A long-running debate
Years ago, a real estate battle boiled over with Realtors and brokers educated on listing syndication arguing how data should or should not be shared with third party media sites. Since then, the debate over who should have what, how it should be presented, and who should get paid, has died down – until recently.
As more brokers either lose market share or become educated on listing syndication (or both), some are considering the option of pulling their listings from third party real estate sites, or from the MLS altogether, both of which have recently been achieved by a select few high profile brokerages, with several smaller groups with few listings pulling out with barely a notice.
Although the debate is not new, it has been reignited by select groups across the nation privately debating how their data is being handled. One of the models the industry has looked to is the Milwaukee brokerage, Shorewest, who pulled their listings from syndication last fall.
Shorewest pulls listings
WAV Group Partner, Victor Lund told AGBeat, “As you can see by the graph [below] – Shorewest is the #1 website in their market, and they do not syndicate – proving that brokers and agents do not need to syndicate to drive traffic and leads on their listings. In fact, this may argue that the opposite is true – if you do not syndicate, you provide consumers with an incentive to visit your broker or agent website to find the cheeze. In this case, the cheeze is listing accuracy, comprehensive listing inventory, and most of all, the service of a real estate professional.”
This now infamous graph has spread across Association committees and brokers’ desks like wild fire as Shorewest performs well in their market without their listings being featured in every real estate search site. The inherent problem is that alternative data contradicts this very chart that could lead some brokers to make business decisions for their companies (and their agents). Without getting into the validity or invalidity of each set of data and how it is measured, it is most important to note that any business making a decision about listing syndication should look at as many data sets as possible.
An alternative view
The graph above uses Experian Hitwise data, but comparing the numbers to comScore data presents an alternative picture. Just comparing the three most common real estate search sites with Shorewest in Milwaukee, WI in January presents an interesting picture:
Of note, neither measuring service takes mobile use into account. Although Trulia and Zillow could not determine their mobile use data in Milwaukee specifically, Curt Beardsley, Vice President of Customer and Industry Development at Move, Inc. told AGBeat that Realtor.com alone saw roughly 24,000 unique visitors in January through their mobile app, on top of the 89,000 unique visitors measured above.
Of the 89,000 unique visitors to Move sites, the company says 83,000 visited Realtor.com and asserts they are not losing market share. Realtor.com notes that Shorewest and Realtor.com have a “shared audience” of 17,000 people, according to comScore, meaning that 17,000 people visited both sites.
Picking winners and losers
Part of the story that many are not picking up on is that companies like Shorewest are within their right to pick winners and losers when it comes to syndication, for example, as of publication of this article, Shorewest is still syndicating their listings to Realtor.com, just not to Trulia or Zillow. Pulling listings is not always a black and white proposition.
The recent IDX battle in Austin makes it clear that there remains a great deal of market confusion not only over the differences between syndication and IDX, but of what rules reign where and what moves each brokerage is making regarding their data.
Many moving pieces of this puzzle
Despite many asserting that this is only a broker issue, there are many moving pieces regarding listing syndication, and each entity has a unique stake and agenda when it comes to data syndication. Realtors, brokers, and homeowners have far different objectives than third party real estate media sites who have different goals than MLSs, listing syndicators, association executives, association committees, and much different goals than the third party advisors and consultants to each of these entities that are in the thick of the debate. Although the comScore data compared to the Hitwise data is not a game changer for some, it should illuminate to the masses that using a single source to determine that opting out of listing syndication is best. It is notable that all three major search sites rely on comScore data for direct metrics.
In light of the fragmentation of the real estate data industry, the goal of all brokers deciding how to handle their data should be to do as much research as possible, and to understand not only how data works, but to obtain a real picture of what will happen if they pull listings from syndication – in some cases, a local site like Shorewest will perform well, in others, it will be crushed by the mega real estate sites. Seeing a single chart or hearing a single consultant speak on the topic can be inspiring, but should not be the sole reason for making a business-altering decision.