Third-party websites’ problems are not mine

Realtor Notebook

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A few months ago I wrote that third-party sites like Zillow and Trulia are not my competitors. I offer different services than websites and I can work without Internet access or electricity.

I love it when people get all excited about how many inquires through Zillow and Trulia and Realtor.com go unanswered. Some see it as a big problem.

I don’t see it as a problem at all, and I don’t care if consumers get a response when they inquire through a third-party website. The problem does not impact my income or hurt my reputation as an individual agent. If it did I might care about it.

There are any number of sites where consumers will see my listings, but because my name and phone number are not always apparent they call other agents. I honestly don’t have a problem with that — and if their calls go unanswered, that doesn’t bother me either.

When someone calls me or sends an email they will get a response. That is really all that I care about, and it is the only thing I have any control over.

Agents and others get upset about inaccurate data on some of the third-party websites. I really don’t understand why they care. I don’t care if the data is accurate on the third-party sites. It really isn’t my problem and there isn’t anything I can do about it if I did care. I do care about the data on my own website.

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Third-party sites want to have credibility with consumers. That is not my problem either. Part of my job is to educate consumers, and that is what I do when they ask me which sites are the best for finding a home for sale in the Twin Cities.

It has been suggested to me that inaccurate data and a lack of responsiveness from real estate agents makes us all look bad. I suppose it does — it helps contribute to the mythology about the stupid, lazy, dishonest agent.

Again, there isn’t anything I can do about that, except set myself apart by answering the phone and responding to emails. I doubt if real estate agents will become more responsive to inquiries on third-party websites.

When one of my listings sells it really isn’t a priority for me to take it off of the third-party sites. In fact, it is probably in my best interest to keep them there forever. Who knows, someone may call me about a listing and then I will have a "lead."

We all know that buyers shop for homes on the Internet, but that doesn’t seem to stop them from calling me after shopping on a competitor’s website.

It’s just like the consumer who wants a new TV. They go into Best Buy, pick out one they like — and then order it from a less expensive source online before they leave the store. It’s called "showrooming."

We have similar behavior going on in real estate. Homebuyers shop on one site, then call an agent not affiliated with that website. I predict that will become more and more common.

Sometimes I don’t think we fully understand "leads," and what the real estate portals call online consumers.

We are all consumers of online information. If I want to buy something, I do my research on the Internet. If I want to know what the soup is today at a local restaurant, I may consult the restaurant’s website and then eat elsewhere. If I have my heart set on bean soup, no one can sell me clam chowder.

It is rare to get a response from a company, even when we go to the company website.

Why should real estate be any different? Our product ends up on a zillion websites, many with inquiry forms. As an industry, we kind of split the juice and spread it out all over the Internet. I sometimes wonder if third-party websites are starting to lack credibility as the go-to place to get questions answered.

Agents not responding to inquires on third-party websites just isn’t my problem and I am not going to let anyone make it my problem. I will always respond to inquires about my own listings no matter where they come from, and I won’t pay to get inquiries on other people’s listings.

I will also respond to any inquires from my own website, even if I am not the listing agent of the home in question. I don’t care about you or your website or what kind of an experience consumers are having on it.

Perhaps third-party websites should hire people to work with consumers and answer their questions. It is like a broken promise to have Web forms for submitting questions that get no response. They are inviting inquires and if they go unanswered, eventually consumers will stop asking and perhaps call their local real estate agent instead.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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