To the dismay of some of the company’s brokers, Prudential Real Estate apparently barred two of the biggest names in online real estate — Trulia and Zillow — from exhibiting at the company’s annual convention in San Diego this week.
Both companies had booked booths at the show and flew executives to Southern California to rub elbows with Prudential brokers, only to be told at the last minute they were not welcome.
Trulia co-founder Sami Inkinen said that 20 minutes before the company’s exhibit booth was scheduled to open, Russell Capper — president of Prudential’s e-commerce subsidiary, Prudential Real Estate Services Co. — told the company to “pack up and leave immediately.”
Writing on his company’s blog, Inkinen said Trulia was told the company’s business model is in direct competition with a partnership between Prudential Real Estate Affiliates and Yahoo! Inc.
Yahoo! and Prudential in 2004 reached an exclusive agreement through which Prudential brokers supply property listings for display at the Yahoo! Real Estate site.
Prudential brokers familiar with the agreement said they pay a referral fee when leads generated through the agreement with Yahoo! lead to a sale. Trulia and Zillow invite brokers to feed listings to their sites and do not charge referral fees.
Capper, the founder of eRealty Inc., a real estate technology company that Prudential acquired for its technology in 2004, did not respond to requests for comment from Inman News. Sheila Bridgeforth, vice president of global communications for Prudential Financial Inc., did not return a phone call, but provided a one-sentence statement via e-mail.
“Prudential Real Estate is committed to the needs of its affiliates and to providing them with the highest level of service and support,” the statement said.
Prudential brokers who spoke to Inman News, however, said the company seemed to be acting in its own best interests, not those of its franchisees.
Ed Krafchow, president of Prudential California/Nevada/Texas Realty, said Trulia and Zillow are “good business partners, and I’m not going to stop using them.”
Krafchow’s company sends listings to Trulia under a partnership made in 2006. Trulia also indexes listings supplied by a number of prominent Prudential brokers from around the country, including Prudential Florida WCI Realty, Devon, Penn.-based Prudential Fox & Roach, Prudential New Jersey Properties, Prudential Preferred Properties in Chicago, Prudential Arizona Properties, and Prudential Gary Greene Realtors of Houston. Each of those companies has provided testimonials lauding their partnerships on Trulia’s Web site.
Krafchow said he took Zillow executive Ben Clark out to dinner in San Diego because “I’m always uncomfortable when someone is invited to a party, and then they are turned away.”
Krafchow said he’d also recently met with Michael Yang and his team at Yahoo! Real Estate.
“My job as the owner of a company is to develop as many resources for my agents as I can get,” he said. “That’s my job, and I don’t want a franchiser interfering with that job.”
Krafchow questioned the wisdom of the decision to bar Trulia and Zillow from the convention “because these are things that should be tools for brokers; they help develop knowledge in the broker community” on how to make the best use of the Internet.
Rory Siems, a Prudential California Realtor in Orange County, said he sees Yahoo! as a better resource for sellers, while Trulia offers more tools to buyers.
“The worst thing would be for Prudential to say we don’t want brokers to have a relationship with Trulia,” Siems said. “I like having both.”
Siems said Prudential Real Estate may view Yahoo as an affiliate. “Prudential guards their affiliates because it’s the only way they can make money,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with it … but I think choice just makes the whole thing better.”
In his blog post, Trulia’s Inkinen said that despite being barred from exhibiting at the convention, the company was still able to meet with dozens of Prudential brokers in San Diego.
There were “no hard feelings” over being shown the door at the conference, Inkinen said. “Russ wasn’t aware we were coming. Business is business.”
Kelly Roark, Trulia’s vice president of industry development, confirmed that Inkinen authored the account of events in San Diego on the company’s blog, but would not comment further.
Roark said Trulia refers 2 million visitors to external listing sites each month, and does not charge referral fees or redirect listing traffic to anyone other than listing brokers or agents. A basic service that directs traffic to listing agents and brokers is free, although optional paid advertising is available.
Zillow spokeswoman Amy Bohutinsky portrayed the company’s absence at the Prudential convention as the result of a mutual decision made after consultation with the event’s organizers.
“We did have plans to exhibit at the Prudential show,” Bohutinsky said in an e-mail. “However, after a conversation with conference management, we both decided the time was not right for us to participate. Perhaps next year.”
Bohutinsky said Zillow draws 4 million visitors a month, and that agents can place an unlimited number of listings on the site for free. They also have the option of purchasing advertising.
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