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Won’t Someone Think of the Consumer?

I attended the Inman Connect Conference in New York City last week and spoke at a workshop. The picture above is from a session called: “Online Real Estate as Media Enterprise“. The panel was moderated by Brad Inman, and the panelists in the picture, from Left to right are: Thomas Evans President and CEO, Bankrate Inc., Pete Flint Co-Founder Trulia, Lloyd Frink, President Zillow, Vikkie Neil, VP Real Estate Scripps Networks Interactive. (HGTV’s Front

After a Panel discussion they always open it up for questions from the audience. Not sure why, but only two questions were asked of this panel and one of them was asked by me. Part of the discussion was about property listings on the internet. Zillow, Trulia and HGTV are doing everything that they can to collect property listings, but they each have only a small percentage of the available listings on their web sites.

I am not the CEO or the owner of a big media, or internet company. I am the CEO of a small business, but I have direct contact with consumers and actually sell real estate. My question to the panel was: “Aren’t we doing consumers a disservice by only having a small percentage of the available homes listed on sites like yours?”

No one could give me an answer, so I will answer it for the panel. Yes we are doing consumers a disservice. We are confusing them, and they may even be missing opportunities by looking at the wrong web sites as they search for homes. They go to a site like Zillow or Trulia and search for properties using all of that nifty wiz bang technology but they are only seeing a very small percentage of the available listings. The real estate industry has all of the listings but uses marginal web sites and technology to deploy them, which is why the media companies web sites have gained traction in the first place. Now consumers have a choice they can look at some of the listings on cutting edge sites or go to marginal hard to navigate, poorly designed sites and get all of the listings.

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Here in the Twin Cities metro area of Minnesota we have plenty of homes on the market to choose from. When consumers come to my web site, they can search all of the available listings . . . well they can’t find all of the for sale by owner listings, but the vast majority of the available homes are listed on the MLS and available through my site. What is the value of having some of the listings on Zillow or Trulia? Are we doing the consumer a disservice? I will answer yes to that, because I deal directly with consumers every day, and they are confused.

Home shoppers ask a lot of questions and many are confused by the number of web sites where they can search for homes. . . . online real estate as media enterprise? To some companies real estate listings are an enterprise. They don’t sell real estate, they are in the media business. I wish they would spend more time talking to people who do sell real estate and who have direct contact with consumers, or more time talking to consumers.

These companies don’t want our listing data so that they can help consumers they want it so they can make money off of it. People like me go out and get the listing and a bunch of companies repackage the information I obtain and use it to make money. The consumer wants all of the accurate information they can get in a pretty, easy to navigate package. Neither the real estate companies or the other cottage industries that have sprung up because of it are giving the consumer what they want.

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Written By

Full time REALTOR and licensed broker with Saint Paul Home Realty Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. Author of, Columnist for Inman News and an avid photographer.



  1. Chris Griffith

    January 13, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Thank you for saying it out loud.

  2. Mariana

    January 13, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Teresa- Thank you for putting into words what I have been trying to wrap my mind around for some time now. I do not have an issue with businesses (like Zillow) as far as “competition” is concerned. (Some agents tell me that they think Zillow is trying to replace RE agents. HA HA!)

    But I DO have an issue with businesses tout that they are all about the consumer, when in fact they are all about the Benjamins. Sure – we all need to make $$, but NOT AT THE CONSUMERS EXPENSE.

    I wonder if there is a way that they could pool their resources and make MORE of their information accurate. I am sure it can be done and I ma also sure that that answer is right around the corner …’

    Until then and actually FOREVER, it just remains OUR job to give the Consumers – OUR CLIENTS what they want, regardless of what the cottage industries are doing (or not doing).

  3. Lisa Dunn

    January 13, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Teresa-I hope you realize that math was required to leave a comment here!

    The real estate industry got it right when we figured out broker reciprocity; a very good things for consumers. Give consumers all the listings no matter who is the listing broker. This industry is confusing enough to consumers. Companies that offer half the information (half truths) hurt both the real estate professionals who fight for transparency, as well as the consumer.

    The only ones that win are the companies whose wallets are getting fatter because of the almighty advertising dollar.

  4. Larry Yatkowsky

    January 13, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    to my knowledge the math never gets higher than 20. if the answer is more than 10 it gets tricky as I have to remove my shoes to engage the toes.:)

    to the topic at hand:
    Vis a vis the web the consumer demanded our industry to release RE information. We did. Now as opposed to Realtors being the conduit it has fallen to Truilia et al. Access they got – now they suffer until the arrival of a new all encompassing tech-messiah. Wasn’t much different for us trying to sort out how we were going to share information. It took about 15+ years and still isn’t perfect. I chuckle at the irony of them wanting us to carry the load for their decision. Somehow this too became our problem. The quesitions are why are the consumers not taking a run at the Trulia’s – they are the suppliers of the service. Why have we assumed the position of fixers.

