As the kerfuffle over a San Diego real estate broker pulling their listings from syndication sites is about to enter its second week, I keep seeing something reiterated over and over. I’ve seen it stated in many different ways, but it all boils down to “listing data”. How important, many say critical, that data is. Well, not the data itself necessarily, rather it is the control of that data (or lack thereof) that seems to get so many riled up. Here’s a paraphrase of the argument:
Our listing data is our lifeblood. Listings are the most valuable thing we have to offer the real estate consumer. We’ve got to stop giving our data away!
If you think listing data is all you have to offer the real estate consumer, then I have to respectfully suggest you find another line of work.
“Listing data” is the most valuable thing you have to offer? A pile of photos, some cheesy sales copy (Honey, stop the car!) and a list of amenities is all you have to offer?
We (“we” as in the real estate collective) lost control of listing data long ago. Gone are the days when the only way a potential home buyer could find out what homes were for sale was to go to a real estate broker’s office and flip through printouts in a three-ring binder. Gone are the days when every open house was printed in the Sunday paper. Gone are the days where agents and brokers were the only people with direct access to listing data.
Gone. Thank God.
This whole, “We own this valuable data and shouldn’t be giving it away for free” argument is ridiculous.
First of all, I think I could make a passable argument that the homeowner is the one who provides and owns the data. (Yes, I am fully aware that contractually the broker owns the data and the right to sell the home. But for Pete’s sake, it is the client’s home we are talking about.)
That argument aside, the last time I checked, I am not paid to sell photos, or descriptive sales copy, or a floor plan, or a video of a walk-through. I am paid to sell a home. All that other stuff ”“ all that data ”“ is marketing material.
“Listing data” in and of itself isn’t worth a plug nickel. Listing data is a means to an end. It is there to sell a home. As I mentioned in an earlier post, On Compensation for Listing Data, I’m OK with the commissions I receive from selling a home being full compensation for my listing data.
And I think you should be too. But that’s just my opinion.
So if it’s not the data, what is our “Value Add” in a real estate transaction?
Listing data is ubiquitous, like it or not. The cat is out of the bag. The toothpaste is out of the tube. The ship has sailed. Whatever lousy metaphor you want to use, the simple fact is listing data is out there, we don’t control it. We can’t control it.
Welcome to the 21st century.
Maybe long ago in a galaxy far far away real estate brokers held and controlled the listing data with an iron fist. Maybe back then that was all they added to a real estate transaction. I’ve only been in real estate since 2004, well into the “internet age”. I’ve never experienced being the sole gatekeeper of the golden data.
So perhaps what I think real estate agents bring (or should bring) to the transaction differs from your opinion. Maybe I am short-sighted. NaÃ¯ve even. What I think I bring to the real estate transaction is pretty simple though.
I bring expertise, knowledge, experience and ability to facilitate the real estate transaction to successful closure.
In anything, it’s not the specific data that matters, it is how the data is interpreted and used that makes the difference.
Agents whine, often incessantly, about the “Zestimate” that Zillow generates ”“ that being their estimate of a home’s value. The estimate is derived from public records data about recent sales, squeezed through some algorithm, and like magic some number is spit out the other end. Do consumers believe this number is a rock solid opinion of their homes value? I’m sure some do. It’s the real estate agents job to ADD VALUE by explaining to the consumer why that number may or may not be accurate. And you know what? Consumers are smart. They get it once you explain how it works. YOU are the real estate expert, not them, and not some piece of software.
Did the boys at Case-Shiller just publish some Home Price Index data that loudly proclaims, Home Prices Continued to Decline in November 2011? Yeah? And let me guess, your local newspaper picked up that headline and ran with it. Well, how about you ADD VALUE and actually interpret that data for your client. Point out the flaw in making national proclamations from very localized data. How about you ADD VALUE and run the numbers for your client for neighborhoods they are interested in rather than relying on metro-wide broad brushed strokes of data. You do understand the nuances and variations in neighborhood to neighborhood sales data, don’t you?
If you really want to ADD VALUE, maybe you should be telling that potential home buyer who is looking in Holliday Farms or Higley Groves that it is impossible to turn onto Cole Avenue between 7:30am and 8:00am Monday through Friday because of the horrific traffic flow around the elementary school. Maybe you can ADD VALUE by informing those south Gilbert buyers that while the stink of the Higley dairy farms is getting better, that they need to be aware that on cool nights with a southeast wind, they can expect the air to be filled with the scent of cow feces.
