Develop or Sell?

Several years ago (2009 – 2010) when domain sales hit a low for me, I realized the importance of creating additional revenue streams. With the help of web developers, I launched a number of websites. Today, excluding my blog, the successful moneymaking websites my companies operate include,, and to a degree, and

With domain sales continuing to grow annually and my websites producing solid revenue numbers, I haven’t had any interest in building out additional websites. It takes too much time and money to launch a website that is actually helpful to users, and in order to be fair to advertisers, I feel obligated to produce something that is worthy of their advertising dollars if I am going to charge them. That means continued updates and tweaks, which take time, money, or a combination of both.

Within the last month or so, I bought My gut and comps say it is a $25-50k domain name to an end user buyer, perhaps more if someone is motivated. My experience tells me that selling a broad domain name like this using outbound channels will be difficult, so it’s probably a name I’d have more luck with if I hold it until a motivated buyer shows up. I did reach out to a few end user buyers I know from past deals, and one said he wouldn’t buy it but would advertise on it when I build it out.

That intrigued me because I think this domain name has the potential to be a local real estate directory covering the Massachusetts market. I thought about a plan involving creating individual city pages, and I could monetize those with Adsense. In addition, I could also sell each city page to one local Realtor, and I figure pricing between $99 – $499/year depending on the city would be fair. For instance, Boston might cost $499/year for the page while Lowell might cost $99/year. The advertiser could post his company’s information on the city page, which would help to add unique content.

I project that the site could easily earn anywhere from $5,000 – $10,000/year just by getting the low hanging fruit. I think this is a very realistic number, especially because the parked domain name sees hundreds of visits a month.

The question is whether I should spend the time and money building out the site knowing that I will then have to spend more time finding advertisers. I could theoretically build it, promote it, and see what happens, but I think that approach is bound to fail. I would have to give the effort to make it a success. Netting $10,000 for the effort is probably not worth the time and financial investment, but building a $10,000+ annual revenue stream that will continue to make money each year is probably worth it. It’s a gamble though because I don’t know if it will make $10,000 nor do I know if it will stick and continue to make money.

Alternatively, I could keep it parked and wait for a company to come across it and make a good effort to buy or lease it. In the meantime, it’s not making a huge ROI sitting there, although it’s earning much more than if it was cash in a bank or CD.

What would you do if you were me?

Elliot Silver
Elliot Silver
About The Author: Elliot Silver is an Internet entrepreneur and publisher of Elliot is also the founder and President of Top Notch Domains, LLC, a company that has closed eight figures in deals. Please read the Terms of Use page for additional information about the publisher, website comment policy, disclosures, and conflicts of interest. Reach out to Elliot: Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn


  1. If you build it out I think your prices are too low. $499/Boston for 1 year? What is the average commission a realtor gets for a sale in Boston? Let’s say it is $2k. Charge $2k. Frame it as “If this ad drives 1 sale this year you break even, every additional sale is pure profit”.

    Or if you think your site will drive traffic then put a lead gen email submit form and just sells the leads to realtors. $50/lead.

    • I appreciate the feedback – thank you.

      That argument probably won’t work though. They can pay Google less for similar traffic, and with Google, they can do a far better job of tracking than they could on my site. They could also turn the Google faucet off if they want and pay Google monthly, whereas I would want payment to be made upfront.

      In addition, I want the prices to be low enough to be a “no brainer.” If I build it, I really don’t have an interest in selling advertising. I’d rather spend my time selling $10-20,000 domain names than trying to convince a guy why he should spend money advertising on my site. That’s a better use of my time I think.

      I don’t have an interest in the lead gen model, so that wouldn’t work for me.

    • I would argue that someone that is on your site is MORE targeted then someone searching Google for “massachusetts real estate”.

      And they might be paying more to Google. What is the CPC? For the real estate market it is fairly high, lots of competition. They need to compete against the other 30 guys advertising in that market on Google which increases the CPC prices and decreases their visibility. With your site they get sole visibility at a fixed price.

      If you’re going to spend the time, effort, and money to develop a site don’t give away the fruits of your labor. No reason why a realtor in Boston would not pay $5.48 a day (aka $2000/year) to get sole placement as long as your site gets visitors.

