This article is not only about real estate lead generation companies because they can be only one of many sources for real estate leads.

There are many more, and finding out which qualifies best will be the task of today’s article.

So, I will cover…

  • 5 Lead Sources and Marketing Channels for Real Estate
  • How to Evaluate Real Estate Lead Sources: What Criteria Are Required to Qualify as “Best”?
  • Applying the Real Estate Lead Source Criteria for “Best.”

Let’s first start with the common lead source and marketing channels for real estate…


5 Lead Sources and Marketing Channels for Real Estate

With all the overwhelming information you find on the web, you may be surprised that there are only four real estate lead sources and marketing channels.

Well, if you count the done-for-you real estate lead generation service providers, there are five:

1) Outbound Real Estate Lead Generation (paid and “free”), such as…

So, outbound lead generation is more in the prospect’s “face,” can interrupt, is more proactive, and is controllable.

Think of the guy with the megaphone or the Yang of real estate lead generation (the masculine aspect).

By the way, I put “free” in quotation marks because it may be almost free only in terms of monetary costs, but not regarding the cost of your time.

You can also control fairly well the results you get by the effort you put in.

2) Database Marketing

  • Past client direct mailing
  • Past client marketing
  • Past client retargeting via ads on search and social media
  • Email marketing
  • Sphere of influence marketing

Strictly speaking, this is not real estate lead generation but rather converting cold leads you already generated or past clients into warm or hot leads again.

Results are also pretty easy to control since you deal with past clients or leads you have already generated.

So, over time, you may know by experience which effort to take to get a particular outcome.

3) Inbound Real Estate Lead Generation (paid and “free”)

  • Content marketing on your website (publishing blog articlesvideos, downloadable whitepapers, free giveaways, etc.)
  • Content marketing on social media (posting on Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, etc.)
  • Answering questions on social media, forums, etc.
  • Publishing content in larger publication channels (local and national newspapers, magazines, etc.)
  • Lead magnets (often combined with email marketing and nurturing campaigns)
  • On-page SEO
  • Webinars (with strategic partners)
  • Guest-posting (however, not Google’s favorite anymore)

So, inbound lead generation is rather gentle. 

You don’t find the prospect; the prospect finds you.

It’s, therefore, less controllable. 

Think of it like the honeypot or the Ying of real estate lead generation (the feminine aspect).

4) Real Estate Referral Marketing

Here, results are even less controllable than with inbound real estate lead generation since you will also have to rely on partners or past clients to refer you to new leads.

5) Real Estate Lead Generation Done-for-You Companies

These are either service providers that you pay on a per-lead basis for exclusive or non-exclusive real estate leads up front, or you pay them at closing a referral fee.

The controllability of the lead generation results is similar to real estate referral marketing (mostly out of your hands).


You need to rely on the various providers’ performance.

On a side note: some providers label it lead generation or providing leads, whereas, in reality, they are providing you with contact scraping functionality to find contact data of potential buyers or sellers, which you then can target for actual lead generation purposes.

I filtered them out for this section since it’s about done-for-you lead generation.

Here are the companies you pay upfront:

And with those below, you pay a referral fee (you can read about a deeper analysis of them in my article here:

  • Zillow Flex
  • HomeLight
  • AgentHarvest
  • Navy Federal – RealtyPlus
  • Clever
  • Upnest
  • Agent Pronto
  • Agent FixUp

So, how can the five types of real estate lead sources from above help us answer which is the best?

Maybe you noted it, but I didn’t accidentally order the different real estate lead sources and marketing channels the way I did.

I ordered them as well as possible, from most to least controllable.

This leads me to the next section…


How to Evaluate Real Lead Sources: What Criteria Are Required to Qualify as Best?

You may quickly realize it’s pretty easy to get into a “he said, she said” situation in determining the best real estate lead source.

John Doe may swear on lead generation companies in his zip code.

However, Jane Doe would disagree because she manages to use social media in a way that generates high-quality leads.

