The Power of Blogs and the issue of listing accuracy

by THE WAV GROUP on August 29, 2008

The WAV Group blog and website is normally visited by 1,500 to 2,000 people a day – mostly people download our industry white papers or come here to read our blog.

On August 22nd, something unusual happened.  Leading technology blog Tech Crunch ran a post about the differences between IDX powered listing websites and feed powered websites.  As a result, our combined blog and website traffic jumped to over 20,000 visitors!  Although half of the traffic came directly from Tech Crunch, the other half came from hundreds of blogs that re-published the story.

If you are interested in viewing the Roost report about listing accuracy in Miami, Dallas, and San Diego please visit the Roost Blog here.

As most of us in the industry understand, third party websites like Trulia and Zillow have been on a path for 12-18 months to invite brokers, agents and MLSs to syndicate listing information on their websites.  It is a classic strategy of win-win whereby REALTORS get free advertising and the third party website gets access to the listing content that consumers want.  I honestly think this strategy will prove successful as more and more brokers and agents join in listing syndication.  Additionally, companies like Threewide who are installing syndication tools to distribute listings in an automated fashion will only serve to improve listing quantity and quality on third party sites.

Nevertheless, today listing syndication has shortcomings.  These shortcomings stem from three primary challenges:

1.  Re-Syndication – there are a number of companies that are re-syndicating listings – they include Point2, Homes.com and others.  They are taking listing information maintained manually by agents on personal websites and publishing them to third party sites.  Often, agents will leave a listing on their website even if it is sold, pending or withdrawn so that their “featured listing” page is not blank.  They may also , update the listing in the MLS but forget to update their website.  This information will often overwrite information fed to the third party site by a more accurate feed source.

2.  Virtual Tour Syndication – There is no doubt that Virtual Tours are among the best marketing strategies for communicating a compelling online display of a home.  Done well, they allow the consumer to really experience a home in a theatrical environment that draws an emotional connection to the property.  However, like listings on agent websites, they require manual updates by the agents.  Often an agent will leave a virtual tour live after a home is sold, goes pending, or is withdrawn from the market because the tour is an asset that exemplifies the marketing acumen of the agent.  Because companies like virtualtours.com, Obeo and others syndicate the tours to third party websites, they commonly display a listing incorrectly.

3.  Authoritative feed source – How does a third party website know the best source of accurate listing information?  If you think in terms of large franchises, there is a high likelihood that a listing may be sent to a third party listing portal from the Franchiser, the broker, the MLS, the agent, the agent’s website, a virtual tour company and probably even a publisher or two.  The same listing may be published 8 times a day to the same site by different sources.  Given this overlapping effort, I am surprised that the third party sites do as well as they have with eliminating duplicates.  Nevertheless, data is data and it is difficult for the machines to determine which feed is offering the most current and accurate information when there are differences.

For the second time this year, the WAV Group has been asked to study this issue.  In March we looked at 48 metropolitan areas across the USA.  In August we looked at three.  The goal was not to discredit third party listing websites, but to measure the effectiveness of these sites compared to IDX powered websites.  Although Trulia, Zillow and others are doing an admirable job of compiling a lot of data, they undoubtedly are falling short of the goal of representing 100% of active MLS listings accurately.  How short?  In some markets like New York, due to the struggles between competing MLSs and Brokers, Trulia may actually be better than IDX, but we see this as an isolated example.  In other markets where a leading market share broker refuses to syndicate data, they can be very weak.

WAV Group has concern for the agents and consumers who are stuck in the muck of this situation.  Consumers are visiting third party websites to get valuable information as they research the purchase or sale of their home.  Unfortunately they are sometimes viewing false information co-mingled with accurate information without any determination of what is right or wrong – all the while believing that all of the listing data is accurate.  When they take their research to a local agent they are given a very different view of the world.  This creates a challenge to the consumer-agent relationship.  The agent needs to explain that some of the listings they like are not available for sale, or that the price is wrong, etc, sometimes breaking the hearts of mom and dad who thought they had found the perfect home for their family.

There is a real difference between MLS listings governed and managed by the rules and regulations agreed to by local brokers and agents, and third party websites.  I admire the fine job that third party sites have done to compile a database for consumer consumption.  All in all, to achieve even 50% of the accuracy and comprehensiveness of an IDX feed takes technological genius.  Nevertheless, today these third party websites are falling significantly short of the mark and there is no effort on their behalf to disclose the liklihood of false information.  Is there a legal concern?  Will the DOJ look at this issue as a syndication of false advertising?  Will we see widespread filing of REALTOR mis-conduct?  Probably not.  Nevertheless, the people behind the listings need to step up and accept more responsibility.

Agents need to do a better job of managing their online listings.  Brokers and MLSs need to help by making it easier.  Listing portals need to redirect their goal from having the most listings, to having the most number of accurate listings.

Based upon the unprecedented volume of traffic to our website, this may be an emerging issue in our industry requiring a greater depth of research.  WAV Group would love to do a market-wide study.  If you are interested in funding this research, please contact us.

p.s.  Heather from Trulia is a size 2 supermodel :-)  I am not sure why she wants to be, but we support her efforts if that is her chosen goal.  See Wikipedia definition here

 

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