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The acquisition last month of a leading on-line lead generator for realty agents and brokers by a consortium of six leading media companies was hailed last week at an industry conference as a signal of a new era in cooperation between once bitter rivals for the billions that are spent every year on real estate advertising.

"Print and online have a role to play together," said Richard Sommer, chief executive officer of HomeGain of Emeryville, Calif., the privately-held Internet-based firm that was purchased by Classified Ventures, a joint venture owned by the Belo Corp., Gannet, Knight-Ridder, the McClatchy Co., Tribune Co. and the Washington Post. "It's a signal that traditional companies are ready to play in this space," agreed Justin McCarthy, head of local sales at Google, the popular Internet search engine. And it's about time print media has embraced the web, added Craig Newmark, the founder of craigslist.com, a rapidly expanding community-service website where buyers and sellers get together to trade just about everything imaginable. "It's great that newspapers are catching up," Newmark said. "In some of our markets, especially New York, more real estate agencies are using our site than are advertising in newspapers."

Sommer, McCarthy and Newmark made their remarks at Real Estate Connect, the annual conference that seeks to join the real estate industry with technology companies. Established in 1999, HomeGain provides consumers with direct access to real estate professionals and visa versa. It also gives agents the products and tools to conduct their marketing online. The site claims 4 million visitors a month.

Classified Ventures is a strategic business enterprise between the six newspaper companies to collectively grow their revenues in the real estate and automotive categories. It has three main businesses, including Homescape, which delivers online solutions to more than 150 newspapers, Cars.com and Apartments.com.

The acquisition of HomeGain "adds a powerful marketing and business partner to help accelerate (our) growth and deliver more value and innovation to consumers, agents and brokers," said Daniel Jauernig, president of Classified Ventures. At the conference, Google's McCarthy pointed out that this is not the first time newspapers have attempted to win back some of the classified advertising they have lost to splashy websites and on-line innovators. The "Career Builder" newspaper section of job ads is basically a print version of an Internet job posting site, he said.

But Harley Rouda Jr., chief executive officer at Real Living, the largest residential real estate brokerage in the Midwest with some 4,000 agents and 150 offices, questioned whether realty pros will ever again embrace newspapers as a key, stand-alone advertising venue. When the Columbus, Ohio-based RealLiving, then known as HER Real Estate, dropped its Sunday newspaper ads, Rouda said he was "burned in effigy" by his agents. Now, though, he added. "they have finally given up the heroin addiction of newspaper advertising." And he wondered whether they will ever go back.

But Rouda said smart brokers and agents will advertise in both venues. "You have to have online and print; they compliment each other," he said. Another speaker, Glenn Cohen, founder of Expert Realty, said the print media will always be an important ad venues, if not for classified ads, then at least for tombstone-type display ads that tout a firm's accomplishments. "We spend a tremendous amount in newspapers," he said. "We're the new guy, we have to build a brand."

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