  2. Here is my opinion FWIW. I’m in the housing sector. I’m the VP of a large player in that sector. I’ve been buying geo long tails in this sector for a long time. I’m a domainer. My company is a large public company. I would get shot (like the guy at AOL) if I went to our president and tried to convince him that buying a third word geo long tail is worth $25K to $50K. 1/10th of that amount, no problem. But, that is a very rosy valuation that maybe if you hold it 20 years, you have 1% of 1% chance of getting that number in the next 20 years. IMHO

    • Totally agree that a large company probably wouldn’t buy it.

      I’ve sold several real estate domain names, and there are buyers willing to spend significant sums of money to “own the market.” This is one area I’ve had luck in the last 2+ years.

      I know that it can be difficult to find the right buyer though.

  3. Just my opinion but the name is too broad to sell to real estate agents who typically focus on specific markets. Development might work but I had no luck selling ad space to local real estate agents (note had I been on page one of Google for real estate searches perhaps I would have had a more convincing argument). But how are you going to get your site on page one of Google for every city real estate search where you are trying to sell ad space? Realtors in each area already have developed sites targeting those markets. Regardless, you have done well with your developments so I’m sure you will work around those challenges. Best of luck.

    • I disagree that RE agents have developed sites targeting their city markets. While a handful Realtors are savvy on how to structure their site to rank well for local RE terms, the vast majority still use subdomains of large brokerages because they are convinced that they will receive leads from the subdomains because of the brand reputation of the large brokerage. Plus, many Realtors are of the opinion that buyers and listing leads are not generated from the web, but rather from beating the streets and networking locally. I don’t disagree with that notion whatsoever, but I would argue that many brokers only focus on building their local networks.

  4. I would make my decision on two more aspects: First, do you have other, maybe even more promising projects, which you actually need to concentrate on? Not just cash, but time wise? If yes, go for the sale.
    Second, where do you see the real estate market in the US, especially in Massachusetts in the next year(s)? If great, build your name out, if not predictable, imho I’d try to sell it.

    Why not build it out on a very basic level to increase the value and gain some time to sell it for a good price to an enduser. If it works, great, if not and you have time and money enough to spend, you have your next project. All the best!

  5. I have found it easier to sell advertising on developed domains that it is to sell a domain. It does not make sense to me but I guess that why we are investors. Development takes work and it make take years to turn cash positive. I don’t want to make to broad of a statement, but I have found real estate agents very difficult to work with. Needy. Also, a real estate project would probably have to be more robust as inventory changes rapidly with new listings be taken and removed. You have to figure out your plan? Do you want this to be more of a boutique type site working in conjunction with a small agency or do you want to make the one for the entire state? For sites that I have developed, I am pleased that I built them rather than sell them. I was young and patient then though. Now, not so much. Anyway, back to my own problems. Whatever you chose to do, Do Well.

  6. As a real estate broker, I wouldn’t pay per lead, but I would pay a referral commission if the lead turned into a purchaser. Do you have a friend that has their real estate license? You could partner with that person, then automatically refer the leads into a large brokerage’s referral network. A large syndication network is the leading real estate companies of the world (leadingre (.) com/AboutUs). They have solid systems in place to ensure that the leads are responded to very promptly and the proper paperwork is processed to ensure you receive a referral commission at closing.

    I added RE listing via an IDX feed to my web site on April 2013 and through referral commissions, I am now generating at least $1k per month. That said, I am a licensed broker, so I don’t have to split the referral commission with a partner. The IDX feed I use is not indexable, which didn’t matter for this current site, but you could add indexable IDX listing and start seeing long tail address and MLS # traffic within days.

  7. In the Chicago market a large player puts all their individual properties on .info’s (address of property). They usually sell homes on higher end of comps vs competitors of late. I guess they feel paying $1 vs $12 or $9 for a .com is a better bargain. Personally, i think it looks like crap and wouldn’t allow for it. So that is one mindset you are dealing with when marketing to these types whether selling a name or going for ad money.
    I imagine the individual Brokers who are now on their own as managing brokers (leaving a firm or managing their own office) would be the ideal buyer since they are more entrepreneurial and successful.

  8. Hmmm Real Estate is a tricky one. I know has some serious rules now surrounding non real estate entities from developing websites targeting MLS listings etc. You may want to check and see if you have to be a registered real estate agent in Mass first..(if so, another expense as well as annual re-up fees and membership to get the MLS list for IDX integration on your site) Ive always had better luck with development of personal and business than with domain sales. The time factor is an issue as well as investment dollars, but it does pay off. My last project took me a while (9 months) to do but now it is producing on adsense 4 figures a month. The PITA realization… how in the world do i replicate that?!

