What happens to online inquiries? This study may offer clues

by THE WAV GROUP on April 9, 2009

In 2008, WAV Group did three studies that observed and measured scenarios of real estate listing websites.  The Broker Website Effectiveness study measured 1 million consumers and thier engagement with Broker Websites across the country. The MLS Consumer Website effectiveness study measured conusmer and member satisfaction with HAR’s successful public website.  The Listhub Listing Syndication Study reviewed the number of consumers and leads that were driven to brokers as a result of syndicating listings to more than 30 popular thrid party websites.

Fellow real estate industry vetran and consultant, Ken Jenny met with me at the CMLS conference in Minneapolis last fall.  Ken asked the question – does IDX make sense for brokers?  Are brokers and agents truly prepared to answer questions about another broker/agent’s listing? – It was a great question and Ken challenged us to study it.  Support for the study comes from Ken’s company, Mediatise and Jim Secord of Most Home.  What resulted was the Broker Responsiveness whitepaper.

Upon the release of the whitepaper, Jenny writes:

As it relates to this topic of discussion, in general, brokers have engaged both IDX and VOW strategies because they believe that the consumer “wants to see all the listings in one place”.  While this may be true, its like saying consumers want to see all the airline flights in one place and then go to American Airlines and ask questions about Uniteds flights that cannot be answered.

I have watched this evolution closely for years since I owned a major share of RealEstate.com.

The users of the “listing broker syndication strategy” sites like Trulia, Zillow, FrontDoor and others are proof of the evolution from “all in one place” to “advertise what you truly know”.  Consumers who experience what your secret shoppers experienced as on online real estate search experience will not return to shop.

Quite simply, the only solution for this blatant lack of product knowledge is for every broker who uses such a listing display strategy either IDX or VOW is to assure that every MLS member sees and knows everything about listing in the MLS.  An impossible feat to achieve for any one broker.

Most of the brokers with dominant share of the listing market now use the IDX or VOW as a defensive strategy.  The brokers with little or no inventory, yet belong to the MLS, are capable of fooling the consumer into believing they have the entire listing inventory AND that they know something more about the listings than the displayed MLS information.

In short they are deceiving the consumer.

At the recent CEO Summit, we openly discussed this and the audience of 35 major brokers had different opinions.  The only opinion in common was the agreement that the listing broker or agent or at least the listing office was the best source of information on each listing.  From that common belief, the strategies used to get detailed answers related to the listing differed.

From call centers, to eAgents the room was full of ideas but admitted that the conversion was poor at best.  There is no doubt the conversion is poor especially if the person answering the inquiry had zero to no product knowledge.

As the moderator of the discussion I made one observation that did cause the audience and this spirited discussion to pause.  And that comment was the following.

Brokers that lead, follow the consumer.  Not the agents, not their competitors, not the MLS they follow the wants, needs and demands of the consumer and when it comes to the strategy we currently use to serve the online consumer (offline may be different) advertising listings the broker and the agents have no direct detailed knowledge of is a poor strategy to use.  This is especially true  pointed out if as a result of this poor consumer experience, “your brand is involved”.

In summary, the brokerage industry has been distracted by the DOJ and the FTC and the controversy of the use and privilege of IDX and VOW listing display.  If either one of these regulatory agencies truly cared about the best interest of the consumer they might want to check out the results of this research.

Anyone with 1 or 4 million listings displayed on a site should be required to disclose if they are the listing broker or just a user of an MLS listing feed.  In both cases, the consumer wants access to the best source of information and that IS the listing broker or agent.

When in doubt go back to the old days.  Would a consumer drive up to a CB listing and call RE/MAX?  Would they see a Prudential ad in a local newspaper and call Century 21?  Absolutely not.  And look at other industries.  Would you call a Honda dealer for the details about a Mercedes?

Worse yet, no half way intelligent dealer would advertise a Mercedes as a Honda and then give Mercedes a small foot note of Manufactured by Mercedes!  But in real estate that is exactly what we are doing and expecting a different result!

While I understand why in this paper you suggested ways to improve the challenging dilemma surrounding the consumer experience and IDX / VOW display I have always chosen to hit the challenge head-on as I did in Miami.

These listing display and advertising strategies dont work and give the industry a bad name because at their core they mislead the consumer and they result in a poor online consumer experience.

Regards,

Ken

 

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