Despite all the controversy around syndication, everyday brokers and agents choose to send their listings to Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com and other third-party portals for two main reasons: to satisfy sellers and to generate leads. That’s according to the 93 brokers, 169 agents and 11 other industry pros who took Inman’s online survey.
Despite all the controversy around syndication, every day brokers and agents choose to send their listings to Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com and other third-party portals for two main reasons: to satisfy sellers and to generate leads.
That’s according to the 93 brokers, 169 agents and 11 other industry pros who took Inman’s online survey that ran from March 31 to April 7.
The cost-free opportunity to reach millions of consumers on sites featuring the most cutting-edge technology on mobile and Web does not come without concerns, however.
Unlike broker- and agent-controlled sites, third-party portals aren’t subject to industry display rules and regulations, which allow them to present data in ways that industry sites can’t.
Some respondents expressed apprehension about the ads from competing brokers and agents that some portals place next to their listings, how and where the portals label listing brokers and agents on their listings, and the accuracy of their listing databases.
Reasons why real estate pros syndicate
Most survey respondents (88 percent) said they syndicate to at least one portal.
However, brokers and agents differ on the reasons they have for listing a home on a third-party site.
Syndication is not primarily about finding a buyer for the home, but about satisfying sellers who want to see their homes listed on the sites they know, the largest share of broker respondents (32 percent) said.
Nearly as many broker respondents (30 percent) said their primary reason for sending their listings to third-party sites was primarily about taking advantage of a cost-free opportunity to market listings to a wide audience.
That reasoning was different for agent respondents.
The biggest share of agent respondents (34 percent) said they syndicate their listings to third-party portals primarily to generate leads. That was followed by a desire to satisfy sellers (25 percent) and an attempt to actually find buyers for homes (19 percent).
Most survey respondents (81 percent) said that the accuracy of a portal’s database is a “very important” factor in whether they decide to send their listings to it.
Both brokers and agents said prominent display of listing agents’ contact info was the most important element to them for how their listings showed up on portals (33 percent and 63 percent, respectively).
Prominent attribution of the listing broker was of second-most importance to broker respondents (32 percent).
For 24 percent of agent respondents, timeliness and accuracy of listing info was their second-most prominent concern about the display of their listings on the portals.
A large proportion of brokers and agents ranked the presence of linkbacks to their websites off their listings as least important (38 percent and 45 percent, respectively).
As for strategy, some respondents are waiting for the dust to settle around the recent upheaval in the portal landscape before deciding how they proceed with syndicating their listings.
(Zillow acquired Trulia in February and both sites now live under the newly formed Zillow Group; media conglomerate News Corp. acquired realtor.com operator Move Inc. in November.)
“I am re-evaluating my strategy in the light of the recent changes in the portal landscape and its impact,” one broker wrote.
Many respondents said they were happy to expose their listings on as many sites as they could.
Other respondents admitted that they just don’t have a plan. “I don’t really have a strategy,” one broker said.
Most respondents said they send their listings to third-party portals, but the largest share (42 percent) who haven’t pulled their listings from a portal want to from at least one.
They don’t pull them primarily because they feel pressure by their agents, clients, their competition or some mix of all three.
“(We’re) held hostage by agents who hold no risk when something goes wrong,” one broker who wants to pull his or her firm’s listings from a portal wrote. “I’m the broker at risk, big future issue.”
Many brokers and agents who want to stop syndicating their listings to third-party websites but don’t said they feel compelled to keep their feeds on because they’re afraid their competitors will capitalize on their absence to lure productive agents to their firm (in a broker’s case), win a listing presentation (in an agent’s case) or gain market exposure.
More than 4 in 10 real estate pros (42 percent) said they would pull their listings from one or more third-party portals if their competitors did.
“(We’re) forced to syndicate because everyone is syndicating,” one agent wrote.
Some feel pressure from their sellers.
“We are forced into syndication because Zillow is a strong website for search and information — clients like Zillow the best,” a broker shared.
Other respondents simply accept the reality of the portals, but aren’t happy about it.
