Updated on March 29, 2023: A spokesperson from CoStar Group recently responded to my inquiry on their YouTube ads. Find out what they had to say here.
Is Homes.com selling your own leads back to you?
Kristina Smallhorn, eXp agent and real estate YouTube extraordinaire, searched her own name on YouTube and was shocked at what she found.
The ad read, “Kristina Smallhorn, Real Estate Agent in Baton Rouge, LA” and looked like a large text post on Facebook. The call to action was a simple “Visit site,” and just below that was a one-line title for the ad: “Find Beautiful Real Estate for Sale with Homes.com”
Below the ad is Kristina’s actual YouTube profile with her photo and a link to her channel. For the average consumer, it looks like she is the one endorsing the ad above her channel. But that’s not the case.
And when consumers click on Kristina’s name, they are redirected to Homes.com.
What does this mean?
Homes.com, a CoStar Group, Inc. brand, is using Kristina’s name, image, and likeness to advertise for Homes.com.
With all the years and money she has put into her YouTube channel (which has over 40 million views), when a consumer clicks on the ad, they are not directed to her website or a squeeze page for her lead generation. They are directed to Homes.com.
Why does this matter?
After seeing the ad, Kristina took to social media. Kristina is in a unique position of being a YouTube Influencer and top real estate creator with over 40,000,000 views and 242,000 subscribers and is a tremendous leader in the space. She was curious if this was happening to other agents.
She posted in the mastermind that she runs with Malcolm Lawson (REAL Broker) called Real Estate YouTube Mastermind to ask other real estate creators what they see when they search their name.
Creator after creator had the same experience.
Homes.com was running an ad with the agent’s name, title, and location at the top of the profile display—including my own!
And each time, clicking on the ad redirects the consumer to the agent’s Homes.com profile.
Some agents in the group asked, “Well, it just goes to my profile, so how could it hurt?”
It’s harmful because they are tracking your leads that you’ve cultivated with your content to drive traffic to their website. They are using your name to collect data and send advertising to those people who wanted to speak to you and now are being pushed to use their site,
Christa Nielsen, another member of the group, pointed out that ads are just the beginning.
As (with) all ads, when the user clicks to the Homes.com ad that is using my name without permission, they are now going to be “followed” and retargeted from them. They are using agents to generate traffic to their website. This, plus the false information shown, can be detrimental to any business.
The false information Christa mentioned is different depending on the ad. For some agents, the name was correct, but the area was completely wrong.
Katie Day, a Houston area Realtor, had an ad for Elkhorn, Nebraska. Bill Olson, a Charleston, South Carolina agent, was mixed up with a Bill Olson real estate agent in Batesville, Arkansas.
If when you do get the correct agent when you click on the profile, much of the data, sales history, and experience are completely wrong.
If someone is clicking this profile, they are being shown that I, for example, sold one house in the last 5 years. This also can be detrimental.
You can imagine how confused consumers might be.
Other agents noted that in some markets, Homes.com might even be selling the leads back to the agent who is paying for Homes.com leads. (I will cover a referral fee based website that is using your name to “refer” leads back to you for a large chunk of your commission in a future article.)
The response from Homes.com
Kristina emailed Homes.com, which claimed they had no control over the ad.
In an email reply to Kristina, a support rep stated, “This Homes.com ad came up on your Youtube Channel as a result of you having a channel that is centered around real estate. This is an ad that is simply tailored to you via the YouTube Algorithm.”
The email goes on to suggest that Kristina “reach out to YouTube, directly, over (her) concerns surrounding this ad with (her) name on it as this is something that is being displayed on their platform.”
She emailed again, to which the only resolution seemed to be having her account deleted from Homes.com. However, the second email notes that this action will also delete her profile from HomeSnap.
This is not an option for many agents, whose MLSs are integrated with Homesnap to manage showings on listings.
Update on March 29th
A spokesperson from CoStar Group recently responded to my inquiry on their YouTube ads. Here’s what they had to say:
CoStar Group employs Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) through Google. For these ads, agent names were not specifically targeted, but ads were generated by the Google DSA platform using agent names based on the content of the Homes.com website. As of March 28th, we have blocked all agent profiles on Homes.com from being used in DSAs.
What can you do?
If your YouTube channel is being targeted by ads like these, follow these steps:
- Email Homes.com right away and let them know how you feel.
- Report the ad here. Ads that are “false claims or offers” or an “impersonation” are considered a “Policy-violative ad.” Note: It was hard for me to generate a link to the ad since it was on the mobile app. I clicked on the ad and copied the destination URL, which I hope is enough information for them to take action.
- Search your name on every platform and identify the companies who are using your own name to generate leads for themselves or sell leads back to you.
Hopefully, this was a simple oversight that will be corrected before the end of the day.
But the question remains: how many leads have you missed?
How many of YOUR prospects have clicked the ad on Homes.com, thinking that they would be working with you, only to be sent to another agent who bought the lead?
Or, how many leads were sent back to you for a fee?
We don’t have the answers to these questions. But, we can expect these types of ads from Homes.com to lessen, as Homes.com has blocked agent profiles from being used in DSAs.