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7 May 2008

I Want My, I Want My, I Want My … Traffic

Posted by Sherry Chris 

Last week was interesting. I kept bumping into things that raised a question that’s floated around the real estate business since the first home was marketed on the Web back in 1994: Who should reap the benefits of traffic, advertising, and customer engagement derived from broker-supplied listings?

For a while there, it seemed like we settled into a comfortable agreement on this issue. Sites such as Trulia, Zillow, Oodle, Google Base, and others distributed broker listings for free. This content gave them a foundation upon which to build consumer-facing, ad-supported businesses.

Everybody wins, right? Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

Consider now, my week.

It started off with a visit from the NAR leadership, who updated us on various initiatives that seem very forward thinking and pretty cool. The team there is very much focused on arming Realtors with the information they need to compete. A good thing. But I couldn’t help but wonder if many of their efforts were reactions to forces–or, more specifically, companies–brokers themselves helped create.

Then Dave Phillips at BloodHoundBlog made it known that REALTOR.com is now going to provide free upgrades (no more fees for multiple photos!) after having charged agents and brokers for so many years. Why, some people asked, are they doing this? Why now?

Those who own the listings, those who market and sell them, are becoming restless.

Then an Inman News story reporting that a prominent blog suggested Zillow is valued at $225M hit my iGoogle page.

Late in the week, I found myself discussing licensing content with various companies for the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate consumer site launch in July. The talks always led in the same direction–the licensor wanting the traffic to count on their site. The shoe was now on the other foot for me–the consumer site owner trying to assess the value of third-party content.

The week ended in a flurry of blog posts and articles about Trulia and their Web-ranking strategy, which illustrated more than anything else just how close beneath the surface the tensions between brokers and online listings aggregators really are.  The talk about “no-follows” and “temporary redirects” was really about ownership of the listing–and the customer.

All of this activity casts new light on the value of listings–and how and with whom–brokers and agents market them. Does aggressive Web syndication ultimately benefit the Realtor? Does it move homes faster for sellers? Or does it create a crowd of players that needlessly interrupt the conversation between the consumer and the practitioner?

As we work behind the scenes to launch the new Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate brand in July, these questions are front and center. While I will continue to support strategic syndication opportunities, I also believe that it’s critically important that our brokers and agents are provided with the tools and support needed to create their own traffic.

There is a lot of grey area here. So I thank all of those above for helping us sort through the issues.

We’ll see what this week brings!


7 thoughts on “I Want My, I Want My, I Want My … Traffic

  1. Your anecdotes point to one of the subtle sea changes rocking the industry, Sherry… real estate internet presence translates to substantial asset value. Before the industry “discovered” the real power of the internet, all the brokerages slapped up sites just so they could tell their agents and potential recruitment prospects: “yes, we have a website”. Same with agents who then bought websites with the same vague lack of purpose.

    The tech world knew the value of a well trafficked web property (they had experienced the high 1999 valuations of Web 1.0), that’s why the founders of Zillow and Trulia come from the Internet space. With a few exceptions like Realtor.com and Remax.com, the brokerage community didn’t get it.

    So it looks like the value proposition of traffic, traffic, traffic has entered the lexicon of the real estate site admins. What’s more interesting is how brokers or agents can now leverage their own blogs to become well trafficked sites that will increase in value throughout their career… and like a doctor’s practice, sell their properties at retirement to a younger agent for the leads. It amazes me how agents don’t yet get that

  2. After serving as a broker for a decade, I got into real estate services with The Personal Marketing Company in the mid-80’s. Even back then, you could see that the “barn door was swinging open”(access to listing info), but the leadership was in denial. I can’t believe that “denial” still exists today. Hey, I am a Realtor at heart, but there’s “MY REALITY” and then theres “THE REALITY”. And the reality is that the consumer always wins in the end…and the consumer will always want to “see everything”. There are occasions when “surrender” is “victory”!

  3. What a wonderfully written and balanced article. To the poster above me; Roger, you sound like a person after my own heart.

    I have found myself bickering frequently with real estate agents concerning the idea of an “open IDX” and the value listing re-syndication offers to their clients. Often I am reviled for my perspective:

    http://www.realestatewebmasters.com/blogs/ryan-ward/4353/show/

    (See the comments on the posting above)

    The Trulia “no-follow” practice is slimy; but the idea of lots of companies (brokers & non-brokers) providing exposure for an agent’s seller is a good thing (in my opinion).

    Sadly this is often an ego-driven industry; what is good for the seller comes secondary to agents getting the spotlight. It matters little to these agents that their seller’s listing is getting more attention; rather they become angry that buyers aren’t forced to use their personal web site.

    Gabe Sumner – http://www.goondocks.com/

  4. Forgive me for making one more comment; a chief advantage “open IDX” would offer is more agent control over how listings display on non-broker web sites.

    Many brokers & agents have accepted they cannot ignore non-broker web sites. However, because these non-broker web sites cannot interact directly with the MLS they get their listing information via a myriad of 3rd-hand methods.

    If a seller discovers a problem with their listing on Google Base or Yahoo! Real Estate, they will often expect their agent to be empowered to fix the problem. This is sadly often not the case though. It is anyone’s guess where this listing information originally came from. The local newspaper? the broker? another web site?

    If we can accept that non-broker web sites have become a relevant force in the home buying process then our next task becomes to improve the quality and control of the data.

    Realtor.com is currently the only web site allowed access to all MLS’s nation wide. The article above cites how this monopoly has been used to abuse the REALTOR community. It is time for this monopoly to end. It is time the IDX be opened to brokers & non-brokers alike. It is time agents are given the ability to impact how their listings display on the Internet. It is time to embrace the Internet. It is time to evolve.

    Gabe Sumner – http://www.goondocks.com/

  5. Its interesting to see this listings controvery suddenly dawn on Realtors.

    It seems that Realtors were awed (blindsided) by the wonderful transparent web 2.0 innovations, and they failed to notice what they were getting into when decided to send their listings to the New 2.0 companies.

    At HomeGain the realtor has always been featured exclusively and prominently; not Netflix ads or Weighwatcher ads.

    We don’t sell advertising wherever we have Realtor customers. Our customer is the realtor.

    We don’t take Realtor data and sell ads around it.
    This is a point that has been missed by many realtors as they bash homegain and embrace the 2.0 crowd of potential interlopers.

    I recently asked the question- how does a third party vendor partner with Realtors. We think we do it pretty well and so do our customers.

    For further reading:

    http://blog.homegain.com/how-does-third-party-vendor-partner-with-realtors

    http://blog.homegain.com/what-about-customer-service-employee-satisfaction

    http://blog.homegain.com/success-real-estate-agents-goal-not-buzz-louis-cammarosano

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