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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  1. Thanks for the kind words.
    A few thoughts:
    I am pro syndication also (PLEASE SELL MY LISTINGS!!!), but I deplore the execution in some ways. If the brokerage community can exert some leverage to make the syndicators play nicer, everyone wins. I buy an enhanced package on Realtor.com and zip codes on the others because that is in my client’s best interests. But do I like it? No. The word extortion is used often, and I don’t think that is terribly accurate, but leverage? Yes.

    The inaccurate data on the MLS is broker negligence. I don’t buy that broker negligence makes inaccuracies on 3rd party sites OK. I actually think that those of us who wring our hands over accuracy suffer because of the loss in translation on the aggregators. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I think it a fallacy to justify one because of the other. Both should be addressed.

    IDX does cause people to think we are the listing agent in some cases, but as a broker carrying 50+ listings who does business with aggregators, I can tell you that the frequency is far smaller. IDX and syndication are different animals. Imperfect in their own way, but apples and oranges. Broker websites are broker websites, and they are not 3rd parties. Again, a common headache between the two platforms doesn’t justify the things ARG objects to.

    I think that the pushback is healthy- no one is calling for a boycott or going back to getting tribal about our own data. We should have some way of getting Truzilltor to recommit to accuracy, and consider doing more for the actual provider of the content than sell the inquiry to the highest bidder.

    • Last thought in inaccurate data: Individual negligence on the MLS is a different battle from the systemic flaws inherent in aggregators.

    • Jay Thompson says:

      Great commentary JPF. I can’t really argue with any of it.

      I didn’t mean to imply that crappy data in the MLS excuses crappy syndication data. But the argument that “syndication data sucks” doesn’t mean a lot when MLS data sucks too.

      Could syndication be better? Oh, absolutely. No question. Ditto for IDX. And while I admire those who take a stand on principle, I’d probably admire them even more if instead of taking their ball and going home they stood up and fought to affect change. I would join that fight, but I don’t see running away as fighting. It’s making a statement sure, but will it really create change? I don’t think so. It seems many have already forgotten Edina already did this, and that was only two months ago. The buzz around the ARG announcement will likely die off swiftly too…

      • Rob Hahn says:

        I can argue with it.

        Look at the large prominent seal “Official Listing Agent: Talk to the Source” on Jim Abbott’s video. Now explain to me how his point doesn’t apply with the exact same force to IDX, Philip.

        They’re not apples and oranges. They’re both apples, but somehow, one is called an orange for some reason.

        • Easy Rob. Abbott is not saying a word about IDX. We are. Mr. Abbott is referring consumers to the association site or his firm’s site, both of which, being the primary, real-time data feed from the MLS , will have the listing agent as the contact person. It’s that simple.

          IDX, however, is awesome and it isn’t going anywhere, anytime, unless something even more user friendly and transparent comes along. It is the realtime feed directly from MLS, not a filtered 3rd party. Individual negligence aside, which is another problem for another day, all the data is reliable. I pay the Troika, as Kris Berg calls them, a king’s ransom annually because I want the calls on my listings to go to me. Now, here’s something that happens on Zillow etc that doesn’t happen on IDX when I get a call for a listing that isn’t mine:
          I look the listing up and it is actually off the market. The buyer ends the call in disgust, not because it isn’t my listing, but because it isn’t available. You know who does that? Car dealers. NEVER happens with IDX (unless there is individual negligence, a wholly separate problem)!

          If the consumer is on my site and assume’s Jay’s listing is mine, at least the data is accurate because it is Jay’s, and it isn’t a leap to explain that it is my site and that’s why I am the contact person. IDX and VOWs are a superior user experience for consumers, aggregators are not- that is why they have gimmicks like value estimates and discussion forums.

          Different animals. If I give you my data, we should have an agreement ahead of time as to who is the contact person. I used to be the guy on aggregators in 2006 and 2007, then the game changed once they had my data and then I had to buy in.

          • Jay Thompson says:

            JPF – you said:

            Mr. Abbott is referring consumers to the association site or his firm’s site, both of which, being the primary, real-time data feed from the MLS , will have the listing agent as the contact person. It’s that simple.

            Uhm, I challenge you to go to ARG’s site, search for a property (not one of theirs of course) and find the listing agents contact info. If you look REAL close, you’ll find the listing brokerage name (not the listing agents), buried in other info. But the contact form, live chat, phone number and every other call to action on that page will go right to ARG, not the non-ARG listing agent.

            Exactly as it does on my site, and countless other IDX enabled sites.

            How is that any different than what they are complaining about on syndication sites?

            One might argue it’s even MORE deceptive. Zillow isn’t a brokerage site, ARGSD.com is. If ARG thinks a consumer is lead to believe the agent they contact on Zillow is the listing agent, then surely they are lead to believe they are contacting the listing agent when they are ON a brokerage site, with “contact us”, chat with us, get more info buttons and phone numbers plastered all over the screen…

          • Yes, Jay, The host company is the contact for the IDX regardless of the source of the listing. If someone finds your listing on my site it will say to call me, and vice versa.
            That does not make IDX the same as syndication.

  2. Matt Walsh says:

    The difficulty to contact the listing agent argument is a bit lame.

    Especially since on their own site they don’t actually publish the listing agents name or direct number. They do publish a general contact number but there is no guarantee that goes to the listing agent and not a lead routing system.

  3. Victor Lund says:

    Sounds like ARMLS needs data checking software and better rules enforcement. Sandicor has 4 Associations of REALTORS that are MLS service centers and they take data quality very seriously.

    I am more than a little surprised that a leading MLS like ARMLS has so many data issues. Is it a data migration issue, poor rules enforcement, or unprofessional agents?

    • B) and C)

    • Victor Lund says:

      Jay,

      I was just looking in the WAVES magazine published by ARMLS. Ana Billar is the Data Integrity Manager. You may want to give her a call and talk about the data issues you found. ARMLS makes significant investments in data quality, and more over, publishes market analysis based on the data. If the data is not clean – the reports are not clean. I am sure that ARMLS will make changes to get the data right. They are an excellent MLS provider.

      • Jay Thompson says:

        Victor –

        I’m not sure ARMLS can do anything. Sure there is some blatantly wrong data, such as homes listed at being 1 square foot in size, but the vast majority of issues are along the lines of properties not moving to pending status when they should be, and other agent data-entry errors by real estate agents.

        It’s an obvious error when a home is listed as 1 square foot or $10/year property taxes. It’s not obvious at all when an agent says the home has no swimming pool, when in fact it does.

        There are currently over 56,000 properties in ARMLS that are in some sort of active or pending state. Short of calling the listing agents for every one of those and going through the listing line-by-line and confirming every detail in every listing, what could ARMLS do?

        I don’t think it’s an ARMLS issue. I think it’s lazy and unprofessional agents and brokers who don’t understand the importance of data accuracy.

