ARG Abbott Realty Group Pulls Listings from Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com

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Most visited real estate sitesThe real estate interwebs blew up last night when the announcement from San Diego based real estate brokerage Abbott Realty Group (ARG) came down that they were going to stop syndicating their company’s listings to national listing aggregator sites Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com.

Sounds exactly like what Edina Realty announced in November 2011. (Though curiously, Edina never mentioned backing out of Zillow).

Is there an “anti-syndication movement” afoot in the real estate vertical? Maybe. Maybe not. Only time will tell where this is headed.

Here is the video that Abbott Realty Group Broker and President Jim Abbott released explaining ARG’s decision to no longer syndicate their listings to Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com (hereafter referred to as TruZillTor, just because that is faster to type).

If you haven’t watched the video, I encourage you to do so.

First, let me say this. I respect Jim Abbott and ARG for taking a stand on a topic they obviously feel passionately about. That’s not an easy thing to do, and Jim’s video is well produced, and he makes many points. Perhaps too many, as sometimes, for me, it’s difficult to know if he is addressing the real estate industry or real estate consumers. But that’s neither here nor there. This article isn’t a critique of the video. It’s a critique of the message.

Second, let me say this. I am “pro-syndication.” That shouldn’t be a surprise. If you read my article on the Edina announcement, that position is clear. I am not against other people advertising my listings, as was clearly stated in You Have Full Permission to Advertise My Listings, written almost three years ago. There are countless other places here and all across the internet where I have supported listing syndication.

Why I disagree with the ARG Abbott Realty Group decision

This is a complicated topic that many feel strongly about regardless of which side of the syndication fence they fall on. I think the best way to tackle it is to discuss each of Jim Abbott’s points in the order he made them. So let’s go…

Listing syndication sites are in business to sell advertising to real estate agents and brokers.

Yep, true statement.

Neither the home seller or the potential home buyer is remotely well served by listing syndicators.

Hmm. This is debatable. Jim’s first point in support of this statement is that the syndication sites, “are really nothing more than slick advertising platforms. They often use fear and peer pressure to induce agents and brokers to sign costly long-term contracts for their lead generation services.”

Yes, we’ve already established that syndication sites sell advertising. “Fear and peer pressure”? Inducing agents to buy advertising? I don’t know about you, but I began the “don’t succumb to peer pressure” talk with my kids when they were about five years old. If you don’t like the fact that syndication sites sell advertising, that’s fine. Don’t buy it. Peer pressure? Put on your big girl panties and stand up to the peer pressure and do what YOU think is right. ARG is doing what they think is right. So is Edina. So am I.

Jim states the real estate industry is vigorously regulated by local, state and federal government to protect the public, and they the syndication sites face no such regulation and have no legal responsibility for the accuracy of the data they display.

Also a true statement.

The syndicator sites will tell you they go through many gyrations to ensure accurate data. Well, I agree with Jim and can assure you that these sites are filled with inaccurate information – sold listings, expired listings, missing listings, homes listed for sale that aren’t.

Unfortunately, inaccurate listing data isn’t limited to the syndication sites. Take a peek at your local MLS. If it’s anything like mine, and I suspect it is, it too is filled with inaccurate and missing data.

I just logged into the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service (ARMLS) and in 30 seconds or less found this:

  • 283 listings with no square footage entered. That’s just agent laziness.
  • 12 listings showing a square footage of 0, 1 or 2 square feet. When is the last time you saw a one square foot home? My ass is bigger than one square foot.
  • 14 listings showing both zero bedrooms and zero  bathrooms. A home with no bedrooms or bathrooms? What is it, a tent?
  • 484 listings showing property taxes of less then $10/year. I *wish* my property taxes were less than 10 bucks.

I have no way to count how many listings have the wrong price, the wrong listing status, the wrong directions, the wrong address.

We get calls every day about listings showing as Active in the MLS and when we call the listing agent it is not unusual, at all, to hear things like:

  • Oh yeah, that one. It’s been under contract for a couple of weeks. I forgot to change the status in the MLS
  • Yes, there is an HOA. I just haven’t had time to look it up
  • There are multiple offers submitted, we aren’t taking any more
  • I don’t know if it’s a one story or two story
  • I don’t know if it has a pool

The list goes on and on. You can’t make this stuff up.

