Austin Realtors: Time to Pull the Plug on Zillow and Trulia

As of this writing, there are 837 homes for sale in the Austin MLS for which the “Syndication” choice is set to “no” in the MLS settings. That’s 14% of current Austin single-family homes for sale, a sizable number, spanning all price ranges. I applaud those Broker/Agents for not drinking the syndication Kool-Aid.

This means, specifically, those 837 Austin MLS listings are not being fed by the listing agent through the MLS to a syndication aggregator called ListHub, which in turn is the main provider of listing feeds for most syndicators, including Zillow and Trulia, and 60+ others. I single out Zillow and Trulia only because those sites are the biggest and most well-known syndication websites. They are also the two most notoriously aggressive in their efforts and tactics to sell expensive advertising to the same Austin Realtors who freely gave away their work product (listings) to these media websites.

But what the 14% means in practical terms is that if you are a serious buyer dumb enough to only be looking for a home on a syndication website, you are only finding 86% of available Austin MLS listings. Wouldn’t you rather know about all available listings that match your search criteria?

Conversely, wouldn’t you rather NOT be shown incorrect listing data, specifically, homes you find on Zillow and Trulia and other sites that are not even for sale, or that already sold months or years ago but still appear on these websites? Or a home listed for $500K with an “estimated” value of $423K, but which had multiple offers over list price before the listing even made it onto the syndication website?

These websites might be interesting time wasters for tire kickers, curiosity seekers and nosey neighbors, but they are not trustworthy sources of current, accurate real estate listing information. Maybe they are an easy “first look” for casual listing surfers in the very early stages of “thinking about” buying a home, just to get a general idea of prices in a new city or area of town. But real estate listing syndication websites are not valuable tools for a serious buyer. Nor do they offer a relevant advertising venue for serious sellers or their listing agents. That’s because these sites are not designed to help you as a buyer, or to help sellers sell homes. They are designed to sell advertising to Realtors.

And the 14% Austin listing gap is growing as more Brokers and Agents come out of the fog and realize that these syndicators are not our friends. These websites do not, in any way, cause any home to sell faster or for a higher price. So the question is, why do so many Realtors mistakenly believe that these third-party media advertising websites are a good thing? And why do so many Realtors wrongly presume that sellers want listings shown on these websites?

History of Listing Syndication in Austin
ListHub was activated by the Austin MLS for its Realtors in 2006 as a convenient way to get more internet exposure for listings. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and a good service to provide Realtor members. Brokers were told you simply need to activate your ListHub account and you can automatically send your listings to multiple internet listing sites. Most did, and it was the last time they thought about it – 7 years ago.

The problem is that 2006 is ancient history in terms of technology, internet and information sharing.

Think about 2006. The top selling mobile phone was the Nokia 1600. There was no smartphone, no tablet computers. No LTE, not even 4G. Facebook opened to the (non-college) public Sept 2006. Facebook Business pages were not introduced until 2007. Twitter launched in March 2006. So, for those who can remember the technology landscape in 2006, it’s easy to see why agents were enamored by the idea of “free” and easy placement of listings on public websites. But a lot has changed since 2006, and i’s not cool anymore. Syndication today is as relevant as the Blackberry.

For most agents, in 2006, it was hard and complicated to get their listings online. That is no longer the case. And back then, when Listhub started in Austin, the listing agent was properly identified as the provider of the listing information on sites where the listing appears. Just like the agent appears alongside newspaper ads, the yard sign, real estate magazines, flyers, etc. That is as it should be because the seller, through the listing agreement, has appointed the Agent to represent the seller and be the point of contact.

Real Estate Listing Syndication in 2013
Today, the advertisements of competing Realtors appear next to your listing. Listings are used by large media companies as nothing more than chum in the water to attract advertising dollars from competing Realtors. These are public companies that are in business to sell advertising, not sell real estate. The do not have the seller or listing agent’s best interests in mind.

Now a listing agent must pay to appear alongside the listing she represents even though it was her out-of-pocket expenditures that obtained the listing, paid for the professional staging, photography, and virtual tour. It was her experience and guidance that counseled the seller on home preparation, marketing strategy and the sales process. The listing is the listing agent’s work product, the photos, written copy, etc, all a result of her personal efforts, at her expense. Yet it is given away for free to a syndicator who turns around and obscures her from recognition in favor of random Realtors who paid to show up next to her listing instead of her.

