

    I used to do 360 Virtual Tours but people were misusing the terms “virtual tour” all the time and didn’t understand what it really was. I have pretty much given up on doing these anymore. I think video will eventually take over in this area. And most agents won’t pay for good photos let alone what good video costs.

  • I tried to become a PicturePath provider, but they never returned my emails: not once. I wanted to use Fred’s trick of placing video under the link, so that the agent wouldn’t have to upload the video herself if she didn’t want to. I gave up.

    I think the Virtual Tour link is superfluous. Most of the ones I see are a clunky rehash of the photos set to music. What’s the point of that?

  • I agree with your conclusion that tours are about going above and beyond the competition. While Realtors my minimize the importance of tours in the same breath that they minimize professional photography, it is the homeowner that sees the tour as important. I love working expired $400k listings where there is no tour and 5 or fewer P&S quality photos as the Realtor practiced what they preached. You would be amazed at the number of listings that fall into that category and it plays right into my listing presentation.

    You are absolutely correct about Realtor.com reducing visibility on the tours from the red spinning house to the word “tour” in small print under the single photo and next to the similar print size notation of the additional photos. The statement from the exec about the reduced useage of video is a bit self serving after they reduced the size. The also are the only one that has a specific field to upload a video – but I have never seen one.

    Last month I went to a “free” Realtor.com seminar that was of course strong on upselling you. They were rolling out 2 new programs that were essentially new ways to slice and dice their traffic stats. The back tables could fully accomodate you as you reserved your zip code for referrals. priced based on historical hits and a year obligation paid lump sum. Unbelievable the number of people I overheard at those tables as the commited to the programs with costs in the $800 range. I learned a long time ago that everybody and his brother has “the solution” and the only people that make money are them. Additionally, what they are hawking are the least reliable web surking client with no allegience as they have connected online with 3 or 4 Realtors and playing them simultaneously.

    One thing that did stand out though was their noting the increasing importance of video. Increasing, they are seeing video “YouTube” content moving to the front page (non-paid area). Officially a coincidence, but with Google owning YouTube, you have to wonder what the SEO weighting is.

  • The “link” to the tours is almost impossible to find – that’s a huge problem. Even I had a problem trying to find it when they “redesigned” their website. No wonder nobody looks at tours – they can’t find them!

    I have the agent upload the actual video, which plays inline with the listing on the same page and is marked “VIDEO”. I attach (through the picture path program) another link that has a much larger, much higher quality video as well as a full screen slideshow, which appears under “TOUR”. This way, the video is actually there twice. Their embedded video quality is also negligible – they have a 100mb file max, which really isn’t very good for a high quality video.

    I also instruct my clients to make a point of noting in their “headline” to “watch the narrated video tour” or something to that effect to also call attention. And, I also make a main photo for them to upload that has a banner across the bottom right hand corner that says “VIDEO” to also call attention to the tour.

    If Realtor.com doesn’t make it easy, I try and help people find it!

  • A couple of things that I question. First is the quote “I doesn’t seem possible that I can get Thousands of page views per week….on a listing….” I have never heard of anyone getting that kind of traffic for a listing per week. Second, Realtor.com’s commitment to anyone other than themselves. My experience with their picture path, thousands and thousands of dollars later, taught me that if it were not for the name they have, they would be a thing of the past. If you were to question agents, most think that Realtor.com is part of their professional network.

    “KH” and the others of the like are under the misconception that the “Photos, tours, Videos and other marketing material are for their pleasure. Narrow views like that fail to take in the most important factor of the business….the buyer, not to mention the dis service they do to the seller. Show me a successful agent that holds these views.

    Successful agents know the value of marketing

    JM

  • PFRE photographers — You CAN become a REALTOR.com tour provider. Call a local real estate office and ask the manager or broker how to contact the local REALTOR.com representative. You may have to call several offices. The local rep attends free REALTOR.com road shows. It may be easier to e-mail customercare@realtor.com. Ask only for the local rep’s contact info (not how to sign up as a tour provider). Leave a voice mail/e-mail for the rep to contact you. They initiate your request and should be happy to do so.

    Use insignificant, underviewed, obsolete (see above posts) REALTOR.com, who posts every REALTOR’s MLS listing in the USA & Canada(?), to find real estate agents who could use your services — Log on to http://www.REALTOR.com. Click Advanced Search. Search for Single-Family Homes (downtown expensive Condominiums as a second search) in Zip Codes or cities you wish to service. Click Number of Properties Found, then sort by Photo Count High-to-Low. A link to the agent’s contact info and a link to their REALTOR.com listings will be at the right side of the screen display. No individual agent contact info means REALTOR.com leads go the listing office. View the quantity and quality of the agent’s photos, virtual tours and agent website. Make a list and call productive listing agents. Do it now. Follow up with a quality postcard showing your photos, website and contact info. Call again. Happy hunting.

  • RETeam: It’s pretty easy to get set up to provide tours. Just go to

    http://imaging.homestore.com/pp/faq.html for more information.

    Get started by emailing: picturepath@homestore.com

  • At one point, houses with a virtual tour had a better search criteria on Realtor.com–similar to houses with more pictures. Not sure if this is still the case.

