The executive board of the Texas Association of Realtors has turned down a request from the Houston Association of Realtors for membership data that would have been displayed on the Houston association’s consumer-facing website, HAR.com.
The move limits which Texas Realtors will be able to have free, comprehensive agent profile pages on HAR.com, the second most visited real estate search site in the state, behind only Zillow.
“I don’t think I’ve been so disappointed in a board’s inactions in a long time,” said Pearland, Texas-based brokerage executive Danny Frank, who sits on the board of directors of both groups. “It’s just simple-minded 1978-mode protectionism.”
“They’re trying to drive traffic back to their website and not to HAR’s website,” Frank said of the state association’s decision. Frank chaired HAR’s board of directors in 2013 and is a regional vice president of the Texas Association of Realtors.
HAR announced in March that it would expand HAR.com’s coverage area to the entire state of Texas by partnering with listing syndicator ListHub, a subsidiary of realtor.com operator Move Inc. Through the partnership, participating Texas brokers and multiple listing services can choose to publicize their listings on the site. The site will be bolstered by tax, school and neighborhood information commonly found on third-party portals.
“We’re the No. 2 website in Texas behind Zillow, and we’re trying to protect the Realtor member and give them access to free leads from their listings (so) they don’t have to buy them back from Zillow or Trulia,” Frank said.
There is, however, already a statewide Texas Realtor site, TexasRealEstate.com, which TAR owns and operates.
Travis Kessler, TAR’s president and CEO, said driving traffic to TAR’s site was not a “determining factor” in the board’s decision.
“They’re all Texas Realtors, so our goals are common. What benefits Texas Realtors, whether it’s through us or through (HAR), our goal is to provide a service to our membership,” he said. “The reason for denial was not because we are competitors because we don’t deem them competitors.”
Scott Kesner, TAR’s chairman-elect, agreed.
“They don’t sell contact information on your listing either one of them, so in that sense I wouldn’t call them competition,” Kesner said. “But like anything I think websites are fighting for views and hits.”
Nationally, HAR.com was the 19th most visited real estate site in June with 1.32 million unique visitors in June, according to comScore. By contrast, comScore does not track TexasRealEstate.com’s traffic because the site doesn’t meet a threshold of around 50,000 unique visitors per month.
According to the trade groups’ internal figures, HAR.com receives more than 92 million page views per month while TexasRealEstate.com received 3.9 million page views in the first five months of this year combined.
Last week, in a 23-to-16 vote, TAR’s executive board rejected a motion from HAR that would have had TAR send HAR a data feed, updated daily, of TAR’s membership roster, complete with names and contact information. In the motion HAR said it would have paid any costs associated with providing the feed and promised not to use the list to solicit TAR members to join HAR or its MLS.
The membership information HAR requested is already publicly available on agent profiles on TexasRealEstate.com and on realtor.com. HAR asked for a feed to ensure the data’s freshness, Frank said.
HAR will soon be offering free profiles to all agents, but the only profiles that will be auto-generated will be those of agents with active listings, whose names will be available through ListHub.
“(W)e do not have access to any buyer agents or brokers who will be at a disadvantage because of the TAR policy. Our goal in trying to work with TAR was to drive leads and traffic to all Texas Realtors,” said HAR spokesman David Mendel.
Frank also noted that every Keller Williams, Re/Max and Realogy franchise had agreed to send its listings to HAR.com through ListHub.
“So the people that are really being left out are the small independent brokers,” he said.
The TAR board rejected HAR’s motion on the grounds that it would instead prefer to come up with a policy and a technological solution that would work for any local association that requested the membership information, not just HAR.
Kessler said whether members would or would not object to HAR having the information was not part of the discussion.
“(The board) looked at it from a bigger picture standpoint that if they create a written policy that policy has to be applicable to every entity that requests the same information,” he said.
He disagrees with the idea that TAR is being protectionist.
“Our goal is to have a policy that works, that is thorough, consistent and can be consistently applied. We just want to do it right,” he said.
TAR suggested that, instead of a data feed, TAR could offer HAR a widget that would pull in profile information from TexasRealEstate.com when consumers search for Realtors on HAR.com. The information would appear in framed results, giving TexasRealEstate.com a traffic boost. TAR has not yet developed the suggested widget.
“This solution is a one-stop shop for all websites and partners, rather than benefiting only one association, and further customizes the membership database requirements for each request,” TAR General Counsel Lori Levy wrote in a memo to Kessler.
The memo also noted that “no metrics or traffic would benefit TAR” under the type of data feed requested by HAR.