    Have you given any thought on dev’ing it out with a lead gen type site, then selling those leads to individual real estate agents in the area? (again will take time, someone to negotiate the involvement of real estate agents and that like nailing jello to a tree, and patience)

  9. after reading more of the comments and doing more thinking, one of your users commented on the spelling issue and i agree.. too hard for the average person to spell.. typo hell… and you aren’t interested in the lead gen model, so i would sell it at auction… get what you can…move on to something else..consider the amount of time you have already spent on trying to DECIDE… how much has this cost you in time?

  10. Populate the site with free info and listings from the real estate community and sell advertising to the mortgage companies financial institutions, home inspectors, condo developers, appraisers,home improvement companies etc. Real estate companies are already producing the content that the domain name is naturally promoting. Companies in the periphery would be the best advertising target.

  11. You are a domainer not a developer so I would stick to flipping the domain since that is what you do well.

    The real estate market has far more competition (and deeper pockets) than the dog walking/groomer sector. Zillow, Trulia, Realtor, homes.Yahoo and the 1,000 of other national and local brokers already dominate the search results.

    How much type-in traffic does it get? I doubt much if any.

    In order to compete you can’t just throw up an IDX feed and expect to start charging listing fees. You’ll have to offer something unique on a weekly basis.

    The RE agents I know that kill it in my area update their blogs 2-3x per week with local RE news that people actually want to read.

    Didn’t you sell on Namejet because you couldn’t find an end user that would pay that much?

    • True, although makes quite a decent amount of money without a whole lot of work these days. I think a domain investor can successfully be a developer.

      Yes, Tacoma did sell at NameJet for a little over $9k I think.

    • I was just pointing out I think you were successful with DogWalker with little work because you picked your battle wisely 😉

      RE is another story…

      If you decide to develop, I would get the old URL structure back up ASAP with some content as Google still has over 7,000 indexed pages from the old website. That is likely where the majority of visitors are finding the site.

      As Google keeps crawling the site and seeing all those 404 errors, it’s going to slowly de-index everything. You might as well take advantage of all those aged pages and visitors!

  12. Goldmine here.

    Work with one agent and let them them advertise it. You probably get 20 hits a month on this at .40 cents. Not much.

    Charge an advertising fee 25%-30% for each home sold.. Not commission but advertising fee. Big big difference

    You cannot tag into a idx or mls in the state you must be licensed. SO just work with an agent that can see how valuable this is and let them use it.

    One sale would be worth 3-5k to you. But any agent using this name should with out a doubt sell 10 homes with this name a year.

    Could go further into this for examples but don’t sell or park. Work with a younger agent. At even 1 sale per year your going to get 3 or 4k..

    Really don’t sell this name if you do let me know. You just have to monitize it in a different way and not the old way.

    2 sales with an agent on this name and you will have paid for it. 🙂

    Just my opinion.

    • I was thinking natural type in traffic around 20. As a whole that is good 400 month.

      Go with what Chris is saying. That is even a better way to go and less hassle.

      You will never sell this name if you go that route. Also once they come out with the .realestate ext some one will be helping your type in traffic out when they register Massachusetts.RealEstate lol..
      Good luck to you.

    • I HIGHLY doubt it’s getting 400 natural type in traffic a month.

      The domain still has over 7,000 pages indexed in Google! Plus, hundreds of backlinks from other related RE sites…that is how the visitors are finding the domain.

    • I didn’t say type-ins. I said “Ballpark of 400 visits/month.” Up until I looked up the traffic, I had no idea. I haven’t spent any time analyziing where it comes from or how they got there. I haven’t done any research on the link profile.

    • Elliot, that was in response to DonnyM’s comment about his type-in guesstimate.

      Congrats on acquiring the domain and good luck whether you decide to develop or flip it 🙂

  13. I would get a certain amount of content on their relating to the Mass RE market, but mainly helpful guidance type content. How to find maintenance guys, home interior designers etc

    I would funnel all the traffic to an email collection page by use of a call to action.

    Once I had enough emails I’d sell ad space to the above mentioned people and do email marketing to those subscribers.

