I think it is wonderful that realtor.com is working on some improvements. The site represents the Realtor brand on the Internet.
I doubt, however, that realtor.com can really compete with Zillow. It could potentially be different from or better than Zillow, but instead it seems like the site is trying to play catch-up — and not doing a great job of it.
Accurate data is the theme of realtor.com marketing campaigns and what is prompting me to write this. Data integrity just isn’t sexy. I don’t think most homebuyers see their dream home as just some accurate data or 1s and 0s in the binary world of digital data. They might value accuracy when hiring an accountant or a brain surgeon, but how important is data accuracy in online shopping?
How many people are just on the sites looking at houses with no intention of actually buying one? Maybe they want some decorating or landscaping ideas. Maybe they wonder how much their home or their neighbor’s home is worth. Maybe they want to see pictures of the inside of their ex-husband’s house that is now on the market.
Some of our local Realtors prefer Zillow over our MLS, and our MLS is accurate. There are homes listed on Zillow as being for sale by Realtors who withhold those listing from the MLS.
We are in a strong seller’s market. It is just as easy to sell a home using only Zillow as it is to go through the hassle of putting it on the MLS and sharing the business with other agents.
Money from real estate agents supports Zillow. Agents know that if they pay Zillow for premium accounts, they will get more leads, and agents generally will do most anything to get a lead because it is better than starvation. The large number of agents using Zillow and spending money on the site demonstrates that data accuracy isn’t all that important to Realtors, either.
It has never mattered to me which website my clients use to look at real estate. I encourage them to do a lot of research and to choose the site that they find the easiest to use. If they prefer a mobile search, I tell them about the apps I like the best and why. I don’t have my own app.
Zillow is cleaner, more user-friendly and easier to use. On Zillow, every property is treated the same; it is the agents who are premium. There are fewer distractions and advertisements on Zillow’s site.
Somehow, in the minds of some people and the minds of real estate agents, we get confused about what a website can do and what a real estate agent can do. Like my peers, I offer a lot of services to my clients that are not available on the Internet, and many of those services come after finding a home that is for sale.
If I am working with homeowners, I am the one who is getting the contract signed so that the home can be put on the Internet, where the next owner will find it.
According to a recent Inman article, “Traffic to realtor.com leaps forward,” Zillow gets about 22 percent of real estate Web traffic, which represents people looking at the Zillow website. Trulia had a smidge under 9 percent of the traffic, and realtor.com has close to 11 percent. The rest of the real estate traffic must be coming from the zillions of other sites with real estate listings on them.
These numbers are hugely important to anyone selling advertising on the site, but none of the sites have become the single go-to place for people looking to buy or sell real estate.
Realtors themselves have a huge role in making Zillow what it is today. They spend money on the site, and they send their clients to the site to leave reviews — not to mention that many of us advertise our listings on the site or claim our role as a buyer’s agent.
Maybe realtor.com will catch up; it has an enormous advantage because of the number of listings fed to the site and the well-recognized brand. It even has accurate data. If it finds a way to capture the minds, hearts and, more importantly, the money that real estate agents spend on leads, and offers a product that is a lot sexier than accurate data so that consumers will visit the site — the plan could work.
Now would be a great time for realtor.com to roll out something new and fresh — and maybe even make the Realtor brand so attractive to agents that they want to spend more money on realtor.com and less on Zillow.
Which site is easier to navigate? Which one has distracting ads all over it? Which site offers a better experience for those who are interested in real estate?
Go ahead and try both Zillow and realtor.com and see for yourself.