The REThink – REALTOR.com disconnect

In perhaps, the greatest introspection the National Association of REALTORS® has conducted in their history, the association spent the better part of the last year reimagining their future. I applaud the REThink project, and its findings. Strategic Planning Committee Chair Shannon Williams King, who was a force of nature in making it happen, should be commended. The report will help guide the association in forging strategic policy and keeping them relevant.

However, (you knew the ‘however’ was coming, right?)

introspectionOne of the the most popular ‘crazy ideas’ expressed was the notion to ‘take back REALTOR.com and upgrade it to compete with other national aggregators.’ That’s a tall task. Here’s an idea that’s a little more realistic, ‘take back REALTOR.com or upgrade it to compete with other national aggregators.’ See the distinction?

Unfortunately, what few members understand about the current partnership between NAR and Move Inc to run REALTOR.com is that NAR, a member driven organization, cannot be expected to compete with consumer driven organizations unless it’s members are fully committed to making serious concessions that are currently taboo. What kind of concessions? If NAR were to take back REALTOR.com, here are a few things members would have to accept:

  • Assuming no premium advertising programs would be forced upon members, they would need to fully fund REALTOR.com from member dues. Currently, no member dues are used to fund any part of REALTOR.com.
  • Members would have to allow NAR to build an independent subsidiary that can make sweeping operational business decisions without committee oversight. No organization that wants to compete with billion dollar Seattle and San Francisco tech companies has any chance of iterating at the same pace if ruled by committees that meet twice a year.
  • Members would have to accept that MLS listed properties are not a complete data set of properties for sale. Zillow has proven that consumers want to see all of the listings.
  • Members would have to commit the creation of a portal that focuses on far more than the transaction. This includes mortgage, home improvement, and rentals.

This list goes on, but you get the picture. Taking back REALTOR.com might be easy, making consumers love it more than Zillow and Trulia, not so much.

I’ve always been of the opinion that the deal that NAR forged with Move Inc was pretty good. The association gets a very good national real estate portal where their members can list properties for free. It may not be the most trafficked site anymore, but it’s still a big enough player that it forces Zillow and Trulia to offer similar free listing deals to real estate agents. Because Move Inc has quite a bit of operational autonomy, they are able to innovate as quickly as Zillow or Trulia. Finally, NAR doesn’t have to use member dues to fund the site.

Honestly, I think the best chance NAR has to make REALTOR.com more competitive with Trulia and Zillow is to leave it with Move, Inc. The company made huge progress over the last 24 months and has the infrastructure in place to compete. What Move likely needs is more autonomy. They need to be able to show more rental listings, more new construction homes, maybe even more distressed properties. NAR membership has been hesitant to allow non-MLS data to find it’s way onto REALTOR.com. While there are great arguments for the current thinking, the fact of the matter is that Zillow and Trulia’s freedom from this limitation is a big reason why they are winning.

Members need to decide, REALTOR.com can serve members first or consumers first. There isn’t a wrong decision here, but understand that you probably can’t do both.

Photo: Creative Commons license via Flickr user e3000

3 thoughts on “The REThink – REALTOR.com disconnect

  1. Robert Drummer

    Errol mention their site visitor numbers in comparison to Zillow and Trulia but I can’t recall the number. I’m thinking he said realtor.com has 10% (compared to those two). Do you have the correct numbers?

    Reply
  2. Judith Lindenau

    Excellent points, Todd. Running a viable, competitive business by committee isn’t an alternative.

    Reply

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