Should Austin Realtors Limit Which Websites Display our Listings?

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on February 26, 2012 · 8 comments

Austin IDX MLS Choices

IDX Choices when entering a new Austin MLS Listing

When an Austin Realtor enters a listing into the Austin MLS system, we have to make some selections about where the listing will display online. (See screenshot to the left) Of course it will be an “MLS” listing, available to any other Realtor who is a member of the Austin MLS. But we also have to select which other third-party sites will display the listing.

Recently, in Austin and elsewhere, listing agents have become increasingly frustrated with how listing data is used and displayed, and in fact sold back to us. Some are starting to question whether the current “sharing” of listings to other sites, such as Realtor.com, is in fact beneficial.

The real estate industry was stupid and foolish over a decade ago when it resisted the placement of listings online in the first place. Instead of recognizing where the industry was headed and what consumers wanted, the industry and its “leaders” operated from an old 1980′s “MLS Book” mindset. This opened the door to lawsuits and eventually third party aggregators who saw the void and filled it.

Let’s look at the internet choices selected by Realtors when adding a listing to the Austin MLS, and what they mean.

IDX:  Allow listings to be displayed on IDX sites. When you visit a listing search page on a Realtor’s website, you are accessing an IDX site. Ours is at: http://www.mlsfinder.com/tx_actris/crosslandteam/ and provides a way for consumers to “search the Austin MLS”. Buyer Agents use IDX search sites to capture leads. If you see a listing that interests you on an IDX site, the “Contact Us” form you fill out goes to the agent running the site, not the Listing Agent.

As of this writing, there are 63 Austin MLS listings flagged “No” for IDX of the total 6,643 homes listed for sale. That’s about 1%, or 1 out of every 100 homes for sale. The percentage of luxury homes is much higher. Of 398 Austin homes listed for $1M or more, 28 are flagged “No” for IDX, which is 7% of the total. So, if you’re searching online for a $1M+ home, you’re only seeing 93% of the MLS inventory.

Some of the luxury Brokers in Austin are not happy with IDX and have voiced complaints to the Austin Board of Realtors and sent around a petition letter demanding changes. Other Brokers in Austin, who like IDX, and whose buyer agents depend on it for connecting with new buyers, responded with a counter-petition. The drums have started beating.

 

Internet Display: If seller selects “No”, this listing will not be included in MLS data feeds to Internet websites that display property listing data, whether intended for advertising the property (AustinHomeSearch.com, Realtor.com) or providing online brokerage services (IDX or VOW sites). The listing will in fact not appear anywhere on the Internet. It will be an “MLS Only” listing. Only 14 of 6,643 Austin homes for sale have this flagged as “No”. Obviously, very few sellers/agents want a listing to be completely offline.

AustinHomeSearch.com: If “No” is selected, the listing won’t appear on AustinHomeSearch.com, which is the public-facing MLS feed of the Austin MLS. It would be dumb to select “no” here, because the listing agent contact info is displayed with the listing instead of some other agent’s contact info. 34 listings of the current 6,643 have this flagged as “No”.

Realtor.com: If “No” is selected, the listing won’t appear on Realtor.com. 77 listings of the 6,643 total have Realtor.com flagged as “No”. I expect if I follow up this article in a year from now, that 77 will have increased quite a bit. More on that later.

 Prop Addr (Internet): This can flag a listing to not display the property address on the Internet. 149 listings have the address not displayed on internet sites. Some sellers may want this for privacy reasons, but the listing will still be mapped and not hard to find.

Allow Automated Valuations: Some Virtual Office Websites (VOW is like an IDX site, but can show more info to registered users, such as days on market, original list price, etc.) may provide an automated valuation model function. An AVM uses statistical calculations to estimate the value of a property based upon data from public records, MLS, and other sources. The accuracy of AVM’s have been criticized because they do not take into consideration all relevant factors in valuing a property.

If “No” is selected, a VOW website may not display an automated valuation next to the property listing.

We mark “No” for this on all listings. There are however, 1,197 listings (18% of total Active) for which this is flagged “Yes”. This astounds me, but doesn’t surprise me. I think a lot of agents just don’t know what it means, and since they mark all other of these fields “Yes”, they do the same for these last two as the listing is entered. Marking “Yes” is not, in my opinion, in a seller’s best interest.

