If you’re not a real estate professional who follows a ton of real estate blogs, then you’re probably not familiar with the brouhaha happening right now about listing syndication and IDX in the industry. I’ve been following the opinions very carefully because a TON of my business comes directly from my IDX. IDX is short for Internet Data Exchange; basically it’s an online relationship that allows agents and companies to share their listings online. When you search for a home on my Nashville Home Search page, you are able to see all the MLS-listed properties because of IDX. This means you don’t have to go from website to website to ensure that you’re seeing all the homes that are available. From a consumer standpoint this the pretty handy. From an agent standpoint, it allows you to provide a great service and establish yourself as a local expert.
The argument online is about a few different things. Much of it started when a ARG, small boutique brokerage in California, decided to pull their listings from syndication to Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com but NOT from IDX feeds. They did so with a well produced if wordy and overdone video. Most consumers (and many Realtors) don’t realize that sites like Zillow, Trulia, Homes.com, Hotpads, Vast, HomeFinder, et al. may not actually have ALL the home listings. This is because they get their home listings not from IDX, but from various other listing feeds that may not be as fresh. This can often lead to syndicators having bad or outdated information. Realtor.com is a different beast, and I’ll get to it in a moment, but for now let’s refer to these syndicators as TruZilia (a fabulous term coined by the best real estate blogger out there, Kris Berg of San Diego Castles).
Outdated info isn’t really the thing that irritates most agents. What bothers us is that the TruZilias of the world often take the data (that we provide to them for free) then they organize it on their sites and ask us agents to pay them a monthly fee to in order to have our own contact information branded next to our own listings. If we don’t pay the fee, the listing will either be buried at the bottom of the results or the listings will have a different agent’s contact info displayed next to it. This “other agent” will have likely paid the syndicator a hefty monthly fee to be shown in that particular neighborhood or zip code. This agent may have had their license 6 days and they most certainly have not ever seen the interior of the home being “showcased.” As a consumer are you served well by this arrangement?
For other agents (like myself) the rub isn’t just bad data and monthly fees, it’s that these syndicators are hogging up the Google SEO juice. When a potential consumer makes a search engine inquiry for just about any real estate related term in just about Any City, USA the first page of results will be from TruZilia-ish sites. It’s a bit much to compete with. There are agents out there who DO compete (see my idol Jay Thompson, the Phoenix Real Estate Guy) but the average Joe Realtor cannot compete without having someone on their team who blogs and works on SEO as a full-time position. As Realtors, we already wear a lot of hats, and “online tech consultant” isn’t another one that most want to take on.
To many in the industry, this kind of thing in tantamount to extortion. Pay the fee, or be blackballed. Of course, we don’t HAVE to sign up. Personally, I pay the fee to most of the major-player sites. I do so unhappily and begrudgingly. But the writing is on the wall; buyers like and use these sites, and sellers want their listings to be shown there.
To get back on point, much of the online discussion is about pulling listings from TruZilia syndicators. A handful of brokers have already done this. Many think that others will soon follow. Personally, I’m having a hard time deciding which side of the issue I stand on. I would LOVE to see TruZilia out of the way, but I most definitely would NOT like to see IDX go the way of the dinosaurs. After all, I earn clients from my IDX site. The two beasts are similar, but still quite different. Let me try to clarify:
You see, only people and companies who are affiliated with a specific MLS are allowed to procure true IDX feeds. We do this as gatekeepers who want to control our own destiny. It is really, really easy to envision a scenario where agents lose control of the data and become unnecessary to the situation of selling a home. Think of the way Expedia, Priceline, and Orbitz have disrupted the travel agent industry. This could happen in real estate. Whether you agree with National Association of Realtors (aka NAR) being a gatekeepers to this data, isn’t really the issue. It is the way it is. We ARE NOT going to give TruZilia a direct IDX feed…
However, we do give this feed to Realtor.com so let’s turn our attention there for a moment. Personally, I think a stronger Realtor.com is the key to taking back our listings. Most, if not all of our 900 regional MLSs give their data to them every 15 minutes or so. The data is reliable and current. However – Realtor.com is also in the greed game. They charge agents or brokers additional fees to show ALL the photos and have their own contact info on display. For a little back-story, in 1996 when the interwebs were still relatively new players in real estate, NAR made a deal with the mega-company MOVE, Inc. to manage Realtor.com effectively making Realtor.com a kind of national MLS. For years they were THE leaders in home search use, but Zillow and Trulia slowly encroached with better designs and innovations. Realtor.com market share has been falling consistently year-after-year.
SO. Here is my solution. Stop the feeds to Zillow and Trulia and the other sites with bad data that gouge, trick, and shame agents into deceiving relationships. Take the $400 dues we are all paying each year and reinvigorate Realtor.com with beauty and innovation. Showcase ALL 20 of the MLS photos and have the listing agent’s contact info next to each property. AND DO THIS FOR FREE. Can’t manage it for free? THEN RAISE OUR ANNUAL DUES. Realtor.com doesn’t have to be everything to everyone. Zillow has an amazing “Zestimate” program which estimates home values based on tax and other data. It’s a fab tool. Trulia boasts a wonderful consumer forum and does amazing things with sales price trends and heat maps.
A proper marketing campaign could restore faith in the REALTOR® brand online AND get the eyeballs back to the website that best serves consumers AND agents (think the Chrysler commercials of home-ownership… it could be epic). But stop the insanity of listings online and take control of the data we give you. Allowing others to encroach is dangerous to our livelihood and a disservice to our clients and consumers.
What say you all?