The National Association of Realtors, the industry association of licensed real estate professionals in the US has implemented changes to the rules which govern the operation and management of the website of Realtor.com which will ultimately allow it to compete more closely with it’s rival portals of Trulia and Zillow. The key question is whether these changes are broad enough or whether they have come too late?
Realtor.com is the leading property portal of Move Inc and is operated under a license agreement from NAR that was established in 1996 and which was last amended in 2010. The agreement has up until this decision taken at a special meeting of NAR board members held in Chicago this week, restricted Move to only display listings of Realtors and thereby restrict the ability of the site to showcase the complete portfolio of properties for sale or rent in the US.
The heart of the changes cover the following categories of listings which will now be able to be displayed on Realtor.com:
- Listings from licensed real estate brokers who are not members of NAR
- Listings from Multiple Listings Services (MLS) who are not Realtor owned and controlled
- The restriction to not allow For Sale By Owner (FSBO) listings remains
- Listings of new homes for sale
- Listings of rentals from other sources
- Listings for properties in foreclosure which will now be clearly identified
These represent significant changes approved by NAR and do in a sense unleash Realtor.com from what had been constraints which have weakened their profile in the consumer mindset as they clearly could not provide the most comprehensive content as compared to the growing competitive threat of Trulia and Zillow.
The first question as to whether these changes are broad enough is best answered with a resounding yes.
Realtor.com now will be featuring all property for sale in the US as marketed by any licensed real estate professional. It will also showcase the most comprehensive portfolio of new homes for sale. This is primarily because Move Inc owns 51% of the specialist new homes website New Homes Source and will now be able to offer the builders as customers of that site the far more extensive exposure to the audience of Realtor.com. Additionally the ability for Realtor.com to showcase rental listings without restriction will be a benefit.
The issue of FSBO listings is a mute issue as core to the principle of NAR and in fact all industry owned portals around the world is the professional integrity of the real estate broker and agent and as such it would come as a surprise to see this restriction removed.
As to whether these changes come to late; again are in my opinion best answered with a resounding yes.
The fact can be seen in the stats of web traffic. Realtor.com was for the first dozen years of its life the single digital source of property listings for consumers,. It held a dominant position in traffic far in excess of any competing site when seen on a national perspective; however over the past 5 years their lead has been whittled down to nothing and in the past 2 years both Trulia and Zillow have surpassed Realtor.com. Those trends for traffic will not stop. The consumer will not suddenly feel or experience a radically different user experience as a result of these changes. Certainly I am sure Realtor.com will undertake communication to reinforce the benefits these changes will bring, however the consumer is now well experienced in using Trulia and Zillow.
Whilst all three leading portals (Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow) are deploying smart technology and innovative developments in mobile and social. The consumer has a clear view of these brands in my mind. Simplistically put, Realtor.com is the ‘industry’ website – promoted by Realtors, rich in content but lacking in personality, yet trusted and respected but ultimately not a warm and emotional relationship. Whereas Trulia and Zillow as seen as fresh and challenging providing more of ‘what I want’ – which is in the case of Trulia insight and opinion from local agents keen to share knowledge, great innovations that help me search using my likes and emotional connections.
Zillow is all about unbelieveable amounts of data enabling me to make me feel more in control of my buying decision, providing Zestimates on every property in the country as well as challenging ideas such as ‘Make me Move’. Backed by extensive media campaigns and warm social media engagements and a next generation mindset these two recently listed powerhouses will continue to slug it out with Realtor.com somewhat trailing in their wake.
As for Move Inc these changes will provide a chance to grow revenue and profitability. The wider portfolio of listings will open up new business partnerships and the new home exposure will provide the opportunity to offer new premium exposure to new home builders at a time when construction is rising fast as the country deals with what is expected to be a looming construction shortfall over the coming 5 years.
Realtor.com will continue to attract an audience of over 25 million visitors a month which is a sizeable audience and this is important for Move and NAR. What needs to be done now is for NAR and Move to work together to use this new more comprehensive site to leverage data insights from consumer activity across the universe of listings to feed back into the industry to ensure that Realtors derive insight and knowledge to enhance their professionalism in representing buyers and sellers in the market, before that segment of this industry is shut off by the other portals.
I am grateful to Inman News for background to the writing of this article.
Note: The word Realtor is a registered Trade Mark of the National Association of Realtors® and denotes a licensed real estate professional who is a member of NAR