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Online Advertising 101 – Real Estate People, DON’T READ THIS

[Note from editor: This was original published on and shared here since it’s relevant to the Geek Estate audience]

A Familiar Scenario

Classified AdsLet’s say I owned a commercial website like, say, The New York Times online. I have editorial content and ads that run throughout the site. There are ads all over the place where you consume content but also there are entire sections with nothing but ads. Let’s call that the classified section. Now, unlike something such as Craig’s List where it’s free to place the ad and free to sell your wares, I require you to buy these ads upfront. I get paid whether or not you get a single phone call or email. I get paid whether you get ANY response whatsoever. I simply provide the eyeballs because I am a destination site and people know to come here to get a great user experience and great content. This all sounds pretty normal and you are all pretty familiar with this concept, right? I am sure that most people reading this have used this type of advertising in the past – and maybe at present. There’s nothing wrong with it and it has shown results for some time.

Here’s the thing: sites like The Times are in trouble and have been for a while. They can’t price out online ad space competitively enough to cut it in this market. Perhaps this is not the case with your local paper or classifieds sites/blogs but that may only be because you (or they) haven’t really been able to measure proper ROI on your advertising dollars. This is a hard thing to do and this is not a pot shot at either of you. However,there are plenty of people that place ads like this to sell a house, apartment, car, bike, or whatever, that never get any response. The ad runs its course and your money is spent with a ZERO ROI.

Another Scenario

CowboyLike I mentioned, Craig’s List is free of charge. So, other than your time, the investment is zero. Odds are better to have a positive ROI right? Perhaps, perhaps not. The thing with Craig’s List is that it’s pretty much the wild west. Anyone can use this service and are left to their moral compasses in terms of the claims and content of their ads. It’s pretty easy to set up a bogus ad to simply generate leads, create a bait and switch environment, or just downright swindle people out of their hard earned cash. People can report a spammy, scammy, or fishy ad but they don’t put a tremendous amount of effort into policing the system. It’s really a buyer beware kind of atmosphere. Doesn’t sound like a very professional environment – especially if you are looking to market a big tag item, huh? Well, it’s not. Oh, and the look and feel are also god ugly.

In a Perfect World

Well, the best way to do this is to create your own website so you can control everything and the traffic is yours. Then again, that takes development resources to build and maintain. It also will take online marketing expertise that is separate from the code jockey you have building the actual site. They will have to be well versed in user experience, design, web analytics, and content strategy. Oh, and they will have to be specialized in the vertical you are trying to sell to. This wouldn’t be free and if you want to do it right, you’re looking at six-figures+ to get this up and running. Then you will only have to pay for maintenance and modifications to the site to tweak things and update your marketing efforts. You can go cheap on the staff for probably under six-figures – a year.

What to do, what to do….

House for SaleSo you want a good, clean look and feel with a solid user experience that is safe for buyers and sellers and will be free for you to use for selling all of your stuff. Well, I don’t know any place that is good for all of your stuff so let’s just focus on one type of item for sale and maybe consider others once we have solved this riddle. For the sake of time, let’s use the biggest ticket item we can think of since solving that riddle will make the solution easily applicable to other smaller and cheaper things.  The biggest ticket item I can think of that most people will have the opportunity to buy or sell is real estate. So let’s use that shall we?

ad·ver·tise·ment – Noun: A notice or announcement in a public medium promoting a product, service, or event or publicizing a job vacancy.

For the sake of clarity, let’s not talk about ads to sell a home as ‘ads’. In the industry they are referred to as ‘listings’.  Make no mistake though; for consumer purposes, they are ads. They consist of:

  • A picture (hopefully at least one) that catches your eye and makes you like the way it looks.
  • Details on the “product description” in the form of beds, baths, square footage, along with whatever the seller feels is relevant information that will help them to sell it. I’ve never seen ‘leaky roof’ or ‘creaky floors’ in a property description.
  • A way for you to contact someone to find out more information and how you can buy this product.

By this point, you have probably figured out that I am leading you somewhere and in a bit of a sarcastic fashion. Realistically, there are not a lot of places you can go to get this solution. The irony is, that you can get them all for free. Sites like, Yahoo! Real Estate, Zillow, and Trulia are free, at least at their basic levels. In fact, at the time of this post, the combined traffic of any two of the above mentioned sites is greater than the remaining top ten sites combined. actually gets your listings directly from the MLS which you are a member of and you don’t have to do ANYTHING to take advantage of it. With others, you have to at least go up and claim your listing, at most add it to their systems yourself. They are also free to use though. Depending on your preference, each has their strengths but they are all better than most other real estate sites and are certainly better than anything you could dream of developing on your own. We’re in agreement, right?

