Zillow and Trulia Face Backlash from Realtors
Printer-friendly versionPDF version
a a
 
Type Size: Small
The Fiscal Times
February 24, 2012

It used to be a given for anyone selling their house – a realtor would put their listing on national real estate aggregator websites like Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com to maximize exposure and sell homes quickly. But that could be changing fast as the two entities face off.

Since 2005 or so, realtors have shared data about homes they have for sale with those national sites, which have millions of visitors (Zillow, for example, had 32 million last month). But even though the sites have grown, sales haven't in the distressed housing market, and some agents believe the sites may not be helping. They accuse them of engaging in practices that give buyers inaccurate information that may hurt sales.

RELATED: 10 Ridiculously Desperate Real Estate Listings

Among their complaints are that the sites allow any agent, for a fee, to have their name and photo appear prominently beside homes listed for sale in a given region, even if they aren’t the agent who represents the seller. In reality, the agent in the photo may know little about the property or the neighborhood where the house is located, frustrating customers’ efforts to get accurate answers, according to a report last year by real estate consulting firm Clareity. 

Some realtors also claim that many listings on the largest sites are inaccurate. “The wrong photos often appeared with our listings,” says San Diego realtor Jim Abbott, whose firm no longer shares data with the national sites. He also says that the sites kept up listings that were no longer on the market. Clareity CEO Gregg Larson says Zillow and Trulia get information about the same property from multiple sources (like the listing agent, the local multiple listing service, and a syndication service). “The duplicates sneak through, and then you have [the same] listing with different prices, listed by different brokers.”

One Massachusetts realtor, Jack Attridge, notes in a letter to Inman News that because homes he’s listed appear on national sites, he’s often contacted by agents and customers well outside his area who have questions about those properties. Most of the time, they have wrong information, and none of those calls, Attridge wrote, have resulted in a sale.

These and other problems hurt realtors reputations and do nothing to sell houses, they say. Abbott argues that inaccurate web listings, combined with side-by-side links to realtors who know little about the property, frustrate potential buyers and may actually drive them to look elsewhere. He studied three years of his firm’s sales data and compared listings that the company didn’t share with national sites versus those they did. “Time after time, the listings that we did syndicate compared with the listings that we didn’t had no better outcomes,” he says. “In fact the ones we didn’t syndicate often sold faster” and closer to the asking price.

Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff has fired back, asserting that an internal company study shows that homes that are in the top 10 percent of page views on Zillow sell more than a month faster than their counterparts in the bottom 10 percent of views and achieve sale prices closer to their asking price. He also says Zillow “invests massive resources in making our listings as accurate as possible.”

STEVE YODER writes about business, real estate and other domestic policy issues. His work has appeared in print and online at Salon, The American Prospect, Men's Health, The Crime Report, and elsewhere.