Know the neighborhoods. Understand and interpret the reams of data available to the public. Guide the client through the maze of forms, through the hoops, over the obstacles that present themselves in every real estate transaction. THAT is how you ADD VALUE. Way more value than what your marketing material disguised as “listing data” is worth.
We are making these third party sites the experts!
The corollary to the “we shouldn’t give our data away for free” argument seems to be that by doing this we are establishing these third party sites as the experts in real estate. If they have the data, then consumers will look to them as the experts.
Once again, I think we are selling the intelligence level of the general public short. The day a web site takes over as the expert ”“ in the place of human experience and intelligence ”“ is still a long way off.
Back in 2006, the late great Joe Ferrara coined a term ”“ Unzillowable. It represents all those things about real estate that a piece of software and an algorithm can never capture and consider ”“ traffic noise, smells, the fact your neighbors have a 1963 pickup with no doors up on blocks in the front yard. The cat that jumps the fence to take a dump in your plants, the street light that shines in your bedroom window. The list is endless.
Software can’t “see” that sort of stuff. Listing data can’t define it. You, the kick-ass know-your-stuff real estate agent can ADD VALUE with that sort of information and more.
It’s your knowledge of the real estate transaction, and how to prevent it from falling apart, that ADDS VALUE. It’s the trust you build with your client that ADDS VALUE. Listing data doesn’t add value. YOU add value.
Don’t sell yourself short.
Photo Credit: Pillars of Influence. By David Armano on Flickr. CC Licensed.
@PhxREguy Great post, Jay! You said it better than I ever could. I will be sharing it with the other agents in my office.
@Ribeezie @phxreguy But it begs the question – can what’s inside the agent’s head be digitized, and therefore commoditized, like listings?
@corcoran_group I don’t think that knowledge/experience is easily digitized…
@PhxREguy What about your blog? Isn’t that a digital form of knowledge and experience sharing? Doesn’t it digitize what’s in your head?
@corcoran_group Partly, but not EVERYTHING in my head. (Some of what’s in my head while pertinent to RE would make a horribly boring blog)
@PhxREguy I hear you (and of course agree). The idea of agents sharing expertise online isn’t a rare one though. Lots of them do it.
@Corcoran_Group Negative (at least I don’t think so) cc: @phxreguy
@Corcoran_Group Sure, you can distribute your knowledge through something like a blog (that’s digital), but…
@Corcoran_Group @Ribeezie @phxreguy no. The interpretive parts of what a true professional does can’t be digitized. Hearing is not listening
@JimDuncan I don’t disagree, but isn’t that what travel agents used to do? Or grocery stores 50 years ago? @Ribeezie @phxreguy
@Corcoran_Group @Ribeezie @phxreguy frequently transactions are held together by trust and relationships. Digital can’t do that
@Corcoran_Group I can afford to buy the wrong plane ticket. I can’t afford to buy the wrong house.
@Corcoran_Group I would still use a travel agent to help me determine where to go. Assuming that is I could take vacations like that 🙂
@JimDuncan You’re suggesting that digital can’t hold trust and relationships together? What about social media? cc: @Ribeezie @phxreguy
@PhxREguy I agree there’s a big difference between a vacation and a home. Even more reason to spend longer online researching though
@JimDuncan I think digital can LEAD to building trusting relationships… cc: @Corcoran_Group @phxreguy
@Corcoran_Group @JimDuncan and how you handle digital can make or break those “trusting” relationships… cc: @phxreguy
Phil Boren says
Jay: I’ve been a broker since 1986 and remember the days when agents would carry around the MLS books like they were the Bible – maybe they were that important to them then. But you’re right, the bell has rung on the MLS data being accessible to the public now – either through IDX feeds from brokers or from aggregators. That’s not new; in fact, it’s really old news now and many agents and brokers all over the country have found numerous ways to differentiate themselves and add vale to the transaction. We should embrace it because in essence, the “cheese” has moved. As you correctly point out, there are still many ways we can help consumers understand what all this data actually means to them and add value to the deal. BTW: The only sellers I’ve encountered that latch onto the online home-value estimates out there, are the ones where the estimate is too high; if it’s on the low side, they rarely mention it.
Jay Thompson says
@Phil Boren You’re right Phil, it’s not new. The “cheese” moved a long time ago… And it’s funny how when the on-line estimates are low, nobody believes them, but if they are high… Thanks for stooping by and commenting!
Yes, but … There’s a presumption here the average consumer cares about our experience, knowledge, etc. Given how many times I’ve watched clients forget my existence because a friend told them about an open house or mentioned an agent they golfed with, I’m not sure the vast majority care (or understand why they ought to care.)
