REALTOR.com Redux: The Brainstorm

In less than two months, the National Association of REALTORS® Board of Directors will meet in private to talk about the future of REALTOR.com. As I documented in my special report, Zillow and Trulia have made significant gains over the last five years and now outrank realtor.com in unique monthly traffic. Both NAR and Move Inc want to put Realtor.com back in the lead, but it won’t be easy. They have unique challenges that they need to overcome.

imagineJust because the board is meeting in private, doesn’t mean we can’t brainstorm about REALTOR.com’s future in public. I hope you will consider adding your own ideas in the comments, or write a blog post and I’ll link to it. Let’s have a conversation about taking back REALTOR.com and upgrading it to compete with Zillow and Trulia.

I’ll start with a few ideas.

Idea 1: Use the Consumer Advertising Campaign to fund premium listings.

This is an idea that Houston Association of REALTORS Chairman, Danny Frank has been sharing on social media channels. First, reallocate the money that NAR spends on TV and Radio ads that drive consumers to NAR’s public advocacy efforts on HouseLogic.com to REALTOR.com. In exchange, REALTOR.com gives every member fully featured ‘premium’ listings with no competing agents on listing property pages, equal ranking for all listings, and the maximum amount of pictures. In addition, HouseLogic would either enjoy additional placement on REALTOR.com, or could possibly be folded into REALTOR.com altogether; making REALTOR.com the central hub for virtually all of NAR’s consumer communications.

This idea eliminates the biggest gripe that REALTORS® have about Realtor.com: the premise that, “we give listings to REALTOR.com, only to have them charge us for leads back.” While it marks a retreat from traditional media advertising for NAR, it’s possible that an all digital advocacy campaign could be more effective.

Idea 2: Dump Move Inc, and contract Trulia or Zillow to run Realtor.com

Categorize this as a truly crazy idea, but we’re brainstorming, right? The idea here is to let one of the portals build a member friendly site with no competing ads on property detail pages. In exchange, the portal who builds it gets agent access marketing, and possibly even rights to the listing data being sent to REALTOR.com. I don’t know that Spencer Rascoff or Pete Flint would be anymore comfortable partnering with NAR than the association would be partnering with them, but this would be a way to build a great site with no competing ads for members, without encroaching on the budget.

Idea 3: Give Realtor.com more autonomy in populating content on the site

I believe this is what the folks at Move would prefer. Let them provide the content that consumers want to see. This includes off-MLS listings like new construction, distressed properties and rentals. Hey, maybe even go so far as to allow FSBO’s. Okay, maybe not. This idea gives Move a fighting chance at regaining the lead in attracting consumer eyeballs, and doesn’t cost the association any money. The downside is that some members are not going to want non-member content on the site.

Idea 4: Keep your friends close, and the portals, closer

Perhaps NAR is going about this the wrong way. If the ultimate goal is to help its members affordably market their listings online, why should they limit their efforts to one portal? There’s a great deal of pride around the use of REALTOR.com, and it should be the association’s official consumer channel, but perhaps it’s time to start building relationships with Zillow and Trulia as well.

Mix and match as you see fit

Maybe some of these ideas will be combined. Maybe you have better ideas. Now is the time to air them. I guarantee that NAR is listening. Share your ideas!

Additional coverage from Eric StegemannDrew Meyers, and Drew again. Plus, 60+ comments on Active Rain.

Photo: Creative Commons license via Flickr user Javier Q.

31 thoughts on “REALTOR.com Redux: The Brainstorm

  1. Heather Ostrom

    I think allowing the options of different types of searches for rentals, distressed properties is a great idea – make this a better resource for anyone, regardless if they’re renting or buying because if they have a good experience, they’ll maybe come back when they’re ready to buy. ~ Another comment that has really irked me about REALTOR.com, and If I’m wrong in my comment, and apologies for my lack of understanding of free-allowables by REALTOR.com on the solutions side. My thoughts for one idea: I think open houses should auto-populate on REALTOR.com regardless if an agent has the featured REALTOR.com branded page. I think this is a disservice to customers that want to see the property and know about open houses. Whether by feed, and/or allowing an agent this option to add Open Houses for free, should be allowed regardless of agent or team branding.

    Reply
    1. Todd Carpenter Post author

      Great points Heather. Thanks for sharing. I think NAR will be in a good position to gain on member benifits if they are willing to give on non-REALTOR listings.

      Reply
  2. Teresa Boardman

    I am a fan of idea number #1. Then the REALTOR brand could become the consumer oriented site and Zillow and Trulia could continue as commercial lead aggregators as long as agents are willing to pay for them both. With that said the more sites there are the more diluted the traffic becomes. I am kind of enjoying watching the competition for traffic. I am in the business of selling houses so I am not really a stake holder. Thanks so much for allowing me to comments on this.

