Realtor.com operator Move Inc. says it’s about to launch the next version of the Web’s most-visited real estate portal in beta test mode to provide consumers with improved access to sold and off-market property data, and is currently engaged in a "dialogue" with the National Association of Realtors about its agreement to run the website.
Move’s operating agreement with NAR to operate Realtor.com is now 14 years old, CEO Steve Berkowitz told investors in a conference call discussion of first-quarter results.
Move will launch a beta test version of the overhauled site in the next few weeks, he said, and would like additional clarity from NAR "to understand what, and how things can get done" so that Realtor.com can remain competitive.
The original Realtor.com operating agreement "anticipated that the market would evolve and ensured that there was a clear, direct process to resolve any issues or questions," Berkowitz said.
"We have initiated that process provided for under the operating agreement. To be clear, the operating agreement continues to be in full force, and in fact a dialogue continues with the NAR."
NAR spokesman Lucien Salvant said the group "has had a great relationship with Realtor.com over the years, and we look forward to what they have to say."
Salvant acknowledged that there have been "several discussions in the past," but said there have been no detailed discussions on the issues raised by Berkowitz Thursday.
Some observers have suggested that the interests of Move and NAR may conflict as NAR moves forward with the launch of a parcel-based national property database, Realtor Property Resource (RPR), to be accessible only to Realtors.
Move was initially involved in helping NAR develop the database, but in the end NAR decided to purchase technology and license data from Cyberhomes.com operator Lender Processsing Services.
Since taking charge of Move in January 2009, Berkowitz has said the company must make its own vast property records data and other information more accessible to consumers and Realtors.
"The market, the competitive environment and the Internet has evolved, providing consumers and Realtors with access to more information than ever before," he said Thursday.
"The information is out there. Not just from us, but from a number of other competitive websites. We believe we have to have the most comprehensive and most reliable information available, and provide outstanding consumer and real estate professional experiences." …CONTINUED
Berkowitz said the beta version of Realtor.com will soon be available on an "opt in" basis for a period of two to three months, with all visitors being offered the option of using the new platform. Those who don’t can continue to use the existing site until it is phased out at the end of the beta test.
"We plan to have homes for sale listings, which is still the search default, new construction, recently sold, as well as off market properties and rentals, all searchable and discoverable from one place," Berkowitz said.
Although that content can already be found on Realtor.com, it hasn’t always easy to find, he said.
"One interesting point is that in spite of the fact that our property information has been hard to find, we still attract millions of users every month to that content," he said. Simplifying search and providing easier access to content "will help Move remain the premier online real estate destination."
Move has "overcome a major hurdle with this pending release," Berkowitz said.
"Our stale and inflexible architecture was a serious inhibitor for any strategic initiative that we wanted to implement, and our lack of a product roadmap only exacerbated the problem," Berkowitz said. "I’m pleased to say those issues will no longer be bottlenecks to our success.
The discussions with NAR over the Realtor.com operating agreement are expected to take "a few months," Berkowitz said.
He said "a number of questions" have come up "around certain concepts and points in the operating agreement that we feel need clarification."
Asked by an investment analyst if there were any issues in the agreement that Move feels restricted by, Berkowitz said "it’s not a question of what we can or we can’t do today."
He said there’s a clause in the agreement that says Move must stay competitive.
"So our goal in this process actually is to just gain clarity. We’ve been able to operate the business now and continue to operate the business within the operating agreement, but it is just now a need for us to get clarity around" what the definition of competitive means, Berkowitz said.
In announcing first quarter results, Move said it lost $20.3 million, up from $10.2 million a year ago. But nearly all of the loss was attributed to the company’s decision to sell off auction-rate securities, which it acquired before the financial crisis, at a loss.
Move said first-quarter revenue was stable, falling by about $1 million from the previous quarter to $48.6 million, and is expected to stay within that range for the remainder of the year. The company upped its guidance for 2010 revenue, saying it should fall between $191 million and $195 million.
Editor’s note: this story has been updated to include a reference to a previous story on NAR’s Realtor Property Resource national property database.
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