So what can we do?

Depending on where you are on your real estate agent or brokerage journey, a particular real estate lead source will be best.

Starting out, a real estate agent will weigh the best criteria differently than an established realtor or brokerage.

Therefore, I will use a decision matrix to determine the best real estate lead source for the beginner to intermediate real estate agent and the established one.

Beginners likely have more time on their hands, but a shoestring budget, if at all, while the established ones will have only a bit of time but a decent monthly budget.

And below are the criteria I will use in the decision matrix: 

  • Not too time-consuming to carry out
  • Lead time until you see results (the more skills and experience you have with the real estate lead source, the shorter the lead time until you see results)
  • High barriers to entry (skills necessary, less competition)
  • Independence (from the performance of others in generating leads)
  • Testability (how well you can freely and/or easily test on your own via, for example, split testing different ad copies, ad creatives, lead magnets, offers, etc.)
  • Scalability (can you easily scale, for example, by increasing your budget, adding other channels, etc., to grow your business)


Applying the Real Estate Lead Source Criteria for “Best”

Let’s now apply the various criteria for the best real estate lead source based on the two different real estate agents on the decision grid matrix below.

You will find the various real estate lead sources in the rows and each criterion in the columns.

I gave each real estate lead source a close to objective score between 0 and 10 for each criterion. 

You can find the weight column to the left of each criterion column.

Here, the scores are more individual, and you have to ask yourself how important the criterion is for the beginner real estate agent or the intermediate or established ones.

I weighed the “not too time-consuming” criterion with a “2” for the beginner agent since it’s likely that there is a bit more time available.

In the decision matrix for intermediate or established agents, I gave a weight of 10 for the same criterion since established agents or brokers likely have much less time to do lead generation activities.

I colored these columns in yellow, so you know what I suggest you can edit with your subjective assessment.

Here you can access Google Sheet templates, and you will need to make a copy of them to edit and use them.

Real Estate Lead SourceNot too time-consuming to carry outWeightLead time until you see resultsWeightHigh barriers to entryWeightIndependenceWeightTestabilityWeightScalabilityWeightTotal Score
Paid outbound real estate lead generation82510975598105276
Free" outbound real estate lead generation2251087555865205
Database marketing6271087959855280
Paid inbound real estate marketing2251097854885229
Free" inbound real estate marketing10231097854885225
Real estate referral marketing5251097454855200
Real Estate Lead Generation Done-for-You Companies10281057253845189

Based on the weighted scoring of the different real estate lead sources, the best one for beginning real estate agents is database marketing (especially the subcategory of the sphere of influence marketing), followed by paid outbound real estate lead generation.

Real Estate Lead SourceNot too time-consuming to carry outWeightLead time until you see resultsWeightHigh barriers to entryWeightIndependenceWeightTestabilityWeightScalabilityWeightTotal Score
Paid outbound real estate lead generation810510995998109418
Free" outbound real estate lead generation21051089595869281
Database marketing61071089999859400
Paid inbound real estate marketing21051099894889327
Free" inbound real estate marketing101031099894889387
Real estate referral marketing51051099494859294
Real Estate Lead Generation Done-for-You Companies101081059293849303

And based on the scoring of the decision matrix for established real estate agents is paid outbound marketing, followed by database marketing.

Using these decision matrices is only a first approach since many other factors are left out, such as your monthly budget, skills of the different lead sources, buyer or seller targeting, customer awareness levels, income goal, and the time to reach this goal, etc.

So, it’s not about how I am telling you what the best real estate lead source is for you, but what the best one is for you based on your situation, considering your goals and constraints.

So, again, the above decision matrices can only approach the best real estate lead source for you.

Suppose you need to get even more granular and exact, considering your individual income goals, constraints, skills, and target group (including customer awareness). 

In that case, you may want to look at “The Ultimate Real Estate Lead Gen Strategy and Performance Suite” here.

This article has been reviewed by our editorial team. It has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policy.

Tobias Schnellbacher