The executive board of the Texas Association of Realtors has turned down a request from the Houston Association of Realtors for membership data that would have been displayed on the Houston association’s consumer-facing website, HAR.com.
The move limits which Texas Realtors will be able to have free, comprehensive agent profile pages on HAR.com, the second most visited real estate search site in the state, behind only Zillow.
“I don’t think I’ve been so disappointed in a board’s inactions in a long time,” said Pearland, Texas-based brokerage executive Danny Frank, who sits on the board of directors of both groups. “It’s just simple-minded 1978-mode protectionism.”
“They’re trying to drive traffic back to their website and not to HAR’s website,” Frank said of the state association’s decision. Frank chaired HAR’s board of directors in 2013 and is a regional vice president of the Texas Association of Realtors.
HAR announced in March that it would expand HAR.com’s coverage area to the entire state of Texas by partnering with listing syndicator ListHub, a subsidiary of realtor.com operator Move Inc. Through the partnership, participating Texas brokers and multiple listing services can choose to publicize their listings on the site. The site will be bolstered by tax, school and neighborhood information commonly found on third-party portals.
“We’re the No. 2 website in Texas behind Zillow, and we’re trying to protect the Realtor member and give them access to free leads from their listings (so) they don’t have to buy them back from Zillow or Trulia,” Frank said.
There is, however, already a statewide Texas Realtor site, TexasRealEstate.com, which TAR owns and operates.
Travis Kessler, TAR’s president and CEO, said driving traffic to TAR’s site was not a “determining factor” in the board’s decision.
“They’re all Texas Realtors, so our goals are common. What benefits Texas Realtors, whether it’s through us or through (HAR), our goal is to provide a service to our membership,” he said. “The reason for denial was not because we are competitors because we don’t deem them competitors.”
Scott Kesner, TAR’s chairman-elect, agreed.
“They don’t sell contact information on your listing either one of them, so in that sense I wouldn’t call them competition,” Kesner said. “But like anything I think websites are fighting for views and hits.”
Nationally, HAR.com was the 19th most visited real estate site in June with 1.32 million unique visitors in June, according to comScore. By contrast, comScore does not track TexasRealEstate.com’s traffic because the site doesn’t meet a threshold of around 50,000 unique visitors per month.
According to the trade groups’ internal figures, HAR.com receives more than 92 million page views per month while TexasRealEstate.com received 3.9 million page views in the first five months of this year combined.
Last week, in a 23-to-16 vote, TAR’s executive board rejected a motion from HAR that would have had TAR send HAR a data feed, updated daily, of TAR’s membership roster, complete with names and contact information. In the motion HAR said it would have paid any costs associated with providing the feed and promised not to use the list to solicit TAR members to join HAR or its MLS.
The membership information HAR requested is already publicly available on agent profiles on TexasRealEstate.com and on realtor.com. HAR asked for a feed to ensure the data’s freshness, Frank said.
HAR will soon be offering free profiles to all agents, but the only profiles that will be auto-generated will be those of agents with active listings, whose names will be available through ListHub.
“(W)e do not have access to any buyer agents or brokers who will be at a disadvantage because of the TAR policy. Our goal in trying to work with TAR was to drive leads and traffic to all Texas Realtors,” said HAR spokesman David Mendel.
Frank also noted that every Keller Williams, Re/Max and Realogy franchise had agreed to send its listings to HAR.com through ListHub.
“So the people that are really being left out are the small independent brokers,” he said.
The TAR board rejected HAR’s motion on the grounds that it would instead prefer to come up with a policy and a technological solution that would work for any local association that requested the membership information, not just HAR.
Kessler said whether members would or would not object to HAR having the information was not part of the discussion.
“(The board) looked at it from a bigger picture standpoint that if they create a written policy that policy has to be applicable to every entity that requests the same information,” he said.
He disagrees with the idea that TAR is being protectionist.
“Our goal is to have a policy that works, that is thorough, consistent and can be consistently applied. We just want to do it right,” he said.
TAR suggested that, instead of a data feed, TAR could offer HAR a widget that would pull in profile information from TexasRealEstate.com when consumers search for Realtors on HAR.com. The information would appear in framed results, giving TexasRealEstate.com a traffic boost. TAR has not yet developed the suggested widget.
“This solution is a one-stop shop for all websites and partners, rather than benefiting only one association, and further customizes the membership database requirements for each request,” TAR General Counsel Lori Levy wrote in a memo to Kessler.
The memo also noted that “no metrics or traffic would benefit TAR” under the type of data feed requested by HAR.
In its motion HAR offered to put a link to TexasRealEstate.com on every one of the 90,000 or so profiles for Texas Realtors it wants to put on its site, but Kessler noted that “a link as an attribution is different than a link going to a site to pull the information.”
Frank said TAR should build a widget because it would probably be a technological improvement for every other association site in the state — but it would not be up to the standards of HAR.com.