Technology

Conditions are ripe for broker and agent websites to up their game

Competition, standardization make it easier to provide data consumers demand

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It’s easy to forget that when Zillow.com debuted in February 2006, the site had no listings.

The portal made a big splash by allowing anyone to look up what their neighbor had paid for their house, or get an automated estimate of what their own home might be worth with the click of a mouse.

The property tax, deed and mortgage records that allowed Zillow to serve up valuations and “comps” were already accessible to anyone who felt like walking into their local assessor-recorder’s office.

But Zillow was revolutionary at the time for taking information that had been being digitized for businesses like mortgage lenders and title insurers and making it freely available to the public online.

The rise of Zillow and Trulia — another portal built on slicing and dicing data in ways that could help consumers understand market conditions — made it obvious that listing data alone would no longer be enough to win the battle for consumer traffic.

In recent years, rules restricting what kind of information can be displayed around listings brokers publicize on each others’ Internet data exchange (IDX) websites have been relaxed.

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That, coupled with data standardization and competition between data providers, means brokers and agents have more opportunities than ever to offer the same kind of bells and whistles pioneered by Zillow and Trulia on their own websites.

When an antitrust settlement put data aggregator RealtyTrac in the property tax, deed and mortgage data business last year, CEO Jamie Moyle pledged to bring “the same creativity, flexibility and transparency” to the business that the company brought to the market for foreclosure data.

Since then, RealtyTrac says it’s closed dozens of licensing deals — an average of more than one a week — with companies ranging from enterprise providers like Acxiom Corp. and Real Estate Digital to MLS technology providers like Rapattoni.

Appraisal firms including ValuationScapes and EMC2 Data also rely on RealtyTrac for assessor-recorder data that, at the national level, is available from only two other providers: CoreLogic and Black Knight Financial Services.

RealtyTrac wants to be seen as being not only more nimble than its competitors, but as a knowledgeable adviser and collaborator, with deep expertise and the broadest set of product offerings.

After establishing itself during the housing downturn as a provider of national foreclosure data, RealtyTrac broadened its horizons as the foreclosure crisis wound down.

In 2012, RealtyTrac acquired Homefacts, an aggregator of neighborhood, economic, environmental and demographics data, installing Homefacts founder Jamie Moyle as CEO a few months later.

Moyle says RealtyTrac has “startup in our DNA. We are smaller, scrappy — willing to sit down and work out opportunities other companies might miss.”

Smaller companies “have to ramp up — they can’t afford to write six-figure checks for data in their first year,” Moyle said. “They are looking for someone to take a chance on them.”

After learning what RealtyTrac can provide them with, some companies have even changed their business models, Moyle said. “We love to be a part of stuff like that.”

Randy Wussler, vice president of product management in CoreLogic’s data licensing group, agreed that flexibility “is the key with smaller customers.” CoreLogic, he said, has adapted to that “new market dynamic.”

It’s a dynamic driven in part by RealtyTrac’s entry into the tax, deed and mortgage records business, but more so by the growing demand from tech-savvy real estate agents and brokers, Wussler said.

“Looking at how big that market is, (you) realize that if you’re not flexible, you’ll lose a big chunk of your revenue.”

Before it was acquired by CoreLogic, Wussler was an executive at DataQuick, where “we were the smaller player — we were absolutely sensitive to that market.”

CoreLogic put Wussler in charge of its data licensing group with a mandate to instill the same mentality of adaptability and flexibility.

While RealtyTrac is flexible, Moyle said that by necessity, the company is also “very disciplined. This is data, it’s not napkin math — it’s very structured.”

So RealtyTrac has been building up a team that was already well-versed in working with foreclosure and neighborhood data by hiring additional talent from rivals.

To take full advantage of a Federal Trade Commission settlement that allows RealtyTrac to license data aggregated by CoreLogic until at least 2019, last year RealtyTrac hired former Black Knight executives Brian Mushaney and Jeff Mattice.

Mushaney heads up the company’s file licensing division and Mattice is vice president of business development. In January, the company brought Axciom veteran Jon Cohn on board as senior vice president of data products.

The addition of assessor-recorder data to RealtyTrac’s foreclosure database and the neighborhood and demographics data collected by Homefacts makes the company a one-shop stop for all things real estate-related.

“We have a lot of actionable local data” that’s useful to buyers and sellers, and can make real estate agent and broker websites more “sticky,” Mushaney said. “We’re putting multiple data sets together, where our competitors sometimes struggle.”

Wussler said CoreLogic is not just a provider of property tax, deed and mortgage records — the company claims to have foreclosure data in more markets than any other provider, and is also a provider of neighborhood and demographic information.

Vendors like Gabriels Technology Solutions can enable broker and agent websites running on its Affinity platform to serve up sold home records, market valuations and historical trends from “content partners” including CoreLogic.

“These standard Affinity features do seem to be popular with the majority of brokers based on the concept of keeping users on their local websites longer — and losing less traffic to portal websites such as Zillow [and] Trulia,” said Mitch Towbin, Gabriels’ manager of real estate sales and marketing. “Over 80 percent of our clients employ these type of marketing tools as part of our turnkey solutions.”

Moyle said RealtyTrac aims to offer competitive pricing.

“We’re [not always] going to be cheaper,” he said. “But someone who is doing research should definitely look at us.”

In situations where it’s not the cheapest provider, RealtyTrac still claims to offer the best value.

“We’ve won deals based on price, and others where we were the higher price, but with broader data and use rights,” Mushaney said.

A company might want to license data for an automated valuation model, a home price index, or to power consumer-facing tools as well as internally.

The competition

RealtyTrac’s competitors aren’t going to lie down and let the company take market share away from them without a fight.

CoreLogic’s Real Estate Solutions division is partnering with Onboard Informatics — a major provider of local school, community and neighborhood data — on a data management and distribution system that will allow MLSs, real estate brokers and vendors to manage listings and all the data that they want to put around them using their existing MLS software platform.

Onboard Simplicity, scheduled to launch during the third quarter, will use a single API (application program interface) to provide access to “a tremendous array of local data across the country to power websites, mobile apps, back-office systems and productivity tools such as CRM (customer relationship management),” its backers say.

Because the API will use new industry “Data Dictionary” standards developed by the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO), Onboard Simplicity will be compatible with data sets and MLS platforms offered by companies other than Onboard and CoreLogic.

“We’re feeling the pain of our MLS and broker customers today, where they’re really looking to provide a better level of, not so much data, but services and solutions for IDX websites that really give the consumer the information they need,” said Chris Bennett, general manager of Real Estate Solutions for CoreLogic.

To get around the need to pull data from multiple sources, Bennett said, “We’re looking to provide a richer data set and experience from an API that pulls data from a single database, adheres to their permissions, gives them more control, and streamlines the delivery of permitted content.”

Realtors Property Resource, the NAR subsidiary that offers property tax records to MLSs in return for sold listings data, is rumored to be considering a new business model that would encourage software developers to create front-end MLS tools to plug in to the RPR data set.

Zillow — which feeds demographic data to listing sites through a GetDemographics API — is also said to be looking to acquire a regional public records data company.

Black Knight, which did not respond to requests to comment for this article, recently announced the launch of SiteXPro.com, which offers property data, property reports, comparables, valuations, and lead generation lists for real estate agents, lenders, appraisers, title agents, mortgage brokers and other real estate professionals.

CoreLogic offers data report products geared to real estate professionals and their clients through its RealQuest portal.