One agent respondent called them a “necessary evil.”
Some brokers and agents are biding their time until the dust settles around the recent ownership changes at the massive portals before making the moves they want to make.
“I look forward to pulling my listings from Zillow if and when realtor.com becomes dominant,” one agent respondent wrote.
When asked why they haven’t pulled the trigger on taking their listings down from one or more portals, most respondents (57 percent) who indicated they wanted to but haven’t said it was because their sellers expect to see their homes listed on the sites they know.
Nearly 3 in 10 survey respondents (29 percent) said they would consider sending their listings exclusively to the national MLS public-facing website currently in the works, dubbed “Broker Public Portal.”
A larger proportion (43 percent) said they would send their listings to “Project Upstream,” the national listing database project spearheaded by several large brokers.
Many said they don’t know if they’ll participate in the Broker Public Portal (40 percent) or Project Upstream (50 percent).
Life with the big portals
Among the large national portals — Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com and Homes.com — realtor.com was the most popular with brokers and agents, according to Inman’s survey.
Approximately 92 percent of survey respondents said they send their listings to the portal.
However, Zillow and Trulia are a close second. Seventy-two percent and 70 percent, respectively, of survey respondents said they send them their listings.
Homes.com was less popular than its larger counterparts.
Because of its ties to the National Association of Realtors and the presence of the Realtor brand in its name, realtor.com has historically enjoyed a favored status within the industry, illustrated by the fact that it gets direct feeds from most brokers in the U.S.
Inman’s survey showed that legacy still bears fruit. Most survey respondents (55 percent) viewed realtor.com in a more positive light than other portals like Zillow, Trulia and Homes.com.
“At least (realtor.com) trades on a name of the agency with which our trade group adheres,” one agent explained.
Nearly a fifth said that they evaluate portal partners strictly on the merits of how they treat their listings and the exposure they give them.
But more than a quarter (26 percent) said they didn’t view realtor.com in any rosier light than other portals.
Among the most popular national portals (Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com, Homes.com), a majority of real estate pros (62 percent) said realtor.com handles their listings in the manner most friendly to them.
A similar majority (63 percent) felt that treatment relative to the other portals would hold in the future, too.
In addition, most survey respondents (43 percent) felt realtor.com was currently the best portal partner of the four. More respondents (26 percent) selected “None” than any of the other three portals.
News Corp.’s November acquisition of realtor.com operator Move Inc. may be a factor in shifting real estate pros’ perspectives on the sites, the survey showed.
More respondents (34 percent) viewed realtor.com more negatively as a result of the acquisition than viewed it more positively (18 percent) based on the change of ownership. The biggest share (48 percent), however, said their perception of the site didn’t change.
Perceptions of Zillow and Trulia were similarly affected by Zillow’s February acquisition of Trulia.
A little under a third of respondents (31 percent) said their view of one or both portals took a turn for the worse. Eighteen percent said they viewed them as better partners; and 51 percent said their outlook on the sites remained unchanged.
Most survey respondents (78 percent) said they were “very concerned” about ads from competing agents and brokers that portals place next to their listings.
Of the most popular portals, Zillow, Trulia and Homes.com feature contact forms on listing detail pages with up to three competing agents. Realtor.com has a lead form next to listings that includes no competing agent/broker branding.
“The portals are using my work and selling it to my competitors,” one broker said.
Syndication: an inscrutable art
To determine how listings perform on different sites takes time, energy and technology.
Some brokers and agents just don’t do it.
“The complexity of syndication/Internet/online marketing can be confusing and changes too frequently,” an agent respondent shared. “We don’t have onboard staff to deal with the constant flux.”
Most survey respondents (56 percent) don’t monitor the performance of their listings on the portals, according to Inman’s survey.
Overall, most of the respondents who said they track their listings’ performance (45 percent) said they do so through proprietary software. Just under a third (30 percent) use a syndication platform like ListHub to track their listings.
Though many respondents (48 percent) don’t know how many sites their listings show up on, it’s not because they don’t want to. Instead, they don’t have, or haven’t created, the bandwidth in their work lives to track or understand it.
