A redesigned Realtor.com officially launches today, with site operator Move Inc. touting a "new platform built with proprietary technology and a new property database" aimed at streamlining the process of finding properties and Realtors.
The new design — the first in nearly two years — integrates Move’s active listings, new construction, rentals, recently sold and off-market property databases, allowing users to access all from the search box on the Realtor.com home page. Although that content had previously been available on Realtor.com, the company has said it wanted to make it easier to find.
"Streamlining the search experience as we’ve done on the redesigned site brings these once disparate search items together and vastly improves the speed at which data is surfaced in a more organized fashion," Move Inc. CEO Steve Berkowitz said in a company announcement.
Move, which recently updated the 1996 agreement with the National Association of Realtors governing the operation of the popular property search portal, has been beta-testing new capabilities since June. All of the capabilities that were being tested on the beta site are now available on Realtor.com, a Move spokeswoman said.
Thanks in part to Move’s relationship with NAR, Realtor.com has long been able to claim the most comprehensive and accurate set of listings of any property search portal on the Internet.
But rival property search portals like Zillow are challenging Realtor.com’s dominance, luring consumers by also providing access to information about properties that aren’t currently on the market.
That information, culled from public records and multiple listing services, can also be used to provide market statistics and generate property valuation estimates using automated valuation models.
Consumers who are drawn to a website to look up how much a neighbor’s home sold for may not be in the market themselves, and don’t necessarily make good leads for Realtors.
But since taking over as Move’s CEO last year, Berkowitz has said Realtor.com should make more information available to consumers in order to attract them throughout the entire "homeownership life cycle."
Where available, Realtor.com now displays sales and tax history alongside other relevant property data with active listings. Average prices for similar listings and sales in the neighborhood, city and state are also displayed.
An interactive map shows other homes for sale, plus off-market and recently sold properties if available. In some areas, "heat maps" display listing prices, estimated values and median income in the vicinity around a selected property listing.
Recently sold listings are provided by participating MLSs, and are not available in many markets. Data on off-market properties is also spotty.
Move has been expanding its database of sold listings and off-market data by offering multiple listing services access to its "Find" search engine tool, which is not available to consumers. The Find tool provides members of participating MLSs access not only to their own MLSs data, but Move’s database of real estate content and sold, off-market and pending sales from other MLSs using the tool.
Move announced last week that it had new licensing agreements in place or in the works with 17 MLSs representing 238,000 subscribers. The company had previously disclosed that it was receiving sold listings data from MLSs in more than 50 markets.
One thing Realtor.com users still won’t see alongside of active and recently sold listings are estimates of a property’s value generated by automated valuation models, or AVMs. Some Realtors dislike AVMs, as they may fail to take a property’s unique characteristics into account and the valuations they produce can be far off the mark.
In agreeing to update the Realtor.com operating agreement, NAR reserved the right to bar Move from displaying property-value estimates using its own AVMs.
Valuations generated by unspecified third-party AVMs are allowed, but Move has no plans to provide them alongside of active listings. Third-party AVMs will continue to be offered in conjunction with off-market properties that are no longer associated with a particular broker.
In the last Realtor.com update in October 2008, Move introduced a "What’s Your Home Worth?" tool that, in areas where a Realtor has paid for the right to receive leads generated by the tool, requires users to enter an e-mail address in order to receive a free home-value report from that Realtor.
In areas where no Realtor has signed up to receive leads, the tool calculates the average and median listing prices of properties in a given ZIP Code, rather than attempting to generate an estimated dollar value of an individual property’s worth.
Move said the home-valuation service will continue to be offered through a "Spotlight module," a widget on the home page that will also keep users abreast of new site features and provide market insights and information.
The changes to Realtor.com come at a time when the site’s primacy is being challenged as never before.
In July, Zillow announced an alliance with Yahoo Real Estate in which it will handle active listings of existing homes for both sites. Ads real estate agents and brokers purchase from Zillow will also appear on Yahoo Real Estate.
Although the alliance has yet to be implemented, last week Web metrics firm Experian Hitwise released a monthly report indicating that Yahoo Real Estate had surpassed Realtor.com as the most visited real estate site on the Internet during August. It was the first time Realtor.com had been bumped from the top of the list.
When Move opened negotiations with NAR in May to amend the Realtor.com operating agreement, Berkowitz said Move wanted more freedom to make changes to the site in order to remain competitive with other listings portals.
As amended Sept. 10, the updated Realtor.com operating agreement gives Move more leeway to make changes to the features, design and layout of the site and its user interface without obtaining prior approval from NAR.
The amended agreement includes language could pave the way for Move to display Realtor productivity statistics such as active listing counts and sold transactions, when permitted by listing brokers.
NAR must still grant its final approval before Move can add that capability to the "Find a Realtor" tool, or display consumer evaluations or ratings of Realtors.
While holding talks over the Realtor.com operating agreement, Move and NAR reached a separate agreement allowing Move to syndicate listings to third-party listing portals when requested by MLSs and brokers.
Move then announced its acquisition of Threewide Corp. and its ListHub syndication platform, which distributes listings to more than 70 real estate property portals including Zillow and Yahoo Real Estate.