As Spring Nears, Real Estate Agents Are Reconsidering Paid Leads: Intel

Two months of Inman Intel Index survey data shows waning confidence in real-world business-building activities but growing interest in buying leads on the internet.

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As the spring homebuying season arrives, agents’ faith in the real world appears to be wavering.

That at least is the takeaway from the most recent two months of Inman Intel Index survey data. The data specifically shows that from January to February, agents are leaning into digital lead gen practices, while cooling on things that more traditionally happened in person.

How so?

In both January and February we asked agents to tell us about the “business development investment” that has the “best return today.”

A majority of respondents in both months pointed to “networking/sphere of influence” as the best investment. But, curiously, the percent of agents who ranked networking as their top investment actually fell from 73.7 percent in January to 67.3 percent in February.

In a similar vein, the percent of agents who ranked “open houses” as their top current investment also fell, from 6.6 percent in January to 5 percent in February. That’s not a huge dip, but it is a notable one given that February is already the beginning of the spring buying season in some markets.

At the same time, agents are leaning into digital business opportunities; in January, 6.6 percent of respondents said that the best investment they can make right now is in “social media.” Another 5.9 percent pointed to “buying leads.”


But a month later, both of those numbers had risen: 9.3 percent of February’s respondents ranked investments in social media as the having the best return. Buying leads scooped up 7.3 percent of responses.

In other words, agents’ faith in online activities rose at the same time that open houses and networking lost some of their appeal.

Credit: Jim Dalrymple II

Both the January and February surveys garnered around 500 responses from agents. (Survey takers in other fields, such as proptech leadership, were directed to a different set of similar questions).

In addition to asking about the best way to invest time and money right now, we also asked agents about the investments they’ll grow over the next year and some familiar patterns emerged.

In this case, networking basically remained constant — 53 percent ranked it as the best investment in January, and 53.8 percent did the same in February.

But the big winner for future investments was buying leads; just 3.5 percent of respondents ranked it as the top investment going forward in January, but by February that number had jumped up to 7 percent.

Credit: Jim Dalrymple II

The takeaway from all of this is that buying leads online is the big winner. As an investment of time and money, it saw its popularity rise by multiple percentage points in two different months and across two different questions that focused, respectively, on the past and the future.

It’s difficult to say why agents might be feeling more confident about online lead gen, but the real estate industry is facing a series of potentially significant changes. Those changes range from a growing pile of commission lawsuits to the expectation that mortgage rates will meaningfully come down soon to an ongoing portal war.

Or maybe the explanation is that buying online leads is simply a way to cast a wider net at a time when existing spheres might be a bit tapped out. Either way though, what we’re seeing is a shifting balance in the way agents prioritize real-world and online activity.

What is Inman Intel?

Inman Intel is the data and research arm of Inman. Using horizon-scanning data insights and regular surveys of real estate professionals and consumers, Intel is designed to help industry decision-makers, proptech founders and investors navigate an evolving market. Learn more and subscribe.

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