        Steeper penalties for violations would help, but brokers fight fine increases with a passion. If they exhibited half that passion ensuring data integrity, there wouldn’t be an issue…

        • Bob Bemis says:

          A couple quick comments on B) and C), at least as they apply to ARMLS.
          Poor Rules Enforcement: ARMLS rules enforcement is actually pretty good. There are a couple of rules that are terrible, but our agents/brokers make the rules so it’s often hard to get them changed. Two examples:
          1. STATUS – nearly 60% of our closed transactions are REOs or Short Sales, transactions that involve banks, lenders, or loan servicers. The process is contorted and confusing. To make it worse, ARMLS has a rule that says when you have a contract agreed to by buyer and seller, the listing must be put into Pending or Active-Contingent status. Then, in the very next paragraph of the policy, we provide a mechanism for circumventing this rule using a form called the Multiple Counter Offer. The first part of the rule supports buyer’s agents (who don’t want to see contracted listings as still showing in ACTIVE status) and the second supports listing agents who have bank sellers who want the listing to stay ACTIVE even while considering contract offers, in the hope that someone will come along with yet a higher or better offer. That’s nuts. And it creates not only confusion but frustration on both sides of the transaction. The ARMLS rules committee tried to change this policy last month, but the ARMLS Board felt the change was not clearly worded and sent it back to committee for reconsideration and clarification. We may see this change in February, but for the past three-plus years, there has really been no rule to enforce.
          2) Higher fines: Two years ago ARMLS raised its fines (considerably) and put in place a “frequent flyer” program wherein agents with multiple violations in a short time frame were penalized more severely than agents with fewer violations. The number of mistakes went down dramatically. But many on the ARMLS board felt we had gone too far and penalties were onerous, so the Board softened the penalties, moved many infractions from the ‘pay a fine’ class to the ‘slap on the wrist, not the wallet’ category. Infractions are now increasing under the “Less Attitude – More Latitude” policy, but the ‘frequent fliers’ are happy, and richer.
          3) Unprofessional agents: Most of the mistakes made in the data are inadvertent. Agents who are notified of a mistake usually correct it quickly. The minority who are consistently sloppy, inattentive, or deceptive do not and must be penalized to get their attention. But that kind of bad behavior is probably not limited to MLS data maintenance – it probably shows up in agent behavior in managing listings or transactions as well. Under license law, the Broker is responsible for the latter behavior by her agents. BUT (Big BUT, bigger than one-square-foot), late last year ARMLS considered a change to the ARMLS rules and to make the broker responsible for the agent’s bad behavior in MLS listing maintenance by levying equal fines on both broker and agent for each infraction. As the agent climbed the Penalty Ladder with multiple violations, the fines would increase on both parties. Needless to say, this proposal was shot down in flames. (I don’t recall if it was in committee before it ever got to the Board of Directors or if the Board killed it.) The directors felt the brokers would rebel if they were required to actually exercise the oversight required by law by holding them responsible for their agents’ MLS behavior as well. I think the situation today would be vastly different had that policy been adopted.
          With our new tax system coming in early February, we are also getting new compliance checking software that will automate many of the tasks our data integrity team now performs manually. Will it make a difference? Not if some of the rules don’t change. We can only enforce the rules that are on the books, and those rules are made by brokers and agents who have very different viewpoints on stringency, adherence, and penalties.
          Thanks for keeping the conversation going.
          Bob Bemis, CEO, ARMLS

          • Jay Thompson says:

            Thanks for chiming in Bob.

            I think ARMLS does everything you can to ensure data integrity. You can’t monitor and police agents, that’s my job.

            “The directors felt the brokers would rebel if they were required to actually exercise the oversight required by law by holding them responsible for their agents’ MLS behavior as well.”

            ::sigh:: The Directors are right, but that’s a very sad testament…

  4. Can’t say it any better than that, Jay. Oh, about that “my ass is bigger than one square foot”? I was rolling on the floor, you know, LMAO…

  5. Ken Oenbrink says:

    Can’t say I disagree with any of your blog thoughts / points. I too believe that my purpose as an agent, when I take a listing is to SELL THE HOME. However I think for whatever reason(s) the entire system is upside down. Please allow me to explain:
    I think syndicators should be treated by the individual MLS’s just like the IDX vendors, they want the data, they can pay for it. They want to manipulate the data feed and sell it back to agents and brokers, fine. They want to put it on a website not owned by an agent or broker so they can sell advertising whether it is to agents and brokers or any other entity such as a mortgage lender, title company, insurance agency etc., fine also, but the price for the MLS data just went way up! This data that most agents and brokers participate in producing has real worth, much much more than the way it is currently valued. This data should be a source of revenue for agents and brokers, and the MLS’s should be the seller of the data and making a profit for the MLS members that contribute to producing the data. Some type of formula for compensating fairly those that produce more data (listings) than others would seem appropriate. Since brokers own the listings, they could work out with their agents what cut of the revenue they get, probably based on the # of listings again.
    It costs agents and brokers time and money to get listings. If they can be compensated for the data, it could potentially even reduce the cost of selling a home for the sellers.

    • Jay Thompson says:

      Well, not much to argue there Ken!

      I agree that our data has value. And I suspect some will say, “Well then Jay, why do you give it away for free? Take it back!”

      And that’s an understandable point.

      But, we do (or at least should) provide much more value to the home buyer and seller than what our data represents. I know that legally listing data is mine, but in reality listing data is the home owners. Maybe we should be letting them decide where THEIR HOME information goes?

      We do that, sort of, when we give them a chance to opt out of having their listing info spread across the internet.

      The number of seller’s we’ve had that chose not to put their listing info on the web is easy to remember.

      It’s zero.

      I think that says something…

  6. Joshua Dubin says:

    My only issue with the zillows, trulias, and realtor.com’s is they are our competition, why feed them anything the enables them to further produce any profit. One of the issues I keep reminding my fellow realtors is that when they backlink back to these sites, they are helping these sites “outrank” them. The fact is that most realtors aren’t educated in this matter and think somehow it’s beneficial. Sure for agents participating in purchasing zip codes and getting leads from these companies it can be an advantage, but as they become more and more the “source for online real estate” the will hold a Monopoly that lets them charge more and more. We need to break this cycle and I think open our eyes to this Dave vs. Goliath fight that is taken place! P.S I understand if you disagree.

    • Jay Thompson says:

      I’m not sure we disagree all that much Joshua.

      I don’t care what the syndicators charge, because I’m not paying them anything.

      You are absolutely correct that many agents help these sites rank by the multitude of links they provide them. I suspect many agents that install a widget from TruZillTor they are giving them a back link.

      The fact I didn’t link to any of them in this post was not an accident (though I did mean to link to ARG’s site. I’ll correct that momentarily).

  7. Lots of food for thought in this one Jay. I don’t agree with the decision not to syndicate. It’s definitely not in the interest of the sellers. At the same time I can understand why brokerages feel the need to push back. The syndication sites do a lousy job managing the data they get. (This is where they differ from IDX, I’m with JP on that).

    Interesting that you write this today. I found out just this morning that when a house gets taken off the market, (sells or is withdrawn), Trulia continues to show the pictures from the active listing for that address. I’m not okay with that, (and neither was my client).

    This example illustrates my biggest problem with syndication sites. They think once they get the data they can do what they like with it. Some push back from big brokerages won’t hurt. Maybe it will even change something!

    • Jay Thompson says:

      I’m not OK with them keeping pictures that long either Denise.

      Affecting change is a long hard road. Sure, withdrawing your listing makes a statement. but does it really affect change? I don’t think it does. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, it smacks of “I’m going to pout and take my ball and go home.”

      Agents bought leads long before the Internet existed, they will always buy leads. One can argue that we enable this lead buying by giving the syndicators our listing data. Maybe what brokerages really need to enable is their agents, so they don’t need to buy leads….

  8. Jay I agree with about garbage in garbage out. If you are taking a listing you should know your product and put in accurate information as well as keep it updated. Regardless of the industry if you don’t know your product how can you be expected to market it.

    My ass would never fit in a one foot wide room either but as somebody who works in a condo market I see a lot of 0 bedrooms because there are studios in my marketplace. I am pretty sure all residential properties in my area have been updated with indoor plumbing.

    • Jay Thompson says:

      Keep. It. Updated.

      What a novel concept Andrea! I saw a comment somewhere on Facebook where an agent was saying they found one of their listings on TruZillTor that was sold 2.5 years ago.

      Well, shame on you for not getting it pulled off 2.5 years ago… To expect TruZillTor to police your data isn’t reasonable.

      Good point about the studios having 0 bedrooms. We don’t have a lot of those here, but they probably do account for some of the “zero bedroom” listings.