Virtually no buyers shop the internet searching for an agent; they’re searching for houses and, more often than not, they only hope they find someone competent along the way.
Jay Thompson says
@JonathanDalton Valid points. Sad, but valid. Maybe if we keep preaching it then someday it’ll stick? Or (and God help me I’m not ready to go down this rat hole) maybe it’s too damn easy to get a sales license and if the criteria were toughened up then the less competent would fade away?
@Jay Thompson There are too many experienced agents out there who don’t know their ass from their elbow to make me believe toughening the criteria will make the slightest bit of difference. And, more to my original point (and a point I have made countless times in the past), if the public doesn’t care about seeing the bar raised – and it clearly doesn’t, given the number of sales by the cousins of hairdressers’ sisters’ niece’s next door neighbor’s kid they used to babysit – it’s not going to be raised.
The public should demand more. It should value experience and knowledge. But it doesn’t. Not even close.
Jay Thompson says
@JonathanDalton So there’s nothing we can do to help the public see the light? Do we give up trying and just live with it? (I don’t expect you to have the answers to those questions. I certainly don’t….)
Me: (on the phone standing in line at Starbucks), “… you can accept the offer or counter… blah blah blah.”
The barista: “Oh, you’re in real estate? Me too… ”
@[email protected] Thompson See this is interesting to me. I am seeing more and more sellers interviewing multiple agents. I’m seeing more and more buyers interview me. I’m seeing the consumers deciding to take a bit more action. Yes…there are still those that don’t get it, but when I sit down with a buyer before we go out and talk about the buyer agency agreement, they get it…right then because a contract is staring them in the face. I give buyers a free day with me so they can see what value I bring to the table. After that, contract. Consumers aren’t the problem. The problem is the brokerage owners that don’t care about quality and the agents underneath them that pass those values on.
Jay Thompson says
“The problem is the brokerage owners that don’t care about quality and the agents underneath them that pass those values on.”
I agree with that Melina, to a certain extent. We’ve talked before, you know I abhor the “hire anyone with a license and a pulse” model. But I’m personally not a fan of buyer broker agreements (I know, call me crazy — you wouldn’t be the first). Have I been burned by that? Yeah. Have I learned from getting burnt? Not yet. Perhaps it’s the thought of suing a client for a commission if they fail to abide by the BBA that bothers me (OK, technically you’d be suing a former client I suppose, but still, that just doesn’t sit well with me).
And while I do hold MUCH of the responsibility on the broker, sometimes it is the client that makes the decision to work with the friend or relative. I’ve even had people tell me, “We really like you guys and know we should use you, but we want to help our friend out.” How can you argue with the “logic” of “helping out” someone in what is going to be the biggest financial transaction of your life?
@Jay Thompson Oh I agree Jay. I’m talking in basic generalities. Every industry has their negative consumer experiences. Docs have to deal with hypochondrias and drug addicts trying to scam meds. Retailers have to deal with shoplifters. We have tire kickers and pumpers (people that pump good agents for info only to use their crappy friend as their agent). It is part of business. Unethical consumers aren’t unique to real estate. Retailers have created those tags to help them cope, and docs have requirements on certain drugs to help deal with addicts. Agents seem generally unwilling to create a system to cope with these type of consumers, then go on blogs and rant about them. But that is an entirely different topic. You have a protection clause in your listing agreements, right? I just don’t see the difference between protecting yourself from a seller than a buyer. I will also say that I won’t use the REALTOR® generated one for my state. Way too one sided. I have my own that is very fair. That fact that 90% of my buyers sign it with no issues says something. I am a reasonable person and expect to work with reasonable people. No one can protect people from being stupid with their money. We just need systems to protect ourselves and our businesses from their stupidity.
@JonathanDalton “Virtually no buyers shop the internet searching for an agent” Not true. Everyone who calls me calls to hire me. No one calls me just to “see a house”. You know why? Because I don’t have one of the flashy buttons that says “click here if you want to SEE this HOUSE!”.
You get what you ask for in this world.
@ARDELLd Of course you’re right, Ardell.
@ARDELLd @JonathanDalton I have often thought of excluding IDX from my website and instead doing a “show and tell” of how I can help them better through determining needs and then showing them the homes that fit those needs. Hats off to you.
@markecaley @ARDELLd If you think that will work, by all means go for it.
@JonathanDalton @ARDELLd Who knows? All the data says buyers want to see homes online and that’s why they go there. It could be argued that “one more site with IDX” is far from needed, not to mention Realtor.com/Zillow/Trulia. Might be nice to receive inquiries about my services and developing a solid client relationship rather than “Can you meet me at this house in 15 minutes?”. BTW, I agree with your point that the public is generally uninterested in raising the bar. Also that they now have so much information at their fingertips that they think they know as much about real estate as a good Realtor. The stock broker/market analogy comes to mind.
