Real estate buyers and sellers are not the only ones making moves these days. As the technological revolution continues to make gains in every corner of every industry worldwide, it is no surprise that disruption is coming to the real estate world too—but at what cost? More importantly: at who’s cost? In an age where information travels a mile a millisecond via the click of a button, consumers—those who passively and actively troll real estate information portals—have much to gain from emerging technologies in the real estate space. Agents, on the other hand, have some (or more, depending on your marketing strategies) cause to worry about their business.
The game is changing for Realtors, and it is courtesy of none other than a media conglomerate in the making. The recent acquisition of Trulia by Zillow has drawn many “pro versus con” lists to the forefront, but the rumor that Trulia could be gobbling up Move.com is just proving to do nothing short of fanning the flames. A move in this direction will drive the consumer tanker deeper into the land that real estate agents otherwise guarded by the likes of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and MLS.
So what if Zillow/Trulia moves in on Move.com?
The short story is that if the rumors are true then you just might see NAR’s gatekeeper status relinquished. While NAR and Move.com’s current ties lends itself to making the two significant players in the real estate space now, an acquisition of Move.com by Zillow/Trulia means the previously sacred relationship between Move.com/Realtor.com and Realtors via NAR is compromised. This is certainly an ironic turn of events considering Move and Realtor.com stood by their relationship with NAR earlier this year in a lawsuit against Zillow for the no-no move (pun intended by Zillow, apparently) by former Move Chief Strategy Officer and Realtor.com President, Errol Samuelson to the competition. Now that a purchase of Move by Zillow/Trulia appears imminent, if not guaranteed, NAR’s access to trusted listing data looks to be reduced to zilch on a national level. Zillow and Trulia’s listing and real estate info has notoriously been second-rate when it comes to the accuracy that Realtor.com garners from its MLS foundation. That being said, if Zillow/Trulia does acquire Move this ultimately means the path is cleared for the media giant to steamroll NAR benefits to the Realtor community, and arguably, in the long run, the relevance of Realtors. The biggest irony of all of this is that all of the coveted data that NAR possesses is produced, maintained and updated for free by every Realtor this merger will harm.
How does a Realtor contend with the inevitable changes?
Just because change is coming does not mean that it is inevitably for the worse. Since Trulia and Zillow announced their partnership, the line has been drawn in the sand between agents who condemn the anticipated effects, and agents who begrudgingly accept them. What will prove to be particularly trying for agents in the shorter term will be their ability to rise above the challenges that the Trulia-Zillow partnership will bring on. At their core, the two sites operate as marketing and lead generation engines for Realtors. The real estate marketing space still has untapped revenue streams right now from non-Realtor-based listings, and by running both sites separately, they can make these markets pay twice for the same service on both sites, and that is something that Trulia and Zillow hope to take advantage of, and maybe squeeze out a third source of revenue by running Realtor.com and selling the same services on that site too. By giving non-Realtors access to the same listing abilities on a national level, these sites hope to squeeze more revenue out of the real estate industry. While Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com continue to maintain their individual brands, agents and FSBO sellers may find themselves forced to pay 3 or more times for the same service on each site.
Marketing and advertising dollars aside, an acquisition of Move suggests that Zillow is advancing into MLS territory. This could mean the end of the National Association of Realtors at both a national level and local level too. Currently NAR is the guardian of the most up-to-date MLS listing data that real state agents have been creating and maintaining for free. Now another company stands to profit from that data, but a majority of those profits will come directly from ad revenue purchased by the agents that faithfully provide that data for free. Many Realtors see this as a slap in the face. At least NAR presumably used the data with the agents’ best interests in mind, but Trulia/Zillow won’t care about agents’ interests one little bit. Once NAR loses control of the MLS data, what benefits will NAR hold at a national level for agents? In AgentHarvest’s opinion, essentially none.
What does this all mean for buyers, sellers, and consumers overall?
Buying out the competition is bound to yield some positive results. That being said, Zillow is clearly positioned to do well. Realtors? That remains to be seen, but arguably the entire field has an uphill battle. So what about consumers—buyers, sellers, and everyone in between? The Zillow-Trulia partnership suggests a move in a couple advantageous directions for them.
Non-Realtor resources abound more than ever. Consequently, buyers and sellers are more informed than they have ever been, and this has only encouraged the most successful agents to up their game. Agents who are not flexible enough to adapt and get ahead of their prospective clients thirst for knowledge are at a disadvantage. Although prudent consumers have the wherewithal to take what they read on Zillow or Trulia with a grain of salt, an acquisition of Move and its access to MLS via Realtor.com means quality information may be more readily available in the future. This could easily mean lesser Realtors whose successes won’t paint the walls of Yelp-like ratings pages on these sites will be out of a job with otherwise prospective clients they could woo in traditional ways. Consumers are well positioned to gain more access and higher quality Realtors vying for their business.
What does this mean for the National Association of Realtors?
Bill Petrey, founder of AgentHarvest and a Realtor predicts a slow painful death for NAR. His opinion is if you take the centralized control of the MLS data on a national level away from NAR, then NAR becomes worthless. At that point, NAR will be nothing more than a lobbying group in DC. Who needs another one of those and why do I want my dues paying for it? The only value NAR will hold will be on a local MLS level, where the MLS systems and centralized keybox systems are maintained. Eventually local MLS systems may not be so eager to freely give away all that data for third-parties to profit from. After all, it’s agent-produced and locally maintained data that agents are paying for the privilege of providing. Eventually agents are going to wake up and MLS boards will break away from the National organization and sell Trulia/Zillow the data themselves. Larger real estate agencies may even restrict data down to their level and sell it nationally themselves.