WASHINGTON, D.C. — Mike Long, CEO for Move Inc., the company formerly known as Homestore that operates Realtor.com and Move.com property-search Web sites, lashed out at Google and other companies that he said seek to take control of real estate consumers while grabbing more content and marketing dollars from real estate professionals.
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” Long said Saturday during a speech to the National Association of Realtors’ board of directors at an annual legislative conference.
There is a mischaracterization in the media that popularizes the notion of a battle brewing between consumer-focused real estate-related companies and supposedly protectionist, Realtor-serving companies that want to maintain the status quo, Long said. The news media are willing proponents of this conspiracy theory, which he said “rivals that of the ‘Da Vinci Code,'” referring to a fictional movie and book that detail an ancient secret guarded through elaborate codes and clues.
Such conspiracies aside, Long said the industry is facing a very real battle to maintain control of the property listings information that so many other companies are chasing.
Some new industry participants promote their business models as consumer-friendly, and they may appear to be “charming and engaging” when they are in the presence of industry professionals, Long said, adding, “Privately and in non-industry forums, they detest you. They view Realtors as an anachronism that has outlived its usefulness.”
Powerful Internet portals and search engines, such as MSN, Yahoo!, Google and AOL, “are in a ferocious competition” to engage real estate consumers online, he said. It appears that companies “are positioning to re-enter the battle for control of the real estate consumer” and “will pursue multiple strategies indirectly through vertical search or directly through the industry because they increasingly believe that the industry will voluntarily give them access to the industry’s data.”
He added, “This is not about disintermediating Realtors – it is about carving out a big chunk of Realtor commission for a marketing presence online.” The likely intent is to gain “a permanent content advantage which they believe the industry is willing to give them. When this scenario is played out, all industry controlled sites will effectively be subordinated to these sites.”
Google Base, a Google beta site that allows users to post content including property ads, could potentially become “a de facto MLS … with no MLS rules” that is not reliant on Realtors. The company, he said, “put a lot of bright young ‘Google-ites’ on airplanes and they’ve been visiting you” to discuss plans in the real estate sector, he said.
Any discussions about who is entitled to leads generated from a property listing, or what is acceptable advertising in and around a home listing are “over” when it comes to Google Base, he also said. “(This) is an unrestricted, self-service advertising environment.”
Alan Yassky, a former treasurer for the National Association of Realtors who serves as a Realtor representative on the Move board of directors, said that while Realtor.com has been aided for years by traffic driven from other real estate portals, those channels “do not appear to be friendly and as we look to the future we don’t think they’re going to be friendly.” Move is working to build its own portal so that the company doesn’t “have to worry about anyone intercepting our traffic,” he said during an address to NAR’s directors.
Long rattled off lists of companies as he described a history of technology companies’ forays into the real estate sector. Some companies have “sought to disintermediate the role of Realtors,” while others sought to capture buyers and sellers without the industry’s content and attempted to sell leads back to Realtors. Still others sought to aggregate real estate listings, in some cases “without your permission,” with “an ultimate goal to make the industry’s data ubiquitous.”
He cited Microsoft as a company that sought to disintermediate real estate professionals, with HomeGain, LendingTree and “potentially Zillow” as companies that sought to profit from real estate professionals by drawing an audience of home buyers and sellers to their sites. Meanwhile, he said that Trulia and Propsmart are examples of real estate listings aggregators that seek access to the industry’s property listings information in order to push the information out to consumers through their own Web sites.
Move has adopted or has plans to adopt some of the business strategies already in use by other real estate technology companies that Long mentioned, such as a home-valuation tool at the HomeInsight.com Web site and the sale of qualified leads and pay-per-performance ads to Realtors. Move officials have also announced plans for interactive mapping features, neighborhood information and user-generated content at its property-search sites.
Long said that Move’s goal is to drive traffic to real estate listings through two major channels: it’s Move.com and Realtor.com sites, and to catch consumers at the earliest stages of property searches.
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