Three weeks ago in Chicago, members of the National Association of Realtors’ board of directors — 625 practicing Realtors from every state and territory — put their busy summers on pause to make decisions about their website, realtor.com.
It was an extraordinary gathering, and it produced extraordinary outcomes.
As president of realtor.com, I’d like to share my perspective on what these outcomes mean for the site, for the Realtor brand, consumers, and the real estate industry as a whole.
For me, it is not possible to understand the decisions made in Chicago without a look at the broader strategic context — and a little bit of history.
Here’s how I see it.
In 1996, the NAR board of directors decided to proactively address the world-changing phenomenon of the Internet by putting real estate listings on a public website.
It is easy for us to look back and say, “Well, of course they did,” but it was a remarkably brave act at the time.
Consider that in 1996 Microsoft — then at the apex of its power — was in the process of disintermediating travel agents and was planning a major play in real estate. Consider that listings had been published in books until this point. Consider that no one on the NAR board, or in our industry, knew how the Internet would play out.
It was a visionary leap, and it proved successful.
Microsoft did enter the real estate industry. It left three years later, chastened by the realization that buying or selling a home wasn’t quite like buying a plane ticket. Today, realtor.com powers Microsoft’s real estate section on MSN.
At the turn of the last century, eBay entered real estate and then retrenched.
In 2005, Google unveiled Google Base and began aggregating property listings. In 2011, Google shut it down.
These things happened because Realtors decided that they wanted to participate in their own future — to be in the game as the world changed, setting a high standard via realtor.com — rather than stand by as others ran the field.
The NAR board reaffirmed this vision in Chicago on July 24, 2013. This diverse group of Realtors spoke with near unanimity:
Yes, it is important that our brand remain strong in the digital world.
This represented big thinking and an understanding of what matters to consumers.
Consumers consistently tell us that the No. 1 thing they value on a real estate website is accuracy. Realtor.com leads the industry here, providing consumers with the most accurate data available, updating listings every 15 minutes and taking content only from sources proven to be reliable.
But consumers’ second-greatest need is comprehensiveness. Without being able to show everything for sale or for rent, realtor.com stood to lose consumers to other, more comprehensive offerings.
To address this issue, the board authorized the display of large numbers of new construction and rental listings on realtor.com for the first time. The board also authorized listings from non-Realtor sources on realtor.com, meaning that a licensed real estate professional who happens to be a member of an MLS can market their listings on the site. A few have characterized this as a “betrayal” of the Realtor brand by realtor.com or the NAR board. But it is, in reality, an act of profound fidelity to the brand.
This is an opportunity to grow the audience on realtor.com and help those consumers better understand and internalize the tremendous value that Realtors deliver. Thinking in zero-sum terms won’t make it happen. Thinking big — getting the Realtor brand in front of millions of future clients and openly demonstrating the differences between Realtors and non-Realtors — will.
Realtor.com and the realtor.com mobile apps generate more than 450 million consumer impressions each month. We intend to use these, and we showed the NAR board how we will differentiate Realtors, their listings, and the work they do beyond the transaction, for all homeowners, by advocating for property rights and fair legislation.
NAR partnered with Move Inc., a for-profit company, to help promote the Realtor brand in the digital world. And while realtor.com doesn’t cost NAR members a penny to operate (to the contrary, Move pays NAR a royalty each year), there are going to be different perspectives on the role of realtor.com. Not every Realtor will like every product we offer, or every change we make. I could never promise that, but what happened two weeks ago wasn’t about these things. It was about the Big Thing. The board rose to the occasion and we are dedicated to putting their vision into action.
Some have viewed the board’s actions as reactions to Trulia and Zillow. And while these companies have emerged as meaningful competitors, they are not the primary driver of these actions. This was about delivering what today’s consumers are demanding, building a robust audience of engaged buyers, sellers and renters, and then helping these consumers understand why it is so important to work closely with a Realtor.
Change and innovation will continue to come from many places, and take many forms. We can’t foresee all the details, of course, but we can be certain that the future will present new challenges. Because of this vote, Realtors are now even better positioned to meet them with strength.
Errol Samuelson is the chief strategy officer of realtor.com operator Move Inc., and the president of realtor.com. With Move since 2003, Samuelson is responsible for driving growth and delivering a sustainable competitive advantage for all of the company’s businesses.