Love this post Jay…
Ithink a lot of what this comes down to, unfortunately, is that many agents (and the majority of people in general) are lazy. Everyone wants the “EASY” button. Instead of actually going and “doing something” like interpreting the Case Shiller market stats, writing a blog post, running your own MLS queries to generate unique market stats, building links, emailing your past clients, paying for SEO, etc — agents would rather sit around and bitch and whine about how unfair what everyone else is doing or why they can’t succeed. You know what…no one cares. Zillow is not the reason you aren’t doing well at SEO. Trulia is not the reason you can’t sell your listing. Realtor.com is not the reason you only have one buyer lead in the last 60 days. And on down the line. No one wants to hear it. One thing matters, and one thing only. Execution. And execution starts, and ends with DOING.
Go DO something. Go do anything.
And let me reiterate – this is not just a flaw of agents. It’s a flaw of the majority of the population. Further reading – http://www.drewmeyersinsights.com/2012/01/24/focus-on-doing-if-you-want-to-spend-your-time-with-other-doers/
very well said Drew! Couldn’t agree more, amazes me how many know what they should be doing yet still don’t DO it @PhxREguy @drewmeyers
@FPO @phxreguy maybe it will convince a few agents not to be so lazy..or not. who knows.
@drewmeyers @fpo @phxreguy – great reply Drew! Can I give an “amen!”?
@seancarp @fpo @phxreguy sure…i’ll take an amen
RT @seancarp @drewmeyers @fpo @phxreguy – great reply Drew! Can I give an “amen!”? [I second that! Gr8 read!]
@skynnard how are you? Seattle treating you well..
@drewmeyers Hey Drew, Seattle is treating me great. Gorgeous 4 days of sunshine and mid 50s. How are you world traveler?
@skynnard i’m well, my friend..been writing a lot the last week or so. back on the move in another day or two though..
@drewmeyers What is your favourite place you have seen so far?
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I know I’m new to the industry, so I don’t have the experience many of you have – but here are two things I know for sure. 1) Clients don’t go on-line to search for Realtors nearly as much as they do for houses, and 2) The big RE sites make it seem so easy to buy a house. Just do a quick search, plug in some mortgage numbers and click here – I know that’s oversimplified, but have you ever tried using Realtor.com from a client perspective?
We all know it’s more difficult than that, right?
I see the holding of the listing data as one of the only easy ways Agents can separate themselves from everybody else. I mean ‘cmon – how many Realtor’s websites look *exactly* alike. There only a handful nationwide, that truly stand out as personal connections between the Realtor and the customer (Jay’s being one).
Whatever the reason @arg_sd claims, one thing is for sure. They are sure getting a lot of hype, and I’m sure you’ve heard, “There’s no such thing as Bad PR”. I’m also sure that many customers see their move as positive, and trying to help the little guy out, instead of marching in lock step with the rest of the industry.
J Philip Faranda says
Leaving aside the legitimate criticisms and worthwhile improvements to syndication….
The “data” is the booby prize.
I could have a comprehensive medical textbook right here on my kitchen table, but that wouldn’t qualify me to heal what ails you. The only thing worse for a consumer with no data working alone is a consumer with full access to data and only their own amateur ability to interpret it.
Brad Andersohn of Zillow said it best: Zillow is the zestimate. A good agent is the Zactimate.
There are too many moving parts and possible expensive mistakes in a real estate transaction for data to enable a consumer to be able to go it alone and ensure their best interests.
Jay Thompson says
@jphilipfaranda Love the analogy JPF. WebMD.com does not a physician make….
You make some excellent points about the value that can be gained from the information a good knowledgeable and professional real estate professional can give the public. The problem is that many people feel the Internet is the voice of truth and they have a very difficult time understanding that some of this data they read is just flat out wrong, or at best incomplete.
Seo Service says
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Marc Davison says
As a “outsider” as I was recently referred to on a Facebook forum by an agent wondering why I’m involved in this discussion at all, I’ve being saying this forever – the “listing data” agents hold dear as their own is nothing more than mere marketing collateral built to do one thing – sell the house. What the agent owns is the relationship with the client and the task to handle the transaction. I am so relieved to hear someone “inside” the business say the same thing Jay. A bunch of photos, some copy and a list of amenities would take on a more definitive sense of ownership if the agent were actually selling those materials. But then they’d photographers, writers and list maker and these wonderful creative works would be your assets by which you earn your living. But thats not the case.
