The same search engine optimization tool used by Zillow, realtor.com and other aggregators is now being used by a major producer of virtual tours to allow agents to once again deliver homes for sale directly to would-be buyers.

The same search engine optimization tool used by Zillow, realtor.com and other aggregators is now being used by a major producer of virtual tours to allow agents to once again deliver homes for sale directly to would-be buyers.

The tool is called “structured data,” and it allows the likes of Zillow, ListHub and others to rise to the top of search results when people hunting for houses enter key words or phrases, such as an address, neighborhood, price or other desired features.

Now, Property Panorama, a provider of virtual real estate tours, is putting the power of structured data into the hands of agents who have access to the firm’s InstaView platform so their listings rise to the top.

The more than half-a-million agents whose multiple listing services (MLSs) carry the InstaView virtual tour platform will automatically receive Agent Profiles that incorporate listing data, including MLS numbers, location, price, specifications, open houses and other important information. The profiles will populate any Google search.

The service, which is free to InstaView users, allows Property Panorama clients to reach consumers more immediately with new listings and updates such as a change in price.

The program was announced by the Independence, Ohio-based company’s president and CEO, Mike Barnett, at the National Association of Real Estate Editors’ annual conference in Denver in mid-June.

“Sites like Zillow and realtor.com, syndicators like ListHub and other emerging models are advertising media giants that make hundreds of millions from the content real estate professionals amass to create the very content — listings — that attract consumers to their sites,” Barnett said.

“Instead of breaking down barriers between real estate consumers and listings, these new middlemen are creating an additional layer.”

Consequently, he said, listing agents, who are the original source of information for every home, “are further from buyers than they were 25 years ago,” before the internet when agents had complete control of their listings. And, he added in an interview, “consumers are clueless” that they are not being directed to the listing agent.

Consumers may be sent to agents who pay the aggregator for leads but have no information about the listing and know little to nothing about such important points as the subdivision where the property is located.

When he tested out his theory on a listing posted by his girlfriend Hope Marsh (a listing agent), the phone rang almost immediately from someone who was not the lister. “It was clear to me that I was speaking with someone who had never stepped foot in the houses and knew nothing about the neighborhood,” Barnett said.

When he asked if the agent on the phone could put him in touch with the listing agent, he was told, “I didn’t need to talk to ‘him’ since whatever I told the agent that had called me would be relayed to the seller of the house.”

Marsh, “had done the heavy lifting…And within a day of all that work, the listing appeared on realtor.com, directing people who want to know more about the property to those who, in many instances, don’t have a clue,” Barnett said.

With the new InstaView structured data tool, Barnett believes consumers will find it easier to get the information they seek from the source of listings.

The InstaView platform offers virtual tours for more than 670,000 active listings, which are updated every hours from multi listing services – or more frequently if requested. It is used by more than 550,000 agents, or about half the total number licensees, according to the company. And it works through 171 multiple listing services and Realtor boards and association, plus directly with the broker divisions of the leading franchises.

Lew Sichelman’s weekly column, “The Housing Scene,” is syndicated to newspapers throughout the country.

Email Lew Sichelman

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