Inman news is reporting a Youtube announcement from ARG (Abbott Realty Group) that they are not permitting their listings to be viewed on 3rd party syndicators such as Zillow, Trulia and even Realtor.com. The link is already behind Inman's paywall so I have embedded the video below. This comes in the wake of a similar announcement from midwest Giant Edina Realty's decision to do the very same thing this past November. Jim Abbott, broker and president of ARG, gives what I consider a very well reasoned explanation for his company's decision. You may not agree, but his explanation is compelling.
As much as I'd like to be the enlightened, philosophical, transparency embracing dude I strive to be, the small business owner in me is quietly applauding Mr Abbott's guts. Here's why: You might expect on Zillow or Trulia that if you click on the smiling face next to the advert for more information that you'll be put in touch with the listing agent, but you would be wrong much of the time. I spend 5 figures annually to keep myself as the contact on my listings on these sites, because they are in the business to sell zip codes to agents posting themselves as the local experts. In other words, that smiling face might be some guy who never saw the house in his life but wrote a check to be the contact for the zip code. Any consumer who has ever made inquiries on Zillow and Trulia knows this.
Some listing agents view this as extortion, because they provide the websites the content, but then have to pay for the privelege of being the recipient of the consumer inquiry on their own listing.
The argument for syndication (and the natural rebuttal to Mr Abbott) has always been the same thing: exposure. When a broker is hired to market a property, it is our fiduciary duty to maximize exposure of the home, and these websites get mammoth traffic. It is also a matter of raw competition: "I'll put your listing on Zillow and Trulia" is the 2012 version of "I'll buy an ad in the supermarket homes magazine," which was the better mousetrap when I was first licensed in 1996. Here's the problem with that: The data is often inaccurate and not up to date, and I'm not so sure we are doing our clients any favors when we allow inquiries on their homes to go to some guy at another firm who never set foot in their living room. "Hire me and I'll make sure the guy who bought the zip code gets the calls" doesn't sound too compelling to me.
This is where the syndicators play both ends against the middle: they sell their high traffic and exposure, then have a highly caffeineted sales team contact agents and promise them buyer leads if they pay $XX a month. This puts the agent next to anyone's listings in that zip code who haven't paid themselves. I virtually pay an annuity every month to box out Joe Meatball from getting the calls on my listings, and I get a perk for being the contact guy on Bertha Hairnet's listings. Fair? Hardly, it is the cost of doing business.
When a home is multiple listed, it goes to literally hundreds of websites automatically thanks to the IDX (Internet Data Exchange) feed to search sites of cooperating brokerages, association searches (Like MLSLI.com on Long Island) and national aggregators. The IDX feed is the real time data from MLS. If the information is wrong, it is the fault of the broker, so they have to be on their toes. The trend appears to be that the providers of the content, the listing brokers, are taking back control of their data to ensure accuracy and certainty that they field the consumer inquiries. This takes the property off some popular websites, but if more firms do this those websites may also lose their popularity. That could make them re-think some of their policies.
ARG -and Edina- have made their counterpunch. ARG, with about 25 agents and 41 listing on their website is about the same size as my firm. This took some thought and backbone.