The seller of that home didn’t expect that the advertising would be outsourced to a media company where it can be shown with an estimated price that conflicts with the list price. The seller didn’t expect that his listing would be used to promote other agents instead of the sale of the listed home. A lot has changed since 2006, not all for the better, and certainly not in the best interest of sellers and their Broker/Agents.

Passive vs Active Advertising
The “automatic” nature of the “set it and forget it” ListHub service is that most Austin Brokers turned on their ListHub feed in 2006 and haven’t logged back in since then. Meanwhile, other sites have been added to the ListHub service, a total of 60+ now, feeding sites that in turn “power” other unknown sites such as Yahoo Real Estate and thus spreading the listing to 100s of destination sites, the near-100% of which are completely and utterly unknown to the Broker providing the data.

The Broker, who is the account holder for the ListHub service, is not even notified when new sites are added, or when existing sites have added “powered by” sub-sites under their umbrella. It’s completely a passive setup.

99% of Austin Brokers have no clue, at all, which sites their listings end up on, how listings are displayed, or what is being done with the manipulated listing content. This is not a good thing.

Brokers owe greater care and awareness to sellers whose listing data is being spread around to places unknown. To the buyers of those homes as well, who may not appreciate that detailed facts and photos of their new home are now permanently archived and “owned” (per user agreements that no agent has ever actually read) by dozens of websites and used in ways they cannot control.

In fact it is, in my personal opinion, negligent on the part of those Brokers to allow this to continue. It’s why Sylvia and I stopped, why other Brokers have stopped, and why the Austin Board of Realtors decided it will no longer facilitate this activity. As a seller, you should want and demand better handling of the “data” that represents your sales listing, and the details of your home. You should call BS on the idiotic mantra that “sellers want as much exposure as possible”.

What you actually want is for your home to sell quickly, at the best price and with the least amount of hassle. Having your listing plastered across 100s of unknown real estate websites, like a permanent digital internet tattoo that can’t ever be removed, does nothing to further that simple, basic seller goal.

ListHub will say that Brokers have admin tools to control things. But once you de-select a single destination site, a big green “Maximize Marketing” button appears and pesters you forever after until you click that button, which is a one-click “everything, everywhere” turning back on of the blind feed to all sites. Clearly the entire syndication feed system administered by ListHub is designed to send as many listings to as many sites as possible so that those listings can be monetized by the end user marketing companies in ways that are not congruent with the actual purpose of the listing, which is to sell the home. Realtors should be in the business of selling your home, not supporting business models that simply profit from the display of your listing data and photos by selling ads.

Austin Pulls the Plug on ListHub and Automatic Syndication of Austin Realtor Listings
Because of the aforementioned issues, and many other issues not outlined above, the Austin Board of Realtors voted in October to discontinue the facilitation of listing syndication for Austin Realtors. The contract with ListHub will end April 30, 2014.

The decision about how and where seller listings are displayed and marketed online will rightfully return to where it belongs, which is at the Broker level, managed and facilitated by each Broker, in the best interests of the seller client only.

Austin Brokers will still be free to advertise and promote their listings where they please, including syndication websites if that’s deemed appropriate by the Broker and seller. But just as they need to call the ad in to the newspaper if they choose that advertising channel, or print flyers and place in a box in front of a home if they think that’s effective, or set up and pay for their own Broker Website where listings are displayed, Austin Brokers will have to make the affirmative decision that syndication helps sell homes, explain it to sellers, and make arrangements for their company listings to appear on those sites which the Broker deems relevant and helpful to the goal of selling the specific home.

The Road Ahead for Austin MLS Listings and Syndication
Even though the announcement about discontinuing ListHub has been made to all Austin Brokers and Realtors, and press release sent and some media exposure already happening, a lot of work remains to educate Austin Brokers and Agents about the decision and why it was made. I’ve summarized a lot of it above, but there remains what I believe to be a gross lack of understanding by the average “agent on the street”, as well as sellers, about how all of this works.

