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Facebook Ad Targeting for Real Estate Agents (2020 Update)

by Nov 6, 2020

By now most agents know Facebook ad targeting for real estate has changed in the past couple of years. But what exactly has changed for Facebook ads for real estate? And how do the changes affect the performance of Facebook ads for real estate agents? In this article, we’ll look at all of this and more.

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What changes to were made to Facebook Ad Targeting For Real Estate?

In 2018, Facebook was hit with high-profile lawsuits alleging that they had violated the Fair Housing Act. Specifically, Facebook was charged with allowing advertisers to exclude certain groups from viewing housing ads through its audience settings. These lawsuits were followed by an investigation the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

As a result, Facebook agreed to make changes to audience targeting for real estate ads. First, it required housing ads to be marked as a “Special Ads Category.” Next, Facebook eliminated almost 5,000 interest categories (affinities) that might be tied to a particular race, gender, or social class. Finally, it removed the ability to target specific ZIP codes.

detailed facebook ad targeting options

Over 5000 audience targeting options have been removed.

Not only did Facebook ad targeting for real estate agents change, but Facebook also increased transparency. All housing ads would now be open to public review through a housing ads search tool. This allows all people to view ads ran for a home, and the tool also allows watchdog groups to police discrimination.

Do Facebook Ads For Real Estate Still Work?

The changes have certainly scared some agents away from Facebook ads for real estate. In a recent forum conversation for members of the Real Estate Agent Directory, one agent even commented, “(I) stopped FB when they took away specific audience … waste of money.” But is this true?

In a word, no. For instance, ad managers with TurnKey Suite by Home ASAP have managed to generate leads for less than $5 per lead and even as low as $1.64 per lead.

Low cost is one thing, but do Facebook ads actually sell houses? Once again the answer is yes. For example a recent reviewer for TurnKey Suite shared this story:

The Facebook ads that Stephanie has run for me have been wonderful. I am getting more leads than the ads I run on my own! I don’t know how she does it! I closed a home last month for $1,150,000 from a Buyer that was Relocating and found me online through one of the Ads. That more than paid for the program!

How do I Set an Audience For Facebook Ads for Real Estate?

Clearly, Facebook ads are still worth the investment, but getting the full advantage of Facebook ads will definitely require some strategy. A huge part of that strategy should be built around the audience you’re targeting.

Before you even set up any ads, you need to understand who you’re trying to reach. This includes general information like age, relationship status, and location, but it goes deeper. What are their hobbies? Where would your target audience likely spend their time? What motivates them?

Pro marketers call this process creating customer personas. You want to literally imagine that you are creating a person that has the traits you would expect your typical customers to have. So let’s look closer at how to approach this process.

facebook special ad category

Facebook ads for real estate must declare that they belong in a special ad category.

Use Broad Traits to Get Started

So let’s say that you’re trying to sell a starter home. You probably want to start by aiming for first-time homebuyers which are often younger adults, but not all young people are equally likely to be in the market for a home. So let’s imagine a young person that would be ready to move into their first house.

This person probably lives in an apartment. She may have recently been married or be in a long term relationship. She may even have a young child. This person is probably looking to settle down, so they probably have at least some tenure at their current job.

Fill in the Details

Now let’s use those broad traits to hone in on our target’s particular interests. Since we know that our targets probably live in an apartment, that gives us other clues about their interests. For example, this person probably spent some time looking for apartments in the past, so we could target interests like sites that help when apartment hunting.

In particular, you’ll want to think about which interests might be tied to someone likely to buy or sell a home. For instance, someone with an interest in personal finance blogs may be getting their finances in order to make a big purchase like a home. On the other hand, someone interested in university campus life probably is not someone likely to buy or sell any time soon.

You may also find it helpful to consider interests beyond the basics. Where might this shop? What TV shows would she watch? Which websites do they frequent? While you may not be able to target these interests directly, this exercise can help you consider what speaks to your audience, and ultimately your message will land with greater impact.

Don’t Know Where to Start?

Defining your audience can be tough when they share your interests, but getting into the mind of someone different than you can be even harder. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Someone in your circle probably has some knowledge of the people you want to reach. You may even want to hire a professional like the account managers in TurnKey Suite who target these people day in and day out.

As you consider your audience, make a list of traits and interests. Continue your research until you have a diverse list of interests for your desired buyers or sellers. Remember better research will make it easier for you when setting up the audience for your Facebook ad.

select facebook ad location

Must select at least a 15 mile radius where your ad will run.

How Do I Use This Info About My Audience?

Now that you understand your audience, we need to put that knowledge to use, so let’s choose the essential options for Facebook ad targeting for real estate. We’ll be using Facebook Ads Manager, so if you are unfamiliar, you can read up on how to create an ad here.

Location

First, you’ll need to select a location. This is where Facebook’s new policies really begin to take effect for real estate agents. Advertisers can no longer target based on zip code for housing. Instead, you will need to choose a broader area to target such as a city or a Designated Market Area. Simply type in the name of the city or a nearby town and select it from the list that appears.

choose facebook ad location

Click the box to open map.