You Don’t Have to Buy ANYTHING

Your PocketsThe big complaint I have heard about these sites is that they always seem to have their hands in the agents’ pockets. I still don’t get this. We’ve already established that these are ads, right? The purpose of the ad is to get exposure for the property in an effort to sell it, right? And these sites get monster traffic, right? So what’s the problem?

Each of these sites took considerable resources to build and maintain. They don’t charge you to have your listings in there. So how do they make money? Well, they offer people the ability to purchase additional, preferred ad space/placement – the only way they can monetize. Yes, agents listing homes in your area will have the ability to upgrade their listings to make sure they come up higher in the search results than yours. This is their prerogative, not the site’s fault. They are increasing their marketing spend and if they get better results from it, why shouldn’t they?

Dual Agency Isn’t Cool

All AcesAnother complaint I hear is that other agents having the ability to purchase preferred placement of their contact info on these listing pages. Again, they are spending more money to capture leads. You can get leads in a bunch of places. And they choose to get their leads from these sites. Why are these sites off limits?

The only reason a listing agent should be upset about someone paying a premium to get leads off of their listings pages is if the listing agent is hoping to get both sides of the transaction or act as a ‘duel agent’. Oh, and get them for free. I personally think that the whole notion of dual agency is lazy, greedy, and unethical. If you want to read up on the concept a bit you can check it out here. If you are the listing agent, you are guaranteed one side if the home sells while it’s listed with you. If someone else brings a buyer then why would you care where they got that lead? Again, the exposure cost you nothing. All that’s effectively happened is that they buyer’s agent has shrunk their overall compensation by the amount of the spend on the site your listing sits on. And if the buyer agent got a lead from that site, they paid for a lead that has already gotten exposure to your listing. Both buyer and seller have representation. It’s win-win.

Who You Are Really Pissed Off At

The fact of the matter is, these sites are not the bad guys. They built an environment where consumers come to where they can learn, interact and shop. And they are doing it well. There is nothing wrong here. You are not really upset that these guys are selling leads. That’s what they set out to do. Should they be providing these sites as a public service? Of course not. You are not upset with these folks that are buying the leads off your listing pages. You probably do it too, on that site or somewhere else in some way shape or form. Who you are really pissed off at is yourself. You’re mad because these sites have created a more open and free market for your competition to better compete with you in your market. You’re mad because you either don’t get the technology, don’t want to spend the money, or don’t want anyone competing in your space. None of these reasons are valid in my opinion because you reap the same benefits in the other direction.

Light BulbIt’s time to stop blaming these sites for creating an environment that makes you uncomfortable. This is your problem, not theirs. It’s time to consider the fact that perhaps they are able to fill a void in the industry that the agents and brokers previously haven’t been able to – or these sites would have never come to be. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention. It’s time to understand that nobody is making you do anything you don’t want to do. Pull your listings, advertise your properties on your own site and generate your own traffic. Or better yet, put your listings in the local paper and not the evil evil Zillow/Trulia/ It’s time for you to focus on the business of real estate and make changes to the things you control – not someone else’s business. It’s time to recognize that these sites are giving you exactly what you want – a free, good looking place to put your ads for free with no obligation on your part that gets ridiculous amounts of exposure for the product that you are marketing. For free. Yes, free with an option to upgrade.

About Patrick Healy

Founder of Phacient. He has spent the last 6+ years in real estate technology and data. He's is fascinated with decision making and efficiency. Patrick organizes the Lucky Strikers Social Media Club and RE BarCamp in New York City, likes to tinker with just about anything he can get his hands on and is quite the foodie.

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  • Boom. Nice Patrick.

    • Thanks so much @fischrealestate:disqus. Just trying to keep it real. 🙂

  • I tried to make a shared comment stream by using custom field for the disqus ID, but still have no clue how to make it work. @disqus:twitter  needs to make it easier to repost and share a comment stream
    Anyway, I left the comment below on the original:
    “Who you are really pissed off at is yourself. You’re mad because these sites have created a more open and free market for your competition to better compete with you in your market. You’re mad because you either don’t get the technology, don’t want to spend the money, or don’t want anyone competing in your space.”
    Yup. They are kicking everyone’s a** at SEO, and the industry doesn’t like it. If agents/brokers/MLS’s don’t like it, they need to spend the money, hire the right people, and beat the portals at the online marketing/seo game. I’m tired of hearing complaining…if people don’t like it, do something about it.

    • It feels very similar to what happened to a lot of newspapers and book publishers. They literally watched the industry change and most did nothing to innovate or grow.

      • And as a result, blogs are bigger than ever and many newspapers have either gone completely online or are no more….

    • Or you could end it the easy way, just don’t send them your data (their oxygen).  Then it’s bye-bye.

  • With respect, this statement (see below) is untrue, at least in my case. 

