NEW YORK — During a discussion of broker Internet strategies at a real estate conference Monday, Justin McCarthy of Google said the real estate industry appears to be shifting toward openness rather than exclusivity in the sharing of property information.
While brokers had historically discussed how to keep listings away from aggregator sites that sought to share more listings information with consumers, McCarthy said the discussion is now about “how do you get listings to all of these sites.”
“It’s nice to know … we’re having that conversation,” he said.
Google, with its Google Base online classified site, is one of many national Web sites that accepts information directly from real estate agents, brokers, home sellers and multiple listings services, and allows consumers to search and sort this collection of information.
As the list grows, so do the questions from brokers and agents about how they should share property listings information.
The answer is not universal, said participants in the “Broker Internet Strategy Session,” a part of the Real Estate Connect New York City conference that began Monday and runs through Wednesday.
Charlie Young, senior vice president of marketing for Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corp., said, “At the individual brokerage level we believe in syndicating the data. Our job is to market properties — put properties in front of consumers.” He also noted that there’s not a uniform protocol for sending information out to various marketing sites, adding, “Every market is going to be different.”
It’s OK to take a wait-and-see approach to new marketing opportunities, Young said. “You don’t have to be the first on one of these sites. (Ask) ‘What are they doing in the marketplace? What are they doing for others?’ “
David Michonski, chairman and CEO for Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, a Manhattan real estate firm with about 300 agents, said, “You’ve got to be vigilant, you’ve got to be careful,” he said. He noted that he had watched online traffic statistics at Trulia.com, a real estate search-engine company, before making a decision to partner with that company. “You sort of make that cost-benefit analysis,” he said.
Being an early adopter of a new site can bear rewards, said Jeffrey Bastress, president for StartPoint Realty. Bastress said home sellers typically would argue for as much exposure as possible for their for-sale property. “Ask sellers where they want to be — they’d say, ‘Anywhere possible.’ If it’s exposure it’s exposure. I really don’t see why we’re harmed by that.”
An audience member suggested that a possible test for whether to share listings with an online site is to ask whether that site relies on real estate professionals to supply property listings in order to exist, or whether that site can stand on its own without property listings. By that litmus, sites like Google or Craigslist are viable partners for real estate professionals because they already exist as online communities — with or without listings — the real estate professional suggested.
Another attendee at the session argued that any marketing opportunity is a good one if it helps the real estate professional to close transactions.
While the discussion largely focused on the sharing of information with other sites, Michonski noted that the Manhattan real estate industry is still largely closed to the sharing of property listings information in an open and public way.
There is a local Realtor association-owned MLS in Manhattan with participation by about 42 firms, though “We still are in a marketplace that has not accepting co-broking,” he said. “People do share listings but they share them on a limited scale.”
Information transparency can provoke a knee-jerk reaction in the real estate industry, McCarthy said, as some real estate Web sites may allow consumers to post online comments about specific properties and agents. Real estate professionals, he said, need to decide “whether you have the stomach and the temperament to actually have ongoing dialog with consumers and prospective consumers.”
There is “the pain of it and the gain of it” to consider, he said. “It is a bit of an education process. There are plenty examples where it is a positive thing.”
“Participation is good,” Young said. “The more you have consumers participating and interacting … it gives you more of an opportunity to do what you do best — facilitate real estate transactions. “This is a consumer-driven industry.”
Justin Merickel, senior director of the finance and mortgage category for Yahoo! Search Marketing, said it’s important for companies to provide outlets for consumers to share their experiences with others.
Sellers, said Bastress, can deal with honesty. “Sellers want to be told the truth — they don’t want their ears tickled. It is hugely important for sellers to hear this (feedback).”
Openness can sometimes create conflict when it leads to “real estate voyeurism,” Michonski said, and he asked whether brokers should play a role in protecting the privacy of their sellers when it comes to very public comments about properties. “Do we want it to be subjected to what might be very unfair criticism?” he asked.
The panel of experts also discussed possible threats to the system of hundreds of local, regional and state MLSs that crisscross the country. Michonski said he doesn’t believe there will be a quick replacement to the existing MLS system, as MLSs help to verify the accuracy of real estate data on a local level and allow for compensation offers between real estate firms. “As we get more and more national with our data exposure the quality of the data goes down,” he said.