Have private party websites like Trulia, Zillow and Redfin dominated your practice of locating buyers for your listings?

  • No (67%, 42 Votes)
  • Yes (33%, 21 Votes)

Total Voters: 63

A San Diego brokerage office has publicly denounced third-party real estate aggregators like Zillow and Trulia and removed access to its listings from those websites. These actions follow a few other large brokerages throughout the U.S. severing ties with third-party websites, though the San Diego real estate community is divided on the issue.

One problem the San Diego brokerage office cited is third-party websites use intellectual property, such as real estate photos, without permission and without compensating the sources. They compared websites like Zillow and Trulia to Napster, the troubled file-sharing service known for the numerous lawsuits it received for copyright infringement.

The brokerage office also claimed the aggregated listings available to the public occasionally contain erroneous information. Errors include the wrong real estate agent being featured on a listing, incorrect square foot data and some properties not being featured in a way that makes their information readily accessible to the searcher. Other questionable data on these aggregator websites included failing to remove active listings, posting wrong prices and providing inaccurate details about listed homes.

Proponents of third-party listing aggregators say firms refusing to work with listing aggregators will miss out on all the sales opportunities popular listing websites provide. Zillow’s chief marketing officer asserts their website, which received 23 million unique visitors in December, allows homes to be advertised to the widest audience of potential buyers possible.

first tuesday take: Agents who are induced by someone to boycott private market aggregators are like T-rexes who try to ignore the asteroid (named the Internet) descending towards their habitat. In order to cope with these shifting power dynamics brokers have to adapt, or go the way of the dinosaurs.

San Diego has long had a cul de sac mentality, meaning the market is made up of one-way streets, effectively limiting the flow of information. Brokerages are no exception, as they seek to hoard information. Furthermore, large brokerages and the associations they control are old boys clubs – exclusive and set in their ways.

Before multiple listing service (MLS) data became digitized, real estate information was published weekly in printed books. These MLS books were distributed to agents along with the prohibition that they never let the buyer set eyes on the printed material about listings in the books. Agents held these books close to their chests, gatekeepers to the secrets contained inside. Under the guise of protecting the seller’s privacy, agents offered limited information to potential buyers – even though most all of the information withheld was actually readily available at city hall (except fee sharing offers). This calculated information withholding often led to surprises for buyers once the contract was signed, resulting in a developed distrust for real estate professionals. [For commentary on the agency tradition of seller dominance, see the November 2010 first tuesday article, Holmes v. Summer : dilatory disclosures and the damage done; for information on diminished trust the public has for real estate agents, see the November 2011 first tuesday article, Damage control: restoring public trust in real estate professionals.]

Trade unions have long held a monopoly over MLSs, as evidenced in long standing 6%, 50-50 price-fixing disputes. The MLS mentality seems to have lingered in this particular San Diego brokerage. Brokers who refuse to cooperate with third-party listing aggregators have very few reasons to do so other than paranoia of empowering the buyer. [For more information on the price-fixing practices of trade unions, see the September 2008 first tuesday article, Price fixing and kickbacks for the sake of earnings.]

This broker objects to websites like Zillow and Trulia because of misinformation they purportedly provide about his agents’ listings and information. However, instead of boycotting these websites, he would better restore trust in his agents by using all the tools at his disposal (including these third-party websites) to help both the buyer and seller attain their buying and selling goals.

As Generation Y (Gen Y) prepares to buy and rent, websites like Trulia and Zillow will be their first stop to locate shelter. To best serve their sellers’ interests, brokerages need to keep their information available to the vast and growing numbers of buyers who currently find their homes on these third-party websites. Subscribing to these websites is part of the agent’s fiduciary duty to diligently market listed properties. The duty they owe to the buyer is transparency – what I know about the property you now know.  [For more information about Gen Y, see the November 2010 first tuesday article, The demographics forging California’s real estate market: a study of forthcoming trends and opportunities – Part II and the October 2010 first tuesday article, Social networking has proven valuable to agents.]

Furthermore, it is the agent’s responsibility to monitor their listings diligently for factual errors. Listing aggregator websites pull their information from various sources including the MLS and independent brokerages. Often it is user error from agents inputting the wrong information in the first place that leads to the same errors being transmitted on Trulia or Zillow. Agents have a responsibility to carefully comb through the information displayed in their listings before making them public — while Zillow may be a convenient scapegoat, the agent, and by extension his broker, are the ones whose necks are on the line for faulty and incomplete information.

Re: “SD real estate firm cuts ties with Trulia, Zillow” from UT San Diego