Real estate giant Realogy Corp. (NYSE: H), with corporate brands including Coldwell Banker, Century 21 and ERA, today announced a major play to broaden its online exposure for property listings that are represented by company-owned and franchise offices.

About 500,000 Realogy-affiliated property listings that appear at the Century21.com, ColdwellBanker.com and ERA.com Web sites will also be distributed to Google and to real estate search engine Trulia.com.

The decision follows a trend in the shift of real estate advertising and marketing efforts to the Internet as buyers are increasingly surfing the Web for property information. About 80 percent of buyers use the Internet to search for a home, according to a consumer survey released in November by the National Association of Realtors, compared with 77 percent in the previous year’s survey.

Also, there is a growing number of online venues to market properties, including such sites as Oodle.com, Point2.com, LiveDeal.com, Propsmart.com, Yahoo.com and Zillow.com, among a long list.

Realogy earlier conducted a four-month pilot study in which the company provided listings from the ERA.com site to Trulia.com. Trulia reported that 15 percent of search traffic to ERA.com originated from Trulia.com during that trial period.

Meanwhile, Google has also been growing its inventory of searchable real estate information through its Google Base classified information portal, which allows agents, brokers, companies and MLSs to upload property information at no cost.

“Our brand Web sites are some of the most highly trafficked and comprehensive sites in real estate today,” said Richard A. Smith, Realogy vice chairman and president, in a statement. “Our announced distributed listing strategy follows an intense study of the advantages of the broad distribution of our listing inventory. This serves as a milestone in our strategy to maximize the advantages of the Web for the benefit of our franchisees, our operating company and our customers.”

According to the announcement, about 58 percent of all Internet searches on “real estate” and related terms are conducted on Google and its search partner sites, and about 375 million unique global users conduct searches on Google.com each month.

“For the buyer, viewing listings online is just part of the equation,” said Alex Perriello, president and CEO of the Realogy Franchise Group, in a statement. “From the Google and Trulia Web sites, consumers will be linked to the brand sites where they can learn more about individual properties, communities and the home buying process. Home sellers will naturally benefit from the additional marketing exposure for their properties.”

Sami Inkinen, COO and co-founder of Trulia, said in a statement, “We’re thrilled to provide the Realogy network of real estate professionals with new ways to promote their listings and serve their clients using Trulia.com. Broker franchisees and agents can now offer their listings and contact information through Trulia for free.”

Kenneth L. Jenny, a real estate consultant who has held management positions for Coldwell Banker and Prudential franchise operations, said the announcement by Realogy and similar decisions by other major industry players are sending a clear message about the inadequacy of existing industry rules for the online display and sharing of property information.

The Realogy decision and others of its kind deal a blow to data-sharing agreements among multiple listing service participants – namely Internet Data Exchange (IDX) agreements that allow MLS members to display listings represented by other MLS members at their own Web sites, he said.

“This move signifies that the industry would prefer not to have IDX as a way to display real estate properties to consumers. This is a big no-vote by the industry for IDX,” Jenny said.

Data sharing and display rules are the subject of an ongoing federal antitrust lawsuit filed in 2005 against the National Association of Realtors trade group, and the federal government has charged that online listings policies pursued by the association were overly restrictive.

Sites like Trulia and Google are helping to drive Web site traffic back to the agents or brokers who are the source of the property listings information, Jenny said, rather than to another source that is not representing the seller. “The listing broker owns the listing relationship. If you’re liable for that relationship you should have a choice in how it’s published,” he said.

This can reduce consumer confusion too, Jenny said, as consumers with questions about a property will be directed to the source of the listing information. “You don’t call Mercedes to ask about BMW,” he added.

Those companies that specialize in working with buyers rather than sellers can be invisible at property-search sites that attract viewers with listings content, though Jenny said that listings have always been king – buyers have traditionally been drawn to properties by listings agents’ yard signs and newspaper ads, he noted, and the Internet continues this trend.

The growing popularity of third-party property-search sites shows that those search sites are bridging the gap between real estate companies and consumers, he said, adding that companies like Realogy are engaging in a thorough review and due diligence process before choosing online marketing partners.

The many sites to choose from when marketing properties online are not all created equal — “It’s like a fruit basket. It’s apples and oranges and bananas and everything. They are finding models that work for the consumer and for the brokers,” Jenny said.

“These models improve the consumer experience. Some clear signals are being sent here,” Jenny also said. “A third-party figured it out … how to do business with the consumer and the industry and get along. It’s pretty damn exciting. This is a huge green light for the way that is acceptable for the consumer and the broker to do business together.”

Most of the Realogy property listings can already be viewed at Trulia.com, and the remainder “will be accessible … in the coming weeks,” Trulia announced.

An estimated 320,000 real estate sales professionals belong to Realogy’s franchise networks, who represent about 25 percent of the total membership in the National Association of Realtors trade group, and its affiliated agents participate in one-third of U.S. real estate transactions.

Realogy officials announced that the company will “continue to expand its listings distribution strategy by seeking out appropriate alliances and Internet channels to promote properties that appeal to particular lifestyles and niche markets.” As an example, the company announced an agreement to display select properties on LandandFarm.com, a site that specializes in country properties including farms, ranches and hunting retreats.

The Trulia.com Web site has experienced 25 percent month-over-month growth for the past six months, and the company also reported that it passed the 1 million-listings mark in November 2006 and has more than 1 million unique visitors each month.

Launched in 2005, Trulia has earlier announced agreements to display property listings supplied by other major real estate industry companies such as Keller Williams Realty, Weichert Realtors, Long & Foster Real Estate and Real Living.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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