A new solution for syndicating real estate listings

Perspective: Let's bridge the divide between brokers, publishers

Editor’s note: The following is a guest perspective. It was originally published at the 1000Watt blog and is republished here with permission of the author.

By BRIAN BOERO

So a lot has happened over the past couple weeks.

Below I lay out a few things I believe to be true. They are all debatable, of course, and may, in the end, prove to be completely wrong. Be that as it may, my overall approach inclines toward practicality.

There’s a problem between brokers and online publishers, and both parties stand to get hurt if it’s not solved.

Let’s get to work solving it. Shots will be fired, but ultimately this comes down to negotiation.

So, for your consideration …

1. The manner in which Trulia and Zillow currently handle buyer agents on listing detail pages is unreasonable.

Realtor.com allows brokers to kill the "four-headed monster" on their listings without paying. This is better, but there’s got to be a way to monetize a listing that respects those who provide them while still allowing online publishers to generate revenue. (Disclosure: Realtor.com is a client, though my company has no involvement in its listings policy or the manner in which it sells products.)

2. Perhaps a consumer shouldn’t be urged to contact the listing agent. And an airline shouldn’t charge me to check a bag, either. But that’s the way it is. It’s business.

Sure, there are discussions to be had about the future of the brokerage business model. But in the meantime, we have a more immediate matter to address: Content owners don’t like how their content is being used. Let’s work on that.

3. Brokers that cease syndicating without a countervailing digital strategy in place will probably get hurt.

We are at an interesting point now with technology, where what we think of as "online" is shape-shifting before our eyes. Soon, more people will view listings on smartphones, tablets, e-readers (and whatever voice, gestural or neural interfaces emerge in the not-t0o-distant future) than on the Web pages we’re all focused on now.

The unprepared brokerage, by ceasing syndication, is not just removing its listings from a website. It is vanishing them from a digital world that’s just dawning.

Brokers may not like their digital partners, but these partners have the capacity to take them to places they’ll need to be in the future.

And sure: If you’re a big broker with significant market share, loads of brand equity, low dependence on out-of-market buyers, solid digital assets and a good internal marketing team, you probably will not mortally wound your business by ceasing syndication. But these companies are the exception.

4. The costs of cooperation, long term, are lower than the costs of retrenchment.

Though there are very important differences between IDX (Internet Data Exchange) and syndication, there’s an underlying reality confronting those who participate in both: Buyers will approach listings from many places, through many people.

It was nice when sign calls drove most inquiries to the listing agent. But I don’t think we’re getting that back. I also think the power of the listing as a vehicle for agent marketing and brokerage branding never will be what it was predigital. These are realities driven by consumer expectations unlikely to be stifled, for long, by industry maneuvers.

Yes, when brokers cooperate with online publishers through syndication, or with competitors through IDX, some buyer’s agents will essentially "free-ride" by using listings inventory to secure clients; some of the agents shepherding buyers through their listing may not be area experts; and they will lose some control over lead routing and monetization.

But having been inside hundreds of brokerages, looking at the numbers, the metrics and the conversion funnel top and down, the costs of cooperation, while real, are usually (yes, there are exceptions) less than the costs of retrenchment.

5. Love the one you’re with. Your next relationship may be even worse.

If syndication is pulled apart like a piece of string cheese, and if IDX unwinds next, Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com may go away and big brokers will have achieved something that won’t feel like victory for long. Because what replaces them may be even more odious.

Compelling consumer behavior (in this case, "You will come to my website or app to view listings") is difficult unless your brand, your product and your user experience are all superior.

Apple and Southwest Airlines make such demands of consumers, and we tolerate them because — well, they are Apple and Southwest Airlines.

Most brokers aren’t in a position to pull this off right now. So what will arise, if the beasts of today are slain and consumers cry foul, are marketing and distribution partners that will likely charge much more for access to consumers whose expectations fly beyond the average broker’s reach.

Remember: The rest of the world is pay-to-list. Negotiation now seems smarter than rolling the dice.

And on the flip side … online publishers may gripe about unreasonable brokers now, but trying to aggregate 4 million listings from agents will make today look like a walk in the park.

6. What we need, quite urgently, is a new online listings compact.

Such a compact must be more respectful of listings owners, yet still allow the online publishers to invest in innovation from which brokers and agents can benefit.

Invective is easy and sometimes gripping; cooperation, while much harder, is still possible.

Do you want to work to make this happen?

Brian Boero is co-founder of 1000Watt Consulting, a full-service interactive marketing communications and design agency with an emphasis on the real estate industry. Boero is a former CEO for VREO Inc. and former president of Inman News.

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