All industries have an internal culture and politics that define systems and ways to conduct business. Most of us don’t care about the internal politics unless it affects us directly. When I go to the doctor, I want the doctor paying attention to me and providing service to me. I’m selfish that way if I’m paying you for something. I don’t care if they hate Blue Cross’ payment system. I don’t care if they don’t like how the state handles their licensing. I don’t care because I have other things to do with my time like dream about marrying George Clooney. Keep the internal bickering to yourself. Seriously, it interferes with my day dreaming.
Edina Realty, in a bold move, pulled all their listings from syndicators in 2011. Tired of dealing with Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com they said, forget it, and walked away from those real estate sites. Recently a San Diego brokerage followed suit and did a video about their reasoning. I started to write a comment on YouTube, but realized that what I had to say was an entire post.
The reasoning behind pulling their listings was that it was a disservice to buyers and sellers due to the inaccuracy of the data displayed, the fact that leads are generated and sold away from the listing agent, and copyright concerns. I just wanted to say to brokerages that do this that consumers don’t care about our politics. The concerns mentioned in the video are our internal politics to hash out and deal with without bringing consumers into it. I’ve yet to see a doctor do a YouTube video about why they won’t accept a certain insurance carrier, or a attorney explain the inner workings of the BAR on video. The reason they don’t is because they know that people (ie consumers that pay money for our services) are completely uninterested in our internal dysfunction. The real estate industry functions like a bunch of addicts except we are addicted to our MLS data. It’s the crack of our industry.
So let’s look at the arguments presented in the video. Trulia and Zillow are slow to update feeds and have erroneous data on them. This is true. I find they both take anywhere from 1-5 days to update the feed and changes to the MLS data sent to them. The cool thing about both of those sites is that we agents can go in and manually correct something. Wow…imagine that. Managing the data and double checking it to make sure it is accurate. Isn’t that part of our job? Oh, wait…that means I might have to put one more task on my to do list after a price change or something. That’s right…we want easy. Really, it isn’t the Zillows and Trulias that are the data error problem, it is the other sites like HotPads, etc, that don’t update as often. I have been contacted about homes that sold and closed months prior but those sites don’t update their feeds. The good news for consumers about those sites is that they are so small you probably aren’t aware of them.
Consumers should care about getting accurate data from these sites because you don’t want to waste your time either. But ssshh, you should expect that from MLS data too. I had a listing that closed in December that wasn’t marked under contract by the listing agent for about three weeks, and it wasn’t marked as sold until about 2 weeks after close of escrow. If we as an industry are holding our MLS data as the pinnacle of accurate data, we are a hypocritical industry indeed. Let’s get over ourselves on this one shall we? Our MLS data isn’t the end all be all of accuracy either.
The second main concern, but the true agenda, is the selling of leads away from the listing agent. What Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com all do is sell zip codes. The way this works is that an agent can buy into a zipcode and if a consumer requests information from that zipcode it gets sent to one of the paying agents. Listing agents don’t like this because they are being bypassed by people that pay. Listing agents often have a buyer agents that work as part of their team and these leads (that means you the consumer, btw) are getting sent away from their team to another agent. This is money away from the brokerage and potentially to a competitor. You can see why we real estate agents aren’t fond of this system. This is a blatant power grab as the more complete listings you have, the more consumers you can draw to your site. Real estate brokerages are in it for profit so this is fine, but let’s not pretend that this isn’t what it is about.
In fairness to the biggie syndicators, consumers do indeed have contact information for the listing agent but it is often waaaaaaay at the bottom of the page or in the fine print. They want you to click on one of the buyer agents since they are paying for your information. Consumers that read can find what they are looking for.
Real estate agents can always say no to buying zipcodes, and if agents feel so pressured to cave in and pay for a service they don’t believe in, why in the world would I want a person like that negotiating on my behalf for a hundred thousand dollar transaction. Seriously? Pressure? If agents feel like their arms are twisted then they lack a backbone. I wouldn’t choose to hire an agent without one. I mean if an agent can’t handle the Zillow rep that calls and says “hey do you want a zipcode to increase your business” how in the world are they going to handle the collections rep they have to deal with on a short sale. Is this really the message we want to send out to consumers? Apparently, the brokerages that have left syndication feel they have to protect agents from themselves. That isn’t saying a whole lot about our confidence in our agents ability to handle pressure well.
The final concern in the argument to pull information was copyright. I laughed, truly, when this was mentioned. Yes, legally the information on the MLS is copyrighted. Do consumers care? No. Let me reiterate that. Consumers don’t care. As someone that has initiated a copyright infringement suit against another party, talking about MLS data in terms of copyright is the biggest mistake I have ever heard. Here’s the thing…when I write a blog post, I am doing that for profit for myself (yeah, big surprise right). When someone writes a novel, movie, music it is for profit for themselves. When we enter information in the MLS, take pictures, video etc, we are paid to provide a marketing service to someone else. We are functioning in a work for hire mode. This is a totally different thing. Sellers pay us for our marketing expertise. We are generating that information for them, on their behalf, as part of our service. It is in our seller’s best interest to have that accurate marketing be in as many places as possible. To claim copyright issues on this is just lame. I can’t imagine very many consumers sitting at home thinking, yes…MLS data is just like writing a novel. This has to be one of the worst PR moves I have seen. It sounds arrogant in my opinion. There is legal and then there is reality. They don’t coverge well here.
The problem with being vocal about business decisions like this, is that it is too transparent. Yes, there is such a thing. Really I don’t want to see pictures of my neighbor, in the shower, online. Too. Much. Information. We are standing here naked in front of consumers and it ain’t pretty. Sort of like watching a 500 pound man walking on the beach in a speedo. Some things, you just don’t want to know.
No other industry complains more publicly about itself than the real estate industry. Consumers want one thing: good service and advice from professionals. The rest? Consumers don’t give a rat’s ass about it. Now…if you’ll excuse me, George awaits.
If you want to watch the video that triggered this post you can watch it here. I’d love your opinion on it.