Forty-one percent of respondents said they didn’t have time or resources to track their syndication. Only a small percentage (17 percent) said they plan to.
As far as monitoring whether portals adhere to display guidelines as outlined in syndication agreements, broker and agent respondents felt similarly overwhelmed and in the dark.
A significant portion of the respondents (52 percent) felt they, or someone at their firm, didn’t totally understand the terms under which the portals displayed their content.
“Who has time for that?” one agent said.
But it’s not just because pros don’t have the time or energy to understand, it’s because understanding syndication agreements appears to be a cryptic art.
“It’s me (who’s responsible for understanding the firm’s syndication agreements) and I struggle to knit together all of the details,” one broker said.
Some understand it, and see hazards, but they feel compelled to forge their firms ahead into dangerous syndication waters because everyone else is syndicating.
“I understand (my firm’s syndication agreement), but for now feel forced to continue a hazardous path to stay competitive with my contemporaries who do not care,” a broker respondent wrote.
Most respondents (53 percent) don’t even monitor how their listings display on the portals and whether they align with what’s stipulated in the terms governing their display.
One broker is narrowing the sites where his or her firm sends its listings to focus more on understanding how each site it sends its listings to handles them.
“We want to have more control over our data so if we show up on fewer sites that’s OK as long as we’re on the main, high-quality ones that consumers use and allow us control over our data,” the broker wrote.
While most respondents knew how many portals their listings were distributed to, a large percentage (48 percent) had no idea.
Of those who knew how many portals their listings were fed to, the biggest share (39 percent) said it was between 11 and 20 sites. Many respondents (34 percent) said their listings went to more than 50 sites.
A vast majority of respondents (63 percent) said they were concerned about tech-focused brokerages like Redfin, Movoto and Estately, which are gaining national prominence off of business models that rely heavily on generating referrals off of the traffic they attract to their sites.
“Yes, it would be great if you could find a way to stop them,” one agent wrote.
A vast majority of respondents (85 percent) consider portals to be directly or indirectly their competitors.
A large percentage of respondents (68 percent) said listing broker and agent attribution should be higher on listings displayed under Internet data exchange, the policy that dictates how brokers in a market display the listings they make available to each other for consumer-facing search.
Who “owns” the listing?
Legality aside, a majority of both brokers and agents (84 percent and 58 percent, respectively) felt that brokers “own” the listings their agents secure.
More agents (33 percent) felt that they owned the listings than brokers did (8 percent), however.
In what may come as a surprise to some Inman readers, most agent respondents (59 percent) said they decide where their listings go and not their brokerage or franchisor.
Brokers and agents agreed on another thing. Sellers don’t “own” the homes they put up for sale through a firm, according to approximately 91 percent of both agent and broker respondents.
Sellers also don’t know the difference between third-party sites and broker- or agent-controlled sites, according to 75 percent of the survey’s respondents. That’s probably not news to many real estate pros.
Most respondents (77 percent) also said that sellers care more about exposure than about the accuracy of the sites where their listings appear.
“They just want their home sold,” as one broker respondent put it.
Portals and listing data
Overall, real estate pros had a restrictive stance toward portals’ use of their listing data.
Most (60 percent) disapproved of portals redistributing their listing content to third parties, while 55 percent disapproved of portals using their data to power business software.
As for giving portals the ability to display recently sold info, a majority of real estate pros (67 percent) either somewhat or totally approved it.
The largest share of survey respondents (34 percent) felt that the listing feeds supplied to portals by agents should trump feeds from brokers (33 percent), MLSs (30 percent) and franchisors (3 percent).
Respondents were roughly evenly split on who they felt should be in charge of distributing the leads generated off of listings: listing agents or the listing broker.
If the lead could go to just one person, most respondents (71 percent) said it should go to the listing agent, while 18 percent said the listing broker should receive it. The balance (11 percent) said the lead should go to whomever pays or negotiates for it.
A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Paul Hagey covers the intersection between real estate and technology for Inman with a particular focus on brokerages, franchisors, agents and the national real estate portals.