Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com – Friend or Foe?

Zillow logoA fascinating debate is raging in our industry about the value proposition and industry role of listing syndicators like Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com (hereafter referred to as the TZRs). I want to make sure you are aware of the debate, and I encourage you to respond and voice your opinions, concerns, and recommendations.

For the past decade, we real estate companies and professionals have embraced the marketing concept that the syndication and broad distribution of our property listings, content, and photography provided maximum exposure for our sellers as a means of maximizing value (price). A key part of this momentum and exposure was ensuring that the listing’s assets, our Pacific Union International brand, and our real estate professionals’ contact information were properly displayed for potential buyers to review at their leisure.

As the business model of the listing syndicators matured and they realized revenues fell well short of expenses, the TZRs moved to increase profit from listings and content in every way possible. Today, the most popular monetization approach seems to be a combination of minimizing the original broker/agent contact information coupled with selling random agents advertising, which would then be prominently placed adjacent to listing displays.

In many if not most cases, the agents advertised near the listing displays are neither the listing agents nor experts in that particular neighborhood.

There is significant momentum in our industry by some leading firms to withdraw listings from the TZRs as a means of ensuring our clients receive the proper exposure and representation for buyer interest. The train of thought seems to be when a buyer wants information on a specific property and they contact a real estate professional, they actually want the most knowledgeable professional available, likely the listing agent.

When the potential buyer is redirected or referred to a real estate professional who was simply willing to pay for the exposure, has never seen the home, and doesn’t know the local market, the value proposition collapses – both for us and our listing clients.

Karen Fairty, PUI Marin County, forwarded the following video to Brent Thomson, SVP of PUI Marin County, and me this past weekend. Last Thursday, Jim Abbott, President/Managing Broker of the Abbott Realty Group in San Diego, announced that his 25-agent firm will no longer share its listings with syndicators. And he makes the argument against them extremely well.

It would take me three more pages of writing to articulate what Jim defines in seven minutes, but some of his key points:

> He claims that bogus postings, redundant advertising, and inflated inventories are a hallmark of listing syndicators
> He argues that the syndicators do not safeguard sellers’ privacy
> He characterizes the use of listing syndicators as a “failed approach to property marketing” and “meaningless hits in cyberspace”
> Finally, he accuses the syndicators of slowing the recovery of the housing market

Abbott isn’t the first to pull his listings; last fall, Milwaukee brokerage Shorewest and Minneapolis-area firm did the same, and there have been rumors that 75 big brokers might create a national MLS to exclude the TZRs. But the move is once again highlighting the question about whether we are best serving our brands, our real estate professionals, and our clients by providing the TZRs with our data.

I encourage you to watch the video and voice your opinion. What do you think?

Mark A. McLaughlin, CEO, Pacific Union

Mark A. McLaughlin is Chief Executive Officer of Pacific Union International, Inc.

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