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Third party real estate listing companies, too big to fail?

“After three years of carefully examining internal metrics for the sites where our listings appeared, I categorically state the following – neither the home seller who has hired us to represent their property, or the potential home buyer, is remotely well served by listing syndicators. And here’s why – these sites are nothing more than slick advertising platforms.”

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Broker makes a public statement

In a public declaration, San Diego-based Abbot Realty Group (ARG) President and Managing Broker, Jim Abbott released a video on YouTube explaining why their brokerage will no longer permit third party syndication sites like Trulia, Realtor.com and Zillow to syndicate their listings, but will continue to syndicate company listings to their local MLS, Sandicor. ARG’s announcement is the latest in a string of similar developments.

Abbot stated, “After three years of carefully examining internal metrics for the sites where our listings appeared, I categorically state the following – neither the home seller who has hired us to represent their property, or the potential home buyer, is remotely well served by listing syndicators. And here’s why – these sites are nothing more than slick advertising platforms. They often use fear and peer pressure to induce agents and brokers to sign costly long-term contracts for their lead generation services. Our industry is vigorously regulated by local, state and federal governments to protect the public, yet listing syndicators have no legal responsibility for the accuracy of the data they display.”

“We demand, however, that any marketing plan produce tangible results, not meaningless hits in cyberspace,” he later added.

Other brokers pull listings

Last fall, AGBeat broke the story that 75 big brokers were rumored to be considering refusal of syndication of their listings, suspecting that others would also follow. ARG’s plea for industry professionals to consider their own syndication and for buyers and sellers to do their homework is a more tangible, public-facing and viral proclamation than other brokers have delivered to date.

The Realty Alliance President and CEO, Craig Cheatham told AGBeat, “If you see any trend among real estate brokerages in the coming months it should be traced to predictable industry reaction to overall trends in the offerings and business rules of MLSs and outside vendors.”

Each broker in The Realty Alliance – and likely elsewhere – will be analyzing their own returns in 2012 as Abbott did to consider whether their brokerages, consumers and agents are better served or not by syndicating their listings.

Milwaukee brokerage Shorewest pulled their real estate listings from syndication last fall. WAV Group Partner, Victor Lund told AGBeat, “As you can see by the graph – 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.”

Media companies respond

In early January, AGBeat reached out to Zillow and Realtor.com who chose not to comment on brokers pulling listings from syndication, but Trulia’s company spokesperson, Ken Shuman said, “The accessibility of open and accurate listing information benefits everyone in the home buying and selling process–consumers, agents and brokers. We know that Trulia has a transaction-ready consumer audience and we are confident that brokers and agents who syndicate their listings to Trulia have a greater opportunity to meet new clients and close more transactions.”

Cheatham’s and Abbott’s comments reveal that it is likely that more brokers will join the movement to pull listings, adding to the string of recent announcements. Several real estate listing companies made comments off of the record that revealed a common sentiment of denial, while one blatantly noted that they do not wish for this to be a news story at all. When pressed, one third party syndicator told AGBeat that they would approach each brokerage relationship independently and had already begun the process of speaking with brokers privately, and if necessary, would take their appeal to their own audience.

Tara Steele is the News Director at The American Genius, covering entrepreneur, real estate, technology news and everything in between. If you'd like to reach Tara with a question, comment, press release or hot news tip, simply click the link below.

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62 Comments

62 Comments

  1. Joe Virnig

    January 27, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    Good for Jim, I've made this argument in the past. Many MLSs have allowed syndication of all their listings. At our MLS in Ventura County hasn't been implemented syndication because we were trying to negotiate, "opt-in" so brokers could chose to include listings but the two major syndicators only wanted to work with "opt-out". I'm not sure MLSs should be involved in pushing listings to syndication sites at all.

    • John Rowles

      January 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm

      Its the industry's own fault that the listing syndicators exist in the first place.

      NAR could have acted in its member's best interest by organizing Internet listing distribution in a way that benefits consumers and the agents/brokers who actually go out and do the the work to get and publish listings, but instead they chose to double dip by selling out the Realtor.com name.

