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.
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.”
Nevertheless, Abbott and a few others have opted out. Minnesota-based Edina Realty fired the first shot in November by announcing they’ll no longer list their data on aggregator sites like Trulia and Realtor. Abbott pulled out on January 27 with a hard-hitting web video announcing his company’s plans. Then on February 6, a bigger player weighed in. Denver-based Metrolist, a multiple-listing service (a member cooperative that realtors jointly buy into that advertises properties locally), announced they’ll no longer allow a Zillow subsidiary to use their data. Some realtors in larger metropolitan areas say they have better local listing service options. “It would only take a few good-sized brokers in every community before these sites either drastically changed how they do business or went away altogether,” says Abbott.
But other industry insiders worry that realtors will lose business by pulling out of the aggregator sites. “All it takes is [brokers who don’t share data] losing a few listings and having a couple of their top-selling agents complain,” Larson says, and “they’ll cave.”
Phoenix realtor Jay Thompson has chosen to continue listing with the sites. “Good luck explaining your decision to not market a listing on high traffic sites,” he writes on his blog. “I can assure you that if a Phoenix area brokerage chooses to do that, then we will use their decision to our advantage.”
Abbott argues the opposite could happen — since he posted his video, he’s had 12 people who were interviewing for an agent to sell their home ask him about his company’s new policy. “We got all 12 of those listings,” he says. Calls to the firm, he says, have “gone through the roof.”