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Are Zillow, Trulia, and the like, a bunch of thieves???

February 9, 2012

There is a new battle being waged in real estate over whether listing syndication websites such as Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com (which has nothing to do with the National Association of REALTORS by the way) are good for consumers and the real estate industry.

This question was brought up in a real estate technology forum that I am a part of earlier this week.  Most of the brokers in the room, including myself, agreed that anything that aids in promoting our client’s listings and makes information more available to buyers is a good thing.  One of the higher ups in our technology company said that that there was momentum building nationally for brokerages to start pulling their listings from these aggregate sites.

Since then I’ve a come across a couple of videos that as far as I can tell lay both sides general assertions.  To be honest, I’m not crazy about either of the personalities in these videos.  Mr. Abbott seems to be fear-mongoring, while Mr. Glick is a little condescending .  That being said, there are fair points coming from both sides.

Here’s Jim Abbott’s spiel:

Here’s Fred Glick’s rebuttal:


I currently support the continued supply of information to the syndicates simply because the other point of view seems more self-protective than based in concern for the public.

However, Mr. Abbott’s points about the absense of regulation are valid.  Real Estate Brokerages are highly regulated to protect the public. We answer to Federal & State law, as well as self-imposed rules through our local multiple listing services.  Though listing syndicates must comply with fair housing law they explicitly avoid membership in MLS communities to avoid the complicated series of rules brokerages must abide by.  Those rules are important.  Many were birthed out of lawsuits that occured due to the lack of regulation in specific parts of our industry.  The public has been greatly protected due to the implementation of these rules and practices.

Mr. Abbott took an extreme stance in that his brokerage pulled all of their information from these sites.

I believe in a more reasonable solution.  In a nutshell, I think we would all be better served to work with these sydicates in creating a series of guidlelines (much less cumbersome than MLS rules since they aren’t actually practicing real estate) to ensure the accuracy and proper use of our data.  The syndicates need our information to make their sites viable and should be willing to work with brokerages on improving the presentation of that information.  There’s a lot that would need to be worked out but essentially it would be the best of both worlds in that we would keep information free on the web for buyers and sellers while ensureing its accuracy.

This issue is heating up and I’d love to know where the general public stands on it. Chime in if you have something to say!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2012 3:18 pm

    Hi Ted, Brad from Zillow here. I thought I’d stop by and give a little insight regarding Zillow as I can’t speak for the other companies mentioned. We do have some responses and content available that is very detailed and explains a lot about how Zillow works with Listing agents: http://www.zillow.com/blog/2012-02-03/how-zillow-works-with-listing-agents/.

    CEO of Zillow, Spencer Rascoff also shared about the importance of strategic distribution here: http://www.zillow.com/blog/2012-01-30/the-importance-of-strategic-distribution/ and then here’s a real estate agent’s perspective who has been following this story just as you are who asks the question… “Should your listings be on the most searched sites?” http://www.zillow.com/blog/2012-02-03/should-your-listing-be-on-the-most-searched-sites/

    This too shall pass, and the bottom line is that sellers and buyers have a choice. They are starting their searches on the web, using whatever tools and information are available to begin their real estate journeys, then contacting a local agent like yourself to help them with all the final details. Zillow had 30,000,000 visitors in January of 2012, which we will continue to try and connect with willing and able agents and lenders who want to help them when it comes time to make their buying, selling, investing, and borrowing decisions.

    We will continue to try and perfect our processes and partnerships and we appreciate your feedback, comments, and opinions regardless of what others say and do. At Zillow, we are very passionate about our company and very transparent about our service and initiatives.

    We care about both the consumers and the agents, that’s all that matters.

    I hope providing this information will be helpful to you and or your readers. Feel free to contact me any time if I can be of any help or assistance. Thank you, and we appreciate all your efforts here and your continued support.

    • February 10, 2012 11:17 am

      Thanks for the insights Brad. I saw some of Mr. Rascoff’s reply on Geekwire recently as well. Feel’s a little like brokerages got in bed with syndicates and then kicked them to the curb the next day. Sorry for the crass example but I think it conveys the point. We will be talking more about this topic in our forum next month. It shall be interesting to see where all of this leads.

      Best to you,
      Ted

  2. February 11, 2012 3:07 pm

    I personally feel that the more information available to prospective buyers, the better. As a buyer, I don’t like the feeling of being completely reliant on one source of information – ie a realtor. I like to be able to look around and do some research and comparison on my own, I feel like that helps me make a more informed decision, and how many decisions in life are bigger and more important than buying a home? Certainly I’m aware that not all of the information available is accurate, but that’s the case in virtually all sales situations. That’s where having a realtor you trust comes into play. The realtor’s value is in applying knowledge and experience to help sift through the available data, whether accurate or misleading, to help me make the right decision. I see realtors and ‘syndication’ sites to be complementary rather than at odds with each other. Having been through the purchase process, I found Zillow to be a valuable source of information.

    Since you were my agent when I bought my home (*disclosure*), you know that I was using whatever sources of information I could find to look around on my own before contacting you. I can’t help thinking this saved you time – not having me contact you every time I wanted data. And it would have been frustrating for me to have to search that way. So I feel that the more data, and the more easily accessable the data, the better it was for me.

    On a side note, I couldn’t help laughing when I heard the ARG guy mentioning these web sites ‘stealing their professional photography’. In this day and age, I have a hard time believing that professional photographers are used in anything other than multi-million dollar mansions. For the majority of homes, I would be surprised if the photographs are not taken by a realtor with a digital camera, essentially costing the seller nothing, and I would consider professionaly photography a waste of money.

  3. February 17, 2012 10:58 am

    *Update*
    The Market Foolery podcast was discussing Zillow during their 2/15 podcast, and in addition to commenting that the stock is wildly overvalued, the big problem is that the “zestimates” on the site are not remotely “zaccurate”.

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