      Then there are the MLSs. 950+ fiefdoms whose #1 priority is to justify their existence (and their fees) in the digital age by kowtowing to the anti-competitive whims of their own dues paying members.

      The idiotic rules and practices that emerge (Can't show DOM. Can't show price changes. Can't "append" a listing with a AVM or user comments. Can't do this, Can't do that…) gave the ZIllows and the Trulias all the daylight they needed to do the one thing the "industry" *still* can't do: Design a user experience that puts what the CONSUMER wants ahead of what "the industry" wants.

      THAT is why the syndicators ate the industry's lunch. You created the monster, and now the monster has enough VC and IPO cash that it doesn't even have to pretend that they are worried about a couple of brokers growing a set 10 years too late.

      • Ken Brand

        January 29, 2012 at 4:57 pm

        Yep. But I hope it's not too late? We'll see. Reminds me of how the RELO business was lost.

      • Chris

        January 30, 2012 at 8:05 pm

        Spot on…

  2. Gary Little

    January 27, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Great video. Everyone should make the time to watch it. Abbott makes some compelling points.

  3. Matt Wilkins

    January 27, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Interesting move. It will be an interesting future to see whether or not buyers skip over properties they do not see on these sites or go in search of ALL properties on the market whether by themselves or through the services of buyer broker representation.

  4. Mike Sparr - Goomzee.com

    January 27, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Agreed that many portals may be too big to fail but the question Matt W. asked is spot on: will buyers be aware of missing listings and skip over, or do they just "surf" these sites for ideas and then reach out to their REALTOR when really serious to search the MLS.

  5. Sheila Rasak

    January 28, 2012 at 12:48 am

    Do we have the names of the major players who left the game?

  6. Mark Brian

    January 28, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I have asked buyers what site they are using to search homes and the answer is always the same: several different ones. Wish the majority of replies was "your website" but the truth is the consumers want to search a variety of sites.

    Getting ready to launch a new website so I have been getting as much feedback and input from clients as possible. One thing I have noticed is they know they CANNOT trust some of the websites mentioned yet they continue to use them…..

  7. Bill Lyons

    January 28, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    We are a site that displays syndicated listings but we do it different. We do not allow any advertising from other real estate agents on the listing detail page and we provide SEO backlinks to the brokers site. We respect the data and aim to help Realtors grow their business with relevant key real estate indicators

  8. Tom Johnson

    January 28, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Stuffed full of IPO cash, the syndicators can pay the brokers 'privately' in their private discussions.

    • Benn Rosales

      January 29, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      all three are very well financially positioned, but not all three are public…

  9. Andy Piper

    January 29, 2012 at 10:39 am

    People that think they can make quality real estate decisions using Trulia and Zillow are mistaken. The data is useful but limited. I give them a lot of credit for what they have done. At least these companies give the leads back to the listing agent – Reator.com requires you to pay for an upgrade package or else…. They give the leads to someone in your market that does pay for the upgrade. Not cool at all.

    From a consumer's perpective, the more places their property is seen, the better – Consumers should demand open data sharing of their listings.

  10. Benn Rosales

    January 29, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    I hope these brokers aren't making decisions based on hitwise data and use sources like comscore to back up their positioning. It's so rare that anyone quotes hitwise as a source.

  11. Matt

    January 30, 2012 at 12:55 am

    Everyone should read counter points by Jay Thompson – Phoenix Real Estate Guy. He made very compelling counter arguments.

    1. Third party sites have stolen nothing, the listings are freely given to them
    2. MLS data is also inaccurate and out of date…the issue is with data entry, not display
    3. IDX websites are even worse offenders when it comes to both a) having another agent get leads of "your" listings and b) confusion over who the listing agent is. Most clients I know think Im the listing agent for all the properties I send the, from my IDX website
    4. We're adults. No one's holding a gun to your head to buy anything. Agents make the same choice when deciding to market their home in the local newspaper…there's no long contract there, just an incredibly high one-time fee
    5. Syndication sites show the data their given – if it's inflated it's because an agent didn't take it off. Why would you expect someone to take down your free marketing if you didn't tell them it was no longer available?
    6. A scammer can use the MLS site just as easily to defraud someone…it's just very few people visit those MLS sites
    7. At the end of the day, the Home seller chooses what happens with their listing data…they don't have to hire a broker who doesn't syndicate

  12. Ed Boscarino

    January 30, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Thank You Jim Abbott for taking the effort to expose a problem that has been on my mind for sometime. Not knowing the full extent of how third party information prospers I had been concerned about the reasoning why it was given out.