      • I don’t think Trulia or Zillow operate their sites with the intention of having bad data. The advantage Realtor.com has is they pretty much started out getting MLS feeds because of the contractual relationship with NAR. Zillow and Trulia started out getting their information in other ways and now get MLS feeds and direct brokerage feeds(which isn;t always accurate as well). I find less and less inaccuracy on T and Z as time goes on and the source of the data feed has improved. I have always found them helpful in trying to get it corrected if I find something incorrect.

        When I was with my previous brand T and Z got their feeds from their feed. Because there where admin errors it was garbage in, garbage out. What I discovered is because the previous company I was with was trying to put off paying royalty fees they would not close out a listing in the system so I could have T and Z correct it out but on the next feed it would send active information. Many times the source of the bad information is whose providing it.

        • The Truth is says:

          Jay,

          Andrea Geller almost hit it on the head (and she is so close, which I believe is how this whole mess got started). I’ve read all of the other comment and great debating points but presumptuous of the video message. (I believe people hear what they want to hear for their agenda). Read what Andrea states: “Zillow and Trulia “started” out getting their information in “other ways” and now get MLS feeds and “direct brokerage feeds”(which isn;t always accurate as well).”………”When I was with my previous brand T and Z got their feeds from their [feed]”

          The question should be asked if Andrea knows, “what was this compensation” for this feed?(And money is not the only answer) This is T.com dirty little secret and I see how hard Z .com is separating itself because “I” believe Z.com is truly trying to do right thing as opposed to T.com not divulging the whole picture. (If agents only knew, man would they be pissed) Ask her?…….After I found out I felt like cattle……once you figure it out please and I mean “please” write about it. (Enough said, conflict of interest) Dig, Dig, Dig, Dig………… (I don’t know if you would have a problem with it”but” 90 percent of agents would)

          Getting back to one of your points why would anyone in their right mind bring their ball to an uneven playing field and also let the other team make up the rules?

          But again who am I to say anything? Maybe we (agents) should just hold ourselves to strict national & local MLS guidelines and allow everyone else in cyber world to be immune to our standards and just let the market dictate itself. Sounds good? “But hey man, it’s for the common good for maximum, marketing expo viewing of client’s properties, people will responsible kind a like in this last housing bubble and what could go wrong?”

        • The Truth is says:

          Jay,

          Andrea Geller almost hit it on the head (and she is so close, which I believe is how this whole mess got started). I’ve read all of the other comment and great debating points but presumptuous of the video message. (I believe people hear what they want to hear for their agenda). Read what Andrea states: “Zillow and Trulia “started” out getting their information in “other ways” and now get MLS feeds and “direct brokerage feeds”(which isn;t always accurate as well).”………”When I was with my previous brand T and Z got their feeds from their [feed]”

          The question should be asked if Andrea knows, “what was this compensation” for this feed?(And money is not the only answer) Next QUESTION: WHAT DID THEY DO WITH THE FEED! This is T.com dirty little secret and I see how hard Z .com is separating itself because “I” believe Z.com is truly trying to do right thing as opposed to T.com not divulging the whole picture. (If agents only knew, man would they be pissed) Ask her?…….After I found out I felt like cattle……once you figure it out please and I mean “please” write about it. (Enough said, conflict of interest) Dig, Dig, Dig, Dig………… (I don’t know if you would have a problem with it”but” 90 percent of agents would)

          Getting back to one of your points why would anyone in their right mind bring their ball to an uneven playing field and also let the other team make up the rules?

          But again who am I to say anything? Maybe we (agents) should just hold ourselves to strict national & local MLS guidelines and allow everyone else in cyber world to be immune to our standards and just let the market dictate itself. Sounds good? “But hey man, it’s for the common good for maximum, marketing expo viewing of client’s properties, people will responsible kind a like in this last housing bubble and what could go wrong?”

        • The Truth is says:

          Jay,

          Andrea Geller almost hit it on the head (and she is so close, which I believe is how this whole mess got started). I’ve read all of the other comment and great debating points but presumptuous of the video message. (I believe people hear what they want to hear for their agenda). Read what Andrea states: “Zillow and Trulia “started” out getting their information in “other ways” and now get MLS feeds and “direct brokerage feeds”(which isn;t always accurate as well).”………”When I was with my previous brand T and Z got their feeds from their [feed]”

          The question should be asked if Andrea knows, “what was this compensation” for this feed?(And money is not the only answer) Next QUESTION: WHAT DID THEY DO WITH THE FEED! I think this is T.com dirty little secret and I see how hard Z .com is separating itself because “I” believe Z.com is truly trying to do right thing as opposed to T.com not divulging the whole picture. (If agents only knew, man would they be pissed) Ask her?…….After I found out I felt like cattle……once you figure it out please and I mean “please” write about it. (Enough said, conflict of interest) Dig, Dig, Dig, Dig………… (I don’t know if you would have a problem with it”but” 90 percent of agents would)

          Getting back to one of your points why would anyone in their right mind bring their ball to an uneven playing field and also let the other team make up the rules?

          But again who am I to say anything? Maybe we (agents) should just hold ourselves to strict national & local MLS guidelines and allow everyone else in cyber world to be immune to our standards and just let the market dictate itself. Sounds good? “But hey man, it’s for the common good for maximum, marketing expo viewing of client’s properties, people will responsible kind a like in this last housing bubble and what could go wrong?”

        • The Truth is says:

          Jay,

          Andrea Geller almost hit it on the head (and she is so close, which I believe is how this whole mess got started). I’ve read all of the other comment and great debating points but presumptuous of the video message. (I believe people hear what they want to hear for their agenda). Read what Andrea states: “Zillow and Trulia “started” out getting their information in “other ways” and now get MLS feeds and “direct brokerage feeds”(which isn;t always accurate as well).”………”When I was with my previous brand T and Z got their feeds from their [feed]”

          The question should be asked if Andrea knows, “what was this compensation” for this feed?(And money is not the only answer) Next QUESTION: WHAT DID THEY DO WITH THE FEED! I think this is T.com dirty little secret and I see how hard Z .com is separating itself because “I” believe Z.com is truly trying to do right thing as opposed to T.com not divulging the whole picture. (If agents only knew, man would they be pissed) Ask her?…….After I found out I felt like cattle……once you figure it out please and I mean “please” write about it. (Enough said, conflict of interest) Dig, Dig, Dig, Dig………… (I don’t know if you would have a problem with it”but” 90 percent of agents would)

          Getting back to one of your points why would anyone in their right mind bring their ball to an uneven playing field and also let the other team make up the rules? That game would “SUCK” for me!

          But again who am I to say anything? Maybe we (agents) should just hold ourselves to strict national & local MLS guidelines and allow everyone else in cyber world to be immune to our standards and just let the market dictate itself. Sounds good? “But hey man, it’s for the common good for maximum, marketing expo viewing of client’s properties, people will responsible kind a like in this last housing bubble and what could go wrong?”

        • The Truth is says:

          Jay,

          Andrea Geller almost hit it on the head (and she is so close, which I believe this is how this whole mess got started). I’ve read all of the other comment and great debating points but presumptuous of the video message. (I believe people hear what they want to hear for their agenda). Read what Andrea states: “Zillow and Trulia “started” out getting their information in “other ways” and now get MLS feeds and “direct brokerage feeds”(which isn;t always accurate as well).”………”When I was with my previous brand T and Z got their feeds from their [feed]”

          The question should be asked if Andrea knows, “what was this compensation” for this feed?(And money is not the only answer) Next QUESTION: WHAT DID THEY DO WITH THE FEED! I think this is T.com dirty little secret and I see how hard Z .com is separating itself because “I” believe Z.com is truly trying to do right thing as opposed to T.com not divulging the whole picture. (If agents only knew, man would they be pissed) Ask her?…….After I found out I felt like cattle……once you figure it out please and I mean “please” write about it. (Enough said, conflict of interest) Dig, Dig, Dig, Dig………… (I don’t know if you would have a problem with it”but” 90 percent of agents would)

          Getting back to one of your points why would anyone in their right mind bring their ball to an uneven playing field and also let the other team make up the rules? That game would “SUCK” for me!

