Aggregators,® Hot Topics at Broker Conference

Brokers discussed the place of® in the listing landscape and the future of industry data.

August 12, 2013

Weeks after the National Association of REALTORS®’ board of directors voted to give® more flexibility in the properties it posts on its site, the issues surrounding listing data and real estate aggregation sites are still hot topics among brokers. The concerns of this segment of the association’s membership were on full display at NAR’s Real Estate Broker’s Conference, held in Chicago Aug. 7 and 8.

A session focused on “remaining relevant in the new age of real estate” featured two power brokers from different parts of the country: Sherry Chris, CEO of New Jersey-based Better Homes & Gardens, and John P. Horning, executive vice president of Wisconsin-based Shorewest, REALTORS®. Session moderator Robert J. Bailey, co-broker-owner of Bailey Properties Inc. in Santa Cruz, Calif., recalled a time when real estate brokers were “the keepers of information.”

“We clutched an MLS book to our chest,” Bailey said. “Well, our role is evolving.”

Chris quipped that her institutional memory reaches back before MLS books, to the days of “tear sheets.”

“Back then, we were clearly the gatekeepers of information,” Chris said. “[But] everything has turned upside down... Our role is shifting in this industry.”

NAR’s board of directors voted July 24 to modify the association’s operating agreement with® to allow the site to display currently unlisted new homes, rentals, and listings from entities that are not REALTOR®-owned and controlled, as well as from brokers who are not REALTORS®.

Horning said that real estate professionals need not feel threatened by their new placement in the industry.

“As long as REALTORS® adapt to what consumers want, there’s going to be a place for them,” he said. “What’s going to happen is REALTORS® who use technology are going to replace REALTORS® who don’t.”

Much of the reasoning behind the expansion of® listing data came from the fact that home shoppers are currently more likely to use third-party aggregation sites in their online property searches. Chris applauded the changes at®, saying they would help the site cater more closely to the desires of today’s consumer.

“Thirty years ago, it was a broker-controlled industry. It shifted to an agent-controlled industry for many years, and now it’s a consumer-controlled industry,” said Chris. “The consumer of today and tomorrow expects to be delighted, so having the status quo... doesn’t cut it.”

Horning responded to a question about which property listing site would come out on top by saying, “Who is going to respond to what the consumer wants? ... The one that’s going to win is the one that’s going to adapt over time.”

NAR’s current president-elect, Steve Brown, said he was less worried by which site would get the most hits in the near future and more concerned with quality. “We want to make® the best site on the market,” he said.

NAR CEO Dale Stinton echoed this sentiment with a metaphor. He said there are similarities to be found in the gulf between a person with a real estate license and a REALTOR® and that between® and the aggregation sites.

“® is like a REALTOR®. The other two portals are like real estate agents: They don’t have any rules to play by,” Stinton said. “That’s the competitive advantage of®: the accuracy of the data.”

The session also highlighted the fissures between small, boutique brokerages and larger ones on the topic of data. When Horning said his brokerage purposefully kept out of lead-acquisition agreements with the aggregation sites, his comments were met with applause.

“We don’t syndicate to the other two portals,” Horning said. “We don’t believe in giving away our listings and then having to buy them back.”

But in the ensuing Q&A discussion, a broker of a small boutique operation said Horning was really engaging in a high-tech version of clutching the MLS book to his chest. Smaller brokerages often rely on aggregators for broader exposure of their listings, lacking the SEO power of the larger brokerages.

Chris noted that different strategies work in different markets, but warned brokers not to enter into lead-acquisition agreements without all available information. “Take the time to understand the benefit to you,” she concluded.

Chris added that, from a member’s perspective, the main concern should be where consumers ultimately turn when they are ready to engage in a real estate transaction, not where they go to look at listing photos.

“When we think about the old referral network, that has changed,” she said. “There’s not going to be just one location that the consumer is going to… The important thing is that they end up finding a REALTOR®.”