Hacker Connect January 16 in New York
An event for and by the real estate tech community

A real estate technology company today launched a free international service to assist real estate professionals with marketing properties online, establishing agreements with other professionals and tracking Web statistics.

Point2 Technologies Inc. officials say that their creation, called the Point2 NLS (for National Listing Service), is a marketing vehicle that is not intended to compete with traditional multiple listing services.

It is the latest in a series of free Web-based tools designed to increase the online exposure of property listings — officials at automated home-valuation site Zillow.com, for example, announced a new service last month to allow agents to advertise for-sale property listings.

The new Point2 system builds upon the company’s existing technologies and customer base. At launch the company already has about 104,000 members in 85 countries. In November, the company announced that 78 percent of its members were in the United States and 14 percent were in Canada, followed by Australia, India and the Philippines. The company offers a consumer-facing property-search Web site at Point2Homes.com.

“Our NLS gives complete control to the broker so that he can choose who his marketers are on a peer-to-peer basis,” said Brendan King, chief operating officer for Point2 Technologies. “There are no regional boundaries. Searching on the NLS, both for real estate professionals and consumers, won’t be bound necessarily by geography.”

Also, creators say the service is intended to thwart antitrust actions by allowing real estate professionals to make individual decisions about how to market property information on other Web sites. For example, agents participating in the system can select which agents they choose to share listings information with — and which agents not to share listings information with.

This peer-to-peer system of “Agent Handshake” agreements also allows agents to state specific reasons why they choose not to share listings information with specific real estate professionals, and calculates a performance index score for agents based on a variety of factors such as speed in replying to prospects and number of virtual tours and total Web site pages.

King said that the NLS system “now is outside the realm of the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice because (real estate professionals) are making individual business decisions.”

The Justice Department is locked in antitrust litigation with the National Association of Realtors, for example, over the Realtor group’s approval of policies for the online sharing and display of property listings information, and the Federal Trade Commission announced several actions last year to combat MLS policies that it deemed anti-competitive.

There are several national Web services that offer real estate professionals a place to share information about for-sale properties at no charge, such as Edgeio, Google Base, LiveDeal, Oodle, Propsmart, Trulia, and Yahoo! Classifieds, among others, and the Point2 service gives real estate professionals the option to share property information with these sites.

This so-called “Exposure Engine” also allows agents to choose paid advertising for property listings on sites such as NYTimes.com.

The system offers detailed statistics on consumer traffic to property-search Web sites that can assist real estate professionals in determining which marketing venues are most successful.

While basic services for the Point2 NLS are free, the company does charge for advanced features, such as “predictive marketing” analysis that assists real estate professionals in tracking the online behavior and real estate interests of specific users.

Also, there are other lead-prospecting and text-messaging tools available for a fee. The company has made a name in the industry by building real estate Web sites and offering selling tools to assist with online marketing and lead management.

While several of the free online property-marketing services allow homeowners to list their own properties for sale, Point2 is focused on properties represented by real estate professionals. Most of the participants in the system are agents, and King said that agents are required to get broker permission to market listings in the system.

“It’s really the brokers who are in control of the listing content,” he said.

The traditional MLS system, which features hundreds of local, regional and statewide MLSs across the country, are not integrated and employ a wide array of business rules, membership fees and data standards.

Many MLSs are operated by Realtor trade groups, and in some cases membership in the Realtor trade group is tied to membership in the trade group’s MLS. The Point2 NLS system does not require Realtor or MLS membership, though many of the nation’s real estate licensees are also Realtors and members of at least one MLS.

Jay Thompson, a real estate agent in Mesa, Ariz., and a Point2 user since August 2005, said he has separate sections on his own Web site for posting shared property information derived from local MLS members and a separate section for posting properties from the Point2 network.

“My MLS lets me put (up to) six pictures in a listing. Point2 lets you put 36 — I get a lot more views on my Point2 listings,” he said. “I put a lot more pictures, so people tend to naturally gravitate toward the listings that have more information.”

Thompson, who works for Century 21 Aware, likens the Point2 capabilities to that of Google Base, Trulia or Zillow — “It’s just another Web venue for me to advertise listings on. It’s not going to replace the MLS; that’s not its intent.” He said he has established agreements through the Point2 network with about 1,100 real estate professionals in the area where he works, and he explains this to prospective clients during listing presentations.

Some industry participants may not embrace the concept of the Point2 NLS at first, Thompson said. But after they realize “that it’s not an attempt to take over their world then they should be OK with it,” he added.

Saul D. Klein, a real estate industry speaker and consultant and creator of the e-PRO real estate technology certification program, said that the concept for the Point2 NLS “is a great one,” though the company is “going to have challenges.”

“The ability for people to choose their own marketing partners is, to me, where the industry needs to go,” said Klein, who is also president of Internet Crusade, an Internet marketing company and an online community of real estate professionals.

While there has been industry controversy over how information is shared among real estate professionals, Klein said that Point2 seems to have the right idea with its “Handshake” agreements. “You should have the right to choose who you share your listings information with,” he said. “I think that’s a good thing, and I encourage that kind of participation. It’s up to the Realtor … and not the Department of Justice.”

Klein said there is potential for MLSs to misinterpret the intent of the Point2 NLS system, and that could be an obstacle for the system. “I’m intimately aware of the politics of MLSs, and I think if they understand it it won’t be a problem. But if they don’t understand it it will be a nightmare — people will react out of fear and not out of fact.”

He added, “I believe that if the MLSs take a hard look at this they will see that it’s not competition — there is more competition from major search portals.”

The cat is already out of the bag when it comes to the distribution of property listings information, Klein said, noting that real estate professionals now have many online venues to market properties.

“To be able to compete now — to defend yourself — you have to let it go to a number of places, otherwise one place does become more powerful,” he said. “The days where we put it on Realtor.com or only put it in two or three places, I think we’ve outgrown that.”

Brokers, too, may have a negative reaction to the NLS system, Klein said, and the company must show the industry “that they are not there to take anything away from them,” but rather to enhance the industry and provide more choice. “We know that there always is resistance,” he said.

Realtor.com, a National Association of Realtors-affiliated site operated by Move Inc., remains a dominant player for online property searches, Klein also said, though systems such as the Point2 NLS may push the industry toward “fuller, richer content on the Internet.”

With so many sites competing for Internet eyeballs, it remains to be seen whether Point2 NLS will gather significant participation to change the industry, Klein said. “A lot of companies spend a lot of money getting products to market. I think if it gets the right traction it can be an industry-changing thing. Getting the right traction is tough.”