Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Should you be syndicating your listings to the major third-party syndication sites such as Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow? Edina Realty and Howard Hanna Real Estate are in the midst of a real-world experiment to answer this very important question.

Just prior to Memorial Day, Edina Realty made the decision to pull its listings from Realtor.com after also pulling the plug on Trulia and Zillow. Part of what motivated Edina was the inaccuracy of its data on these sites, as well as having lead forms for non-Edina agents adjacent to its listings.

I recently interviewed Victor Lund, co-founder of the WAV Group, who had some interesting insights into this situation. Lund pointed to Edina Real Estate and to Howard Hanna as two polar opposites in this debate, both of whom are having success with their respective business models.

Edina Realty: no syndication required

Edina Realty has dominant market share in the areas it serves. Its decision to end its syndication agreements with third-party publishers was partially based upon the fact that it could not control what happened to its listing data once it was sent to these portals.

In Lund’s opinion, "The disconnects occur when a third-party site is introduced between the consumer and the broker. Edina’s move was not (a) political statement — it was a business decision."

Clearly, since Edina has doubled down by stopping syndication to Realtor.com, the answer with respect to other third-party publisher websites is that it really hasn’t hurt the brokerage. In fact, Edina agents are receiving and converting more leads than when they were syndicating.

Whether this will be the case with Realtor.com remains to be seen. As Lund put it, Edina is "testing a strategy. If it works, they will continue to limit syndication. If it doesn’t work, they will turn it back on."

Howard Hanna bets on syndication

Howard Hanna Real Estate Services has made a "seven-figure investment" to enhance its listings on Realtor.com and on Zillow. After careful research, it decided that having a major presence on these sites complemented its other marketing efforts.

The reason for this decision seems fairly obvious: Listings syndicated to Realtor.com also appear on MSN Real Estate (Realtor.com operator Move Inc.’s subsidiary, ListHub, syndicates a different set of listings to AOL Real Estate). Zillow feeds Yahoo Real Estate and sells ads that appear both sites.

What’s fascinating about the Hanna research is that they seemed to have had the same result that Edina is experiencing:

Howard Hanna Ohio President Howard "Hoby" Hanna IV told Inman News that the company conducted a six-month test of enhanced listings on Trulia and Zillow "to see what it would do." The result: "more leads, but less traffic to HowardHanna.com."

Furthermore, "we polled clients, and found that a lot of buyers were confused" when scheduling showings of listings by using a website lead form, Hanna said. "The listing agent would be there to let them in the house, and the buyer’s agent shows up, too. They say, "Who are you? I thought we were talking to the listing agent.’"

Their surveys supported the same conclusion I reached after hearing the Hear It Direct panels last month in Dallas: Consumers want to talk to the listing agent.

Given that the Google generation wants to "get to the source," this represents a serious issue for anyone who syndicates.

Hanna addressed these issues by doing the following:

1. Requiring Realtor.com and Zillow to block having other companies advertise adjacent to Howard Hanna listings. This means that any client leads from these sites will go to the listing agent — the same goal that Edina hopes to achieve without a million-dollar expenditure. This is also what their sellers said they wanted to happen with respect to their listings — the leads should go their listing agent.

2. Obtaining commitments to ensure the accuracy of the listing data as well as to position its listings at the top on the "Featured Listings" part of these sites. This means that the Hanna listings will come up first on Zillow searches and first on Realtor.com searches where the user asks to see "Featured Listings."

What decision will you make?

How can you evaluate this decision for your business? Lund argues that careful syndication, as opposed to "throwing your data to the wind," makes sense for most brokers. To evaluate this decision, Lund recommends that you answer the following questions:

1. Are you continuing to generate more leads or at least maintain the same number of leads you were generating before you stopped syndicating?

2. Is the quality of the leads increasing?

3. Are the days on market the same or less than they were before stopping syndication?

4. Are the sales-to-list-price ratios the same or better than they were before stopping syndication?

5. Has this decision resulted in any decline in customer satisfaction?

6. Does this decision have any influence on your ability to recruit and retain agents?

The bottom line is that there is no black-and-white solution as to whether listing syndication is good or bad.

Will third-party syndication sites be able to exist if large numbers of big brokers decide to pull the plug on their listing feeds? Conversely, will MLS systems and the major brokerages be able to stay in business if they fail to provide the type of exposure and the functionality that these sites provide? The jury is out; only time will tell.

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