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Is realtor.com no longer a Realtor’s best friend?

Report outlines steps Zillow, Trulia and Homes.com have taken to woo brokers and MLSs

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Realtor.com may be the official consumer website of the National Association of Realtors, but rival search portals Zillow and Trulia have improved their value proposition to listing agents and brokers to the point “where many Realtors and MLSs feel they now offer more ‘friendly’ terms than realtor.com does.”

 

That’s according to a new listing syndication report from real estate consulting firm Clareity Consulting, which outlines steps that Zillow, Trulia and Homes.com have taken in the last two years to help persuade brokers and multiple listing services to provide the sites with direct feeds.

Realtor.com operator Move Inc. has touted the direct relationships it has with more than 800 MLSs that provide direct feeds to the site. Direct MLS feeds mean realtor.com listings are more accurate, comprehensive and fresh than those on competiting sites, Move and NAR suggest in an ongoing joint national advertising campaign.

But many of the advantages over other sites that realtor.com has provided to brokers and agents over the years have eroded, the report said. Move operates realtor.com under the terms of an agreement with NAR that dates to 1996.

When MLSs and brokers provide direct listing feeds, Zillow and Trulia now prominently display the contact information of listing agents, don’t charge them for leads on their own listings, provide links to the broker’s site, and display broker or MLS branding.

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Homes.com, while not one of the “Big Three” portals in terms of traffic, has also provided a solid “exchange of value” with its MLS and broker partnerships, the report said, offering agents free software and tools in exchange for listing data.

Zillow and Trulia have made industry-friendly changes

Listing detail page attributes on non-enhanced listings sourced from a direct broker or MLS feed Zillow Trulia realtor.com
Listing agent displayed high on page Yes Yes No
Charge listing agents for leads off listings? No No Yes*
Broker info shown high up No Yes No
Free link to broker site? Yes Yes No
Displays automatic home valuation estimates on for-sale listings Yes No No
Update frequency 15 minutes 8 minutes 15 minutes

Sources: Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com. * Agents or brokerages can pay to receive leads from realtor.com listings with the Showcase Listing Enhancements program.

Compare screen shots of the listing detail page for this listing from Austin, Texas, brokerage JBGoodwin Realtors on Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com.

Zillow receives the listing directly from JBGoodwin Realtors under the Zillow Pro for Brokers program; Trulia receives the listing directly from JBGoodwin on an opt-in basis from the MLS in Austin, Austin/Central Texas Realty Information Service (ACTRIS); and realtor.com receives the listing via an ACTRIS feed on an opt-out basis.

As it does with all listings it receives through a direct broker feed, Zillow labels the listing agent, Chuck Jenner, and places him before other agents advertising on the listing.

The listing also includes the broker’s name, contact info and a link to the listing on the broker’s site toward the bottom of the page.

Zillow
For listings it receives through a direct feed, Zillow places the listing agent prominently next to the listing and doesn’t preselect an agent to receive a lead. It provides a link to the brokerage, a logo (if part of a compatible feed) and contact info further down the page.

In addition, Zillow leaves all of the checkboxes next to the agents advertising on the listing unchecked, meaning that a consumer has to actively choose an agent to contact. On listings from other sources, an agent other than the listing agent would receive the lead by default.

(All listing agents can be placed at the top on their Zillow listings — regardless of whether they arrive via a direct feed or not — if they fill out a free Zillow profile, Zillow spokeswoman Amanda Woolley told Inman News.)

Zillow also places the MLS or broker logo in an information box toward the bottom of the page when direct-feed partners send their feed through channels that accommodate that, Woolley said.

On each listing it receives as a part of a direct feed like the one above, Trulia labels the broker, provides a link to the listing on the broker’s website and provides the listing agent’s name just below the listing description, provided it was included in the feed.

Trulia

For listings it receives through a direct feed, Trulia labels the broker, the MLS (if applicable) and the listing agent below the property description high up on the page. It also provides a link to the broker’s website.

On listings received through an MLS feed, Trulia notes the MLS as the source.

Like Zillow, Trulia prominently displays the listing agent’s contact info next to the photo well on the property detail page at no charge, labeling them as the “listing agent” when it can verify that information, whether it gets the listing through a direct feed or not.

Trulia places the listing agent second on the list of agents, unlike Zillow, which displays the listing agent on top.

Trulia verifies listing agents when they “claim” their listing on the portal and have a Trulia profile.

Trulia also will incorporate the listing agent automatically in the agent contact section if it receives a direct roster feed through the agent’s brokerage, franchisor or MLS that allows Trulia to create profiles for the agents in the feed, Trulia spokesman Matt Flegal said.