    Incorrect information, too much information and how it is used disturbs me and should also disturb home sellers as well if they knew the extent of what it means to them.

    My first concern was the address. Too many times i have noticed prospective buyers or people knocking on doors as i was there to show the property to legitimate buyers. When no one answers the door these people walk around to the back and are checking things out. Whatever that means.

    We all want greater exposure for our listings but if it doesn't work well forgetaboutit. We tried it and it does not work. Tweek it or better yet eliminate it. Real Estate is a local business in most cases and local people know how to get the information when they want it. Getting to the correct information fast and local is a benefit to all concerned.

    Local Boards and Local MLS, NJAR in my state, NAR officials have failed to see the problem or do anything to protect the public or Realtors. Initially, it may have sounded like a good idea but, they have failed to monitor.

    The IDX may also need monitoring. What do they do with this private, personal information. Are they satisfied with the fee's they charge us or are they selling the info.

  13. azhomesforsale

    May 23, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Make this simple, and lets focus on Zillow. Zillow sales two spaces by impressions per zip codes. Imagine two realtors bought both zip codes. Then assume there is 200 to 500 homes for sale in that zip code. Do you think those two agents have some magical control on the homes sold or listed? Zillow would want you to think so, so truth be told they do not. They will get a handful of buyer leads, which were going to go to somebody and buy some home. The Zillow agents have a vested interest to see these buyers through to the highest level of customer experience. I wish Zillow would take out the junk and just list active, but the site is not bad at all. To each is their own wanting to remove the inventory from Zillow and similar sites.

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Business News

Big retailers are opting for refunds instead of returns

(BUSINESS NEWS) Due to increased shipping costs, big companies like Amazon and Walmart are opting to give out a refund rather than accepting small items returned.

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Package delivery people holding deliveries. Refund instead of returns are common now.

The holidays are over, and now some people are ready to return an item that didn’t quite work out or wasn’t on their Christmas list. Whatever the reason, some retailers are giving customers a refund and letting them keep the product, too.

When Vancouver, Washington resident, Lorie Anderson, tried returning makeup from Target and batteries from Walmart she had purchased online, the retailers told her she could keep or donate the products. “They were inexpensive, and it wouldn’t make much financial sense to return them by mail,” said Ms. Anderson, 38. “It’s a hassle to pack up the box and drop it at the post office or UPS. This was one less thing I had to worry about.”

Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc., and other companies are changing the way they handle returns this year, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to weigh the costs of processing physical returns versus just issuing a refund and having customers keep the item.

For instance, if it costs more to ship an inexpensive or larger item than it is to refund the purchase price, companies are giving customers a refund and telling them to keep the products also. Due to an increase in online shopping, it makes sense for companies to change how they manage returns.

Locus Robotics chief executive Rick Faulk told the Journal that the biggest expense when it comes to processing returns is shipping costs. “Returning to a store is significantly cheaper because the retailer can save the freight, which can run 15% to 20% of the cost,” Faulk said.

But, returning products to physical stores isn’t something a lot of people are wanting to do. According to the return processing firm Narvar, online returns increased by 70% in 2020. With people still hunkered down because of the pandemic, changing how to handle returns is a good thing for companies to consider to reduce shipping expenses.

While it might be nice to keep the makeup or batteries for free, don’t expect to return that new PS5 and get to keep it for free, too. According to WSJ, a Walmart spokesperson said the company lets someone keep a refunded item only if the company doesn’t plan on reselling it. And, besides taking the economic costs into consideration, the companies look at the customer’s purchase history as well.