Allow Third Party Comments: Some Virtual Office Websites may provide functionality that permits the customer using the VOW website (such as redfin.com) to enter comments about the listed properties. If “No” is selected a VOW may not display comments or reviews with the listing.

This is dumber that the Automated Valuation. Do you really want random people on the internet to be able to leave comments and “reviews” about your home for others to read? We mark “No” for this on all listings, but there are currently 771 listings in the Austin MLS for which this is allowed. This cannot benefit a seller.

As a Seller, Should You Care?
If you have hired a Realtor to sell your home, you want it sold for the highest price possible, in the fastest amount of time with the least amount of hassle. You probably are not even aware of the mechanics of the above minutia. You just know that buyers will be able to find your home online and see it with their Realtor.

But what if your Realtor explains to you that the listing will be in the MLS, on AustinHomeSearch.com and on the Broker’s website, but nowhere else? Not on Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, etc. Just on the Austin MLS, Broker website, and the public side of Austin MLS AustinHomeSearch.com. Would that be ok with you, as a seller? It’s your listing.

You might ask, “will that cause it to sell slower and for less money?”, and if the answer is “no”, you probably won’t care.

For 2011, the average Days on Market for homes sold in Austin was 80 days. Those homes sold for 93% of the Original List Price. For listings marked “No” for IDX, the average Days on Market was 64 days, and the SP/OLP percentage was 93%. So, non-IDX listings sold faster, and for the same sold/list ratio as IDX listings. Of course the non-IDX sample size is too small to be trusted, but still.

Realtor Revolt – It’s Coming
I predict more agents are going to start doing exactly as I’ve described and restricting where their listings are displayed online. Some Brokerages around the country have already started pulling ALL listings from the online IDX sites.

We’re all sick and tired of the scumbag telemarketing vultures from Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow calling and trying to sell us “Featured” or “Enhanced” agent products that would “allow” us to “fully benefit” from the search traffic on those sites. That’s the same search traffic that wouldn’t exist without our listings.

Realtor.com Request Form

Realtor.com Request Form

For example, at Realtor.com, if we pay the extortion fee, then online inquiries will actually be placed in contact with the listing agent instead of the agent who “bought” the zipcode in which the listing is located.

As it is now, if you fill out the generic form (screen shot to left), you will be contacting someone who, at the moment they receive your inquiry, knows less about that property than you. They’ll probably have to research it quickly in the MLS before they respond. Or maybe they won’t. And when they call, you’ll wonder why they are so clueless about their own listing, until you figure out it’s not their listing. You have reached an “Advertiser Realtor”, not someone knowledgeable about the home that interests you. You are a “lead” that agent paid to receive. Your a number adding to the revenue of Move, Inc., which owns Realtor.com. That’s how it works.

Sylvia and I haven’t decided to stop placing our listings on IDX sites, or Realtor.com. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. It probably won’t happen this year, but I think many Realtors are tired of having our own listings marketed back to us by the third party advertising sites.

And it’s not about trying to “double dip” a listing. We rarely even work with buyers who call from our signs but instead refer them to a buyer’s agent so that they can be properly represented. It’s not about that. It’s about sellers being well served, and buyer/consumers getting what they want and being well served as well. Where we’ve ended up doesn’t accomplish that outcome.

I don’t think it serves a buyer well to be placed in contact with an “advertiser”. I don’t like reducing the person, the human being, that a buyer is to a “lead” to be sold by Realtor.com to a completely untested, nonvetted agent/advertiser. At least Redfin, in its attempts to disrupt the real estate industry, has from the start been focused solely on creating a great experience for real estate consumers. They fire lousy agents who get bad reviews. Realtor.com could care less about the agent or the consumer experience. It just wants to sell ads.

I hope other Realtors start getting as irked about all this as I am. I hope I start seeing the percentage of non-IDX listings rise. I wish consumers knew that, already today, you are not seeing every available listing on Realtor.com or Trulia or Zillow. Yes, you’re seeing 99%, but not 100%. Don’t you want to know about that 1% one you’re not seeing? Or, if searching above $1M, don’t you want to know about the 7% of listings you are not seeing?

When the 1% becomes 10%, which is what I hope, the business model of these third party advertiser display sites, which exist not to serve consumers but to sell ads, will start to unravel. When consumers start to realize that they could be missing the one listing they would have wanted, then the issues of data integrity and data trust will come into play. You can trust what’s in the MLS, but you can’t trust what you see on a third party site.