In its motion HAR offered to put a link to TexasRealEstate.com on every one of the 90,000 or so profiles for Texas Realtors it wants to put on its site, but Kessler noted that “a link as an attribution is different than a link going to a site to pull the information.”
Frank said TAR should build a widget because it would probably be a technological improvement for every other association site in the state — but it would not be up to the standards of HAR.com.
“For us to be treated like everyone else is … throwing the baby out with the bath water because what we’re trying to do has never been done before and the standard stuff just doesn’t work,” Frank said.
A widget would not allow HAR.com to track leads or traffic to agent profiles for accountability to members, he said. It would not look like the rest of the HAR.com site. Most importantly, TexasRealEstate.com profiles are simply not as comprehensive as those found on the new HAR.com site, currently in beta.
An agent profile on TexasRealEstate.com includes an agent’s name and photo; office address; phone number; a contact form; links to his or her website, social media accounts and for-sale listings; a bio; market areas, neighborhoods and ZIP codes covered; specialties; languages; type of representation offered; and designations.
A profile on beta.HAR.com includes nearly all of that information plus agent ratings and reviews; buttons to call or email the agent or have the agent call back; for-sale and recently sold listings complete with photos and property details; links and snippets of the agent’s blog posts; the agent’s community participation activity; an office location map; and drive time to that office.
“All the data that we want to provide to the consumer TAR can’t provide that. They don’t have the resources, they don’t have the manpower, they don’t have the technical experience. It’s not their fault, but they’re new at this,” Frank said. (TexasRealEstate.com was first launched as a listing portal in 2010. HAR.com launched as a public-facing MLS site in 1997.)
“What we’re providing is a Porsche compared to a Volkswagen Beetle,” Frank said. “They’re both the same, they’re both cars right, but they’re totally different.”
TAR is a great association, he added, but “they just don’t get it. They want to hold the data and handcuff us. The TAR website is good but there is better possible.”
Both HAR.com and TexasRealEstate.com allow agents to edit parts of their profiles. But Frank said a profile on the latter’s site is “a static PDF page basically and on HAR it’s a clickable resource. I can submit a question (on TexasRealEstate.com) but there’s no connecting me immediately. There’s no click to call, no chat with me immediately, none of the experience the consumer wants right now.”
Zillow and Trulia are doing so well because they’re giving a consumer what they want, he said. “We’re trying to create an experience for the consumer that every Texas Realtor can benefit from.”
Sarah Jones, broker and co-owner of Bamboo Realty, has 28 agents and brokers in Houston and Dallas and would like to see every one of them with a profile on HAR.com.
“We have even thought about getting each of (our Dallas agents) secondary membership in HAR just so they have access to the tools including the profiles and ratings platform,” she said.
“Having agent profiles on HAR.com is massively beneficial to the Houston agents and I would love to mirror that for our Dallas agents. HAR.com is more competitive than any Dallas-based real estate website, and with the option to have our agents there also have profiles would lead to more exposure to consumers than they currently have access to.”
Bamboo Realty gets more views and inquiries from HAR.com than from either realtor.com, Zillow or Trulia, she said.
“That is how awesome HAR.com is! Why shouldn’t TAR support the maximum exposure of its Realtor members?” she said.
Jones said that she does not use TexasRealEstate.com or encourage her agents to build a profile there because the site just doesn’t have the consumer traffic. She said it would be “a big downgrade” if HAR.com were to go to the “plain” profiles found on TexasRealEstate.com. HAR.com’s built-in feedback and agent rating system, in particular, are “invaluable,” she said.
“I just can’t imagine giving that up,” she said.
“Basically if the agent ratings were eliminated from the profile I could not be onboard.”
Frank said a few people at TAR just didn’t understand what HAR was trying to do.
“We’re not trying to take over the MLSs of Texas. We’re not trying to take over any associations. If people want to join HAR they can do that now. We’re not promoting that,” he said.
Leaders of both TAR and HAR said they are good partners, not rivals, and they hope they can come to a viable solution. “The door is not closed,” Kessler said.
In the meantime, HAR is working on a way to have agents go to HAR’s site and enter their own profiles after they have been verified as Realtors through their National Realtors Database System (NRDS) I.D. NRDS is a database that stores member and office records for Realtor organizations.
Providing every Texas Realtor with a profile is key to warding off the “800-pound gorillas in the room,” Zillow and Trulia, Frank said.
“Zillow and Trulia don’t promote Realtors. I challenge you to go to Zillow and you won’t find the word ‘Realtor’ anywhere. You won’t find it, it’s all about real estate agents,” he said.
“Everybody is asking why is Houston doing this? We’re doing it cause we can. We have the ability to stand up and fight when no one else does,” he added.