  • such a shame that realtor.com is so self serving…did you know the realtors out there allow them access to their Data for free, yes we (realtors) own that data!….and realtor.com has the audacity to charge for a tour link with that data… no one else does. trulia and zillow know that, and put up the link to the tour for free! so do many of the syndicated tour providers place it out there for buyers. Realtor.com is not the place to search anymore. I remember having people ask why not advertise in the NY Times? because people do not search in ny city papers for a place outside of NYC….duh! With the advent of the internet and the search engines, and the IDX agreements for sharing from one agency to another the views come from where the link is posted, Duh again. most agents will not pay for a tour, most agencies will not pay for one under 300,000. agents do what the broker advises…only the smart ones use the virtual tour as a calling card that other agents will not do…duh again. I have a great company that give me stats on the tour and where the view come from…i can email to the local offices and agents and see the views go up… i can see with the posting of the tour on facebook those views go up…i can place a Qr code out and see those views go up. Agent are lazy and creatures of comfort, they go toward comfort and away from pain (work). Taking good pictures is a pain, so they don’t do it. that is why photographers will always have a job. Don’t expect realtor.com to do your work…they should reserve the URL Dinosaur.com as a subdomain for the way they do business…Realtors have ethics but not realtor.com, with their strong arm tactics i’m sure the mafia is pissed about them copying technique. Pay to play on a worn out old hype site, yeah thats a good business decision. most buyers search online they are looking primarily for pictures first as an elimination to hone down the number of possibles…you should have a tour that loads quick, plays on all platforms (even macs and ipads and iphones) achieve the marketing that should be done on hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment buy your clients. you get stats and can do music and voice overs even better! Step up or get out of the way!

    ps great comment allan p

  • I’ve just stumbled upon this site and what a great find; at the most appropriate time. I am a Broker in Lighthouse Point, Fl. Shortly after becoming a Realtor in 2003, I wanted to ensure my properties were shown in their best light and I started spending money for good equipment. I was one of few local agents using the iPix system to create 360 Tours. When they filed Bankruptcy, and were missing for a few years, I sadly had to resort to the Tours using Ken Burns Effect.
    Thankfully, in early 2011 I found Tourwrist (www.Tourwrist.com)
    I immediately purchased an App for myself, and branded it; Tour Homes 360. I use a Nikon D5000, PTGui and Pano2VR, to stitch and edit the scenes. I suggest you download my Free App, Tour Homes 360, onto your iPhone and/or iPad to see how incredible it is.
    I agree with everyone’s statement regarding the number of views on Realtor.com. VT’s are viewed very little in comparison to the overall viewings of the listing itself. That is, until I began posting my tours on my App, Tour Homes 360 (it also posts on Tourwrist).
    I also use TourBuzz for Ken Burns Effect style tours, which also accept my 360 Panoramic tours.
    I recently beat out the top agent in my area, for a listing, because of my VT App. If you’re interested in seeing the views I get on my Tours posted to Tour Homes 360, visit my site, send me a message and I’ll forward the most recent stats. As an example, I recently shot a condo in Miami for another Realtor. Because the tour became a Featured Tour on Tourwrist, it was viewed over 16,000 times in the first week. This is amazing and kills Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia; combined.
    Regarding these three sites, I think anyone that pays Zillow and Trulia are crazy. Personally I think they do more harm than good. Their AVM’s are too often way off the mark, setting up buyers false expectations, causing problems in negotiations. They also obtain their listing info from 3rd party sources, so they’re data is often too old. They do not have access to updates from the MLS as frequently as Realtor.com or IDX sites.
    I know my post is going all over the place, but there were many topics I wanted to cover.

  • As a home shopper, I never click on virtual tours.

    The reason is simple, it’s usually a poor rehash of the photos already in the gallery. I hate slideshows because they go too slow and if I want to look at a certain photo longer, they’re a pain in the butt to stop.

  • I am not sure exactly what to make of our experience with tours, but my company changed its viewer in order to make it HTML5 and available in non-flash environments. The response to the change was not good, the agents wanted to old tour back. The phone calls started about 20 mins after the new viewer was in place. I don’t know if buyers look at tours, but in my area agents are aware of how their listings are presented and they chose us because of the look of our tours.

    One thing about tours that I hear all the time is that agents use them in their presentations to new listing clients. I have even put together some tours for agents so that they can demo their marketing plan to prospects.

  • I think virtual tours are out. That’s right, out! They take too long to load, the presentation is often interrupted with load delays, the endless panning on every picture is annoying and the sound track is beyond cheesy.

    There are so many great tools out there that allow you to publish tasteful, attractive and fast slide shows that really highlight quality photography without all the dancing baloney (special effects that add nothing to the user experience).

    Photographers please… get a smugmug account for $50 a year *(or some other service) and give you clients a link to a slide show gallery using one of their nice tastefully designed templates. If you want something fancier, use a page layout application and create a simple document with text and images, save as a pdf and upload to calameo.com (free). Calameo offers a unique user experience that more closely resembles viewing hard copy. The site is totally measurable and will even allow you to enter your google analytics code (also free) to track results within their console. Calameo will also allow you to embed other links and even video from youtube vimeo etc.

    Photographers should be offering these services to realtors for a fee or value add.