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Syndicated Listings and Selling Myths

Syndicated Listings and Selling Myths

Before you chalk this post up to so-called inside baseball, consider this. You or someone you love likely has used or will use Trulia, Zillow or Realtor.Com to search for homes in the belief you are getting an accurate view of the local real estate market.

Sadly, that’s not at all the case – not that any of those sites ever will admit it.

This should matter to you as a consumer; whether it does is your call. If you are the type who prefers to be dazzled by rainbows and ladybugs while ignoring what really does make things happen, this post likely isn’t for you. If you’d like a more realistic view of real estate that allows you to set a more reasonable set of expectations, particularly for those selling but for those buying as well, read on.

Here was a video posted by Jim Abbott of ARG Abbott Realty in San Diego:

Reaction came fast and furiously, both from Trulia and Zillow (henceforth known as TruZilia) in defense of their data and from agents who either have axes to grind against syndication or those who don’t tend to favor syndication.

Welcome to the latest real estate tempest in a teapot, a solar flare that has erupted and just as quickly will loop back to the surface of the sun never to be seen again.

As is his wont, real estate marketing consultant Rob Hahn has deemed this entire issue to be of the utmost importance, one that will turn the entire real estate industry on its ear:

The “syndication debate” will not end with smacking down TruZiltor. It will ultimately end up being a debate about buyer agency, the purpose of the MLS, the purpose of data-sharing. I’ve been predicting we’ll be doing that by NAR Annual in November. Maybe it’ll happen sooner than that.

Yawn.

The only people who seem to debate the purpose of the MLS are those who don’t use the MLS to sell homes. These folks invariably view the MLS from the position of the consumer, which is all well and good except the MLS isn’t designed for the consumer. It’s a marketing database through which real estate agents can not only advertise their listings but also provide a cooperative offer of compensation to any agent who happens to sell said listing, so long as they’re a member of the same MLS.

In other words, let’s elevate the debate to the bare level of reality and stop confusing the MLS with a mythical national clearinghouse of homes. And, actually, let’s stop saying “the MLS” because “the MLS” is not a singular entity but a vast array of local platforms.

If you’re going to argue that the public should have total access, fine. Also make sure consumers have access to every industry’s inventory database from your Best Buys to your Auto Zones to your car dealerships to the local pizza place that only makes a set number of slices for the lunch crowd.

As for debating the role of buyers’ agency … Please Go Back to 2005, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200.

We now return you to the debate at hand. And that debate, as well as Jim’s video, easily could be centered about transparency in real estate sales. What works, what doesn’t work, and what serves merely as slight of hand and misdirection to deflect from the reality that in the vast majority of cases, listing a home in the local MLS is what sells the property.

Writes Kris Berg of San Diego Castles Realty on her San Diego Homes Blog:

You see, my client’s home does not really need to be on 400 national websites. That is just a myth we have propagated out of convenience and our desire to win listings. It is rhetoric we bought into, rhetoric delivered by those who are in the business of profiting from our business.

In all honesty, the rhetoric delivered by would-be listing agents goes far beyond internet marketing.

We easily can throw in the positively Paleozoic broker tour, during which agents who have signed up and have a listing of their own to pimp caravan from listing to listing. Those gunning for a listing promote these as exceptional ways of getting a home “out there” in front of agents, because it’s so much more likely that there will be an agent on tour who happens to have a buyer than there will be an agent sitting in front of his or her computer searching the MLS for homes that match their buyers’ criteria. (Sarcasm added.)

And we also can add the beloved Open House, in which a parade of neighbors and unqualified buyers walk in the front door of a home for sale without any real intent or ability to purchase the home in question. Again, we offer this service to sellers in an effort to show we’re working hard when, in reality, we’re hardly working or, worse yet, trolling for buyers using our listing as bait.

All of this will continue to work, of course, because sellers don’t care to know any better. The more points in a marketing plan, the better the marketing plan must be even though selling a home usually comes down to a couple of basic concepts:

  • Pricing it right
  • Entering it in the MLS
  • Taking photographs to entice agents and buyers alike (trust me on this – if there’s only one photo of the listing, it’s not being sent to my clients 9 times out of 10)
  • Putting a lockbox on it
  • … um … did I mention pricing it right?

