Facebook Ads Just Got A Lot Harder for Real Estate Agents

Filed in Social Media by Matt McGee on July 26, 2019 1 Comment

The day of reckoning has arrived. Facebook has taken away several ad targeting options from anyone doing housing-related ads, like targeting a specific city or ZIP code (among others detailed below). The changes are based on good intentions, but also kill the biggest promise of online advertising: the ability to pinpoint ads specifically to people who might want to see them.

Facebook warned back in March that changes were coming. In response to lawsuits that accused Facebook of allowing advertisers to discriminate against protected classes, the company announced changes for anyone running housing, employment or credit ads:

  • no more targeting by age, gender or ZIP code
  • fewer targeting categories overall

The changes began to arrive in Ads Manager about a week ago, and there’s already a lot of hand-wringing in some of the private real estate-focused Facebook groups I follow.

Why are real estate agents upset? Here’s a look at what’s changed and how they have to run Facebook ads (if they choose to continue at all).

Facebook Ads for Real Estate

The changes are front and center as soon as you start to create a new campaign.

1.) You must self-identify as a housing, employment or credit advertiser.

Facebook asks you to self-identify as someone who’s based in or targeting the U.S. and creating a campaign in the housing, employment or credit industries. Anecdotally, there are reports that Facebook has already suspended the accounts of advertisers who tried to run ads in these categories without self-identifying.

2.) You cannot used Saved Audiences, nor can you save a new audience.

This makes sense, since most of a real estate agent’s past ads probably used an audience that runs afoul of the new rules. The Saved Audience tab is still there, but can’t be clicked.

Custom Audiences are still available, as you can kinda see above.

3.) You can’t advertise to a specific ZIP code or city.

Now, the most targeted geographic advertising a real estate professional can do is to a 15-mile radius around any city/address/point on the map. That’s explained in the “ZIP code selection is unavailable” pop-up at the Locations prompt.

And once you put in an address or city, the radius targeting tool now goes no closer than 15 miles.

That radius tool used to go down to one mile, and you might say … is that necessary, Matt? Does anyone really need one-mile targeting?

Well, we used the one-mile option a couple times:

  1. When we wanted to advertise an Open House to the immediate neighbors of our seller, with the Facebook ad campaign timed to begin the same day they received postcards in the mail.
  2. When we wanted to advertise to a neighborhood where we had just sold a home that was difficult to sell. Three other agents had been unable to sell the home, and we wanted to let the neighborhood know that we finally got it done, and wouldn’t they like to hire the Cari McGee Real Estate Team to sell their home? (Yes, we think they would.)

We obviously won’t be running Facebook ads like that going forward.

I get the reason for Facebook’s new policy on geo-targeting — advertisers shouldn’t be able to advertise primarily to neighborhoods where most residents are a specific race.

But not all neighborhood or super-specific geographic ad targeting is bad. Consider a real estate agent who lives in Vancouver, Washington. The city is right on the border with Oregon, just north of Portland, and has a population estimated in the 175K to 200K range. An agent who works in Vancouver and is only licensed to do business in Washington now has to show her ads to most of the city of Portland and its 650K-plus residents … even though she can’t help them unless they want to move across the border.

So much for targeting the people who can actually use your services.

4.) You can’t target ads based on age or gender.

These options are unchangeable if you run housing, employment or credit ads.

And again, I get the reason behind the policy. But there are legitimate uses for age-based targeting in housing.

My parents used to live in a senior residential community; you had to be 55 or older to live there. As our population continues to live longer, more of these communities will be built. (The growth of our population aged 65 and older is “unprecendented in U.S. history.”) But if you own or manage one of these communities, you’ll have to show your ads to many Facebook users who can’t live in your community.

5.) You can no longer exclude audiences.

One of the detailed targeting options that Facebook took away is the ability to exclude certain people from seeing your ads.

On a practical level, the only excluding we’ve done is one that’s very common in the housing industry: We’d exclude other real estate professionals from seeing our ads. So if you had a job title like “Real Estate Broker” or listed your employer as Century 21, Windermere, RE/MAX, etc., we didn’t want you seeing our ads.

But going forward, it looks like we’ll be paying to have other agents click on our ads (when they can see the same info, and better info, for free in the MLS database).

6.) “New House” is one of the removed targeting interests.

This one seems weird to me. Facebook still lists “New House” as one of the targeting options — show your ad to people who’ve expressed an interest in “new house” — but when I choose that option, Ads Manager throws an error.

What’s strange is that so many other interests are still available for detailed targeting, including “apartment” and “luxury real estate” among others. As you can see, none of the interests below trigger an error alert.

As best I can tell, those are the main changes impacting real estate advertising (plus employment and credit). If I missed anything or got something wrong above, I’ll update this article.

Final Thoughts

It appears that these changes aren’t in place when I try to duplicate or restart an old campaign — they’re only showing up on new campaigns. BUT … I’m betting that the Facebook people who review housing ads won’t let an old campaign relaunch with the old, now-disallowed targeting. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’re suspending accounts for shenanigans like that.

I’m sure we’ll continue to run Facebook ads, but I’ll be watching our results very closely and we’ll adjust in whatever way we need to. If Facebook advertising becomes a waste of money and offers no ROI, we’ll stop … just like we stopped advertising on Google and Zillow.

My guess is that most real estate pros will continue to advertise on Facebook, but at least some of that advertising will switch from promoting specific properties/open houses/etc. to more brand/name awareness ads.

The main takeaway for me is something I’ve always preached: You need a variety of sources for revenue, leads, sales, etc. You can’t rely too heavily on one source, like Facebook ads or Google/SEO traffic, or whatever. Things can change in a heartbeat and leave you scrambling. The internet is littered with the remains of businesses who relied too heavily on one tactic, one channel, one source and lost everything when that one thing changed or went away.

Facebook phone image at top by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay. Frustrated emoji image by Nina Garman from Pixabay.

Comments (1)

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  1. Wow this article just slapped me in the face. It was an answer to my problems. We pay for the ads so why can’t we exclude our competition?? As a former Oregon and Washington Broker this would be even more of a pickle. So now I am lost. What is working?? I have Google ads going and was attempting to get Facebook a try but I don’t want to throw my money at other Realtors.

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