In one of NAR’s more recent releases of unique web visitors another website has lost more ground and has now fallen out of the top 3 individual sites for monthly unique visitors. That website is Realtor.com. In NAR’s most recent Realtor.com web traffic report we see that Zillow has surged way ahead as the #1 Real Estate website with over 20,000,000 unique visitors in December of 2013, Trulia was second with almost 11,700,000 while Yahoo! Homes had 10,100,000 and Realtor.com was in 4th with 9,300,000 visitors. NAR releases a monthly traffic report and they’re usually a few months back, you can find a link to the matrix I’m referring to right here: http://www.realtor.org/sites/default/files/reports/2013/nar-website-traffic-stats-december-2013-updated-2014-02-21.pdf
A few years back Realtor.com started branching out through their network to build more traffic, that’s the Move Network you see on the matrix, that network has a little higher numbers than just Realtor.com at 10,300,000 unique visitors. However others have followed suit and you can see that Zillow and Yahoo! are partnered up as well and boast an industry best 28,800,000 million unique visitors (side note, I’m not mathematician but if Yahoo had 10.1 mil and Zillow 20 mil wouldn’t their network have 30.1 mil instead of 28.8 mil?).
A further look at “the big three” of Realtor/Zillow/Trulia shows that in 2013 Zillow had 15.71% market share of all real estate web traffic in January this year, Trulia had 8.31% market share, and Realtor had 7.21%. Zillow’s market share is almost double that of Realtor.com. Source here: http://www.inman.com/2014/02/21/zillow-trulia-realtor-com-set-for-2014-consumer-marketing-arms-race/
As I look ahead something stands out to me. It’s time for Realtor.com to get out of this “arms race”, admit defeat, and focus on what Realtors do better. Zillow is king of the web, Trulia is 2nd fiddle and now Yahoo! Homes has stepped in as the choice for option #3. Realtor.com is still a monster when it comes to web traffic but when stacked up against its competitors it has continually slid year after year. What will be interesting to watch is if another non-franchise affiliate, homes.com will narrow the gap between them and Realtor.com. They have a ways to go (Homes.com is 6.3 million short of Realtor.com in monthly unique visitors) but if you go back and look at the traffic difference just 6 months ago Realtor.com out-paced Homes.com by nearly 7.2 million unique visitors. Homes.com is making ground.
So what can be done? 2 years ago now I took one of the best classes I’ve ever taken while finishing up my management degree at the University of Montana. That class was business strategy, taught by Michael Braun. In that class we talked about what a business’s core competency should be. Also when analyzing strategy one needs to look at areas of opportunity, what your firm does best, and what your competitors are already doing is key in analysis. As you look at Realtor.com the web traffic certainly indicates that the broad market of home buyers and sellers prefer Zillow, Trulia, and now Yahoo over Realtor.com. So is it the best real estate web portal out there? Nope, not even top 3. It’s time for Realtor.com to take a hard look at what its best use could be and to go on a route that its competitors cannot.
Zillow, Trulia, Yahoo, Homes.com, and other sites are maxed out at what they are known to do, provide property searches, neighborhood information, census data, school information, and other useful advice for all sorts of home buyers and sellers. These sites serve the purpose of being information providers. And as Gen-Y and Gen-X are the dominant force in the buyer market today they’ll continue to use a 3rd party site that is embraced as more impartial than a partially Realtor owned and operated site.
While I don’t have a crystal ball for the near future I’m going to go out on a limb and list two things that I don’t think Z/T/Y will be taking a part in anytime soon. First is handling individual transactions. These websites provide mass data but don’t have the current staff or infrastructure to handle individual sales. Transactions are complicated at times and require agents that need knowledge of local laws, local data and trends, they need to be able to negotiate strongly and make good recommendations throughout the process. That type of expertise is hard to make into an easy to use national model. Secondly I don’t see any of these sites becoming property rights advocates anytime soon either. Realtors are a trade organization that is also considered one of the ten strongest national lobbies in the US. That’s built upon the financial support of over 1,000,000 agents all of whom make some sort of annual contribution to these efforts. There’s other reasons, many more, but I see them on a smaller scale than these two.
So what is the Realtor’s core competency? A somewhat unrefined opinion of mine would be that as “a trade organization focused on assisting in all sorts of real estate transactions and providing advocacy and knowledge in the realm of property ownership”. A core competency is something that is the life-blood of the organization. So what does Realtor.com do to help boast this core competency? Not much. Instead of making transactional knowledge, expertise, and property rights advocacy the primary message of the site we see Realtor.com struggle to keep up in a losing battle which is property searches.
If Realtor.com were to shift its prime function to being a facilitator, an advocate, educationally-based, and a knowledge rich site I would venture that it would no longer need to worry about what Z and T are up to. Realtors hold a unique place in this market and it’s not providing web-based property searches. It’s time for the National Association of Realtors to focus on what its membership does best and not to keep up with what other portal sites are up to.
Will it happen? I doubt it. The age gap between the average Realtor and average home buyer is a large one. This leads to massive generational differences. A majority of Realtors (and Realtor leaders) believe that tried and true practices that worked in the years where baby boomers dominated the market will still work. Practices that cut off the sharing of data, heavy use of print advertising, not understanding the new generation of home buyers, and a reliance on conventional methods of communication still dominate the way a vast majority of this industry still believes are the best practices available. NAR is in need of a revolt, a grassroots movement to topple the pillars of conventional thought. NAR needs to find its core competency and focus on winning in those realms instead of struggling to keep up in areas where others are kicking their butt.
It’s a long an interesting road ahead for NAR and Realtors everywhere. I remain hopeful for change, even though at many recent turns I’ve not seen much progress yet. Will it happen? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure, the consumer isn’t waiting – and NAR is getting left in the dust.