Garbage in, garbage out. And shame on us for being so lousy at entering, maintaining and correcting listing data.

The MLS is not a sanctity of data integrity. I don’t believe the data in the MLS is as bad as it is on the syndication sites, but it’s clearly bad enough that the “integrity of the data” argument is moot.

And lest we forget, every major syndication site has a way to correct inaccurate data. If you aren’t correcting bad data, that is just as much your own fault as it it is the syndicators.

Jim Abbot asks why do syndication sites inflate their inventories and says again that one reason is to, “extract exorbitant fees from unsuspecting agents and brokers”. Extracting exorbitant fees? Well I’ll say again the stunningly obvious solution is to keep your credit card in your wallet or purse. Unsuspecting agents and brokers? Why are you “unsuspecting”? If you aren’t researching who you are spending your advertising dollars on, that’s your mistake and your problem.

Jim mentions that CraigsList scammers and burglars use syndication site listing data to target their victims. Uhm, how does he know that they aren’t using any real estate agent site that utilizes and IDX home search solution. Tens of thousand do, including ARG’s web site. It took me two clicks on ARGs site to find a property address… Throwing syndication sites under the bus for enabling scammers sounds like fear mongering, and rather absurd when your own web site offers the same information.

Next up we have the often heard argument that syndication sites take our content because they have to have it to drive traffic, and they do so, “without compensation to the brokers, agents, photographers and videographers who create pay for and own the content”. He even states, “As if the theft of our intellectual property weren’t enough…”

They take our content? They steal our content?

Hardly. We give it to them. Now Jim’s chosen not to, as is his prerogative. I chose to give them my content, as is my prerogative. But please, don’t tell me they are stealing it. That is ludicrous.

Consumers are the ones who really get a raw deal at the hands of syndicator sites.

Here Jim tells a story of a potential home buyer who finds a home on a syndication site and calls the agent most prominently featured. Jim is correct when he says this may not be the listing agent, rather it is the agent who paid for the advertising to be featured. The poor consumer may be routed to a call center, where the operator offers to “put you in contact with a qualified professional who knows the area” and that, “it is almost certain they have not seen the property you called about”.

There are currently 25,312 active residential listings for sale in Phoenix. According to the home search on ARG’s website, there are 12,259 active residential listings in the San Diego area.

I don’t know Jim, and I don’t believe I know any ARG agent. But I’m quite comfortable saying that if you find a property on ARG’s site – or any other real estate agent or broker site with IDX listings – and call that office the odds are overwhelming that the agent who answers the phone hasn’t seen the listing you are calling about. I *know* that I don’t have an agent that has seen the every one of the 25,000+ listings in Phoenix.

These sites represent a failed approach to property marketing

Jim says that the “hundreds of thousands of hits” on their own listings on syndication sites, “did not cause buyers to view those homes, nor did they produce quicker sales or better outcomes for our clients” and that a few buyers who responded to listing syndicators often “got the wrong information or got it too late to be of value to them as consumers”.

That may well be true. I am not privy to ARG’s numbers, and certainly can’t question them. Jim seems like a good guy. Professional. Passionate about his brokerage, agents and clients.

To be honest though, I have no idea how ARG (or anyone) can track this sort of data accurately.

Let’s say I’m an agent in San Diego, the home of Abbott Realty Group. Let’s say I pay Zillow to “own” a zip code where ARG has a listing. Let’s say a potential home buyer finds an ARG listing on Zillow and contacts me. We drive out, my client loves the home, and we submit an offer the seller accepts.

Does ARG survey every buyer of every one of their listings and ask them where they found the home?

Maybe they do, I can’t say. We certainly don’t, and I don’t know anyone who does. Honestly, I couldn’t care less where the buyer of one of our listings first found the home. We take listings to sell them. And whether some buyer finds our listing on TruZillTor, our own site, some other local agents site, or via any other marketing, I don’t care. We sold the client’s house, which is what we were hired to do.

Is it possible no Thompson’s Realty listing has ever been sold via TruZillTor? Yep. Is it possible some have? Yep.