I agree with Jay deeply – these things are just simple elements created to sell the homeowners property and while it’s imperative that the 3rd party sites publish updated data that doesn’t differ from the materials the agents creates, these glitches in the system has not, despite what Abbott said, hurt the sale of real estate in America. What does is bad real estate agents who can’t even take the time to create halfway decent marketing collateral to beging with. Ain’t nothing “foolish” about this post.
I’ve often been intrigued by the two distinct worldviews that agents tend to express: some openly embrace what they do as selling; others say they facilitate and often call themselves consultants. Something similar seems to divide professionals into one camp or the other on listing syndication. These viewpoints go right to the heart of the different opinions on the value added.
@rayschmitz An Agent “does” what their client is doing, as an agent is representing a person. There must be “two camps” as when an agent is representing a seller…they are by definition “selling” a house, as that is what their client is doing. Conversely, when they are representing a buyer, they are not “selling” something. They are doing the Due Diligence necessary prior to buying a home, with their client.
As to “world views”, there are some States like Florida and Oklahoma, where agents are not representing people in an agent capacity.
In that regard there must be at least three camps. Agents who represent buyers of homes. Agents who represent sellers of homes. Agents who represent no one. Agents who represent no one must by definition sell, sell, sell…something, because if your business isn’t the people…then it has to be the product.
Those who are only about selling a product and offer no expert advice, are about to go the way of Travel Agents.
@ARDELLd Ardell, I agree with the obvious distinction of whether an agent is working with a buyer or seller.
But I have seen distinct attitudes on each side of the transaction. Some agents really sell their listings to potential buyers, while others simply wow a seller with their listing presentation but don’t ever set foot in the home again. Some of these are selling… what? The power of the MLS and a lockbox with their name on it?
The same can be said about buyers agents. I have had some tell me they are convinced they are merely expert facilitators. Others consider each buyer as a puzzle to solve, where solving the puzzle makes the sale.
My point is simply that these points of view are very analogous to the distinct points of view abot whether syndication to listing aggregators is helpful or not.
Maybe there is room for multiple points of view, and hence no one right answer.
@rayschmitz Listing Aggregators are Lead Generating sites that sell consumers to agents. They have nothing to do with agents helping sellers sell and buyers buy. They sell people to other people.
It’s a moot point that has very little to do with an agent’s goals and objectives for their client’s success in buying and selling homes.
When folks want to buy a home, the search homes and along the way come in to contact with the Buyer’s Agent that owns the site they are searching the IDX feed on or the contact the listing agent from a syndication site. Very rarely do I think they search for a real estate agent first unless they have a friend who refers someone or know someone who is a licensed agent.
I think the objectionable issue is not so much that their listing information is being spread far and wide, it is that listing brokers are losing the buyer sides of transactions to others who buy advertising on sites like Zillow & Trulia & Realtor.com. These aggregator sites are making money at the expense of the agents/brokers. Traditionally the listing agent/broker was favored for getting the buyer side when their name was on the sign and in the newspaper ad for the home. Now if an agent wants to be associated prominently with their own listing, they have to buy advertising. Otherwise their listings serve to attract attention to other agents who will pay the aggregators.
Cliff Stevenson says
Couldn’t agree more Jay. I have had arguments until I am blue in the face that we are not being hired because we are the keepers of the data. Those that think we are being hired for the data are going to be in for a rough “phasing out”….when they haven’t evaluated their value proposition to clients.
“…when they haven’t evaluated their value proposition to clients.”
Am I being “cold” to say that there really is no hope for agents who need to evaluate their value proposition to clients”?
I haven’t changed my value proposition to clients in the 21+ years I have been in the business. I grow as needed, of course, as systems change and we have better tools. But my value proposition has pretty much always been the same, and never questioned by my clients, over the many years I have been doing “this”.
If someone has been “working” in this industry and needs to change now…because they have not actually added value in all the years they have already been doing this, is there really any hope that they will know how to and be willing to make that change now?
What I see are agents who haven’t added value in the past are leaving the business vs learning how to do that.
That is why Brokers must understand that they represent people vs sell things. I’m not one who wails about the woes of Dual Agency, but clearly it should be avoided and no the main goal of any broker.
All Brokerage decisions should be with regard to their client. If that client is the Seller…the brokerage should not be using the home to acquire buyer clients, but to sell the home for the seller. Inventory should not be ‘used” as a tool to “get buyers” as that is the same as saying you are “using your seller client as a tool to get more buyer clients”.
That is not what the seller of the home hired the brokerage to do. It’s as simple as that.
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