The Power of Online Marketing: How One Broker Builds Business...and Celebrity Status
The Power of Online Marketing: How One Broker Builds Business...and Celebrity Status
Social media interfaceAs he walks around town, Samer Kuraishi, senior vice president of Washington, D.C.'s A-K Real Estate, often draws second looks and a "how do I know you?" vibe, until eventually someone will almost always shout out, "You're the guy on Zillow!"

Kuraishi is quick to point out that joining Zillow in 2011 has not only changed the brokerage business for the better, but the exposure has helped catapult him to one of the top real estate professionals in the area.

After all, Kuraishi and his team went from zero online leads in 2011 to closing more than 351 transactions valued at more than $101 million in 2013, thanks to 85 percent of his cultivated online Zillow leads being converted to clients.

"As of the end of August, I have done $89.2 million so far in 2014, on track for 40 percent growth," Kuraishi says. "Of that, 90 percent is from Zillow leads."

In the Beginning At just 18, Kuraishi entered the real estate game and obtained licenses for Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

"I was always intrigued with money and always considered myself an entrepreneur," he says. "My father was in the business for 25 years, but that wasn't really the driving force behind my decision. I wanted new things and was always thinking about ways to make money."

Kuraishi spent $300 for a 60-hour course, and within a few months of getting his license, was already cashing his first big check.

"I had worked at some restaurants, but had never seen that much money in my life, and never looked back," he says. "I still went to college (in 2004, he graduated from the University of Maryland), but knew this was what I was going to do."

The Brokerage Husni Kuraishi, Samer's father, is the broker of record at A-K Real Estate. The younger Kuraishi opened his own branch in Germantown, Md., in 2004 and another in downtown D.C.-just two blocks from the White House-this past February.

"It was always my dream to be in the city with the movers and shakers," he says.

Kuraishi works with all types of real estate, including, but not limited to, distressed properties-short sales, foreclosures, condo conversions, development, investment properties, first-time homebuyers, sellers, commercial and anything on a piece of land. His expertise has made him in-demand for webinars and conventions.

One of the things that separates the brokerage from others in the area is that Kuraishi and his team speak eight languages fluently, appealing to the diverse multi-cultural atmosphere that defines the region.

Zillow Comes into Play Kuraishi happened upon Zillow after receiving a random phone call about signing up.

"I knew a little about it, but I had lots of people call me every day; this guy called a number of times, though, and I liked him, so I gave it a try," he says. "I bought my first zip code for $110 and got a number of inquiries, and bought more."

Today, Kuraishi owns 114 zip codes and is the No. 1 spender in the country on the site.

"It's 2014, a new day and age, and people have less time; they want a tool to search for homes and look at photos, and do research on their own," Kuraishi says. "Instead of walking into a car dealership and always having to hear, 'do you need help?,' you can shop at your leisure. Zillow keeps people from being harassed."

Today, 95 percent of his marketing portfolio goes toward Zillow.

"I use some other sites, but I don't believe the customer experience is as good," he says. "The mobile products are better on Zillow, plus clients love the overall experience."

Kuraishi's favorite tool is Zillow Digs, which lets customers explore different rooms and home-design ideas. He also likes that you can add social media links and is a big fan of the reviews.

"Reviews are really important-good or bad-and I always make it a point to respond to all of them," he says. "If you are building a team, you can give props to your agents, as well."

With 42 agents under his guidance, Kuraishi feels Zillow has been instrumental in helping him build the perfect team. He gives out 1,500 leads per month to his agents and buys the best leads and cutting-edge technology.

"It has definitely helped me attract top agents to the brokerage," he says.

Leslie Shafer, an agent with A-K Real Estate, recently celebrated her two-year anniversary in real estate, after a 15-year career in the hospitality industry.

"Zillow has been my main marketing strategy," she says. "I signed up for my first zip code a year ago, and within 15 minutes, I had a phone call. Another came in the next day, and the commission from that one alone paid for everything."

Today, she has four zip codes and is taking baby steps to grow even more, hoping to mature from a buyer's agent to a listing agent.

"As I become more seasoned and successful, I look forward to adding more zip codes," she says. "I appreciate the fact that reviews are so paramount. People look me up, see my reviews and closings and many times say to me, 'I read your reviews and you seem like a good fit for us.'"

For that reason, Shafer makes sure that as soon as she closes on a property, she contacts her client and asks for a review.

"I tell them that my online presence means the world to me and just as they found me there, it will help others find me," she says. "Zillow will send out a request for a review, but I also like to add a personal touch and send an email asking about their new home and tailoring it toward them."

Marketing Matters Before stumbling upon Zillow, Kuraishi's marketing efforts proved much less fruitful. He started with the yellow pages in the beginning, moved on to some mailers and local ads, but never spent lots of money prior to Zillow for leads.

"For me, it was all about networking-working the bars, clubs, restaurants, talking to friends, teachers and anyone who I had direct contact with," he says. "I worked with a loan officer and we would reciprocate deals. Plus, once you get clients, the referrals begin and the pyramid kicks in."

A-K Real Estate's Samer Kuraishi Group has its own Zillow page, and Shafer's name is listed under it, which she says is the best marketing she can have.

"Everyone on Samer's team is encouraged to set up a profile," Shafer says. "This is the tool of the future. It's not just for young, savvy computer people, but for everyone. I rarely come across anyone who doesn't know what Zillow is."

Looking Ahead Zillow has helped A-K Real Estate grow to one of the most successful brokerages in the D.C. area, and Kuraishi envisions even bigger things ahead.

"Right now, I have built an exclusive real estate company based on my leverage of Zillow and will be spreading myself out more," he says. "I see being able to branch out to Miami, L.A., Seattle, New York-becoming more of a boutique firm. That's what I am looking for."

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