Listing syndication musical chairs continue
In the last year, many real estate brokers have evaluated their marketing tools and determined that they no longer feel that all real estate listing syndication websites serve their best interest, or the best interest of the consumer, citing data inaccuracies and confusion with branding of listings.
One of the first brokerages to jump ship, so to speak, was Edina Realty in Minneapolis whose rally cried inspired a select few others to follow. Now, they are pulling the plug on the final syndicator, and Prudential Kansas City is announcing publicly that they will also cut ties with Trulia and Zillow.
Edina Realty pulls the plug on Realtor.com
Initially, Edina Realty announced they were pulling listings from listing syndication sites, but without fanfare, they continued syndicating to Realtor.com and worked with the Move, Inc. team to get answers to better evaluate their marketing plan. The brokerage never syndicated to Zillow, so the real plug pulled was with Trulia. Months later, the brokerage has announced they will no longer send property listings to Realtor.com, stating their new policy is to no longer syndicate to non-broker controlled websites.
The brokerage says they are participating in “a nationwide outcry against non-broker-controlled websites over concerns with data inaccuracy and consumer privacy,” adding that sales leads on many search sites often go to the highest paying agent rather than the listing agent or agent with market knowledge.
In a statement, Bob Peltier, president and CEO of Edina Realty Home Services said, “Consumers are getting the short end of the stick on these sites because there’s no guarantee that the property data is accurate, and it’s difficult to tell who the listing broker is.” Peltier explained that non-broker syndicators and third party aggregators don’t have the same legal obligations as brokers, so they are not held to the same high standards of data accuracy and customer service.
“Edinarealty.com has more listings and generates more traffic than any other broker-owned or non-broker owned site in our market,” said Peltier. According to comScore Media Metrix Real Estate Category Ranking by Unique Visitors, in March 2012, Unique Visitors to real estate sites in Minneapolis-St. Paul DMA is led by Zillow and Move, Inc. (Realtor.com):
Edina sites Experian Hitwise data which they say reveals they continue to be the most trafficked real estate site. Regardless of traffic source differences, Edina was arguably the spark by which the industry has begun evaluating listing syndication as part of a successful marketing approach and seek to be competitive with any real estate search site both present and future.
Why the sudden plug pulling?
“Consumers cannot easily tell who the listing broker is on Realtor.com,” Bob Peltier, President and CEO of Edina Realty Home Services told AGBeat. “And, there is no easy way for them to connect with the Edina Realty listing agent on Realtor.com unless the agent has paid to be featured alongside their property listing.”
Peltier emphasizes that agents should have a choice as to how listings are marketed. “Even though we no longer display our entire database on Trulia.com, agents have always had the option to work with Trulia.com directly to upload their own listings. This option was not historically available with Realtor.com and therefore delayed the removal of our listings from their site last November. However, over the past months we have engaged in conversations with Realtor.com and they have agreed to a solution whereby the only Edina Realty listings to appear on their site will be listings of Edina Realty agents who have purchased advertising packages with them.”
When asked which of the big three real estate search companies would survive the next 20 years, Peltier noted that “Technology is always changing, so I can’t answer this question. But my hope is that the people doing the best job representing clients – the brokers – will continue to be the best resource now and into the future when it comes to home buying, selling and searching.” He encourages brokers to “make this decision for themselves based on their own area and marketing.”
Realtor.com addresses the syndication issue
Move, Inc. noted that in conversation with Edina Realty since November, the brokerage seemed pleased at how Realtor.com addressed their top concerns. Curt Beardsley, Vice President of Customer and Industry Development at Move, Inc. told AGBeat that Edina Realty initially expressed concern over four issues – data accuracy of third party sites, services sold for other types of listings (FSBOs, early stage pre-foreclosure listings), branding of competitive brokers on a listing, and lead generation mechanisms that send consumers to another brokerage from a listing page, but expressed that “it became clear that Realtor.com doesn’t violate their initial concerns.”
Beardsley said that Realtor.com offers the most accurate data compared to their competitors, as the company uses only one data source, and that is the MLS, which in the case of Minneapolis is updated very 15 minutes, the same pace as any broker’s own website. Second, he asserted that Realtor.com never allows FSBOs or pre-foreclosure listings (listings of homes that have received default notices that are likely, but not guaranteed to ever be for sale).
