Editor’s note: This story has been updated to note that in addition to a desire to increase traffic to its own website, Edina Realty has cited inaccuracies in listings data on third-party listing portals as a reason for withholding data from those sites. Also, Edina Realty said it does not charge agents website referral fees for leads on their own listings. Although it does charge referral fees for other Web leads, its fee structure is less than the 35 percent claimed by a former agent, and is assessed according to sales price as well as a number of other factors, the company said.

When one of the largest real estate brokerages in the U.S. announced last year it was pulling its listings from national real estate portals like Realtor.com and Trulia, it got the industry’s attention.

Some brokers have complained about the advertisements that third-party listing portals run next to their listings. But Minnesota-based Edina Realty Inc. was the first large brokerage to sever ties with all of them, saying the move was good for competition locally and it hoped to boost traffic to its own website.

Edina Realty, which operates in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul market, western Wisconsin and parts of North Dakota, claims the decision to stop providing listings to the national portals has improved Web market share and been good for business. But some Web metrics — and an Edina Realty competitor — say otherwise.

A 2,100-agent HomeServices of America Inc. subsidiary, Edina Realty had never syndicated listings to Zillow. The company shut off the flow of listings to Trulia in November 2011 and Realtor.com in May.

Edina Realty at a glance

No. of current listings (approx.) No. of agents Total No. of listings in market (approx.) Realtor.com, syndication status Zillow, syndication status Trulia, syndication status
9,000 2,100 23,000 Stopped, May 2012 Never syndicated to Stopped, Nov. 2011

Source: Edina Realty

Now, consumers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market no longer get a comprehensive picture of what homes are on the market if they start their home search on one of the three most-visited national real estate portals — Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com.

Edina Realty says it represents about 20 percent of the listings in NorthstarMLS, the large regional MLS serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul market (the brokerage is a member of 14 MLSs all told).

Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com command close to a third of the real estate-related Web traffic market share in the U.S., if their various partners are included in the tally.

While several brokerages have stopped syndicating listings to third-party sites like Zillow and Trulia, it’s more unusual for them to cut off the flow of data to Realtor.com, which is operated by Move Inc. under the terms of an agreement with the National Association of Realtors.

In January, a small San Diego-based brokerage, ARG Abbott Realty Group, pulled listings from Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com. Realtor.com says ARG and Edina are the only brokerages currently withholding listings from the site.

U.S.-wide market share* of real estate-related websites, November 2012

Rank Company Domain Market share
1 Zillow zillow.com 9.21%
2 Trulia trulia.com 7.41%
3 Realtor.com realtor.com 6.22%
4 Yahoo Homes homes.yahoo.com 6.05%
5 Homes.com homes.com 3.18%
6 MSN Real Estate realestate.msn.com 1.83%
7 Rent.com rent.com 1.57%
8 AOL Real Estate realestate.aol.com 1.46%
9 ZipRealty ziprealty.com 1.29%
10 Apartment Guide apartmentguide.com 1.27%

Source: Experian Hitwise *Does not include traffic from mobile devices

Thanks to its ties to the National Association of Realtors, Realtor.com enjoys nearly comprehensive listing coverage in most of the U.S., receiving listings data directly from more than 900 MLSs.

While Zillow and Trulia and other national listing portals receive listings from MLSs in some markets, they rely heavily on listing “syndicators” like ListHub and Point2 that gather up data from brokerages.

Since Edina Realty stopped syndicating to Realtor.com and other national portals, consumers who want to see listings represented by the brokerage must get them from an MLS-affiliated site — either Edina Realty’s website, websites operated by other brokerages affiliated with one of the MLSs that Edina Realty belongs to, or sites operated by MLSs themselves.

Edina Realty agents handled 21,814 transaction sides in 2011, representing the buyer, seller or both in home sales totaling $4.48 billion.

The brokerage has closed 23 percent more transactions through July than the same period last year, said Edina Realty President and CEO Bob Peltier.