          But again who am I to say anything? Maybe we (agents) should just hold ourselves to strict national & local MLS guidelines and allow everyone else in cyber world to be immune to our standards and just let the market dictate itself. Sounds good? “But hey man, it’s for the common good for maximum, marketing expo viewing of client’s properties, people will responsible kind a like in this last housing bubble and what could go wrong?”

  9. I <3 you Jay Thompson. And not in a creepy stalker-ish way.

  10. There are lots of things in our business that make no sense at all Jay and one of them is “buying leads.” I’ve never bought into the syndication sites, because I’ve always thought it something of a paradox that they build a website with our content and then charge us when the people who visit it want help.

    Just because I’m skeptical about them on many levels doesn’t mean I’d boycott them by not syndicating my listings with them though. It just means I won’t spend my money there.

    You’re probably right that this latest move by ARG won’t affect change. I’m just an optimist and hope it causes a flap at meetings next week and at least causes them to review what they’re doing. They seem to have given themselves carte blanche up to now and that really isn’t fair.

  11. Jay Thompson says:

    Love love love the second paragraph of your comment Denise. That pretty much sums it all up…

  12. Tom Johnson says:

    The ownership issue is moot for us. Our MLS claims copyright for any picture and listing copy posted on the MLS site. so when the MLS syndicates the listing data, the copyright has been passed via whatever agreement the MLS has with the syndicator sites (The Syndicate?). With an MLS that gets paid for its brokers’ listing data, the toothpaste is out of the tube once the listing goes live. The same copyright issues apply to IDX feeds and professional photography used on MLS as well. Once you use it (MLS) you lose it.

    • Jay Thompson says:

      I’m clearly not a copyright lawyer, but there is something those MLS’s could do to retain copyright while still distributing their data.

      If they wanted to that is…

    • Victor Lund says:

      Hey Tom – Here is some information that may clear up some mis-understanding for you. The MLS does not syndicate data to third parties. The MLS may offer a syndication solution (like listhub, point2, or onboard) to brokers that allows brokers to syndicate data to publishers of their choosing. The MLS does not have agreements with publishers. It is the broker’s responsibility to create agreements with publishers. Each site’s terms of use are illustrated in the syndication tools like Listhub. You should read them. Here is a paper we wrote on the topic: http://waves.wavgroup.com/2009/11/10/listing-syndication-be-sure-to-read-the-fine-print/

      As for the copyright – the MLS does copyright the compilation so that they may enforce the MLS rules and regulations, and protect MLS subscribers from third party data misuse, theft, scraping, etc. But the broker retains the individual copyright of the individual listing.

      MLSs to not sell, or get paid for listings except in one case. There is a program from CoreLogic called Partner Infonet that some MLSs participate in. CoreLogic licenses the data from the MLS and uses it for AVM products they sell to banks, GSEs, Insurance Companies, etc. I think that the MLS gets about $1 per listing per month.

  13. Kathleen buckley says:

    Well. Put.

  14. John Wake says:

    Wow, you’re having fun, Jay!

    The reason MLSs syndicate is because they have shitty or no public websites.

    If an MLS had a killer website of it’s own it wouldn’t need to syndicate its data. Once we see more great public websites from MLSs, we’ll see fewer MLSs syndicating data.

    If an MLS had a killer public website and a consumer wanted to see homes online, the consumer would have to go to the local (ad-free) MLS website or an (ad-free) IDX website of an MLS member, end of story. (Sure individual brokerages may want to syndicate their listings, and the local MLS may or may not decide to help them do that.)

    The local MLS would be a hero with it’s members because it’s now generating leads ($) for listing agents and listing agents aren’t getting shaken down by Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, et al.

    Why couldn’t a Diverse Solutions say to an MLS, we’ll sell you a spectacular public website? If the website is successful, a few years later, the MLS becomes likely to stop sending data to competing websites. (Hmm, now I see why Zillow bought Diverse Solutions.)

    Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia have a market online because local MLS websites are so shitty. As local MLS websites improve, Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia will be disintermediated. (I couldn’t resist!)

  15. HowardArnoff says:

    Jay, regarding the apparent contradiction of supporting IDX vs not supporting syndication, *perhaps* the difference is with IDX the house hunter is *already on your website* and they will contact you for more info (even though it may not be your listing) while with syndication, the leads generated from your listings will go to whoever pays.

    I noticed that Rob Hahn indicated he was too busy to write a lengthy post on the subject so I’m glad to see you stepped up and filled in for him.

    • Jay Thompson says:

      In that case Howard, it’s all about getting the lead. And that seriously weakens all the “it’s the customer getting screwed” rhetoric.

      Actually, it doesn’t weaken it. It makes it a load of crap. It’s got nothing to do with the poor unsuspecting home buyer who so desperately needs to talk to the only real source of info.

      It’s all about the leads. Not the customers.

      And that’s pretty damn sad…

      • HowardArnoff says:

        And that is what I call the dirty little secret of real estate search, that you’re being bought and sold as a LEAD. This controversy smacks of self-serving hypocrisy rather than *serving* the client, seller or buyer.

      • Couldn’t disagree more. Forgotten in this discussion is the other consumer, the CLIENT who listed with me. They want me to take that call and deal with the buyer in an ideal scenario, because then we have a buyer as customer with the seller as client. That is a superior arrangement for the people who hired me to sell their home for the best terms possible. All this talk of dual agency is a canard- assuming dual agency in the absence of a buyer agent is specious.

        • Jay Thompson says:

          Agency laws are different in every state JPF. If I take on a buyer for one of my listings, the seller has to agree and sign a “Consent to Limited Representation Agreement”.

          Yep, my client now gets limited representation.

          Which is precisely why we strongly discourage dual agency in all but very rare and unique situations.

          • In New York if the listing agent works with a buyer it is either dual agency with limited representation for both the buyer and the seller or the seller gets full representation and the buyer is a customer and goes unrepresented. Not sure which is worse. Buyers need guidance.

          • Varying state laws obscure the discussion.
            Miriam is correct in the options but I disagree with her conclusion. If I get a call from an unrepresented buyer and I refer it out, my seller could have a real beef with that. They hired me, after all, to be their advocate, and my job is the get the best deal for them. I must be am fair and honest with the buyer customer, but my advocacy remains with the seller.

        • Phil, after 20 years in real estate in New York I have yet to meet a seller who would have an issue. Sellers are concerned that you represent them and their interests. To put a buyer, especially a first time buyer into a transaction without guidance is something you and your conscious have to deal with. This is another post.

        • HowardArnoff says:

          Philip, you disagreed with me and then wrote: All this talk of dual agency is a canard- assuming dual agency in the absence of a buyer agent is specious.

          I’m talking about *leads* being bought and sold when people search so my question for you is where did the concept of dual agency come from anyway, was that a myth or a duck.

  16. brilliant analysis. You are the go to person on the internet for analysis of issues that come along and I thank you – I read every word. I am in New Orleans and they haven’t learned how to spell syndication here yet. Oh, and we have houses here that are smaller than some of the asses. Sigh.

  17. Excellent post, Jay!

    JPF is spot on relative to broker responsibility for listing accuracy. It is amazing that so many brokers still have no clue, no plan, no listing management policy.

    I’m with you on the dual agency angle. I think that’s a big part of the rationale behind thinking attached to listing syndication.

    There’s one more aspect that does not get as much attention, the fact that in-house referrals revenue streams are harder to generate when agents get their own leads. Brokers have an easier time selling leads to agents for 35% when there are fewer avenues for agents to generate their own leads.

    That makes for an interesting story over the next few months as we watch what happens in the agent ranks at Edina and ARG. Does a Web-savvy agent remain with a brokerage who adopts this model? Is a Web-savvy agent attracted to this business model?

    Recruiting and retention numbers will tell an interesting story in 2012. How much will the double dip add to the bottom line?