  5. Scott

    January 13, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    >> “The real estate industry has all of the listings but uses marginal web sites and technology to deploy them, which is why the media companies web sites have gained traction in the first place. Now consumers have a choice they can look at some of the listings on cutting edge sites or go to marginal hard to navigate, poorly designed sites and get all of the listings.”

    Teresa — I concur! Do you know of any data available that would help us understand what consumers end up doing? Do they search on slick, national sites with limited listings, or on antiquated local sites with almost all listings? Or perhaps both? I’d love to know how the traffic at some of the largest sites (, for example), compares with the sum traffic to all broker and agent web sites. If anyone knows where I can find this information, please let me know!

  6. Teresa Boardman

    January 14, 2008 at 6:00 am

    Scott – not hard to know how much traffic a site gets, try, not very accurate but will give a clue. I think you helped me make the point too. The consumer is just not in this conversations. As agents we are closer to the consumer so we observe.

    The math here isn’t that bad. I think my math skills are improving. . . nayone know what 5 + 9 is? 😉

  7. Frances Flynn Thorsen

    January 14, 2008 at 11:45 am


    I think that someone on the panel did answer the question, albeit with another question: “Are real estate agents doing consumers a disservice restricting the exposure of their listings?” Additionally, they made the point that they are all actively seeking to grow their property listing inventories.

    Different portals offer different “feels” and different ways to showcase properties and mapping interface. I think it is much about offering a variety of flavors … some consumers gravitate to Trulia for the taste of neighborhood and the RealtyTrac data integration, others flock to Zillow for the taste of Zestimate valuation, and others want to play with wall colors at OBEO.

    Trulia, Zillow, and OBEO have business models that are geared to make money via advertising … and since consumers spend so much time on the Internet, there will be more companies doing the same. In the meantime, they are drawing a solid demographic of consumers who are buying and selling properties, and they are delivering increasing numbers of leads to real estate professionals at NO COST to the realty pros.

    These companies do not profess to be in the real estate business. They are in the media business. I think that the advent of this genre Web player is the best thing to happen in the real estate industry in many years. The tide is changing. I write about some of those changes recently in greater depth based on a session at NAR in Las Vegas.

  8. Scott Rogers

    January 14, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Teresa — I don’t want to know about traffic to one web site, I want to know how traffic to or or compares to the total of all traffic to all broker and agent web sites. Those national sites have the most single-site traffic, but I hypothesize that they may have less than the sum of all broker and agent web sites.

    I agree that we are definitely closer to the consumer, and know what they really want. So . . . we just need to (as agents and brokers) be able to offer great online search experiences to consumers.

    I believe I have done so with my web site (see this, for example, though I welcome any feedback.

  9. Teresa Boardman

    January 14, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Frances Flynn Thorsen – when I talked to them after the panel they admitted that my question was not answered. Yes they are trying to get all the listings and who knows maybe they will suceed. I do have all the listings and the traffic directly to my web site is best for me. I don’t need an outside site to generate leads or traffic.

    Scott, I would guess, that the company web sites combined get more traffic. I am going to see if there is a way to find out. Personally I think the national web sites take traffic from us that would come to us and I don’t have much use for them.

  10. Brad Nix

    January 14, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    Amen. I would like to point out some of these statistical short-comings by directing everyone to Kris Berg’s post:

    She does a great job of breaking the quantity of listings available at different real estate search portals. The local agent ‘should’ always win this competition – aren’t we the ones who did the work for the sellers?

  11. Scott Rogers

    January 14, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Teresa – let me know if you find any research on the sum of company sites versus the large national sites. I have contemplated doing some research in my local market (phone survey?) to find out which sites consumers are using to search. If you (or anyone) knows of any such research in other markets, let me know…

  12. ines

    January 15, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    I just cringed at the comment added by Frances Flynn Thorsen – “Are real estate agents doing consumers a disservice restricting the exposure of their listings?”… now we’re the ones doing the consumer a disservice? GEESH!

    I always wonder why the consumer thinks they will get more information from bigger sites instead of individual agent sites – could it be that they feel the information in agent sites could be biased?

  13. Marlow Harris

    January 17, 2008 at 3:21 am

    The fact that these websites are inadequate only emphasizes a Buyers need for a professional real estate agent to assist them to negotiate the homebuying process.

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