By Jerry Siebenmark
The Wichita Eagle.
In the battle for online real estate listings, two services have emerged in recent years as the dominant residential websites, surpassing even the National Association of Realtors’ affiliated website and mobile service.
According to a report released earlier this month, Zillow and Trulia combined accounted for twice as many unique visitors to their websites in May as the three other leading residential real estate listing websites combined.
The Beyond Syndication 2014 report by Arizona-based Clareity Consulting, a real estate industry information technology consulting firm, said that Zillow and Trulia’s real estate networks’ Web traffic totaled 84.6 million unique visitors in May.
That compares with the 40.2 million combined unique visitors in May of three other online real estate networks, the Clareity report said, including Move Inc., which operates NAR’s Realtor.com website.
Even with that dominance, not all local real estate brokers are convinced of Zillow’s, Trulia’s and other benefits for their brokerages and agents.
Some brokers reported instances where listings on those sites were incomplete, inaccurate or out of date.
“I think what’s happening is the free market is at work,” said John McKenzie, CEO of Coldwell Banker Plaza Real Estate, one of the area’s three biggest residential real estate brokerages. “The question comes down to the reliability of the data.”
Other real estate experts said what’s happening is that potential and active homebuyers and sellers have voted their preferences for online house shopping, and the two dominant players are likely to grow even more market share and eyeballs, and additional services, in the longer term.
“They are just simply Amazon replacing Borders and Barnes & Noble,” said Steve Murray, founder and editor of Real Trends, a Colorado-based national real estate communications and consulting firm.
McKenzie thinks some of the information about homes on sites such as Zillow is not always accurate. He said he thinks sites such as the one run by his firm and Realtor.com are more accurate and timely because those sites are linked to Multiple Listing Services databases, which he said have “pretty strong and stringent” requirements about the data realtors input into a home listing on the MLS database.
The National Association of Realtors announced this month that it and Move Inc. were launching national advertising and public relations campaigns that would “showcase the value of the local knowledge and accurate data available to consumers through Realtors and Realtor.com,” NAR said in a July 14 news release.
“This effort is critically important for our industry as we unite under a common goal of providing the most accurate market data available online along with the deep local knowledge and Realtor expertise that buyers and sellers need,” NAR president Steve Brown said in the release.
Dwyn Thudium, the 2014 president of the Wichita Area Association of Realtors and broker and owner of Crown III Realty, said she recently was contacted by the seller of a property she was listing, who pointed her to a listing of the property on Zillow that said the property had a pond and a deck, which it didn’t.
“It’s not always accurate information,” Thudium said. “Some of it’s true. Other parts, it’s not.”
Katie Curnutte, a spokeswoman for Seattle-based Zillow, said her company’s goal is to partner with as many agents, brokers and multiple listing services as it can. Curnutte said she would not disclose how many MLS partnerships Zillow Inc. has.
She said the company recently surpassed 2,000 partnerships with brokers in the U.S. through the company’s Zillow Pro for Brokers program. Curnutte added that a partnership could constitute more than one broker or brokerage.
“So we’re making a lot of progress,” she said. “We’re always trying to reach more partnerships with brokerages.”
As for instances where information is inaccurate, she said the incorrect information could come from a variety of sources, including agents, homeowners and county records.
“When a brokerage partners with Zillow, its listings show up automatically, it comes directly to Zillow,” Curnutte said. “The best way to control the accuracy of information is to have a partnership with Zillow.”
Thudium won’t deny the influence of Zillow and Trulia on home buyers and sellers, including her own family.
“We aren’t going to fight these people,” she said. “They aren’t going anywhere. My daughter in Kansas City looks at Zillow all the time for homes.”
In May, Zillow had 53.8 million unique visitors to its website via desktop computers and mobile apps. In June, that number was 83 million, Curnutte said.
Murray, of Real Trends, said that Zillow’s and Trulia’s influence and breadth of services will only grow.
“Could they become more formidable?” he said. “Yes. Could they get to $2 billion in revenue in five years? Yes. Can they offer CRM (customer relationship management services)? Yes.”
Companies such as Zillow and Trulia don’t make such big money by actually selling homes, but through advertising on their sites and through financial partnerships with agents and brokerage firms.
Greg Fox, 2014 president of the South Central Kansas Multiple Listing Service and broker and owner of Realty World Alliance, said the local MLS does not have a partnership agreement with Zillow or Trulia.
But he said through a separate service called ListHub, the data from homes listed on the local MLS can be passed through to Zillow and Trulia and other sites that compete with Realtor.com, if a broker or agent hasn’t opted out of allowing their listings to be shared, or “syndicated” with those online real estate services.
“I would venture to say 80, probably 90 percent (of brokers) have not opted out of syndicating their listings,” Fox said.
He added that some real estate brokerages refuse to syndicate their listings, insisting that the homes they handle remain only with an MLS and their own brokerage’s website.
“It’s a great debate,” Fox said.
He said with the emergence of Zillow and other online listing sources, “I don’t think it’s made it worse. It’s made a more informed buyer. … Competition makes us good.”
His only concern, he said, is the quality of listing information. “I want it to be accurate, timely,” Fox said.
Fox added that in his opinion, the website statistics show that more people are going to places like Zillow and Trulia for information.
His industry needs to accept that, Fox said.
“I think we need to change our ways of doing business to what the public is wanting,” he said.