Our syndication Task Force in Austin met for over a year and grappled with the issue before finally making the recommendation to turn it off completely. We determined that half measures would continue to represent a form of “endorsement” for syndication, so the bolder step was recommended. No other major MLS organization in the US has made the decision Austin has made with regard to syndication.

I’m proud of our Austin Board of Realtors for taking the lead on this. I hope others MLS organizations will follow. Individual Brokers and Agents have done so already, and more announcements are expected in coming weeks and months. Austin Brokers don’t have to wait until April 30, 2014 to stop the madness. Just stop selecting “Syndication” when entering a new listing. The ONLY reason to select “Syndication” for your Austin MLS listing would be that you are afraid it will sell slower or for a lower price if you don’t. It won’t. Syndicating listings does not factor into the success of your listing effort, at all. Try it. You’ll see.

Many agents I’ve talked to about syndication who are in favor of it don’t see the harm. That’s because, I believe, they only see the surface of the issue. But that’s like looking at 3 pretty pieces of a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle and thinking you see the entire picture. You don’t. You see a fresh shiny syndication onion and think it’s good, but when you start peeling layers off that onion, each peeled layer reveals a stronger funky stench.

Start peeling. Educate yourself. Ask yourself seriously how your seller benefits from your decision to send the seller’s listing data out through ListHub, seting it free to be used and abused in ways neither you or your seller know or understand. Make the decision justify itself. “More exposure” is a cop out and has been disproven by those of us who don’t syndicate. So why should you keep doing it? You owe that level of diligence and understanding to your listing clients.

Those willing to study and learn more about the subject ultimately will conclude that syndication is a rotten deal that provides no value, at all, to the task of selling a real estate listing in Austin TX.

16 thoughts on “Austin Realtors: Time to Pull the Plug on Zillow and Trulia”

  1. Thank you for leading the charge on this, Steve. You’re 100% correct. Of all the junk phone calls we get, Trulia and Zillow “salespeople” lead the charge, calling us nearly daily, despite multiple “do not call” and “take off the list” requests. They’re like particularly aggressive mosquitoes.

    Your summary of why this is good for ABOR is excellent. Thanks!

  2. Steve here is a post about another MLS (TRIAD in North Carolina). Thought you might be interested in seeing the data on Zillow and Trulia given you post today on Inman.


    Following is recent data compiled by Wav Consulting for a report (Listing Syndication and TRIAD they prepared for the TRIAD MLS in North Carolina. It shows actual ListHub data from TRIAD’s MLS system relating to the number of “property views” and more importantly the number of “click thru visits” for the top five syndicators in their system as of April 2013 and as measured by the number of property views.

    A “property view” is when a consumer only clicks on a thumbnail photo on a website to enlarge it (the visitor never leaves the syndicator’s website). A “click thru visit” is when a visitor clicks on a thumbnail photo and then clicks again somewhere on that listing to get additional information about it. They usually are asked for their contact information (i.e., they are captured) before they can get more details and once they provide it they are redirected to another website. Where they are redirected to is “chosen by the company” (i.e., the syndicator such as Zillow, Trulia, etc.).

    The study also show the total number of active MLS listings in the TRIAD MLS database on a specific date in April 2013 and the total number of listings shown on the top five syndicator websites for the same market on the same date. That data is located below.
    As you can see, a lot of agents and brokers are not syndicating their listings. While the TRIAD MLS had over 16,000 active listings in April 2013 not one of the top five websites (based on property views) even had 12,000 listings in the same market area on the same date. Many of the listings they did have were assuredly FSBO’s and rentals not listed by local agents.


    TRIADMLS – 16,385 listings (100% of MLS listings)

    Zillow – 8,012 listings (49% of TRIAD MLS)

    Trulia – 11,409 listings (70% of TRIAD MLS) – 9,516 listings (58% of TRIAD MLS) – 9,017 listings (55% of TRIAD MLS) – 11,514 listings (70% of TRIAD MLS)

    Evidently, and contrary to what the syndicators would have agents believe, everybody is NOT syndicating their listings and more and more are stopping as this article reflects.