    Reply
    1. Todd Carpenter Post author

      Teresa,

      I think idea one has a lot of merit as well. I’m not sure if the 30-40 million dollars NAR spends on the Consumer Advertising Campaign would be sufficient to defer featured/exclusive listing revenue, but Move would also save by eliminating some of their salesforce.

      Reply
  3. John Leonardi

    Well, how about NAR authorizes all of the RPR data that they have paid dearly for (approx. $80mm) and haven’t seen the ROI as promised and give it all to R.com to publish/sell to consumers for a larger slice of R.com? Or, merge RPR and R.com into a national data bank/MLS and get both sides of the traffic (consumers and agents)?

    Reply
    1. Todd Carpenter Post author

      John, I could be wrong on this, but it is my understanding that NAR/RPR didn’t purchase that data; they licensed it. Interestingly, Move Inc offers a competing product to RPR called FIND.

      That said, I would like to see NAR license the data for members to use publicly. That could be a real game changer.

      Reply
      1. John Leonardi

        Interesting, you may be correct on this about the licensing; although they may be able to manipulate the data. The concern I have about NAR licensing data for members is that a lot of MLSs/associations provide similar data to their members now that they use with the public! I think at all levels within NAR everyone is trying to position themselves as the “go to” group and quite frankly it costs the membership a lot more money in the end.

  4. Andrea Geller

    Todd: I always find you approach things from a rational point of view, Very solution oriented and looking at the overall picture. Watching what has transpired over the years my feeling is NAR does not. I don’t put the blame on Move.
    My question is should the association be involved in this at all going forward or is it time to walk away and let the site operate privately and without NAR constraint?

    Reply
    1. Todd Carpenter Post author

      Thank you Andrea! I’ve often said that it’s almost impossible to iterate as fast as Zillow or Trulia when you are ruled by committees that meet twice a year. IMO, less constraint from NAR would be a good thing for REALTOR.com.

      However, I think there’s an opportunity for NAR to trade more autonomy to Move for more freedom to work with Move’s competitors. It seems to me that NAR would be very well served to create stronger relationships with Zillow and Trulia.

      Reply
  5. Brian Talley

    I also like idea #1, mainly because it attempts to re-align REALTORS with NAR against Zillow/Trulia. TV and radio advertising are not a smart way to spend money in this day and age, if you ask me.

    Reply
    1. Todd Carpenter Post author

      I think the big advantage to TV and Radio is not so much in ROI, but in awareness. This matters most when NAR is working with congress to promote the association’s agenda.

      That said, I think an equally budgeted digital campaign could more effectively sway the consumers they are trying to reach. I think idea one could be a win for everyone involved.

      Reply
  6. Leslie Ebersole

    Hi Todd, another good post. My thoughts: the single biggest change that the NAR folks can make is in how they think about the syndication landscape. “Take back the data” simply won’t work. Buying consumer eyeballs away from portals and brokerage sites would be extremely expensive and not necessarily a sure thing. The lead generation business is problematic because all members contribute to the site but some members disproportionately benefit. Big data initiatives with underpinnings from Corelogic, FIND, RPR are troublesome for many reasons, not the least of which is that agents may or may not realize direct benefits from use. Finally, Zillow, Trulia and some large brokerage sites already have tools and systems that allow an agent to better manage their business.

    So which niche should Realtor.com focus on? Because unless we want to spend a great deal of money, this vision and planning effort should be about establishing a niche and directing resources to fulfill that plan. I’m not a participant, but I am skeptical that any committee can make the necessarily tough decisions.

    My personal opinion? Stop thinking about competing on search (and everything connected to it) against all the other data providers. Create or buy tools and systems that reliably sit on top of the data and work together. Look at the best MLSs and you’ll get a blueprint for what Realtor.com could become.

    Reply
    1. Todd Carpenter Post author

      “Stop thinking about competing on search (and everything connected to it) against all the other data providers. Create or buy tools and systems that reliably sit on top of the data and work together” << I love this.

      Reply
    2. Andrea Geller

      I think your great comments go to a bigger picture question as to what should the association as a whole be involved in/offer to it’s members. That’s a whole other post. What is NAR involved in that is better left to 3rd parties?

      Reply
  7. Miriam Bernstein

    The way agents are billed for participation on Realtor.com needs to be adjusted as Realtor.com is simply to expensive for agents to participate in. If they change their billing I believe they will be able to pull a lot of agents back and away from the affordable syndicators. Part of that “we give them our listings and they charge us back” is anger at their business practices and the inability to participate.

    Reply
    1. Angie Perez

      The pricing model for premium membership almost seems punitive. For example, if last year I had 36 listings, I would have to pay more this year for the same membership account even though I am only carrying 12 listings at the moment. That’s drives me nuts.

      Reply
  8. TheRECoach

    Great job starting a conversation Todd. I’m not sure NAR is the right entity to run a consumer facing portal, and IMHO they need to step away.