The total cost for me to put our listings on syndication sites is $0.00. I have never given any syndication site a nickel. The cost is not passed on to our clients, the cost is zero. You see, we investigate the ROI of every marketing avenue. We don’t succumb to fear, intimidation or peer pressure. Heck, I’ve had potential seller clients that insisted we run ads in the Sunday paper. When we explain that they don’t work, and why, the vast majority of sellers understand and we move along without the shiny Sunday add. The two or three I can recall insisting we run ads found another agent. We don’t take listings for the sake of taking them, to plant signs in the ground, to generate “leads”. We take listings to sell them. We don’t spend time, money or effort that doesn’t work to appease sellers. Syndicating our listings is done through our MLS. We check a box (or not if the client doesn’t want syndication). The fraction of a second it takes to check a box has essentially zero cost.

At ARG we believe that when you hire a skilled, professional Realtor to represent your property that he or she is the best qualified and most logical person to respond to questions from buyers and buyer’s agents.

This is an argument I heard several times since the ARG announcement was made. It sure feels like what we’re talking about here is single-agent dual agency — where the same agent represents both the buyer and seller in the same transaction. We abhor single-agent dual agency, practice it only under very rare and extenuating circumstances and honestly wish it was outlawed.

Maybe dual agency isn’t the ultimate goal in either ARG or Edina’s pulling out of syndication. I don’t know. Let’s assume that is not their goal as I’d rather not go down the dual agency rat hole 2,100 words into a blog post (and kudo’s if you’ve read this far. It’s almost over…).

But here is what I will say about this “the listing agent is the best qualified, and who the potential buyer needs to answer questions” argument.

If you feel syndicators are harming consumers by making it difficult to contact listing agents, they you must, MUST, also keep  your listings out of IDX distribution. The exact same issue of not reaching the listing agent that seems to bother so many in syndication also exists in IDX.

Trust me, we get calls and emails – seven days a week – from people searching on this very site who think we are the listing agent for the property they are viewing. Every. Day.

Don’t get me wrong. I **LOVE** IDX. It’s the lifeblood of my prospect generation efforts. 6,742 IDX search registrations in 2011 is a great thing. But if one of your main arguments for pulling your listings out of syndication is because potential buyers are confused and can’t reach the listing agent, then you MUST also pull out of IDX. The same problem exists in both systems. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Pulling out of syndication but using IDX smacks of hypocrisy.

This comment about IDX was made by an agent I have tremendous respect for, J. Philip Faranda:

If I am on Thompsonsrealty.com or TPREG and inquire about a listing I know who I am being connected to. It is your site. There is no ambiguity. If I am on a 3rd party site it is misleading to the public far more. I DO get my share of IDX calls where people assume Jay’s listing is really mine, but it is easy to clear up because it is My site they are on. Not so with Z, T and R. IDX is the solution, not the problem.

Problem is, there IS ambiguity. The very ambiguity that exists on syndication sites. The vast majority of site visitors don’t know (or quite possibly don’t care) what site they are on. Sound far-fetched? I mean “Phoenix Real Estate Guy” is plastered all over the place. Along with logos, contact forms, call to action buttons, you name it, we’ve got them all over our site, just as ARG does, just as any good real estate site does. Our sites are many things – information, brand promotion, advertising, and prospect generation vehicles. I can assure you that many many people think we’re the listing agent for any listing on our site. Heck, I get phone calls and emails asking about things as diverse and non-real estate related as what hours a restaurant is open, to whether or not you need a passport to cross the Mexican border. Why? Because people Google those questions and land on an article I’ve written about them. Clearly my site isn’t a restaurant site, or the State Department. But people think it is, because Google sent them there.

Just like Google sends them there for a listing address or MLS number they Google.

Jim Abbott supports IDX. He does not support syndication. Yet many of the issues he cites as problematic with syndication also exist in IDX. Edina supports IDX, but not syndication for many of the reasons Jim Abbott and ARG Abbott Realty Group state.

Sorry folks, I don’t get that. At all.

As I said in the beginning of this tome, I respect Jim Abbott and ARG for taking a stand in what they believe. Ditto for Edina, and anyone else that decides to do this. I believe their feelings are genuine.

Genuine, but misguided.

 

Photo Credit: Experian Hitwise

 

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About the Author
Jay Thompson

I'm a real estate broker in Phoenix, Arizona and the publisher of the Phoenix Real Estate Guy blog. I tend to drive too fast and scream at the University of Texas and Denver Broncos football teams. My two kids are smarter than most adults I know and my wife is simply amazing.

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