    Following are the property view and click thru visit data for the top five websites in the TRIAD MLS ListHub system based on the number of property views.
    #1 – Zillow with 596,049 property views. Out of over a half a million property views Zillow only generated 975 click thru visits (i.e., visitors took the next step to get additional information about a listing beyond just clicking on the thumbnail photo to enlarge it). That’s a conversion rate of only 1 click thru visit for every 611 property views. Read “click thru visits” as captured leads to be sold to Zillow subscribers.

    #2 – Trulia came in second with 291,261 property views and 1,084 click thru visits. That is a conversion rate of 1 click thru visit for every 269 property views.

    #3 – had 52,590 property views that generated 115 click thru visits for a conversion rate of 1 click thru visit for every 457 property views.

    #4 – GovListed had 40,709 property views with only 9 click thru visits for an overall conversion rate of 1 click thru visit for every 4,523 property views.

    #5 – had only 23,486 property views yet it beat Zillow and virtually tied Trulia with a total of 1,012 click thru visits. That is a conversion rate of 1 click thru visit for every 23 views.

    Why would have such a high conversion rate (1 click thru visit to 23 property views) compared to Zillow’s (1 for each 611 property views) and Trulia’s (1 for each 269 property views)? I suspect it is because visitors going to a website called are more likely to be more serious about the buying or selling process are more likely to take action. In contrast, visitors to Zillow, Trulia,, etc. are often just surfing the web for fun and entrainment, saw the commercials and ads about how cool and fun these sites are, and go to them to see and play with all of the bells and whistles.
    Millions of visitors to these websites are just curious about how much they say their house is worth (i.e., what is its Zestimate), how much their neighbor’s house is worth, how much celebrity homes in Hollywood are selling for, etc.

  3. I am not a realtor, not a broker, and I understand the premise of this article = I hate Zillow because it is stealing my money!!!

    But here is my question: isn’t it true that me as a seller, would prefer to have my house listed or advertised at the widest exposure as possible to gain attractions? If this assumption is true. and the agent that represents me has fiduciary duty to represent my best interest, he would prefer to have my listing to be posted as widely as possible as well. However, it sounds to me that this is a conflict and posting my listing onto zillow is going to hurt my agent’s bottom line, is that means that there is an inherit conflict of interest between my agent and mine now?

    I have to say though, when looking at geographic information and ease of navigation, just general useability and UI design, zillow and trulia are so much easier and better than any austin run websites…

  4. Hi Billy, the premise that wider exposure produces a better sales outcome for your listing is a false assumption. In fact, in some instances, the additional exposure hurts your sales effort, especially when the website is telling the viewer that your home is worth much less than the list price.

    If there was evidence that casting a wide net worked better to attract serious buyers than the MLS+Agent system, then that would be basis for considering doing so. But what happened was that Realtors, without giving it any thought or holding the decision to any metrics standard, just started giving away listing data in the mid 2000s. That was a poor decision. The results have been disastrous, and it’s time to hit the reset button and return that decision to Brokers/Sellers on a per listing basis instead of the current system that results in listings going out with no thought.

    Finally, a seller is interviewing listing agents, sellers should most definitely want to hear that agent’s marketing approach and thoughts on where the ultimate buyer will come from. If, for you personally, wide exposure to a lot of websites, such as Zillow and Trulia is important, because you believe there are serious buyers on those sites who will otherwise not find your MLS listing because they don’t look anywhere else, then you can have that conversation with your listing agent and make it one of the considerations when you finally select an agent.

    Thanks for your comments.

  5. Steve, thank you for your reply. I always enjoy reading your blog, and am not trying to argue with you, but I have to say, by reading this blog of yours, I as a consumer, am not particularly convinced by your argument. I was a serious buyer, and I used these websites quite extensively on my phone and tablets simply because they are easier to use and they have beautiful and intuitive UI designs. Austinhomesearch is not even close to that level of ease of use. And my agent’s links to the listings that “fit my requirements” are often too restrictive or limited. Don’t even mention how 1980s they look and feel.

    So you basically are saying that “we agents” should take control of the listing information and not given them out for free anymore. That leaves me as consumer rather powerless.

    What you and your fellow agents/brokers just want to use the listing as a leverage to get more financial benefits out of it. I don’t see how that can benefit me, the seller, in any way.