Bob Peltier

Some of this increase can be attributed to a healthier local real estate market — closed transactions for the MLS as a whole went up 15 percent in the same time period, Peltier said — but Edina Realty is outperforming the market.

Visits to Edina Realty’s website (mobile included) were up 21.7 percent from July 2011 to July 2012, and unique visitors were up 17 percent in the same period, Peltier said.

“Every indicator we’ve looked at shows (cutting off the flow of listings to national portals) was the right move,” Peltier said.

“I believe that consumers are using a variety of mediums to learn about real estate and that restricting information to a single channel will not modify consumer behavior,” wrote Realtor.com President Errol Samuelson in a blog post about Edina Realty’s move to shut off listings in May when the brokerage announced its decision.

Trulia management posted a similar response, pointing out that when listings don’t show up on Trulia, they don’t receive full national exposure to its millions of monthly visitors.

Zillow took a similar stance: “If a brokerage isn’t marketing a listing on Zillow, it isn’t seen across the largest real estate network in the country, or across the most popular platform of mobile real estate apps,” a company spokesperson said.

Living without the large portals isn’t easy. Operators of third-party listing portals are often able to devote more resources than brokerages to building consumer-friendly websites aimed at providing a wealth of information on neighborhoods and market conditions.

A recent review by real estate consulting firm Clareity Consulting concluded that Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia have the best mobile apps for consumers.

And the portals have significant national brand awareness and draw lots of eyes, even at the local level. A brokerage that pulls listings from third-party websites may sacrifice leads and Web traffic to competing brokerages to homebuyers (both local and nonlocal) who know the big brands and not its specific one.

Brokerages that restrict where their listings go might also lose sellers who want to see their listings distributed to the most venues possible. Homebuyers not from a brokerage’s area might not know to look at the brokerage’s website, but rely on the national home search brands they know.

However, some brokers are irritated by both the data accuracy challenges many portals face and the fact that they’re building their businesses on the backs of agents, the brokers’ own moneymakers. According to one former agent, Edina Realty charges its agents 35 percent of their commission for leads generated by the company’s website.

A company spokeswoman said Edina Realty “does not charge agents referral fees for leads on their own listings.” The company’s fee structure for website leads “is less than 35 percent and is assessed differently according to sales price as well as a number of other factors.”

This month, Rochester, N.Y.-based Nothnagle Realtors, ranked by Real Trends Inc. as the nation’s 37th-largest brokerage in 2011 based on 8,070 transaction sides, became the latest brokerage to stop syndicating its listings to Zillow and Trulia, citing, more or less, the reasons above.

Other brokerages have done the exact opposite.

For example, Pittsburgh-based Howard Hanna — ranked by Real Trends as the fourth-largest brokerage by transaction sides in 2011 — said in February it would pay a seven-figure sum (between $1 million and $10 million) for special treatment of its listings on Trulia and Zillow.

And last June, the nation’s largest brokerage company, Realogy Corp. subsidiary NRT LLC, announced it had signed agreements to add advertising enhancements to 100,000 property listings on Trulia, Zillow, Realtor.com and Yahoo Real Estate.

Drilling down

Edina Realty is by far the largest broker in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., region with 21,814 closed transaction sides in 2011, according to Real Trends. (Its two competitors, Coldwell Banker Burnet and Re/Max Results, had 13,975 and 11,843 closed transaction sides in 2011, respectively).

Edina Realty decided to stop providing listings data to Trulia late last year and Realtor.com in May, in part because the company believed it could improve its local business, its search engine optimization (SEO) and its Web traffic.

The company also said inaccurate listings data can expose agents and brokers to legal liability. Because Realtor.com gets its listing data directly from MLSs, it’s been largely immune from complaints about data accuracy.

“I will give Realtor.com credit — they are probably the most accurate of the websites out there, and I appreciate that,” Peltier told Inman News in April. “But they are not working in the agent’s or broker’s best interests.”

Screen shot of Edina Realty’s home page.