    • Jay Thompson says:

      Excellent point on in-house referrals Frances. I tend to forget about that one as we charge our agents a whopping 0.0% for office generated leads.

      And I can’t tell you how many brokers have told me, face-to-face, that I’m pretty much an idiot for not slapping a hefty additional split on our in-house referrals….

      Personally, I’d rather help my agents generate more business than fee them to death. But that’s just me.

  18. This was a call for support from the industry. It was too long, and took on too many issues. However, a few great points were made. I understand ARG’s concerns, and applaud them for taking a stand on what they believe. I feel that my listings get more exposure through syndication now, so I use it. I’m not necessarily happy with the accuracy of the syndication.

    The issues were overstated in some ways, but the data inaccuracies were not. Yes, MLS data is flawed. Syndication data is exponentially more inaccurate, however. Comparing the two doesn’t do the variance justice.

    MLS data is timely. This is the most important point. Cancelled, Sold, and Expired listings are the biggest drawback of syndication data.

    The real question: If syndicators had everything up-to-date and as accurate as the MLS: would all brokers want to use them? I believe there’s a segment of our industry that would still say no.

    • Jay Thompson says:

      But *we* give them the data. If it is inaccurate, it’s our own fault. No?

      I’ve seen several people say, “I found one of my listings on TruZillTor a year after it sold!”

      Well, shame on you for not removing it when it sold…

      • Good points, but not always that simple. Some come from individual agents, some from local broker feeds, some from larger national feeds. Agents who don’t “opt-in” may still have their listing syndicated by their brokerage.

        Yes, *we* opened up this box. We are responsible for our own data. That’s just one small part of the accuracy issue, however.

        • Yesterday I spot checked 100 listings on Zillow and compared them to our MLS. All the listings fed from the MLS were fine and they get updated every 24 hours. The only stale listings I found on Zillow were two that were manually entered on two agents Point2 websites and were not manually closed and still showing active. Also one each from a broker website and a national website with the same issue. If you are going to manage your listings manually then it’s your responsibility to actually manage them. That’s not the fault of the syndication company.

        • JonathanDalton says:

          We’re going to have to agree to disagree. Their platform, their issue. Maybe not solely but they can’t wash their hands of it. If they have the ability to access sold data, they ought to have the ability to ensure there aren’t listings for homes seven months prior.

          Our MLS doesn’t mass syndicate listings. Truthfully, I would prefer it not because I see absolutely zero benefit. The “millions of eyes” argument lacks the specifics I need to be convinced it’s that helpful.

  19. Sara Bonert says:

    Thanks Jay, don’t have too much more to add here but wanted to show my support of your message.

    With regards to accuracy, I first want to say that I hear you all. I wish I could convince you the man hours that go into trying to make the data as accurate (talking about for sale data) every week. In the last six months we have built new systems that scraped off thousands of old listings that were still being sent to us as active in some feeds. And I promise we are constantly thinking of ways to continue to improve on this. We don’t want bad listing data on the site any more than agents do, as it cuts into the user experience and we want people to come back!

    So if anyone has any ideas on what we can do to improve the situation, I invite you email me at sarab@zillow.com and I’m happy to bring the ideas to the table.

    • Jay Thompson says:

      Thanks for braving the fray and showing not only your face, but your email Sara.

      “In the last six months we have built new systems that scraped off thousands of old listings that were still being sent to us as active in some feeds.”

      It’s not your fault some brokerages are feeding you inaccurate data….

    • Sara – I suspect that data quality varies by area and MLS’. Based on my recent spot check of Zillow data, it has got a lot better in my market (metro DC). Ideally, Zillow (and Trulia) would report data accuracy as compared to MLS data. You have MLS data with the Diverse Solutions acquisition, but I’m guessing that you don’t have the rights to perform this reconciliation. If you could, seems like this is a no-brainer way to identify bogus Zillow listings.

      As a company, Zillow would be well-served to prove that listing data is a lot cleaner than it has been historically. It’s not enough for you to say “we really care and we’ve been working really hard”. You’ve got a Hyundia issue. When they entered the US market, the cars were crap. For those of us who remember that, we still associate Hyundia with crappy cars. Yet they’ve been building great cars for a while.

      • Sara Bonert says:

        Bruce, You are right about the DS situation. We would love to that, but there are definitely legal considerations and permissions to consider. But here is smaller variation of what we can do – We’re working on a system where the broker could syndicate to us straight from the MLS thru DS (with all proper permissions obtained of course). Then if a listing comes out of this trusted feed (or any feed from a broker or mls for that matter, where the data is mls sourced) then we block that listing from coming back on the site if it is still provided to us in a “less trusted” feed such as a magazine or virtual tour company. We started to this last part about 3-4 months ago, and it made a huge difference in blocking stale listings from reappearing. Further, we auto expire listings, which aren’t sourced by a broker or mls feed, after 30-180 days based on how good the feed is when benchmarked against certain metrics. Those are just two examples of things we’ve done to improve the data, and one we are working to implement.

  20. Bill Lyons says:

    Very well put together response Jay. You stayed on point and kept it professional and respectful. It may be true that Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com (the big 3) may be pushing the envelope on where their ads are placed. Yes it is true that some ads are in the wrong place thus confusing consumers on who the listing agent is. I believe those sites can improve that. But at the end of the day a buyer needs to be represented by a Realtor that has their best interests in mind.

    I’m not sure what the underlining intent of Jim’s video is…
    1.) Self-promotion (yes he did that in the video, but ya can’t blame him for that)
    2.) Speak on a controversial topic and make a bold move (PR Stunt or real?) Regardless, it worked and went viral…
    3.) Hope that other brokers follow in his footsteps?
    4.) Justify, diverting his marketing dollars back to old school post cards?
    5.) Make his clients feel like his group has some sort of organic secret sauce?
    6.) Double-end more deals?
    7.) Force co-listings for non-downtown brokers

    I’m not sure if he is trying to close off the flow of information like some commercial brokers do forcing out of area brokers to have to co-list if they want a condo sold downtown?

    I don’t know exactly what the real agenda of the video is but clearly there is an alternative one.

    Jim is a great broker and runs a good shop. The ARG team works in downtown San Diego. Yes, it is true, that very few agents know each and every building inside and out unless they work the downtown market like they do. This knowledge is no doubt valuable. I can understand Jim’s frustration and the frustration of others but this isn’t the solution. Not all syndication sites are bad and some add immense value to brokers and consumers.

    It comes down to one simple question:

    “Mr. Seller, will your home sell faster if it is on one website or 30+ websites?”

    The answer is a no-brainer. The question above should be put in bold because underneath it all this is all it’s about.

    Real estate still has not caught up to today’s technology but it is rapidly doing so. Those that can find solutions to adapt to the change will survive. Those that resist it will not.

    • Bob Wilson says:

      Bill, we both know that exposure on Zillow doesnt make any difference if the property sells. Time to stop being a shill.

    • JonathanDalton says:

      > “Mr. Seller, will your home sell faster if it is on one website or 30+ websites?”

      90 times out of 100, the real answer is … “That’s a trick question. It’s the MLS that’s going to cause that house to sell, not what 3rd party website it happens to appear on.”

  21. Hector says:

    Excellent analysis Jay!

  22. I showed this post (and the video) to someone who’s NOT in the real estate industry and has no understanding of what IDX is, but recognizes Zillow (who they are and what they do, to some extent anyway).

    After some initial discussion, her response was “wait, how does that help me if I’m a potential buyer looking for a home? And if they’re so adamant about me going to the source, how does that benefit me as the buyer? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? How can they represent the seller and represent me at the same time?”

    I’m sharing this because after all of the discussion around the web these past couple of days between buyers, brokers and industry insiders, it was neat to see/hear someone else’s perspective (from outside the industry). And a lot of what she had to say sounded “pro-syndication” to me.

    I love your candor Jay. Great write-up on some of the issues being discussed.