    But then it goes back to that you have a duty to represent my best interest, not your own. Am I right?

  6. Billy, when a prospective buyer sees a listing on a website and calls for more information about it who do you think is in the best position to answer ALL of their questions about the home? Who do you think can more effectively market the home on first contact? Who do you think can best answer the prospect’s inevitable and multiple questions about the immediate area, why the seller is selling it, what upgrades it has, how deep is the pool, are there any problems with the home, neighborhood, etc., and several dozen other property- and neighborhood-specific questions they may/usually have?

    In addition, who do you think is going to be able to make the best first impression and be better able to promote the property to someone who has never seen it? The agent who listed it and knows it inside and out (or should) or an agent several miles away who has never seen it? An agent who got the call about my client’s home it because they paid Zillow, Trulia, etc. to be listed beside as “the local expert,” a local expert who has never stepped foot in my client’s home? Do you think the best agents are the ones who must resort to paying ZTR (Zillow, Trulia, to be listed as the “local expert” and must buy leads that were redirected from the true local expert? The local expert who actually got the listing and who knows it inside out, knows the local schools, knows where the best coffee shop is, etc.? Do you think the agents that must pay to be advertised as local experts in areas they may have never sold a home in are better qualified or even equally qualified as an agent with an actual listing in that area? I know agents who buy zip codes (i.e., areas from ZTR) 20 or 30 miles from where they live.

    Our clients hire us to sell their home and to ensure their financial, legal, and privacy interests are protected. Texas law requires agents to use their best efforts in representing their principals (I’m also an attorney as well as a broker). Are my best efforts simply clicking “syndicate” when I input the listing in the MLS and then relying on some agent who my clients have never meet, did not hire, do not have a personal and/or professional relationship with nor do they trust to market their property? They trust me and pay me to market their property, not some “local expert” who can’t answer prospective buyer’s simplest questions (beyond what is on the listing sheet) without telling them they’ll have to “get back to them.” Sadly, most never do based on studies I’ve seen from Wav Consulting Group and Clariety Consulting as well as other sources.

    Study after study shows how frustrated prospective buyers are because they’ll call about houses they see listed on one of these websites and either no one returns their calls, if they do it is several hours later, and then if they do the agent that calls them back (the one who bought the lead) cannot tell them anymore than they already know from looking at the details on the website. Does that sound like using “best efforts” marketing of my client’s home? I don’t think so.

    I suggest you watch the following two short videos by a San Diego broker, Jim Abbott. These two videos will explain why brokers and agents are stopping the syndication of their listings. The most important reason as Jim Abbott points out is for the safety of the client and to keep from being sued from unauthorized use of the intellectual property agents blindly sign over to syndicators who can use it forever and if the syndicator gets sued misusing it we have to indemnify them. Watch the videos and you’ll understand. As Jim Abbott says, it is shear madness.

  7. The consumer knows to buyer-beware on sites like Zillow. They are not dumb – nice comment. I want them to also know that I have sold my home twice without a realtor – got a higher price and sold it quicker. Just had to pay for the… wait for it…. MLS listing for this to work. It cost me less than $1000 including title company fees. The buyer agent who did nothing except sit on our sofa for 10 minutes got $5000 unfortunately. We saved about $20,000 by avoiding the series of listing realtors that we tried along the way as an experiment – they did almost nothing, well nothing really, except put the property on MLS.

    MLS is the key… find a cheaper way to get listed. Restricting free flow of MLS information is simply the action of a cartel (in this case of brokers) attempting to manipulate a market.

    Thanks for publishing my comments.

  8. @Billy: I agree that the real estate industry was disastrously incompetent in creating consumer-friendly public search sites that would benefit both sellers and buyers. The void created by that lack of foresight and incompetence is what opened the door to syndication in the first place. I think that gap is closing though. And I believe that syndication serves neither buyers or sellers, as I’ve explained, so the “gap” wasn’t filled, but rather an opportunity exploited when Realtors becan stupidly giving away their work product for free.

    @SoldMyOwm: You actually prove my point. Please tell me, …
    Why did you not list your home on Zillow or Trulia, and nowhere else?
    Answer: because you know that those sites would not cause your home to sell.

