MRIS welcomes blog posts from our customers on topics of timely and mutual interest. Today’s post is written by Mr. Jon Coile, President and CEO of Champion Realty.
The frantic cry came from one of my top agents. “The internet has exploded and I’ve got an angry ex-seller yelling at me to make it stop!”
The problem is a listing obtained two years ago. Overpriced, it hadn’t sold despite all the marketing we did both on and off-line. When the listing was eventually withdrawn from the MLS the For Sale sign came down, the flyers went in the trash and all on and off-line marketing ceased. But unbeknownst to us, the online marketing we initially set in motion now apparently can’t be stopped.
The listing has taken on a separate life now and keeps getting refreshed all over the Internet by companies operating out of Luxembourg, Uruguay, and India of all places. When you try and reach them through their website, the Live Chat button routes you through Atlanta to a call center in Mumbai. Requests to remove the listing have not been fruitful, and therefore this “off the market” listing keeps reappearing “For Sale” on almost all the major aggregator websites and countless other places. While we can play whack-a-mole with each individual website and implore them to yank it down, Google.com reports that this one listing is currently on 459,000 websites as an active address, even though it hasn’t been listed in the current decade!
A few years ago, when Internet marketing was in its infancy and we – the brokers and agents — were seduced by the perceived need to shotgun our listings to the world, we were all over it. We were getting “free” placement on literally tens of thousands of websites for our sellers. And in our zeal to adapt, we essentially empowered “syndicators” to get our listings out there faster and farther and then lost track of where they all went. But it didn’t really matter. The buyer leads ended up coming back to us, we sold our listings for our sellers, and all was good. Or so we thought.
As their business models matured and our “partners” experienced pressure to create new revenue streams, many of these same companies started quietly selling the right to be positioned on a property results page as “the agent,” as in, “contact the agent for more information on this listing.” The only problem is, “the agent” that these aggregators put forward as an expert doesn’t necessarily know anything about the property, the neighborhood or the community. They are merely agents who have bought the rights to receive a percentage of all listing inquiries for a particular zip code.
Their primary motivation is to obtain a buyer prospect as opposed to selling that particular listing. At its core, this seems deceptive and unfair to the seller who originally entrusted their property to a specific agent and wanted that agent associated with their home.
If you think about it, a national aggregator selling agents leads off of a website becomes less about the quality of the listing database and far more about the quantity. More listings mean more “eye candy” thus more opportunities to sell agent placement.
That erosion of data oversight and accuracy – plus the variety of methods of inserting other agents on our listings as “the agent” – is why you are now hearing about agents and brokers making the move to remove their listing inventory from the national aggregators.
We are suffering from past, well-intentioned enthusiasm to broadcast our listings without sufficient quality controls. We don’t have to keep doing things that are not in the best interest of our sellers, ourselves and ultimately the buying public. These internet-empowered buyers are relying on the real estate industry for accurate listing information to guide their buying process. And NAR stats from the 2011 Buyer Survey tell us that 90%+ of of customers go to the internet first when looking for a home.
In the future it will be up to us to think before we syndicate as not all Internet exposure is good exposure. The MLS, as the “steward” of our intellectual property, may offer the perfect solution to this dilemma, if you have an MLS as well conceived and managed as MRIS here in the Mid-Atlantic.
The reality is there are some buyers of some generations who are distrustful of company websites. For these buyers, as an alternative to a national aggregator, a public facing MLS-run website that funnels property leads back to the actual listing agent is an excellent alternative. The database is the best source of information from the agents and brokers responsible for its quality. The leads go to the agent most able to answer questions about the listing. And the buyers have access to a “brand-agnostic” website. This is all good.
The time for change is now and we’re determined to re-think syndication and modernize our business practices. You will see the current crop of national aggregators tweak their business models in the months ahead as they try to get back in good graces with real estate practitioners but I’m reminded of the old saying.
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” I’m done fooling around with national aggregators.
Jon Coile is President and CEO of Champion Realty, Inc., a large regional broker in Maryland and a partner company of HomeServices of America, Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway Affiliate.