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Google workers have formed company’s first labor union

(BUSINESS NEWS) A number of Google employees have agreed to commit 1% of their salary to labor union dues to support employee activism and fight workplace discrimination.

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Google complex with human sized chessboard, where a labor union has been formed.

On Monday morning, Google workers announced that they have formed a union with the support of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the largest communications and media labor union in the U.S.

The new union, Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) was organized in secret for about a year and formed to support employee activism, and fight discrimination and unfairness in the workplace.

“From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade,” stated Program Manager Nicki Anselmo in a press release.

AWU is the first union in the company’s history, and it is open to all employees and contractors at any Alphabet company in the United States and Canada. The cost of membership is 1% of an employee’s total compensation, and the money collected will be used to fund the union organization.

In a response to the announcement, Google’s Director of People Operations, Kara Silverstein, said, “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”

Unlike other labor unions, the AWU is considered a “Minority Union”. This means it doesn’t need formal recognition from the National Labor Relations Board. However, it also means Alphabet can’t be forced to meet the union’s demands until a majority of employees support it.

So far, the number of members in the union represents a very small portion of Google’s workforce, but it’s growing every day. When the news of the union was first announced on Monday, roughly 230 employees made up the union. Less than 24 hours later, there were 400 employees in the union, and now that number jumped to over 500 employees.

Unions among Silicon Valley’s tech giants are rare, but labor activism is slowly picking up speed, especially with more workers speaking out and organizing.

“The Alphabet Workers Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, from the kinds of contracts Google accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues. All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members,” stated the AWU in a press release.

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Ticketmaster caught red-handed hacking, hit with major fines

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ticketmaster has agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after hacking into a competitor’s network specifically to sabotage.

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Person open on hacking computer screen, typing on keyboard.

Live Nation’s Ticketmaster agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after admitting to hacking into a competitor’s network and scheming to “choke off” the ticket seller company and “cut [victim company] off at the knees”.

Ticketmaster admitted hiring former employee, Stephen Mead, from startup rival CrowdSurge (which merged with Songkick) in 2013. In 2012, Mead signed a separation agreement to keep his previous company’s information confidential. When he joined Live Nation, Mead provided that confidential information to the former head of the Artist Services division, Zeeshan Zaidi, and other Ticketmaster employees. The hacking information shared with the company included usernames, passwords, data analytics, and other insider secrets.

“When employees walk out of one company and into another, it’s illegal for them to take proprietary information with them. Ticketmaster used stolen information to gain an advantage over its competition, and then promoted the employees who broke the law. This investigation is a perfect example of why these laws exist – to protect consumers from being cheated in what should be a fair market place,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.

In January 2014, Mead gave a Ticketmaster executive multiple sets of login information to Toolboxes, the competitor’s password-protected app that provides real-time data about tickets sold through the company. Later, at an Artists Services Summit, Mead logged into a Toolbox and demonstrated the product to Live Nation and Ticketmaster employees. Information collected from the Toolboxes were used to “benchmark” Ticketmaster’s offerings against the competitor.

“Ticketmaster employees repeatedly – and illegally – accessed a competitor’s computers without authorization using stolen passwords to unlawfully collect business intelligence,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DuCharme in a statement. “Further, Ticketmaster’s employees brazenly held a division-wide ‘summit’ at which the stolen passwords were used to access the victim company’s computers, as if that were an appropriate business tactic.”

The hacking violations were first reported in 2017 when CrowdSurge sued Live Nation for antitrust violations. A spokesperson told The Verge, “Ticketmaster terminated both Zaidi and Mead in 2017, after their conduct came to light. Their actions violated our corporate policies and were inconsistent with our values. We are pleased that this matter is now resolved.”

To resolve the case, Ticketmaster will pay a $10 million criminal penalty, create a compliance and ethics program, and report to the United States Attorney’s Office annually during a three-year term. If the agreement is breached, Ticketmaster will be charged with: “One count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, one count of computer intrusion for commercial advantage, one count of computer intrusion in furtherance of fraud, one count of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of wire fraud.”

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