    2 Things come immediately to mind when I read your article. ..
    1) Realtor.com’s focus on Zillow.com and Trulia is misdirected; they need to worry more about the dozen or so companies out there building a better mouse trap. ZTR may not even be here in 5-10 years.

    2) NAR has a serious issue of is membership questioning why it even exists, and tier efforts would be better directed at solving that. They face extinction, and that should be “Front Burner”

    I’ll be listening =)

    Coach

    Reply
    1. Todd Carpenter Post author

      Good points Coach. I agree that there are better mousetraps coming down the road. Perhaps, the best way for NAR to remain relevant is to empower their members to have better control over their data. My post about Google is sort of an example of this. Democratizing the data for everyone makes it harder for any one company to become dominent.

      Reply
    2. ryan

      Agree on point #2… Similar to my post below. NAR and boards lost their way many years ago and if they don’t address the issue, it isn’t going to end well for them.

      Reply
  9. ryan

    First of all, the site should not be called Realtor.com, it should be called MLS.com. We are realtors and our company has been working with Realtor.com / move to get all our listings online for years. It has been frustrating to say the least. Z & T and various other portals and vendors, no problem. Had a direct feed with all content in a matter of days.

    “Fixing/redoing” Realtor.com is simple. Allow them to tear up on the content agreements they have with MLS/boards. They can get data from their MLS/Board sources and no one else. At least that is what I am told. If realtor.com remains handcuffed by these agreements, they will never compete.

    If realtor.com would focus on consumers like Z & T and give them what they want they might have a chance. People want all real estate. Listings by agents, FSBO’s, rentals, new construction, etc..

    A bigger question (probably from a different post) when exactly did NAR, State, local boards, and MLS’s getting into advertising/marketing? Here is a novel idea, how about you (boards and MLS) focus on what you were originally established for and stay out of agents/members way.

    Reply
  10. Ray Schmitz

    Move could probably do as good a job as Zillow or Trulia if it had beed allowed. A public facing site must serve the consumer first, not the NAR member, and there probably has not been the freedom to do so. The portals pulled ahead because the consumer audience is always larger.

    NAR needs to be bold and do what it would be hard for either of the portals to do: create a national MLS as an alternative which overlays on top of any local board solution. Maybe that means taking back the site from Move but I do not think so.

    How? Take the entire broadcast media budget and pour it into internet marketing plus more design and engineering resources to build the very best consumer site, then apply those resources to develop integrated premium pro tools. The standard of success must be that the pro tools are good enough that members would actually pay to use them in addition to (or instead of!) whatever the local association can offer.

    In other words, bet big that the Realtor brand still carries substantial credibility with members, and make whatever policy changes are required to go head to head with the major portals, the major MLS vendors, and anybody else who does not like it.

    Compete fiercely on tech – and make sure to deliver for the consumer and the member alike. Anything less is to steer the biggest ship on the seas into the shallows of irrelevance.

    Reply
    1. Todd Carpenter Post author

      “Move could probably do as good a job as Zillow or Trulia if it had beed allowed”

      I totally agree Ray. I think the changes that need to be made will have to include additional autonomy for Move, We’ll see what happens.

      Reply
    2. Drew Meyers

      “Compete fiercely on tech – and make sure to deliver for the consumer and the member alike. ”

      HOW? One thing that I think many don’t realize is the importance of the founders in the success. No one cares more about the product/legacy/brand than founders. What individual is going to spend 10 years of their lives obsessed with beating Zillow/Trulia? They may or may not be out there, but I can tell you that that type of person is not going to go work at Move. They are going to start their own company and make their attempt.

      Reply
  11. Alberto

    I agree with everyone here: Zillow and Trulia have managed to find a balance between the interests of consumers and real estate agents; Realtor.com has not.

    Realtor.com is a reflection of the NAR positions: While Zillow and Trulia have been innovating in response to consumers and real estate professionals needs, Realtor.com/NAR is trying to preserve the status quo and protect its interest whether it serves the public or not.
    While Zillow and Trulia are customer oriented, Realtor.com/NAR is NAR-centric.

    The NAR -as a trade group – has delivered tremendous value to its established members. However, if you see it from the point of view of consumer groups, the NAR -they argue- has stifled competition and at times hurt consumers.

    In the era of the internet where information flows freely, their monopoly on homes for sale data and access to buyers is fast eroding. I argue that for them to survive, they will have to figure out how they can compete with Zillow and Trulia in providing consumers value. Prettying up the website simply will not work.

    Reply
  12. Margaret Page

    My guess is that if Realtor.com focused on selling value to consumers, instead of constantly trying to get Realtors to spend more money, it just might give them a competitive edge. Zillow & Trulia are often inaccurate, & I spend an awful lot of time educating my clients on not believing what Zillow & Trulia say.
    I think if consumers had an accurate source of all kinds of real estate data, that is where they would choose to spend their time. Rebrand Realtor.com to Reality.com.

    Reply

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