    Why did you seek out a way to get your home listed in the Austin MLS?
    Because you knew that that alone was the most important place for your listing to appear.

    You didn’t need your listing to be syndicated, and neither does any other seller. That you found a Discount Broker is a different topic, but I don’t have a problem with that business model. Most sellers in fact want full service, but those of you who don’t do have options.


  9. I suspect realtors were in a sense forced to ” give” listing information away in the 2000s primarily to justify their claims that listing agents earn a portion of their fees for marketing services. The grocery store property magazines were always out of date and never easy to search by neighborhood. I do not know how one can ” market” a house. Some sellers do not know how to “present” their properties to the market (ie. clean), which would seem to be common sense but evidently is not. And there may be a need for professionals to guide sellers through the selling process. There is very probably a need for pricing–closed record state–and to some extent negotiating. But good photographs and a listing on the MLS with some ort of key access to the property seems to be all on cn really do to sell a house.
    And Trulia and Zillow are just electronic out of date difficult to limit grocery store home magazines. austinhomesearch is much better.

  10. IDK if I buy your premise at all. When we moved to Dallas we wanted an older place in a close in neighborhood – we targeted east Dallas, specifically in or near M-Streets. Our realtor showed us place after that simply did not meet our criteria. This went on for weeks with multiple expensive trips between Austin and Dallas. She refused to show us places a few blocks away from our targeted area that were actually closer to my work because they were “bad areas.”

    So after a few weeks of nothing, I got on Trulia, and found a place in 1/2 hour of looking. It was perfect. She warned me about the area again, but I wanted to see it in person. Turns out – it was exactly the house we were looking for in exactly the neighborhood I wanted to be in. The schools weren’t great and that was just fine by me because we didn’t have or want kids. We asked our realtor to run comps and then made an offer the next day.

    We weren’t tire kickers – we were pre-approved, serious buyers. It did not matter to me that the information may or may not have been perfectly accurate on Trulia. We pressed her on the “bad area” rap – turns out the area wasn’t really bad – it just didn’t fit my realtor’s conception of what she thought we wanted – mostly the school wasn’t great – which we didn’t care about at all. We ran the comps, made an offer and got it for a fair price.

    The seller made a sale because of Trulia, we found the house we wanted because of Trulia. And my realtor still got a 3% cut even though she didn’t really deliver the goods – because of Trulia.

    What was the problem here? My realtor was acting as a filter. Now, I could have stuck with her for a few more weeks and she might have gradually understood what we wanted (unlikely), I could have started over with another realtor and probably gotten the same or different filtering. But since we had Trulia – I was able to find a place myself, add it to the list of places were were looking at with my realtor, and use that information, in addition to the other information provided by my realtor, to reach a successful outcome.

    And that bad area – turned out to be one of the hottest real estate plays in town.

  11. M,

    Thanks for your comment. Sounds like your Realtor was a dunce. That’s a different topic altogether. I don’t know what percentage of Dallas Listings are syndicated (in Austin it’s about 85% right now), but it’s entirely possible that the place you would have really liked most wasn’t even on Trulia.

    A better Realtor would have been the solution, though I do understand your story and am glad you were able to find a place you liked.


  12. Steve, I don’t know the percentage either. And I certainly wouldn’t rely on Trulia. But Trulia allowed me to look over my realtor’s shoulders and find something that she simply wasn’t showing me because she, for whatever reason, had a blind spot to the area we bought into – quite satisfactorily – even though it was on MLS. The point I’m trying to make is that because of Trulia and only because of Trulia there was a happy buyer and a happy seller in this case – realtors are not perfect mediums.

    Now if we could have direct access to MLS – then that would be the best of all worlds.

  13. M,

    But even if Trulia did not exist, there are thousands of Dallas Realtor IDX websites with all of the MLS listings that would have accomplished the same for you. In Austin, We have, which is the public facing MLS. Not sure if Dallas has something comparable, but almost every Realtor has an IDX site showing more MLS listings than you’ll find on any of the syndication websites.

    So, going around your Realtor to another source was a good move for you. But it doesn’t validate Trulia or any other syndication site. In fact, it might have been the poorest of your available choices because it provided fewer listings than other choices would have.



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