And when that happens, when we start to clear the clutter and get back to really taking care of consumers instead of selling advertising to Realtors, sellers and buyers both will be better served. See Jim Abbott’s video announcement explaining why his San Diego Brokerage has pulled all listings from 3rd party syndication.

 


 

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jo La February 29, 2012 at 11:17 am

I personally would not list a site with an agent who would not list my property on 3rd party websites. It personally hurts property traffic, offers not marketing the property on such sites.
I even have written an article on this topic frustrated how this will not be good for the consumer and make more Realtors do dual agencies deals instead of fairly marketing the property for the consumer to get top dollar for their property
Here is the article I wrote http://dailyproperties.com/dual-agency-brokerage-firms.

2 Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX February 29, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Hi Jo La,

Thanks for your comment.

When you say ” It personally hurts property traffic, offers not marketing the property on such sites.”.

Hurts property traffic for who? There is no statistical data showing that if Realtor.com, Trulia and zillow were to all shut down tomorrow, that homes would stop selling, or that homes would sell slower or for less money.

I am 100% in agreement with Jim Abbott at ARG and ARG’s decision to pull its listings from these ad site. I know others disagree and have different viewpoints, but nobody can argue with the fact that none of these syndication sites have 100% accurate listing data. What we’ve ended up with is an unnecessarily wide distribution of undifferentiated and inaccurate data. That’s not in anyone’s best interest except for the 3rd party syndicators who sell “premium:” displays and leads to the same Realtors who created the content.

Steve

3 Downtownliving February 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm

I would not list it w/ a realtor who is not willing to explore all of the options presented. In any case, I say leave the BS out of the equation and just try to get the property sold if you’re the sellers agent. It comes down to one dang thing : profits/commission. Everyone is on the same boat once the BS is whited out.

4 Tiffany Stillwell March 29, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Steve,

What a well written, well researched article. I commend you for making it simple to understand the debate.
If I were selling a home, I would select a Realtor who is very informed and trust them on issues in their profession such as this one. Sellers need to understand that traffic and things such as open houses do not always attract the qualified and motivated buyers.
I’m not sure if I agree with all of the watermarking, etc being suggested but I can see how an agent would be completely fed up with these predatory sites. They wouldn’t even have a business without your product yet they want to sell it back to you.
Any consumer though who finds their Realtor on Zillow or Trulia or any of those sites, should realize they are shooting in the dark and are quite likely to get a sub-par agent.
Thanks for taking the time to write this.
Tiffany

5 Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX March 30, 2012 at 6:42 am

Hi Tiffany,

Thanks for your comment.

There was just a big meeting at the Austin Board of Realtors Board of Directors meeting this week at which opposing factions presented their cases for changing IDX or leaving it alone. The luxury home agents don’t like the current setup but want to change it in ways that violate NAR rules, such as watermarking all their listing photos with branded photos, and haveing the Listing Agent prominently displayed instead of the current “Listing Courtesy of XYZ Realty” notation, usually at the bottom of a IDX listing page.

From what I heard, the luxury agent presentation was not convincing and probably won’t result in what they want. But that’s just one small area of contention, and is actually a different issues that the syndication sites such as Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow.

Steve

6 Chris Adams May 11, 2012 at 11:13 am

Steve,
I believe I have to agree with the frustrated realtors. There has to be a vetting process somewhere, right? It looks like they’ve started in the right direction.

7 jeffrey gordon February 20, 2013 at 4:06 am

When you are talking about restricting listings off of IDX are you referring to truila/zillow etc.or are you also against agents using IDX on their own websites to generate buyer leads? On what basis are luxury sellers arguing for bigger displays of their names on IDX listings going to help out their sellers?

jeffrey

8 Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX February 23, 2013 at 7:58 am

Hi Jeff,

No, not IDX. I don’t have a problem with IDX as long as the listing agent is identified. Even our own IDX produces inquiries from people who think all those listings are ours. Consumers are confused.

The luxury Brokers have a different type of market and I think many don’t like dealing with Realtors who don’t understand the protocols. I won’t gp into it here, but there are some valid points they make.

With regard to Trulia/Zillow, they are simply media companies using Realtor work product (listings) to attract website viewers, which in turn drives their ability to sell ads. Their business is about selling ads, not helping consumers.

Steve

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