In the sample listing above, Jenner is not included in the agent contact section because he had not claimed his listing on Trulia and is not part of a roster feed, Flegal said. (Jenner has since claimed the listing, and now shows up in the second slot on the agent contact list and labeled as the “listing agent.”)

On the realtor.com listing, Jenner is identified at the bottom of the page with a link to his realtor.com profile along with his broker’s name and phone number. Consumers have access to Jenner’s phone number from his realtor.com profile.

Though a lead form that directs consumers to a competing agent sits next to the listing, it is not branded to a competing agent or brokerage. Realtor.com does not run the unbranded “Connection for Co-Brokerage” lead forms next to listings that have been “enhanced” with paid upgrades, and brokerages can also prevent the lead forms from appearing next to their listings if they are willing to pass up free perks like extra photos.

However, the listing includes no link to the listing broker, no logo and no opportunity for Jenner to show up higher on the page unless he pays to advertise.

r.com

Realtor.com notes the listing agent and broker toward the bottom of the listing detail page on unenhanced listings it gets through a direct feed.

Each site offers a paid ad product for agents or brokerages to prominently brand their listings with links, logos, contact info and photos, and exclude ads from competitors.

At the end of the first quarter, 42 percent of realtor.com’s listings were part of its exclusive ad program, Showcase Listing Enhancements, Move Chief Financial Officer Rachel Glaser told investors on the firm’s first-quarter earnings call.

Zillow and Trulia haven’t revealed what percentage of their listings are similarly advertised.

Of the three, Jenner prefers the way he shows up on Zillow and Trulia over realtor.com.

Even with competing agents’ photos and contact info prominently displayed on Zillow and Trulia’s listing pages, the fact that he’s labeled as the listing agent with his name, photo and phone number high up on the pages leads Jenner to prefer those layouts over realtor.com’s.

“People aren’t going to search that far down the page (on realtor.com),” Jenner said. He suspects that consumers will be on to the next listing or contact another agent before scrolling down, he said.

Jenner now shows up prominently in the agent contact list on his listing on Trulia after claiming the listing.

Jenner now shows up prominently in the agent contact list on his listing on Trulia after claiming the listing.

After being contacted by Inman News for this story, Jenner claimed his Trulia profile and now shows up as the listing agent in the agent contact list accompanying his listing on the site.

Homes.com is alone among the most popular portals in never allowing competing agents to advertise on listings.

All Homes.com listings prominently include the name and contact info of the listing agent and broker, and leads go directly to the listing agent at no cost, said Andy Woolley, general manager of Homes.com.

See the way the above listing shows up on Homes.com here.

“We have a big emphasis on clear attribution to the listing firm and no confusing advertising,” Woolley said.

(See the same JBGoodwin listing on Redfin. Redfin, as a broker in Austin, Texas, receives an Internet Data Exchange (IDX) feed, MLS-sourced listings that all participating brokers in a market are allowed to display. Jenner and JBGoodwin are credited below the listing description on the IDX-sourced listing. However, there’s no link to JBGoodwin’s site and no easy way for the consumer to contact the listing agent.)

Push for better industry relations

Zillow and Trulia have recently built out experienced industry relations teams to help raise their profiles and improve their reputations within the industry.

In March, Zillow brought on former realtor.com President and Move Chief strategy Officer Errol Samuelson to head its industry relations team. Samuelson had become the face of realtor.com in his 11 years with Move. (For now, Samuelson’s role at Zillow has been curtailed by a preliminary injunction obtained by Move and NAR on June 30.)

Two weeks after Samuelson’s realtor.com departure, Move’s former vice president of industry relations, Curt Beardsley, who was promoted at realtor.com to fill the industry relations role that Samuelson left vacant, also joined Zillow.

In late 2012, Trulia brought on former iHomefinder CEO Alon Chaver as vice president of industry services. In February, Trulia hired John Whitney, former vice president of industry relations for Move’s syndication platform ListHub, to help grow its MLS partnerships.

Zillow and Trulia now receive direct feeds from thousands of brokers under their respective broker-feed programs, Zillow Pro for Brokers and Trulia Broker Program, each launched in 2012.

Zillow receives a handful of direct feeds from MLSs under its MLS program, Zillow Partnership Platform, launched in 2012. Trulia gets direct feeds from over 80 MLSs as part of its MLS-directed initiative, Trulia Data Connect, it launched in October 2013.

Between Zillow and Trulia, Trulia has made the largest “industry-friendly” strides, said Clareity Consulting CEO Gregg Larson. It doesn’t publish for-sale-by-owner (“FSBO”) listings or generate automated valuation estimates with for-sale listings, for example.

Zillow does that and more. It maintains for-sale-by-owner listings, “Make Me Move” properties (where homeowners set a price on their home on Zillow that they’d consider selling for), and launched a controversial “Coming Soon” listings feature in June that allows MLSs, brokers and agents to list properties on Zillow for up to 30 days before listing in the MLS.