    • drewmeyers says:

      100% agreed

    • JonathanDalton says:

      Ribeezie … how many times have you spoken to a buyer, someone not in the real estate industry, and had to explain to them that the homes they are seeing “for sale” in Zillow, the homes that they have decided are the ones they most want to see and/or purchase, are not really for sale and haven’t been for a long, long time?

      Have you ever had to explain to a buyer that the home with which they fell in love actually sold six months ago but is showing erroneously as for sale because there isn’t a protocol in place forcing updates of listing information?

      There’s tremendous value in hearing the perspective of someone outside the industry. Many of us do it every single day as we try and educate clients about the sheer volume of unreliable data available on the internet.

  23. Bill Gassett says:

    Jay the whole thing is really silly. I see it as nothing more than a Realtor needing some attention which he managed to do. If I was his competitor it would be easy to bury him in a marketing presentation.

  24. Hey Jay,
    Ginger from Trulia here. I always applaud you for your passion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this complex problem. You’re correct- there is inaccurate data on all real estate websites including IDX websites and the MLS. At Trulia, we have a ton of resources dedicated to solving the problem with data accuracy- but it’s complex and incredibly tough. Last year Trulia launched Trulia Direct Reference, which works directly with MLS organizations to identify the causes of inaccurate property information and helps them to correct data at the source. But of course, we can’t improve the data when it’s delivered to us incorrectly or entered wrong the first time . Agents and brokers should understand where their listings are at online and make sure they are correct and complete- this includes detailed listing descriptions and photos. Quality real estate sites will allow you to correct inaccurate data – we typically post these corrections within fifteen minutes on Trulia.
    You say, “We take listings to sell them.” Exactly- this is what home sellers expect. They don’t understand IDX, MLS and all of the other nuances of the industry. Home buyers are looking on the internet for homes. Sellers want to be where homebuyers are so they can sell their home fast, for the highest price possible. The brokers who market their homes on quality websites where homebuyers are looking are going to have far more opportunities to connect with motivated buyers and close more deals.

    • Jay Thompson says:

      Thanks Ginger, for providing some insite into Trulia’s efforts.

      Ginger is too nice to do it, but I will. Here is a link to an article posted at Trulia today that should be read and part of the conversation:

      Enhancing Data Accuracy & Lead Quality.

    • Bob Wilson says:

      Ginger, Trulia has never given a damn about the agent or broker. When they first launched several years ago, they scraped listings from us, which is to say they violated several laws. I called and let them know exactly how fast my attorney would file a lawsuit and the practice, at least in San Diego, stopped immediately.

      The bottom line is that Trulia adds no value to us with their inaccurate data and ridiculous collection of bad UGC advice.

      If Trulia and Zillow disappeared tomorrow, it would have ZERO impact on the number of homes sold.

    • JonathanDalton says:

      Ginger – there are considerable discrepancies in the number of homes for sale as shown on Trulia and in the local MLS. Your site shows more than 21,000 residential properties for sale; the actual number is less than 15,000. Your site also shows numerous properties for sale that long ago went under contract.

      You discuss the accuracy of the listing data itself; what is being done on Trulia’s end to ensure the homes portrayed as For Sale truly are? This is data that was entered correctly at the source but has not been updated.

  25. Gary McNinch says:

    I saw this Friday and have been thinking about it. Using our mls and all the idx feeds puts my listings out there to nearly every company. Using the KWLS (Keller Williams Listing System) puts my listings out to over 550 different lead aggregators, including Trulia and Realtor.com. Plus all the blogs and marketing I use, gets huge exposure. I don’t like everything that Trulia and Zillow do, but do like maximum exposure for my sellers. My snarky thought is this, “all the info is out in the inter webs all over the place, it won’t go back in the bottle now”. Thanks Jay for your clarity as always.

  26. Any concern Jay about these mega sites eventually crowding out all the mom and pop sites? And maybe eventually the services of independant agents/brokers? What happens if trulia or google wants to get into the brokerage business? Never happen?

  27. rqd says:

    Great conversation, Jay. Your points about garbage in, garbage out spawned a post about the real culprit behind the “bad data” in the MLS: http://imapp.com/blog/2012/01/the-truth-behind-garbage-in-garbage-out-in-mls-data/

  28. The problem with ZILLOW, REALTOR.COM and TRULIA is their basic business premise. They are all content sites with property data (listings) being the primary content. Would anyone go to these sites if there were no or very limited listing data to be found? The content is the key to their existence.

    Using this content, they attract consumers. Because of consumer site visits, they are able to sell advertising to companies who want to reach these consumers. On the side, they upsell some agents that will pay for “increased visibility”

    Up to now, it’s not a problem and everyone should be happy.

    The problem occurs when they do this and it disadvantages the owners of the content (who now have their content working against them instead of for them.) This is an important distinction made by ARG’s President. The argument being made by proponents is that the increased visibility always trumps the disadvantages and therefore the content owners should be happy.

    This might be true if the content was hard to find on the internet, but it is not. It is easy to find and has been for some time. There are over 1 million sites on the internet where local property can be searched! If these companies had to pay for the content on par with typical content models, their model would be much different and most likely unsustainable.No one can argue that information is almost always better from the source.

    These sites have been successful, not because of the information, but because they had a better mousetrap to deliver the information. This to is changing rapidly.

    Until 3rd party portals can deliver information that is UNIQUE and BETTER than the agent on the street, they will always be riding on the industry coattails and the deal will always be… one-sided.

  29. Audie Chamberlain says:

    Jay – I think your analysis of the video is brilliant. I don’t have much to add here about accuracy of data and I’m going to borrow from what I already said in our FB discussion. We at Realtor.com take the subject of listing accuracy and integrity seriously. We never re-syndicate your content and we never misuse it. I applaud you and Rob for drawing attention to the similarities of IDX on your site and also having a well thought out syndication strategy. At the end of the day, I understand your site is the one that’s most important to you, and my company ABSOLUTELY wants to be your second choice when it comes to marketing your business. We are working to develop that next amazing thing for you right now and I know someday you will eventually breakdown and use it ;)

  30. Thank you Jay for your insightful post…

  31. DavidWyrschJr says:

    @AgentSteph thanks Stephanie! Will definitely read it. #retechchat

  32. propsonline says:

    Thanks Jay – great topic- great insight- great debate!

  33. Weber says:

    Sehr guter Beitrag Jay, er hat eine interessante Debatte ausgelöst.

  34. PhxREguy says:

    @raylestate great letter Brian!

  35. Azbrandon says:

    Jay

    I agree with the syndication sites misrepresenting information, showing homes that are pending and under contract, they really need to get a handle on that! As representing buyers I feel that they get short changed when they call on a home produced by your site that they really like and is showing active until you tell them it isn’t active. It’s not just the Syndication sites, it’s the IDX providers as well, recently enough I dropped service from one of even the most used IDX providers, because of that situation. Even as an agent I do not want to put up content on my site that is invalid. I’m glad to pick up the buyer lead, but when you say that your site is displaying up to date and correct information, and clients visit your site and the information isn’t up to date, you do tend to get an earful.

    I do believe on the flip side that they are dis-servicing their sellers to the fact of Not Marketing there listing through the Internet as much as possible. Unless your Company or Brokerage website is placed on the 1st page of popular search engines per the prominent keywords, you shouldn’t be limiting your marketing. Maybe the Department of Real Estate needs to regulate who gets brokerage’s Listings? Or the brokerage should be able to choose which sites you want your listings to appear on. Its all a Scam for companies to make money, definitely agree on that point! Even the multiple listing companies are making a monthly fee and whom, which are sharing your listings to syndication sites.

    You can disable the “Right Click” Copy and Paste Content… But Data mining will always be there, purchasing a $1 to $2 an hour data entry contractor overseas to enter in listings onto a syndication site. That aspect will always be there unless brokerages start using the copyright laws to shut down the syndication sites that are using the information. That might deter them.

