Success Story: CENTURY 21 Town & Country

For CENTURY 21 Town & Country, Lead Generation Results Speak Volumes About Benefits of WhereToLive.com Partnership

The numbers speak for themselves.

In the year since Detroit, MI-based CENTURY 21 Town & Country launched Century21Town-Country.com, return visits to the redesigned website have skyrocketed from 14,000 in February 2011 to more than 114,000 in February 2012 – a spectacular 700 percent increase.

As repeat traffic to the new website has dramatically increased, so has the number of unique leads generated when consumers ask for more information or request a showing. In February 2012, Century21Town-Country.com generated a whopping 1,873 organic leads, a 1,050 percent increase from only 163 leads the previous February. Over this period, the company has become less reliant on more expensive leads generated by third-party companies like Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow.

Return Visits & Organic Leads Generated February 2011 vs February 2012

Return visits to Century21Town-Country.com increased 700 percent year over year while website-generated leads increased tenfold over the same period.

That the company has achieved such a tremendous return on its technology investment despite the fact its sales associates work in one of the nation’s hardest-hit real estate markets is testimony to the vision of John Kersten, its owner and president, and its relationship with WhereToLive.com, a Minnesota-based real estate technology and marketing solutions provider and CENTURY 21 Town & Country business partner since 2010.

“When we started out to build a new web platform with WhereToLive.com, I was expecting we might double our traffic and double our leads. That, to me, would have been huge,” says Tom Sykes, director of Web Strategy at CENTURY 21 Town & Country. “The results so far have totally blown the doors off anything I expected.”

A Leading Brokerage Faces New Challenges

Founded in 1980 with one office and a handful of sales associates, CENTURY 21 Town & Country launched its first consumer website in 1999, when fewer than 8 percent of homebuyers who purchased a home found one on the Internet. [That figure now stands at 40 percent, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.] When Sykes, a former business software designer and consultant, joined the company in 2004, one of his first tasks was to oversee the site’s first major redesign, which launched just as the real estate market reached its peak in 2005.

The subsequent collapse of the Detroit real estate market under the weight of automobile sector layoffs and the subprime mortgage crisis was a one-two punch that almost spelled the end for several prominent real estate companies, including CENTURY 21 Town & Country. Firms survived the next few years by consolidating offices, and many agents left the business.

Creating a Spark — And Helping Agents Succeed

By early 2009, Sykes realized the company’s battle-weary troops were in need of two things: Tools that would bring them more business and help them be more productive, and a spark that would improve morale. He decided to do what he had been contemplating for several years by undertaking an extreme makeover of the CENTURY 21 Town & Country website.

“An enterprise-class website is the backbone of any real estate business. You cannot operate a real estate brokerage without it,” explains Sykes, whose taste in real estate websites was shaped by his own experiences as a real estate consumer, as well as by his experience in business software. “What I wanted was a crisp, simple, clean design and a destination where people could get the all the information they want in one click. Most of the stuff that was out there was way too clunky for anyone to want to use.”

WhereToLive offered an entirely different kind of real estate web platform… Everything I needed as a consumer was right there in front of me or just a click away.

Finding an attractive, easy-to-use site architecture was only half the battle. Sykes also wanted a web solution that would deliver more traffic and leads. Because he had taken on additional responsibilities as the company reorganized, Sykes also knew he needed a strong technology and marketing partner to help him build the kind of integrated web system he envisioned.

For months, he explored dozens of real estate websites built by dozens of web design vendors. Sykes also researched websites that routinely came up first when he searched for property listings on Google – companies like Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow.

“I looked at the structures of these websites from an SEO perspective and tried to figure out why their properties kept coming up again and again,” he explains. “I said to myself, ‘I want to compete with them,’ because every time I looked for a house on Google, there they were. We needed to figure out how to do the same thing but drive that traffic to our site.

“WhereToLive offered an entirely different kind of real estate web platform,” Sykes explains. “I especially liked the way they presented properties, and the search and mapping functions were very intuitive and easy to use. Everything I needed as a consumer was right there in front of me or just a click away.”

It turns out the team at WhereToLive.com also had come up with what Sykes calls “the secret sauce” — a search engine-friendly site architecture that helps clients’ listings show up right alongside the large lead generation companies in Google search results.

“They had done their homework and figured out how Google indexes properties,” Sykes recalls. “I looked at a lot of other brokerage sites around the country, and WhereToLive was the only one that was competing with Realtor.com and Trulia and Zillow on Google. They were the only ones who were doing it right, in my opinion.”

WhereToLive.com’s OnlineOffice Productivity Suite also offered a variety of business tools that would enable CENTURY 21 Town & Country sales associates to create their own websites and blogs and add high-resolution photos and video to their listings, all in a matter of minutes. Most important, CENTURY 21’s exclusive LeadRouter™ lead management system could be seamlessly integrated into the WhereToLive solution. There were even tools to help John Kersten and his management team track agent participation and performance.

A Web Platform That Makes The Phone Ring

Lead generation is where the rubber meets with the road with any web marketing solution. If it’s pretty but doesn’t make the phone ring, it’s probably just expensive window dressing.

“You still need a front door for the company, but it’s not as important as it used to be,” Sykes explains. “Listings really have become the landing page, and that’s why this site attracts so much traffic from local consumers and does so well with Google. Since we are local, people are more apt to come back and use us and we earn a higher ranking in the search results because Google likes local. As a result, the national lead generation companies aren’t getting our leads anymore. We’re getting our leads, and we’re following up on them.”

Initially, that created some challenges. “We had to deal with a sudden onslaught of activity. Before, we had a dripping water hose and now, suddenly, we were hit with a firehose blast of activity and traffic and leads,” Sykes laughs. “There was a noticeable increase in calls to our front desk. People would come up to me and say, ‘Our front desk is going crazy – what happened?’ It was almost overwhelming at one point.”

Sykes says he even has heard stories about agents from other brokerages using Century21Town-Country.com with clients or other agents rather than their own websites. “We even have agents from ‘Brand X’ brokerages calling us to set up appointment on other brokers’ properties, because our site is how they are finding them!”

He continues: “What happened is that we’ve created a much bigger pool of business for our agents, and they really appreciate that. Instead of getting one lead a week, they’re getting one lead a day or more from their site and from their listings, and they’re pretty happy about that.”

In the past, Sykes says some agents were skeptical about the quality of web-generated leads. “The leads we hand off to our sales associates from the new website are the best quality I’ve ever seen. As a result, many of them have changed their way of thinking.”

Customer Service Is Icing On The Cake

For Sykes, the icing on the cake has been WhereToLive.com’s live technology support capabilities. Instead of calling Sykes when they have a question or system issue, sales associates can dial WhereToLive.com’s toll-free Member Services hotline. That means system issues are resolved more quickly and sales associates can get back to the business of real estate.

For brokerages considering investing in a leading-edge web marketing platform, Sykes suggests they focus their search on development partners that understand the real estate business.

“This is what WhereToLive.com does,” he states. “Real estate websites are their niche; this is what they make their living doing. It’s one of the few companies where I think they actually enjoy what they do. And they are always looking out for the best interests of the agents and brokers.”

He pauses briefly, then continues: “I think that one of the reasons our website has been such a success is that we have such a great working relationship. They are always open to ideas and to testing different approaches and finding out what works. And the great thing about working with these guys is that if you don’t have somebody like me on your team, they will behave like me. You can bounce ideas off them, get recommendations. That all goes with the program they offer.”