You can also select your target area using a map. First, click the box that says “Type to add more locations,” to make the map appear. Next, use the zoom tools to focus on a general area. To choose an area where your ad will run, click the “Drop Pin” button and click your desired location. All locations within a minimum 15 mi. radius of your pin will be included.

You have several options for the type of interest someone has in a particular area, too. For instance, you can limit the ad to people who currently live in an area or people traveling to this area. This feature comes in handy when promoting a vacation home to travelers or if you have a similar situation where you need to reach a specific subset of people. Consider areas that people commonly relocate from when choosing your ads locations, too.

Detailed Targeting

To reach the people most likely to act on your ads, you’ll need to use the detailed targeting options Facebook provides. In the past, you could choose demographics, interests, and behavior criteria of the people seeing your ad. Now you are limited to selecting interests only.

You can choose interests by searching or browsing. To search, simply start typing an interest or characteristic into the search box. A list of relevant criteria will appear, and you can select the criteria you want to include. You can also browse through lists of traits by clicking “Browse.” This option can be especially helpful if you’re unsure of where to start. Remember to consider the nature of a user’s interest, too.

As you choose targeting options, remember to use the list you created while researching to hone in on the people most likely to respond to your ad. You’ll need this list later when crafting your message as well.

How Do I Know When I’m Done?

Facebook offers you some tools to help you evaluate your targeting options. As you add new criteria to your ad targeting, you will want to use these tools to hone in on an audience that is not too broad or too specific.

Facebook ad audience size dial

The audience size dial tells you whether your ad targeting is too broad or too specific.

Audience Size

You can find the Audience Size tool on the right-hand side of the screen. Here you’ll see a dial that changes as you add options to your Audience settings. Ideally, this dial should be right in the middle of the section which would give you a happy medium where lots of people will see your ads and most of these will be in your target audience.

If you find your audience is too broad, try excluding more people from your audience. You can also choose the exact match criteria that a person must have to be shown an ad. To add exact match criteria, click the link that says “Narrow Audience” and an additional search box will appear where you can select essential traits your audience must have.

You’ll also see your ad’s potential reach in this section. Reach refers to the total number of people who see an ad, so your potential reach would all of the people who meet the criteria you have set in the Audience settings. Of course, not all of these people log in every day and Facebook needs space for other advertisers, too, so you’ll need a bit more information.

estimated daily ad results

Use the estimated daily results to evaluate your Facebook ad targeting options.

Estimated Daily Results

Just below the Audience Size information, you’ll see your Estimated Daily Results. Here Facebook gives you an idea of how many people will see your ad each day (reach) and how many goal conversions you might expect. The goal conversions may be leads, site visits, or other user actions depending on the objective you set for the campaign.

So where do these numbers come from? Facebook calculates your Estimated Daily Results based on your campaign settings and data it has collected from other similar campaigns. Your daily ad budget has a big impact on the total number of ad views (impressions) and conversions, but don’t forget you’re not just looking for quantity here.

You want to get the best performance for the least money. That’s why you’re taking the time to get your ad in front of the right people. To get a rough idea of how your ad will perform, divide your Daily Budget by the estimated daily leads.

Real estate ads typically average about $5 per lead although our TurnKey Suite account managers routinely generate leads for less than $3 per lead.

Targeting Your Audience with Your Message

Matching your message to your audience has always been important to marketing, but with the new limits on Facebook ad targeting for real estate, your message has become even more essential. Individuals have unique needs, and so different messages resonate with different people.

sample facebook real estate ad

This Facebook ad speaks to the luxury home buyer.

Instead of trying to speak to everyone, imagine speaking to a person with all the qualities you listed earlier. How would you connect with them? What problems can you solve for them? What are they likely to find important? Let your answers guide the text and images you use for your ad. If you can, test a few messages to see which ads give you the best results.

Just be careful when creating your message. Your goal should be to speak to the concerns and needs of a particular group and not to suggest that the group is preferred. After all, you don’t want to leave yourself open to Fair Housing violations, too!

Final Thoughts On Facebook Ad Targeting for Real Estate

Targeting the right audience with your Facebook ads is not an exact science, so you will need to make adjustments over time. You may find it helpful to set a smaller ad budget upfront while you test what works, and then increase the ad budget when you find the right audience for your ad.

The most important thing is to get started running your real estate ads on Facebook. No other form of advertising gives you the reach and advanced targeting options found on Facebook, and that makes it a form of marketing no real estate agent should ignore.


Do you want to get started in Facebook marketing, but don’t have the time? Try TurnKey Suite by Home ASAP. You get built-in Facebook ad spend, a ton of tools, and an account manager to help you get the most out of it all, so you can focus on closing deals.

Update (7/14/2020): In June 2020, Google also announced that it would be making similar changes to its platform to limit housing discrimination. Advertisers will no longer be able to target by ZIP code or demographics when running housing ads. Click here to read their official announcement.

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Meet the Author

Jonathan earned his Masters in Mass Communications from the University of Florida. He specializes in online communications and web design. When he’s not developing marketing strategies, he enjoys hiking and playing the guitar.

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