  36. John Slocum says:

    Great post and Conversation, Jay.

    In the Vancouver / Portland market the RMLS modified the listing input options to have the Seller provide Authorization to Post on Public Internet Sites (Y/N); and to show the Property Address (Y/N) where permitted.

    The Seller has an additional option to disable IDX functionality — although the default is IDX will be on.

    Up to this point my discussions with the Seller has been rather simple, how the first set of options feeds their home’s listing to the Syndication sites, with most of them fed through my RB account (with annotated photos, and who knows what other branding I might put on the feed); and the discussion about the IDX option being that it allows other brokers outside of the company to display the listing on their company and personal-broker/agent websites.

    We aren’t provided a script from RMLS for this part of the contract discussion, and as a result of this conversation some of my personal script may be modified but, in the end I prefer to have the Seller decide for themselves on this one (perhaps I’m biased because I like to put out branded marketing material wherever I can!).

  37. Up North says:
  38. David1234 says:

    Bob,

    you’re right on this. (4 years ago) Knowing from first hand experience Trulia was scraping from local broker websites and for exchange of this feed (participating brokers) were allowed to manipulate the data feed (on Trulia website) to show all *new listing* as their own without and I mean “((((WITHOUT))) any courtesy reference to the listing agent ) (nowhere on the page)or permission given which is in “Violation of Local MLS rules”

    Trulia was called out on this and they said “too bad, live with it”. They didn’t care and their answer to the problem was to make a profile on Trulia (Oh, but its free!) as a listing agent to claim your own listing!

    Okay, so you make your Truila profile to claim your listing but guess what? Claiming your listing at that time was not easy, It would either take days or weeks for the Truila to update! Trulia would point the finger at the aggregators then back and forth (which I was also complaing to aggregators who claimed their MLS feed push out at least once a day). I would check the MLS “Yes, correct info”, I would check aggregtors sites “hum, correct info”, then I would check Trulia’s site “WRONG DATA ON WHO THE LISTING AGENT WAS” Trulia agian: *you have to do it manually, sorry we can help you*

    After many agents were caught doing this Truila still continued to make these back door deal with toher brokers which had first dibs on whatever newly listed home come down the aggregators pipeline for that zip code. (can someone say monopoly?) s

    On another note what is SOOOOOO hilarious is I’ve seen one high profile broker on a thread who’s speaking out against the video, defending TRziltor and telling everyone he’s such a great ethical online consumer agent attributed to syndication. But guess what this agent was one of the first brokers to have this (as I see it) monopoly exchange agreements.

    I’ve been also following another broker who got caught and busted buy his MLS’s which before he *was* making a killing with this arrangement (scrapping in exchange for false representation) which is in complete violation of his agreement with the local MLS.

    That is why there’s such a big fight over this data because is leverage to make lots and lots of money and get more listing. Listings beget listing.

    **** Now I don’t know how Trulia get its feed***

  39. Hi Jay -

    Very well written response, deducted via logic and not emotion. So much so, in fact, that you *almost* changed my mind. In my opinion, though, the inaccuracy of the data is just too large to get over. Yes, we have bozo agents who don’t complete fields (or mis-type stuff), but that’s isolated & of more detriment to the seller (who hired these bozos) than the buyer.

    But with a site like Zillow, it’s just too much, too frequently, to the detriment of too many people. A couple of examples:

    1) claiming that 80% of your sales data fall within 10% of the actual sales price (exact numbers depend on the market) is a good thing, isn’t. That means 80% of your homes will show a value between $180k & $220k for a home that sells for $200k. Well, there’s a big difference in there, no? It also means that 1 out of 5 homes will show a value outside of that $40k range – yikes!

    2) I’ve had *many* buyers send me lists of properties they’d like to see, with the lists coming from their time spent on Zillow. A typical result would be something along the lines of: 10 listings to see, 3 of which are Pending, 2 have already closed escrow, and 1 is expired. So we’ll use the remaining 4 as a starting point.

    Overall, as much as I agree with your logic, I’ve grown to dislike these aggregator sites enough that I’d rather they not have the data until they can make the data as accurate (or inaccurate) as the MLS feeds they’re coming from. Nothing to do with ownership of the data, or getting paid for the data – just good old fashioned responsible use of the data…

    -Chris

  40. Hi Jay -

    Very well written response, deducted via logic and not emotion. So much so, in fact, that you *almost* changed my mind. In my opinion, though, the inaccuracy of the data is just too large to get over. Yes, we have bozo agents who don’t complete fields (or mis-type stuff), but that’s isolated & of more detriment to the seller (who hired these bozos) than the buyer.

    But with a site like Zillow, it’s just too much, too frequently, to the detriment of too many people. A couple of examples:

    1) claiming that 80% of your sales data fall within 10% of the actual sales price (exact numbers depend on the market) is a good thing, isn’t. That means 80% of your homes will show a value between $180k & $220k for a home that sells for $200k. Well, there’s a big difference in there, no? It also means that 1 out of 5 homes will show a value outside of that $40k range – yikes!

    2) I’ve had *many* buyers send me lists of properties they’d like to see, with the lists coming from their time spent on Zillow. A typical result would be something along the lines of: 10 listings to see, 3 of which are Pending, 2 have already closed escrow, and 1 is expired. So we’ll use the remaining 4 as a starting point.

    Overall, as much as I agree with your logic, I’ve grown to dislike these aggregator sites enough that I’d rather they not have the data until they can make the data as accurate (or inaccurate) as the MLS feeds they’re coming from. Nothing to do with ownership of the data, or getting paid for the data – just good old fashioned responsible use of the data…

    -Chris

  41. Bob Bemis says:

    If you liked the conversation so far, you’re going to love where it’s going from here. Philadelphia-based real estate and mortgage broker Fred Glick has posted his own video rebuttal defending listing syndication and responding point by point (using video clips) to Mr. Abbott’s video. Here’s the link to the YouTube posting. ow.ly/1FprEG

    Details are on Inman News in the Premium Subscriber section.

  42. JohnPasserini says:

    Jay great post and I’m really encouraged by the debate and the bold moves we’re seeing. But the quality of data is not the only issue. I just posted this in the Raise The Bar Facebook Group but thought I’d add it here as well. It’s also about property citation as a content provider.

    Regarding listing syndication to the 3rd Party including Trulia, Zillow, Realtor, Homes and all the rest. They can be credited for filling a void for the real estate consumer akin to what WalMart, Costco and the others have done for retail. Consider them the BigBox equivalent, lots of options under one “roof”, inventory easy to find and well laid out, plenty of upsell opportunities and all in a predictable atmosphere. The 3rd Party sites deserve credit for pushing this industry to innovate and to cater to the consumers needs first and foremost. They also deserve credit for almost perfect SEO execution with some very innovative and common sense methods taking every advantage to rank high in search engine organic results. But some of their SEO practices have employed the misuse of the intended purpose of the No-Follow Link for one. Along with the listing content you send to the 3rd party sites you probably provide a link back to your own website. And this is where the real issue is and where they have not being playing fair. They are utilizing the NoFollow link for no other purpose than to not pass link equity from their site to yours resulting in higher search engine rankings for them and no link juice for you. They’ve been doing this for years, all the while building relevance for the highly valued location and real estate keywords. NoFollow links should be used when a destination page cannot be trusted as a valid source of content. I think most real estate agents, brokers and MLSs who provide listing information could be considered trusted sources, especially when there is an agreement in place with the 3rd Party sites to accept your content and when you’re paying for featured placement of that same content on these sites. The outcome of these practices, higher rankings for the 3rd Party sites, drives more consumers to their sites which causes you to feel the need, sometimes urgency to buy featured placement and further feed the beast. And as the 3rd party site becomes the authority, your website, the source of the information, becomes less relevant and shows up lower in the rankings. Admittedly this isn’t the entire story behind how they do well with the search engines but this is a major contributor and a part of the story they are winning with surprisingly little push back from the industry. So what to do about this? First, syndicate carefully because they all do this. Demand direct links back to you, period. No “No-Follow”, no re-directs to their landing pages, direct links only. Demand that the link you provide to the 3rd party sites is the link they use back to you which will give you the appropriate citation as a trusted content provider. Also, if they use your listing in a blog that may get picked up on other sites but they haven’t properly cited you as the source call them out on it and demand the proper link to you. I’m not going to comment on Zestimates or inaccurate listing information because there have been great discussions on this topic.