Instead of marketing to third-party portals, Edina Realty decided to reinvest in a mobile-optimized website, Peltier said. The website — redesigned last summer with real estate design and marketing consulting firm 1000watt Consulting to improve search and access to market data — now has built-in customer relationship tools like live chat, he said. And the brokerage developed its own mobile apps for Android and iOS devices.

“I still believe our competition is local,” Peltier said. So, the decision to take the brokerage’s listings off national websites was a decision to focus on dominating its market, which includes Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., Greater Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Visitors are spending more time on Edina Realty’s website than they were a year ago, he said, and through the second quarter of 2012, customer service leads from its website are up 40 percent compared to the first two quarters of 2011.

“If it turns out we’re wrong, we’ll do something else,” Peltier said. So far, it looks like it’s been a good decision, he said.

Web traffic data from Web analytics firm comScore, however, shows that Edina Realty’s number of unique visitors and the market share of real estate-related Web traffic in its Minneapolis-St. Paul market has nearly dropped in half since October 2011, the month before it pulled out of Trulia and seven months before it pulled out of Realtor.com.

ComScore, like its Web metrics competitor Experian Hitwise, measures the number of Web visits from within an area designated as a “demographic market area” (DMA). A total of 210 DMAs cover the entire U.S. The Minneapolis-St. Paul DMA includes all of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area and a handful of surrounding counties.

Hitwise and comScore data, it should be noted, are built off of samples, and rankings can vary from month to month. They’re typically used to monitor trends, not precise Web metrics.

Hitwise builds its estimates off of a sample size of 10 million users in the U.S., which includes an unnamed number of “panel” users who allow the company to passively monitor their Web activity; comScore builds its estimates off of a sample size of 1 million U.S. “panel” users and a network of tagged domains that track data associated with traffic to a site. However, some industry watchers say the small sample size at the DMA level for these methodologies hampers their accuracy and precision.

Opinion is split in the real estate industry about which is the best Web metric to follow, and since they differ in the way they track data, as described below, they offer complementary insights into Web traffic patterns. Outside of tapping into a company’s in-house Web metrics, these third-party sources offer the best unbiased results available.

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., DMA, real estate-related Web traffic* rank metrics from comScore

Month, Year Edina Realty’s rank Total unique visitors (real estate) Percent of real estate-related Web traffic
October, 2011^ 3 159,000 17.1%
April, 2012 ^^ 5 123,000 13.4%
October, 2012 6 77,000 9.6%

Source: comScore
* Does not include traffic from mobile devices
^ One month before Edina Realty pulled listings from Trulia
^^ One month before Edina Realty pulled listings from Realtor.com
^^^ Most recent data available

In October 2011, the month before it stopped sending its listings to Trulia, Edina Realty ranked No. 3 in its market with 159,000 unique visitors to its website, capturing 17.1 percent of the real estate-related Web traffic that month, according to comScore.

In April, the month before it would pull listings from Realtor.com, Edina Realty had dropped to No. 5 on comScore’s list with 123,000 unique visitors each month and 13.4 percent of the real estate-related Web traffic that month.

ComScore, which calculates Web traffic share by monthly unique visitors, groups associated sites like Zillow and Yahoo together. Zillow powers for-sale and for-rent listings on Yahoo Real Estate and sells targeted ads to real estate agents and brokers that appear on both sites. MSN Real Estate serves up framed Realtor.com search results.

Through October 2012, the most recent comScore data shows that Edina Realty website traffic share had dropped, again, on the list of most-visited real estate-related websites in the Minneapolis-St. Paul DMA to No. 6, settling at 9.6 percent with 77,000 unique visitors.

However, a different set of data from Hitwise, which calculates Web share by bulk visits — not by unique visitors — shows that Edina Realty ranked No. 1 in the Minneapolis-St. Paul DMA in October 2011 and April 2012, but dropped to No. 2 in November 2012, down from 8.24 percent in October 2011 to 6.49 percent in November.