  14. IMO, you should either develop it or park it. 🙂

    But seriously, I’d put up a site with may 10 to 20 city pages SEO’d really well with lead gen forms on them. If a lead comes in, find a real estate agent in that area, call them and offer them the lead for free and tell them where the lead came from, your pricing, etc. That’s a much easier sell than cold calling or mail/email marketing.

    Using a slow growth method doesn’t cost as much and allows you to evaluate traffic growth, popular areas where you should add more focus, etc.

    • The only issue with that is I then have to either manually distribute leads or build/buy a system. I also have to research privacy laws involving passing on contact information.

      I like the model.

  15. I sold a ‘real estate portal’ with two other partners in 2004 for low seven figures.

    My advice is: Don’t take dumb advice from unqualified people.

  16. I agree with Brian.

    Make a 5 to 6 page site promoting only the major cities.

    Put a lead gen form on each page while each page caters a different city.

    Dont build anything fancy at the beginning.

    You could use a simple method of forwarding leads with a automated message to different estate agents.

    Just use outlook or thunderbird or whatever and apply rules setting, depending on where you want to forward the lead to. Send them out for free and if the agents dont reply with wanting to work with you, simply change the companies email adress. That is no work at all. One of them will eventually stick with you. From there on its just counting the cash.

  17. I would develop this real estate website and make a revenue stream. This could be passive income until a potential buyer shows up to pay top dollars for this real estate website.

    If you wait to sell as a domain name, you won’t make as much, maybe a mid to high 4 figure sale. If developed, this website can much higher because of your annual earnings. It will be an established business.

    • You don’t know much about domain values if you think this is “a mid to high 4 figure” domain name. I paid 5 figures for it and have had multiple inquiries on it. I could sell it for low 5 figures today if I wanted to, but am asking just under $40k.

      I am basing this on several large (personal) domain sales in the same vertical in the last 2 years.

    • In my opinion, you overpaid for this state real estate domain. I know enough about domains to not pay 5 figures for this site. The exact match searches are about 1,600. It is too broad of a domain name.

      Sure, there are city real estate in the state of Massachusetts that command top dollars. Would you rather own California Real Estate or would San Francisco Real Estate and or San Diego Real Estate be better? An undeveloped California Real Estate won’t command a higher price than top cities in California (IMO).

      You have to think about how many homes sell in a particular market. There are a few cities in California that have gone bankrupt. It wouldn’t make sense trying to crack into a market that has many foreclosures. Therefore, you may have better value in this market. The housing market is always strong in NYC and San Francisco. No matter the market downturn, these are exclusive cities with top real estate.

      I prefer the premiere city over the state domain any day of the week.

    • You’d probably say the same thing about most of the names I buy.

      The fact that I know for certain that I could sell the domain name profitably right now if I needed to sell shows that you are incorrect.

      Yes, I would rather have (which sold for over $200,000 ) but I would take over or every day of the week.

  18. All these reality TV shows has these Realtors claiming how much money they make. Call them out on it and sell it for $100K with a Press Release.

    • $100K is far too much for this undeveloped domain. These realtors have other avenues to market their real estate services. If these domain can generate leads like Denver Real Estate and Boston Real Estate, then I see potential.

      Massachusetts Real Estate is too broad. However, this real estate domain has potential as a developed website.

    • Yes, every domain name has potential if it is developed. Some more than others obviously.

      I am replying to a Realtor with a proposal as I am commenting to you. I have 5 interested buyers after sending about 20 emails trying to sell the name today.

      I am asking mid 5 figures for it, so we shall see.

    • Not every domain name has potential as a developed website. There are some niches that are too crowded and then there are others that have no commercial value.

      However, real estate is a strong market. Medical domains are better to develop than taxi domains, whereas insurance and education domains may command higher ad revenue.

    • What good is spending a lot of time developing a domain when most won’t generate any money from doing so? You are in essence creating a business and far smarter people with better skill sets in this industry have gone on record saying how difficult it has been for them to develop names into profitable sites. Selling a name to someone in an industry where they have already found a way to make money after their own trials and errors makes more sense.

    • True, but on the other hand, if I build something that looks nice, a Realtor might want to buy it and improve upon it.

      At the end of the day though, I think I am going to hold off on building it. I am in talks with several companies right now and have a proposal out to one company, so we’ll see.


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