  43. gabesanders says:

    Very interesting situation. It will be interesting to see if they continue withholding their listings and to see if there are any consequences.

  44. Bill Joyce says:

    Hi Jay,

    Great Discussion.

    I’m surprised by the anti-syndication position that the listing agent familiar with a home is best qualified to help a buyer with a property. I believe it’s hypocritical to publish a listing in the MLS, offer cooperating brokers fees, deliberately approve IDX distribution and sell most of your properties through cooperating Brokers, but argue publicly that the listing agent is best qualified to respond to buyers.

    I would also be willing to bet if we called any real estate office in American and asked about a property that was not their listing, it is unlikely they would say ‘that’s XYZ’s listing…let me give you their phone number’.

    • FrustratedAgent says:

      Okay Mr. Joyce. To your last point….why would you call an office to ask them about another office’s listing? you call the number on the sign to talk to the office that knows about the property you want into on. Syncidation should be the same way. You go on a site and see a house you like, you need to be directed to the person that knows about that house, not to the yahoo that pays to advertise and knows nothing about that property. If i’m online looking for a Honda and I call the number listed on there..I expect to talk to a guy that sells hondas. not the guy that sells Fords but paid to be on there and get the call. it’s just frustrating and misleading.

  45. Bill Joyce says:

    Hi Frustrated,

    Are you saying that if someone calls you about a property that is not your listing, you tell them you are not qualified to help them on that property and give them the listing agents number. I can see why you might be frustrated.

    In my opinion most houses these days are not so complex they are beyond the ability of most of us to figure out rather quickly…and I really don’t believe most listing agents have spent enough time developing ‘expertise’ on their listings…just familiarity. And by your logic, that listing agent needs to turn that client over to the next listing agent on any properties that are not their own listing because they are not experts in those properties.

    Or…maybe a buyers agent can have a good working knowledge of homes in general and develop an excellent understanding of the client ant their needs and provide value finding and showing properties they are both familiar and unfamiliar with.

    This is actually a ridiculous argument. The vast majority of properties are sold by cooperating Brokers. What I think is at the heart of the argument is the old timers notion that they ‘control’ the listing and listing data and are entitled to any business that may result from its mere existence as their listing. This is certainly in the best interest of the listing agent, but not the seller, the buyer or the profession.

  46. Shirlee Berman says:

    Thanks for posting this video, and for the interesting discussion. I admit I haven’t read all the comments, but as someone who has been a consumer-focused Product Manager for HomeFinder.com (@HomeFinder1), a top 10 national listing search site backed by the newspaper industry, I have been attentive to the display of listings and the user’s comprehension of the parties involved for quite some time. On HomeFinder.com, we strive for clarity on who is actually representing the property and displaying the contact information for that party, so that the consumer has the best chance of getting a quick and easy answer to the question of “Does this house have a garage?” This past year, we even made the listing agent’s name more prominent on the page, to the dismay of some of the agents’ own broker offices who are hoping to capture the consumer as a buyer lead to be farmed out to one of their other agents.

    With regards to aggregator sites doing a disservice to consumers, I must disagree. These sites have pushed the envelope in online real estate, and home shoppers now have access to more data and tools than ever before, and as confusing as it might be at times, it allows them to have more control over their home search. Though there are a few nice MLS/IDX sites in large metro areas, completely cutting off listing access from sites like Trulia, Zillow, HomeFinder, and other listing aggregator sites and relying solely on MLS sites or broker IDX sites will be a slap in the consumer’s face – taking them back to the nineties in terms of transparency, and web site usability and design.

  47. Ankan says:

    I must admit that your post is really interesting..

    Cheers Ankan – http://www.findghar.com

  48. Ankan says:

    Awesome blog , very informative too..

  49. Amith says:

    wow.. amazing informating..

  50. Amith says:

    wow , amazing information..

  51. Thanks for sharing the beautiful information

  52. thanks for sharing

  53. Fred says:

    Good post.  I live on the east coast of the US and have complained (kindly) to realtor.com about what I call “false advertising”, primarily with regard to property location.  These are not simple typos but patterns of bad behavior.  They could solve this problem by kicking violators off the site, but instead they claim to have no responsibility when historically, those who publish such listings (such as newspapers and other publications) do have an obligation to correct known errors and police listings.
     
    Here are a couple of examples:  Property in North Florida being listed as having a Boca Raton (South Florida) zip code.  There are literally hundreds of such listings.  Property 20 miles from the Raleigh-Durham- Chapel Hill metro being listed as within the metro, and only within the details does the reader learn that it’s actually rural property.  I recently came up with a Camden, SC street address listed under Columbia, SC and with a Columbia zip code…. 20 miles away.  This means the real property is rural and distant from the desired community.
     
    The MLS database you’ve described sounds like a mess.  You can’t trust people to enter accurate information, so it’s up to the database designer to reject entries that make no sense or omit key pieces of information. In the case of realtor.com, their system could return, “The street name you have entered is located 300 miles away from the zip code and city.  Please resolve the discrepancy.  Be advised that intentionally entering false information is a violation of terms of service and will be reported to proper real estate authorities in addition to leading to your banishment from our site.”
     
    Allowing incomplete, false or error-ridden listings hurts everyone, and it has to stop.  Random audits, data integrity checks, pop up warnings and mainly strict enforcement could put a stop to this, as could enforcement by state authorities of bait-and-switch and false advertisement laws.  Free speech doesn’t give people the right to lie.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] on the syndication brouhaha brought on by Abbott Realty Group… first, you need to read Jay Thompson’s take on the subject. He takes longer to articulate the issue than I did, and I think more clearly than I have: If you [...]

  2. [...] called “shame on us for being so lousy at entering, maintaining and correcting listing data.” (http://www.phoenixrealestateguy.com/arg-abbott-realty-group-pulls-listings-from-zillow-trulia-and-re…) Fair enough. There are all kinds of errors made during the data entry process but there are [...]

  3. [...] is buzzing about Edina Realty and ARG pulling their listings from syndicators.  The announcement, one strong view, and a different [...]

  4. [...] readers already know what I think on this topic given the Edina article I wrote, just head over to Jay’s blog and read his take. It’s spot [...]

  5. [...] you would like to read a full rebuttal explanation of how that video is full of misinformation, please read my friend Jay’s post here. He explains it [...]

  6. [...] remarks were backed up by Jay Thompson who writes under the blog “The Phoenix Real Estate [...]

  7. [...]  Analysis of The Issue from The Phoenix Real Estate Guy, Jay Thompson – don’t miss the … [...]

  8. [...] read (and participated in) many discussions about ARG Abbott Realty Group pulling their listings from national syndication sites over the past 24 [...]

  9. [...] controversy and tension between Zillow and the brokerage community, well documented elsewhere, is one reason why I am sure they are hiring well regarded people like Jay Thompson as the outreach [...]

  10. [...] them as co-equal combatants in the battlefield for online marketing supremacy.As Jay Thompson noted a few months back, when ARG in San Diego pulled their listings from Zillow and Trulia, they also pulled them from [...]

  11. [...] sites like Zillow & Trulia (if you’re curious you can find an article about the subject here).  This isn’t the place to have that discussion, but you should know that your agent might [...]

  12. Apartmani u Banji Vrujci…

    ARG Abbott Realty Group Pulls Listings from Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com – The Phoenix Real Estate Guy…

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