Brokers need full data transparency and unified standards, not self reporting

by Kevin Hawkins on October 6, 2015

324233_ListTracLogoThe room was filled with brokers, eager to hear how the real estate industry is beginning to make great strides in wrangling Big Data to the benefits of everyone: Brokers, agents and consumers.

The three panelists on stage represented a broad spectrum of the industry: Rainy Hake, a well respected brokerage leader who oversees the Technology, Marketing, Training and Strategy departments for Alain Pinel Realtors; Trent Gardner, the CEO of ListTrac, known as the “Google Analytics for Listings;” and Jeremy Crawford, the dynamic MLS leader who heads up RESO (Real Estate Standards Organization) and the chief evangelist for the Data Dictionary, real estate’s “Rosetta Stone.”

Rainy shared a very telling observation during this session at San Francisco’s Real Estate Connect: How the self-reporting data does not match up well with their own tracking data.

This comment has been haunting me ever since, because the two other panelists represent organizations – RESO and ListTrac – are about data standards, transparency and unbiased, accurate information.

Standards are vital

RESO has gained real traction and its trailblazing effort to standardize data fields for property information will be a welcome Godsend to real estate brokerages and technology firms. Back by the NAR mandate of adoption by MLS firms that are connected to NAR (which is almost all of them), come January 1, 2016, the industry will be taking a bold step forward toward fostering accelerated innovation and cost savings.

For a brokerage in multiple markets that works with a dozen or more MLS firms, the RESO Data Dictionary is a huge step in standardization. For the newer startups, a company like TLCengine, they gain both development costs savings and a new ability to expand into more markets faster.

During the panel’s session, the majority of questions from the brokers and agents in the audience were centered on property listing standards. It became very clear that agents and brokers are incredibly frustrated because of the lack of standards among MLS firms. In fact, Jeremy said that after the session, he answered questions off stage for another hour and had to take business cards for those who were still waiting to talk to him so he could follow up with them and not miss his next appointment.

The need for transparency

If there is a hunger in the real estate industry for data standards, there is an unquenchable thirst for transparency and unbiased information. At the apex of this movement is ListTrac, which is helping real estate brokers and agents measure the effectiveness of promoting their listings online across the Internet.

ListTrac allows real estate brokers and agents to measure how potential homebuyers engage with an online listing. ListTrac consolidates everything on a single dashboard, which gives a holistic view of everywhere a property listing is being viewed. You can see where you are generating the most leads, where buyers are spending the most time viewing your listings, it even has a heat map that shows where these potential buyers are coming from. ListTrac monitors everything to allow the broker or agent to assess and determine what websites are working and which ones are not and make adjustments to their marketing and syndication strategies.

But a funny thing happened on the way to total data transparency in the real estate industry. While ListTrac is expanding as fast or faster than any firm that works directly with MLSs in history – it now monitors some 800,000 listings online for hundreds of thousands of real estate agents – there are some MLS technology providers who have suggested that they would rather provide their own data reports – or self-report — than have ListTrac show the actual, unbiased, real traffic being generated on their sites.

Unbiased information vs. self-reporting

Which brings me back to Rainy’s original comment and a story I read online the other day on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website for data junkies that directly relates to why self reporting is something brokers and agents should make it clear they do not want.

In the article, “It’s 2015 — You’d Think We’d Have Figured Out How To Measure Web Traffic By Now,” freelance journalist Sam Dean offers up this:

“At ESPN.com, the mothership of ESPN Web properties, (David) Coletti (ESPN’s VP of digital media research and analytics) says he’ll often see the internal numbers for monthly unique visitors running at three times the comScore numbers.

“If I were to go out and make the argument that the internal number is correct,” Coletti said, “I would be suggesting that every American visited ESPN in the past month, which would be wonderful, but unlikely.”

Traffic, as represented by unique visitors, will always be estimated under the current technological regime, and those parenthetical “internal numbers” that reporters drop in media stories bear little relation to how many actual people go to a given website. Or as Coletti puts it: “Neither numbers are right or wrong — they’re just counting in different ways, and it’s unsatisfying.”

ESPN’s internal traffic numbers for April based on data from Omniture, had the site reaching 10 million unique visitors. However, in April comScore reported just 6 million unique visitors.

This is happening across the Internet as many firms are playing the self-reporting game, including many well-known information brands. As Dean observes in his story, Huffington Post recently celebrated hitting a 115 million unique visitors in August, yet their internal numbers showed 368 million unique visitors. Buzzfeed reported last year that they were close to eclipsing 200 million unique viewers per month, but comScore has their traffic numbers during the same period at 74.6 million monthly uniques. Clearly, self reporting is seriously flawed.

Using an unbiased, transparent data system, such as ListTrac, delivers the real numbers, unencumbered by spin or hyperbole.

Which is why data transparency is so valuable to real estate brokers and agents as they can finally see the real data, not self reported numbers that are unreliable at best and fabricated at worst. Brokers and agents need this data to make better online business decisions and self-reporting won’t help them make better decisions. Just ask any one who is able to compare, like Rainy, self reported numbers with more reliable and accurate data.

As you can see, it’s not just real estate, this is a World Wide Web problem, the same one that is perplexing ESPN and thousands of others. ListTrac is attempting to offer an alternative, just like RESO blazing the trail for data standards, so that real estate brokers and agents can benefit from Big Data in meaningful, usable and beneficial ways that will improve the online experience for every seller and buyer.

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