Another direction this debate turned was ARG’s ultimate purpose behind the decision not to syndicate and whether it was less an effort to protect the consumer than to protect the supposedly coveted double dip.

Says my own broker, Jay Thompson, on the Phoenix Real Estate Guy:

At ARG we believe that when you hire a skilled, professional Realtor to represent your property that he or she is the best qualified and most logical person to respond to questions from buyers and buyer’s agents.

This is an argument I heard several times since the ARG announcement was made. It sure feels like what we’re talking about here is single-agent dual agency — where the same agent represents both the buyer and seller in the same transaction. We abhor single-agent dual agency, practice it only under very rare and extenuating circumstances and honestly wish it was outlawed.

It doesn’t happen often, but here is a situation where I disagree completely with my broker.

(Quick note: if I get the boot and if you’re a local broker and you need a really good blogger and real estate agent, DM me. It’s a wonderful thing to work at a brokerage where one has the freedom to operate their own business their way.)

As the ludicrously high-producing Russell Shaw pointed out long ago on the local blog that shall not be named, we as real estate agents are hired by sellers to sell their house. Ourselves, if at all possible. While there are exceptions to the rule – and I certainly respect those owners who do not want the listing agent to also represent the buyer, even in a limited fashion – the vast majority of sellers could give a damn less who is buying the house – my client, or someone else’s.

Single agent dual agency, it is true, is inherently conflicted. And that’s why there’s a remarkably straight forward disclosure form both buyer and seller sign explaining that the agent’s fiduciary relationship becomes more limited in a dual agency situation. I’ve done them before. I’ll do them again. As long as all sides know what is going on, it’s not as evil as some would portray it to be.

Back to the larger point, I don’t believe the syndication debate has anything to do what dual agency. Again quoting Kris Berg,

Defenders of syndication say that an argument against syndication is an argument for dual agency. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much like you can opt out of syndication, you can opt out of dual agency.  Take the call, answer the questions, and then send the buyer to the nearest competing brokerage to view the home and write the offer if that helps you sleep nights.

To my mind, the essence of this is trying to close Pandora’s box and pretend it never was opened. It’s likely a losing fight since, despite what many assert when blasting away at NAR, trying to get real estate agents all on the same page is similar to the cowboys’ work in this classic commercial.

Because agents felt there was a competitive advantage to be had posting listings to Zillow and Trulia, it was done. Even if thousands of agents stopped doing so, thousands of others would continue because it’s part of their seller marketing strategy. We can hope for better data, but when the sites themselves don’t give a damn about what they’re putting out there for the benefit of the public, improvement is unlikely.

Quantity is better than quality in the TruZilia world, even if that quantity is but a fraction of what really exists at any given moment in time.

Says Jay,

And lest we forget, every major syndication site has a way to correct inaccurate data. If you aren’t correcting bad data, that is just as much your own fault as it it is the syndicators.

Not really. I’m responsible for my own data; the fact I have to spend much of my time explaining to buyers who continue to use TruZilia for home searches until finally convinced the sites’ data is terrible shows there is a systemic problem on TruZilia’s side allowing for such large quantities of incorrect data to be entered into the system. There needs to be a better check and balance from the entry side, plain and simple.

And that doesn’t take into account faulty sales data that has nothing to do with agent entry; it’s the inability of TruZilia to distinguish types of recorded transactions, say the difference between an actual sale and a home that has reverted back to the bank after a failed trustee’s sale.

As I said at the beginning, all of this is a tempest in a teapot. While consultants and the like will continue on for a few days telling us how important an issue this really is, those of us who sell real estate to put food on the table – like me, for instance – will put our nose back to the grindstone in the morning and get back to work. TruZilia will remain letter more than an annoyance, a teaching opportunity in the making to help consumers learn what miserable sources of listings data (and, often, sales data) those sites are.

If you’re going to sell a house a week, you can’t spend more than a half hour on a Sunday night digesting all of the thoughts of our industry’s various and sundry thought leaders (as well as those of some by-God working agents and brokers.) There’s too much real work to be done.

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