Third, Errol Samuelson, President of Realtor.com said in a statement, “Edina Realty was concerned that competing brokers’ and agents’ photos and branding were appearing on their listings. This is a practice Realtor.com does not engage in,” which Beardsley added has been the case for over 15 years of the company’s operations. Lastly, Beardsley says the broker has ultimate control over the listings and that in Edina Realty’s case, all lead generation mechanisms pointed to their brokerage, and never to competing brokers.
Prudential Kansas City dumps Trulia and Zillow
In the above video, David Cooper, CEO of Prudential Kansas City Realty, explains that primarily due to data inaccuracies that lead to a poor experience for buyers and sellers, the brokerage will immediately pull all listings from Zillow and Trulia. Cooper notes that after years of evaluating their marketing approach, it is their consistent conclusion that buyers and sellers are not served well by third party sites. The brokerage has over 400 agents across 7 offices and serves a metropolitan area of over 2 million residents. While Cooper makes no claims to be the biggest or best website in the market, according to comScore, the competition in the area is stiff:
Bob Bemis, VP of industry relations at Zillow told AGBeat that “Sellers hire a brokerage to market and sell their homes, a big part of which is marketing the homes to the broadest audience possible. The real losers in this situation are home sellers, and the agents who represent them. If a brokerage isn’t marketing a listing on Zillow, it isn’t seen across the largest real estate network in the country as well as the Kansas City market, or across the most popular platform of mobile real estate apps. In April, more than 32 million unique users visited Zillow’s mobile apps and websites.”
Bemis added that Prudential Kansas City has not contacted Zillow about this decision, but that the company feels that “open dialogue is best and [they] would welcome a conversation.”
Ken Shuman, spokesperson for Trulia.com said, “we feel like consumers benefit from broad exposure. It only takes one set of eyeballs to sell the home and broad exposure gives you the biggest reach.”
The long term game
Edina Realty was one of the first to publicly de-syndicate, and others like Shorewest and Abbott Realty Group, followed by The Goodlife Team, each of whom chose different real estate sites to pull the plug on, and for different reasons. As Prudential Kansas City cites inaccurate data, Goodlife Team notes ads for competing brokers as their reason for pulling out.
As reasons for de-syndicating listings begin to diversify, all three of the biggest real estate search companies assert that they support the rights of brokers to evaluate their marketing approach and make choices appropriate to their unique situation, but so far, as each company loses listings, the common response is that consumers are not well served by this approach and all three tell AGBeat that they are open to dialogue, as brokers that are pulling listings say they believe their move to be in the consumer’s best interest.
Is this debate a decade late?
The big question for many is regarding timing – is this de-syndication and concern a decade late? Syndication is by no means a new issue, so why now? Beardsley makes the rare point that the rise in concern with data accuracy directly correlates to the rise of mobile devices – it is much easier for mobile consumers (sitting in front of a house with a family moving in) to see that a home is not for sale than it is for someone sitting on a desktop computer at an office or their home. Beardsley says this has caused distrust in that source of real estate data, so mobile is increasing awareness and relevance of data.
While there is no clear winner or loser and the race is still young, it is interesting to note that in many cases, brokerages are pulling out of Trulia and Zillow but not Realtor.com. When asked why, Beardsley said, “national brands, in order to gain audience, have to build a brand which you do through consumer audience. Our brand is the brand of the brokers, we actually share a brand and are complimentary to the broker’s brand – the Realtor brand on an agent’s card is the very brand on our site, we don’t compete with Realtors.”
It is possible that this listing syndication issue has passed us by, as Beardsley notes that at Realtor.com alone, 30 to 40 percent of all weekend traffic is via mobile, so the real issue now is mobile and social and that brokers should ask all of these questions about accuracy, competitive branding, and the like, because the cascading effect of new tech after new tech is not slowing down, so brokers should truly understand every marketing tool available to them. The company believes that most brokers that de-syndicate will “evaluate, determine, stick their toe back in the water,” thus they are leaving door open.
In speaking to brokers who have or are considering de-syndicating, they too feel their stance is a long term play and that they best serve the consumer by being the ultimate source of information. So, several brokers and real estate listing sites ultimately have a stalemate.