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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.

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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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How to conduct a proper informational interview

(CAREER) Informational interviews comprise a technique in which you ask an employer or current employee to explain the details of their job to you. Try doing this before you transition into your next occupation!

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At some point in your career, you may ask for someone’s time to do an informational interview — a process in which a job-seeker asks questions about a field, company, or position in hopes of receiving information which will inform both their decision to go into the field and their responses to the specific job’s actual interview. Since the power dynamic in an informational interview can be confusing, here are a few tips on how to conduct one. Not how to obtain one, but how to conduct one once both parties agree to connect.

The process of an informational interview typically starts with finding a person who works in your desired field (and/or location if you have a specific company in mind) and setting up a time during which you can ask them a few questions about things like their job responsibilities, salary, prerequisites, and so on. Once you’ve set up a time to meet in person (or via Skype or phone), you can proceed with putting together a list of questions.

Naturally, you should understand the circumstances under which asking for an informational interview is appropriate before requesting one. Your goal in an informational review should be to ask questions and listen to the answers, NOT pitch yourself as a potential hire. Ever. Nobody appreciates having their time wasted, and playing on your contact’s generosity as a way into their company is a sure way for your name to end up on their blacklist.

Once you’ve set up an informational interview, you should start the conversation by asking your contact what their typical day is like. This is doubly effective: your contact will most likely welcome the opportunity to discuss their daily goings-on, and you’ll be privy to an inside glance at their perspective on things like job responsibilities, daily activities, and other positive aspects of their position.

They’ll also probably detail some drawbacks to the position — things which usually aren’t explained in job postings — so you’ll have the opportunity to make a well-informed decision vis-à-vis the rigors of the job before diving head-first into the hiring process.

After your contact finishes walking you through their day, you can begin asking specific questions. However, unless they’ve been unusually brief in their description of their duties, your best course of action is probably to ask them follow-up questions about things they’ve already mentioned rather than asking targeted questions you wrote without context. This will both indicate that you were listening and allow them to expand upon information they’ve already explained, ensuring you’ll receive well-rounded responses.

You should save the most specific questions (e.g., the most easily answered ones) for the end of the interview. For example, if you want to know what a typical salary for someone in your contact’s position is or you’re wondering about vacation time, ask after you’ve wrapped up the bulk of the interview. This will prevent you from wasting the initial moments of the interview with technical content, and it may also keep the contact from assuming a strictly material motive on your part. And be willing to ask “what does someone with your job title typically earn in [city]?” instead of their specific take-home salary which might not be reflective of the norm (plus, it’s rude, and akin to asking someone their weight).

This is also a good time to ask for general advice regarding breaking into the field, though you may want to avoid this step if you feel like your contact isn’t comfortable discussing such a topic or if you’re intending to apply as someone with experience.

Of course, you won’t always be able to meet with your preferred contact directly, especially if they work in a dynamic field (e.g., emergency services) or have a security clearance which negates their ability to answer the bulk of your questions. If this happens, you have a couple of back-up options:

1. Send an email with a list of questions to the contact, or send them your phone number with a wide-open calling schedule. This is useful if your contact has a random or on-call schedule.

2. Ask your contact if there is someone else you could connect with (it could even be their assistant).

3. Speak to the company’s HR branch to see if you can request a company-specific job requirement print-out or link. These will usually be more particular than the industry requirements. But don’t ask for something you can find yourself on the company’s Careers page online.

Nothing beats an in-person interview over a cup of coffee, but — again — wasting someone’s time isn’t a good way to receive useful information about the position in which you’re interested.

Before transitioning to your next position or career field, consider conducting an informational interview. You’ll be amazed at the amount of insider information you can glean from simply listening to someone discuss their day in detail.

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The sad truths you missed about the US Women’s Soccer Team lawsuit

(NEWS) The US Women’s Soccer team dominated headlines by suing for equal pay, but there was so much more to the lawsuit that could have a ripple effect in the business world.

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Recently, on International Women’s Day, the United States Women’s Soccer Team (USWNT) filed a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation. The timing of the suit is not only a sign of the team continuing their decades long fight against the organization (only three months before they are set to defend their World Cup title in France), but a recognition of the symbol that they have become in the larger battle that women and other minorities are waging in order to be given the same resources as the men leading in their fields.

It should go without saying that the women’s soccer team is unparalleled in its athletic success: over the past twenty years they have won three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals. These players, as ESPN acknowledges, are among the most accomplished and best known women athletes in the world.

Their counterpart, the Men’s National Soccer Team, leaves much to be desired (they failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup, for example) yet they consistently receive much more support from the US Soccer Federation.

Although the pay disparity between the USWNT and the male soccer team is certainly stark, the “gains” that the women athletes are fighting for go beyond monetary compensation.

According to Mashable, “This [suit] includes how women frequently play on a dangerous artificial surfaces when the men do not, fly commercial when the men travel by more convenient, comfortable charter flights, and the alleged allocation of fewer resources to promote women’s games compared to men’s.”

As if being the best players in your sport in the world and having to share hotel rooms after getting torn apart by the seams astroturf and receiving less-than-world-class medical care wouldn’t be infuriating enough, it’s truly this final point that highlights the glaring mistreatment of the USWNT.

Without support from the US Soccer Federation, not only in the form of payment but in promotion of their games and general good-will toward their players, the USWNT will not be able to grow their following so that they can establish a consistent revenue near what the men’s team attracts. This “lack” of revenue continues to create the chicken/egg excuse that the Federation has for not propping up the USWNT like they deserve.

It’s simply the opposite of “sportsmanship” for the US Soccer Federation to use these players’ love of playing the game (that, again, they are the best in the world at) and their country as a way to gaslight them into playing for less.

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Think about automating tasks instead of replacing workers

(BUSINESS) Automation is great, unless you obsess over it and try to cut down on payroll – there’s a smarter approach that successful businesses take.

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The concept of automating your workflow is a tempting one — especially as payroll continues to be one of the evergreen highest costs of business. However, in contemplating how to streamline your workflow, you may do better to step back from the idea of “replacing workers” and instead think about you can optimize your existing employees by strategically tweaking their workflow.

As Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau write in The Harvard Business Review, if the goal of automating is to ensure that your company is operating at its most cost effective and efficient levels, then chances are you’d still need knowledgeable employees to help you scale and capitalize.

Where automation can truly help your business is by transforming the ability of your organization to focus on the tasks that truly require a human touch or deep knowledge. For example, automation will not help your employees perform complex, interactive, or creative work like collaborating with clients to come up with solutions or designs.

However, it can help the process of brainstorming or co-designing these solutions easier by replacing some of the mechanical tasks that aid this high-level workflow.

For example, it may be helpful to automate basic research tasks for your designers. If your designers must create a client profile to help them launch their projects — basic information must surely exist at some other point in the process before this point. Maybe your firm has an intake form or contracts where a basic description of the goal of the contracted service has been created. By automating the sharing of that data between departments, perhaps in a content management system, you’d be able to free up time that the designers might spend on basic data collection so that they could instead use it for their more complex, empathetic work.

Jesuthasan and Boudreau offer up other advice for thinking about which specific tasks within your company’s workflow are the best candidates for automation.

Is a task simple? Routine? Does it require collaboration?

These kinds of inquiry are not only useful when thinking about your organizational processes, but they are good refreshers for thinking about the individual value and skills that your organization and its workers offer clients.

So instead of looking at how to cut down on payroll, consider automation as an option to improve the value you’re getting from your team, and freeing them from mind-numbing tasks that have nothing to do with their expertise. Win-win!

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