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After I published the article revealing that agents’ names were being used to generate traffic and perhaps leads on Homes.com, CEO David Mele reached out to me to further clarify the response. 

I was also able to ask additional follow-up questions, and the responses he gave may surprise you!

How it Started

In my first article, the primary concern was the diversion of traffic to the Homes.com website when someone would search an agent’s name on YouTube when consumers likely “meant” to click on that agent’s YouTube channel. At the top of the page was an ad using the agent’s name and location, which took traffic away from YouTube and sent them to their profile on Homes.com. 

This led to speculation by many agents as to what Homes.com was doing with the traffic and with the leads. Were they selling it back to agents? Were they using the “goodwill” created by agents to deceive consumers into going to their Homes.com site?

After I received a response from a spokesperson at Homes.com, CEO David Mele reached out via email to provide further explanation of what Homes.com does—and he addressed each of my follow-up questions. 

Here’s a look at some of our conversation via email. 

My Conversation with the Homes.com CEO

Ray: “One of the questions I was asked by agents, does Homes.com have the right to use an agent’s Name, Image, or Likeness to advertise or market the Homes.com website?”

Mele: “Homes.com has not specifically selected and used agent names, images or likenesses to advertise the Homes.com website. But we have utilized Google’s DSA system, which generated ads based on content that was listed Homes.com, which included both property listings and agent profiles.”

The ad product Mele references is called Google Dynamic Search Ads. DSAs automatically generate ad headlines and landing pages based on an advertiser’s website content and a consumer’s search, streamlining the ad creation process. If someone searched a specific address, street, area, or location, it might display the location name as a clickable ad. The “other” content on the Homes.com website was also pulled into this “AdBot” and that included real estate agent profiles. This is what generated the ad with the agent names on it when someone searched that agent name on YouTube.

What about selling those leads?

Ray: “You also stated in your updated response that “You couldn’t buy a lead from Homes.com” – I have purchased leads from Homes.com. Is this service no longer available?”

Mele: “That’s correct.  Homes.com did sell leads in the past.  We discontinued that when CoStar acquired Homes.com in May 2021.  And we should note that CoStar gave up $40 million+ of revenue when they discontinued the sale of leads on Homes.com.  But selling leads conflicts with a “Your Listing, Your Lead” model, and that service is no longer available.”

Raise your hand if you purchased leads from Homes.com in the past… Ok, good, it wasn’t just me. So were they selling the leads? In short, no. When Homes.com was acquired by CoStar, they stopped selling leads to real estate agents.

So, this begs the question, what DOES happen to the inquiries made on the website?

Ray: “You stated in your email that “Homes.com doesn’t sell leads or trick users. … Click on our ads and submit leads, and see where they go.” One of the agent’s spouses did this. They went to YouTube, searched for the agent (their spouse) by name and saw the Homes.com ad using that agent’s name. They clicked on the ad that took them to the agent’s profile page. Then they searched for a house, clicked on a house and submitted a request. That inquiry did not go through to the agent whose name they had searched on YouTube. Can you help me understand anecdotes like this that we received?”

Mele: “If they had submitted an inquiry from the agent’s profile page, that inquiry would have gone directly to the agent they landed on.  But if they then searched for a house listed by another agent, then the inquiry would have gone directly to the listing agent for that house.  Since we employ a “Your Listing, Your Lead” model, all inquiries from listing detail pages go to the listing agent and the listing agent only. And these leads are not sold to the listing agent.  They are provided for free.”

I still wanted to know more. Were consumers being retargeted based on their real estate traffic to Homes.com? Did the agent relationship matter?

Ray: “Does Homes.com use “tracking pixels” to retarget visitors to their website with other Homes.com ads on any platforms?”

Mele: “Homes.com is dedicated to enhancing the homebuying search experience.  We are using tracking pixels that will help us in the future to serve up relevant and timely listings matching the search criteria of homebuyers—even as they search other websites.  This is another tool that helps homebuyers easily find the right house that fits their preference, potentially avoiding missed opportunities.  This system also provides a personalized and streamlined advertising experience for those who are on the hunt for a home.  We are excited to launch this technology on behalf of agents as well.  Once a homebuyer shows interest in an agent, the tracking pixel will help keep that agent top-of-mind by displaying ads on behalf of the agent, with a direct link to their profile on Homes.com.  This will allow homebuyers to easily connect with their preferred agent throughout their selection process and gives agents a free SEM campaign.”

So how is Homes.com making money?

Ray: “Lastly, if Homes.com is not making money from the sale or referral of leads to real estate agents, what is the primary revenue generator for Homes.com?”

Mele: “The primary revenue model for Homes.com will be a promoted listing model, similar to what CoStar has done on both Apartments.com and LoopNet.com. This model will focus on helping agents market and sell homes, rather than monetizing consumers as leads.  You cannot buy leads from Homes.com, Apartments.com or LoopNet.com.  But you will be able to boost a listing so that it receives additional exposure and marketing.  Homes.com promoted listings will be available later this year.”

Homes.com and the CoStar Group tout themselves as agent-centric, agent-friendly platforms that agents can use to build and grow their business through marketing or servicing their clients better. 

So while Homes.com is not technically directly selling leads to agents, it is distributing leads through its website via inquiries through an agent’s profile page or an agent’s listing with the future goal of having a “promoted listings” model. 

And although it was diverting traffic from the YouTube search of an agent’s name to the Homes.com website, Homes.com responded quickly when this was brought to light and removed agent profiles from the DSA ads.

There definitely seems to be space in the market for a home search website that makes the agents an integral part of the process vs. attempting to replace them; however, websites like Homes.com have a tough road ahead to combat the healthy skepticism made evident by this oversight. 

What do you think? Are you excited about a listing promotion model with genuine consumer traffic?