Some MLS execs see the “Coming Soon” feature as an attack at their front gates, with Zillow making a bid to get more listings “upstream” of the MLS.

However, Zillow is set to roll out even more perks for brokers and MLSs who provide it a direct feed including a clickable “Yard Sign” logo for brokers at the top of their property detail pages on the site and expanded broker descriptions on listings, Clareity noted in its report. (Zillow had no comment about these features.)

Realtor.com’s long-standing industry ties

“I don’t see the portals as different from each other,” said Steve Murray, president of real estate consulting firm Real Trends.

But some Realtor associations, MLSs and their member brokers do.

Steve Sullivan, CEO of the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors, for example, says that other than feeds it provides to its own members, MIBOR sends its listings as a direct feed to only two websites: its own (MiBor.com) and realtor.com.

Realtor.com’s ties to NAR compels MIBOR to treat realtor.com differently than the other portals, Sullivan said.

Leaders at Sibcy Cline Realtors and Nothnagle Realtors have similar takes.

Cincinnati-based Sibcy Cline has never sent its listings to Zillow or Trulia, but does send listings to realtor.com because of its association with NAR, said Rob Sibcy, president of Sibcy Cline.

Rochester, New York-based Nothnagle Realtors pulled its listings from Zillow and Trulia in 2012, but still sends them to realtor.com.

“Realtor.com’s still owned by NAR,” said Armand D’Alfonso, president and CEO of Nothnagle Realtors.

(Under the terms of its operating agreement with NAR, Move has an exclusive arrangement to operate realtor.com, a license to use the realtor.com domain name and trademark, and a license to use the Realtors trademark in exchange for minimum annual royalty payments. NAR also owns a small stake in Move.)

Despite the inroads that Zillow and Trulia have made recently, realtor.com’s body of work and its NAR-aligned, long-term mission to keep Realtors at the center of every transaction should be front and center in any consideration of which portal is most industry-friendly, said Russ Cofano, Move’s new head of industry relations.

“We win that fight every day,” Cofano said.

Realtor.com promotes the Realtor brand, doesn’t display FSBO listings or put automatic home value estimates on for-sale listings, Cofano said.

Even though Zillow and Trulia might roll out specific features that might appear in the industry’s best interest today, there’s no telling how they might evolve tomorrow, Cofano said.

Realtor.com has been around longer, has a proven track record and has a strong allegiance with NAR and supports its mission of nurturing long-term homeownership, he said.

“Online real estate is in an embryonic stage, things are fluid,” Cofano said. “Realtor.com has a relationship with an organization (in NAR) that has been and always will be aligned with the industry.”

Despite this history and relationship, some MLSs are beginning to treat realtor.com like other portals, including North Alabama MLS in Huntsville, Alabama; Rockland, Maryland-based Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.; and the Combined Los Angeles/Westside MLS (CLAW).

After realtor.com rolled out its unbranded “Connection for Co-Brokerage” lead forms — a move authorized by NAR in a 2010 amendment to the realtor.com operating agreement — two large brokerages stopped providing listings to the site.

Last summer, NAR approved additional amendments to the realtor.com operating agreement to allow the site to publicize listings from sources beyond those provided by Realtors, including additional new homes and rental properties.

Advocates for giving Move more leeway in operating realtor.com say that if NAR places too many restrictions on the site’s operation, it will hamper innovation and put realtor.com at a disadvantage to competitors. But if NAR gives Move too much leeway, it runs the risk of alienating brokers and MLSs, and losing the direct feeds that are arguably its biggest advantage.

The war for consumers’ attention

It’s not clear at the moment if the industry-friendly steps Zillow and Trulia have taken will vastly increase the accuracy and comprehensiveness of their listing databases, undermining realtor.com’s claims of superiority.

But some, including Gregg Larson, think so.

While the portals are battling it out to maintain and grow their industry relationships, they’re in a multimillion-dollar national marketing campaign war to capture consumers’ attention.

Zillow’s set to spend $65 million this year on its campaign. Trulia has pledged $45 million, and realtor.com, with the boost from NAR’s new $35 million campaign that features realtor.com, is set to receive approximately $50 million of exposure this year, according to one estimate.

Unique visitor traffic to most popular real estate sites, May 2014

Website May mobile and desktop unique visitors % of total unique visitors to real estate sites in May
zillow.com 44.2 million 47.0%
trulia.com 26.4 million 28.1%
realtor.com 22.2 million 23.6%

Source: comScore

Currently, Zillow maintains a healthy Web traffic lead over its competitors, which gives it some leverage in the industry, as illustrated by the waves it can make when rolling out new services like its “Coming Soon” listings feature.