A spokeswoman for Edina Realty called the accuracy of the ComScore data “highly questionable,” because “a sample size of 1 million is unreliable. Our internal tracking doesn’t show any downward trends in key performance metrics associated with website or mobile traffic or lead conversion.”

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., DMA real estate-related Web traffic* rank metrics from Hitwise

Month, Year Edina Realty’s rank Percent of real estate-related Web traffic
October, 2011^ 1 8.24%
April, 2012 ^^ 1 8.59%
November, 2012 ^^^ 2 6.49%

Source: Experian Hitwise
* Does not include traffic from mobile devices
^ One month before Edina Realty pulled listings from Trulia
^^ One month before Edina Realty pulled listings from Realtor.com
^^^ Most recent data available

Based on this data, Edina Realty, when its unique visitor traffic is compared to real estate-related networks, has lost ground, twice, after halting the flow of its listing data to Trulia and Realtor.com, dropping from No. 3 in the market to No. 5 in April and to No. 6 in October.

When total Web visits and distinct Web addresses are considered, Edina Realty maintained its position as the most-visited real estate-related website after pulling its listings from Trulia last November, but has dropped to No. 2 behind Zillow since choosing to stop syndicating to Realtor.com in May.

Hitwise data shows that Coldwell Banker Burnet, an Edina Realty competitor in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, has gained Web market share in recent months. In November, the gap between the two narrowed to 3.72 percentage points as Coldwell Banker Burnet’s website climbed to the No. 7 spot of the most visited real estate-related website in the market. In April, by comparison, the gap was 6.55 percent when Coldwell Banker Burnet ranked No. 10 and Edina Realty No. 1.

Agents on the ground

Regardless of the issue of Web dominance, Edina Realty has lost agents who aren’t happy about the syndication change to other brokerages, said Marshall Saunders, co-owner of Edina Realty competitor Re/Max Results.

Saunders estimates that about 40 Edina Realty agents, many of them unhappy with the brokerage’s decision to withdraw listings from Realtor.com, have joined Re/Max Results since May.

Lynn Clare, vice president of marketing at Edina Realty, acknowledges that the brokerage has lost some agents, but she points out that as of the end of August, the number of new real estate agents to join the brokerage is up 37 percent from the same period in 2011. Over a third of those new hires transferred from other brokerages, she said.

Erica Jodsaas is one former Edina Realty agent who left the brokerage because she wasn’t happy about the recent changes in its syndication policy. She moved to Re/Max Results at the end of August. “It was a big decision for me,” she said.

Ultimately, Jodsaas said, it came down to a business decision. Sellers want their listings to be seen in as many places as possible, she said, and she does, too. When Edina Realty pulled its listings from syndication, Jodsaas would have had to manually input each listing in each of the sites she wanted it to appear.

“I don’t have time for that,” Jodsaas said.

Business at Re/Max Results, Saunders said, has gone up significantly since June, the month after Edina Realty stopped sending listings to Realtor.com. It outperformed the market by 7 percent in that time, he said.

And, Saunders said, the number of unique visitors to the Re/Max Results website tripled in June (three times higher than it had ever been), a month after Edina Realty stopped sending its listings to Realtor.com, and has held steady ever since, Saunders said. The brokerage still ranks behind Edina Realty, however, in terms of DMA Web share, according to Hitwise.

Real estate-related Web traffic* share in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., November 2012

Rank Website Percent total
1 Zillow 7.56%
2 Edina Realty 6.49%
3 Trulia 6.28%
4 MLSonline.com 5.06%
5 Realtor.com 4.88%
6 Yahoo Homes 4.78%
7 Coldwell Banker Burnet (cbburnet.com) 2.77%
8 Homes.com 2.67%
9 MSN Real Estate 2.44%
10 Rent.com 2.31%

Source: Experian Hitwise * Does not include traffic from mobile devices

Earlier this month, Re/Max Results signed an agreement with Trulia to promote its listings and agents on the portal. The gap left by Edina Realty directly inspired Re/Max Results to do the deal, Saunders said. “We see this as a huge weakness for Edina and we plan to take advantage,” he said.

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