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8 more Austin real estate brokerages turn off flow of listings to portals

Realtor.com not included in move aimed at 'real estate advertising portals'

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Eight Austin-based real estate brokerages are taking a cue from their local Realtor association and will no longer send their listings to real estate portals not affiliated with a Realtor trade group.

Earlier this month, the Austin Board of Realtors announced that as of April 30, 2014, it would no longer distribute its members’ listings to third-party listing portals through listing syndicator ListHub, citing concerns about unethical business practices and inaccurate listing data on third-party sites. Members would then be free to decide whether to syndicate their listings to third-party sites on their own.

At the time of the board’s announcement, Realty Austin, which claims to be the second-largest residential real estate firm in Austin, announced that it would stop syndicating real estate listings to national third-party websites.

Today, eight additional firms announced they would take the same step and end listing syndication to what they called “real estate advertising portals.” These include Zillow and Trulia, but not realtor.com, the official site of the National Association of Realtors.

The nine firms, Sky Realty, Reilly Realtors, Vox Real Estate, Crossland Real Estate, Regent Property Group, Bramlett Residential, Cantera Real Estate, Austin Referral Realty Inc. and Realty Austin represent about 450 (or 5 percent) of ABoR’s 9,400 members.

The firms had previously been syndicating to several websites through ABoR’s agreement with ListHub, but will now only syndicate to the Realtor-affiliated sites ABoR will syndicate to, including realtor.com, AustinHomeSearch.com (ABoR’s official search site) and TexasRealEstate.com (operated by the Texas Association of Realtors).

The brokerages cited the desire to protect consumers from third-party sites’ inaccurate listing data and lack of oversight, as well as objections to the sites’ ad-based business models, as reasons behind the decision.

“Our 220 agents are excited to regain control over where their listings are advertised online. We turned off our direct feed to all unregulated third-party websites because we believe they cause distrust between consumers and Realtors by posting inaccurate and outdated listing information, ” said Jonathan Boatwright, co-owner of Realty Austin, in a statement.

“From now on, our sellers will make an informed decision for their listing and our buyers will learn why it makes sense to use a website powered by the MLS.”

Boatwright was part of the ABoR task force that studied the issue of listing syndication for more that a year and ultimately recommended the board pull out of syndication.

“I am confident that the real winner in today’s announcement is the consumer,” he said. “We hope other firms and real estate boards across the country will question the status quo and take the time to study this issue as deeply as we have here in Austin.”

In a statement submitted to Inman News, Trulia said it is focused on powering the success of real estate brokers and agents.

“We attract 35 million unique consumers a month, and with 95 percent of the broker members in the Austin market continuing to send listings to Trulia, it is clear we are delivering them lots of value. We look forward to continuing to work with them to bring accurate listings to our transaction ready audience and help them be successful,” the company said.

Zillow spokeswoman Cynthia Nowak also emphasized Zillow’s traction in the Austin market.

“Zillow has great relationships with the major brokers and franchisors in this market, all of whom believe in marketing their clients’ listings broadly, including on Zillow, which operates the largest real estate network on the Web as well as is the No. 1 real estate brand in the Austin market, in addition to operating the most the popular suite of mobile apps nationwide,” she said.

Nowak noted that Zillow has multiple ways for brokers and agents to provide their listings to Zillow, including its Zillow Pro for Brokers network, which just surpassed 200 members.

Zillow Pro for Brokers “allows brokers to directly send their listings to Zillow and take advantage of every-15-minute updates and other tools and features to ensure accurate, timely listings are available for the millions of home sellers who visit the site and mobile apps every month,” she said.

“We also are actively working with the Austin Board of Realtors to provide ways for their members to continue sending listings to Zillow.”

While both Zillow and Trulia indicate they are trying to work with brokers to address accuracy issues, not everyone is convinced.

Curtis Reddehase, president of Sky Realty, said syndication to “unregulated websites” has caused more harm than good.

“We do not subscribe to the idea that mixing our good information with their bad information is best for our buyers, or our sellers,” he said in a statement.

“Nearly every day, one of our clients gets frustrated when they find the wrong information on these websites that seem more concerned with selling ads than controlling the quality and accuracy of their listings.”

In particular, the firms protested that third-party sites’ home value estimates are misleading because they are based on tax assessor valuations and limited home sales data. Texas is a nondisclosure state and home sale prices are not recorded with the county tax assessor.

“These ‘estimates’ result in unrealistic expectations, making the job of listing agents even harder, leading to overpriced listings and lost sales opportunities,” the firms said.

In a statement, Steve Crossland, associate broker and owner of Crossland Real Estate, said “there is no business reason” to post listings to third-party sites because that “does not cause the home to sell a day faster or for a dollar more.”

The firms noted that third-party portals are not required to abide by the same rules and regulations, including the Realtor code of ethics, that Realtors, their websites and Realtor-affiliated multiple listing services are required to follow by virtue of belonging to a Realtor association.

“We’ve finally had enough, and decided the benefits of syndication were not worth the risks,” said Michael Reilly, owner and broker of Reilly Realtors, in a statement.

Because non-Realtor websites have fewer restrictions on who may post listings, there is a “very high risk” that some of the listings are fraudulent and placed there to scam the public, Reilly said.

“Recently one of our listings was copied and resubmitted as a ‘home for lease’ on a syndication website at far below market rates. Interested individuals who inquired about the property were told by the criminals who posted the listing to drive by the property and submit an application of sensitive personal information. This act was a huge risk to our clients, the public and our company,” he added.

Kimbrough Gray, broker-owner of Vox Real Estate, said his firm’s decision was partially based on complaints from consumers.

“Many clients were upset with how their listings were displayed on these sites. Not only were there safety concerns when listings and photos were not taken down in a timely manner, but also complaints about sold data showing up on these sites. Usually they blamed the listing agent, not realizing these third-party sites operate outside of Realtor guidelines and rules,” Gray said in a statement.

The firms also took exception to the business models of third-party sites, which they saw as favoring their competitors — unless the brokers were willing to shell out some dough to prevent it.

“These third-party websites have been receiving our listings for free, but they will only feature our agent’s name and contact information if we are willing to pay. Otherwise, they essentially outsource our listing by featuring the names of three of our competitors alongside our listing,” said Cantera Real Estate’s Jim Olenbush in a statement.

“This is analogous to showing up at our client’s house and putting three of our competitors’ signs in the front yard.”

Cantera Real Estate will cease syndicating its listings to third-party portals immediately, he added.

Ronnie Bredahl, broker-owner of Austin Referral Realty, said his firm would stop syndicating to Trulia and Zillow starting in November.

“We see no value in syndicating to third-party sites who are using our listings to directly compete with us online,” Bredahl said in a statement.

Eric Bramlett, broker of Bramlett Residential, said third-party portals present clients’ listings in a worse light by merging them with “poorly verified” listing information.

“Moving forward, we will show our clients the positives and negatives of syndication, recommend against it, and let each seller decide,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.