    “The only reason a listing agent should be upset about someone paying a premium to get leads off of their listings pages is if the listing agent is hoping to get both sides of the transaction or act as a ‘duel agent’.”

    If it was true, than every agent who ever sent a just listed/sold post card, put a For Sale Sign in the yard with their contact numbers, or any other form of broadcast print or electronic advertising where their name and logo appeared in the advertisement would be guilty of the same thing.  You aren’t saying that every agent or broker who as ever done so is hoping to act as a duel-agent are you?  FYI, in the state of Texas Dual Agency is forbidden.

    Also, if I’m in competition for business with other brokers and agents, why would it be smart business to let others I compete with “get leads off of my listings”. I wouldn’t allow them to “get leads” from my For Sale signs and I don’t allow them to answer my phones at the office?  Should I route all inbound leads from my company and personal website to a competitor as well?

    Because I’m the listing agent/broker doesn’t mean that I should turn/hand over my lead generation rights to a company (aggregators) that does not compensate me for the very data that fuels their business. (Aggregators must laugh behind closed doors)

    If one believes that an agent is smart to advertise on these aggregation sites as a form of lead generation, wouldn’t be even smarter for the listing/agent broker to benefit from their own hard work and minimize the benefits to their competitors?   

    As for this comment:  

    “You’re mad because these sites have created a more open and free market for your competition to better compete with you in your market.”

    Seriously, would any smart business owner, or any big business, pick one, would they do anything at all to help their competition better compete with them?  If I went to a business consultant to explain what you propose, I believe the conversation would go like this:

    Me to biz consultant:  “I’d like to win more business than my competitors, so what I do is I send all my listing data to an aggregator who then sells ads around my listings to my competitors so that they (my competitors) get buyer leads (win).  Is it wise to empower my competitors?

    Consultant:  No, it’s not wise to empower your competitors.  You mean prospective buyers don’t call you as the listing agent?

    Me:  No, the aggregator makes it look like their ad buying agent is the listing agent, basically I (listing agent/broker) look invisible?

    Consultant:  Doesn’t that help your competitors who can’t generate business from their own efforts stay in business?  Does the aggregator pay you?

    Me: No I don’t earn any compensation for the listing data or the advertising revenue, the aggregator keeps all.  Yes, it does help my competitors generate more business.

    Consultant:  Wow?  You do the work to get the listings, you send it to an aggregator who sells ads around your listing, the aggregator makes big money, the agents who pays the aggregator gets leads from your listings and you get….well, I guess you get nothing.  I hate to break it to you, but this sounds really lame, why do you do it?  Would buyers find the information anywhere else if the aggregators didn’t exist?

    Me:  Well, everyone tells me that information should be free, and consumers love visiting these sites.  

    Consultant:  Would happen if you didn’t send the aggregators your listings?

    Me:  I guess agents who advertise with them would have to figure out how to generate their own business. If the aggregators didn’t exist, consumers would find the information on my website, our MLS site and my company site.  I think Google takes care of that part.  So the short answer is, if the aggregators disappeared, the data would not.  

    I’ll close with this, as a technology provider and consultant, I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying about FREE internet products, “If the product is free, you’re the product.”  

    I don’t want to be the product. I want to earn compensation for creating the product and I do not want to hand my competitors bullets so they can shoot me.

    Of course what do I know, I’m just a lowly feet on the street real estate agent/sales manager.

    • You make some good points @clk430:disqus. I can’t agree with all of them but some yes. If you don’t like them and don’t believe in the model then by all means you should pull your listings. If you are able to generate your own leads without their help I would wholeheartedly encourage you to do so. The thing is, most cannot. To be honest, as a technologist and marketer, my experience shows that less than 1% have any ability to do this even at a rudimentary level. Traffic numbers don’t lie – and I don’t think it’s all about the listings. Remember, these sites have become information and analytics tools as well as agent outreach communities that are consumer friendly. They are bringing the buyers and sellers to the conversation.

      It’s the age old question of buy vs build. There are not many that can out-build these portals. If they could, they would become portals IMO.

      I gotta disagree with your statement here though:

      “If it was true, than every agent who ever sent a just listed/sold post card, put a For Sale Sign in the yard with their contact numbers, or any other form of broadcast print or electronic advertising where their name and logo appeared in the advertisement would be guilty of the same thing.  You aren’t saying that every agent or broker who as ever done so is hoping to act as a duel-agent are you? ”

      Absolutely not, although I don’t know many agents that would voluntarily turn down both sides of a deal. I know some that will only do business that way. 

      First off, all of those marketing practices you just mentioned follow the first model mentioned in this post – You pay for it upfront and it’s all yours. It would be a much more relevant point if you asked me if the leads that came in off of your website were all yours (they are). You bought and paid for all that traffic and sexy interface. Using these portals is FREE. The listing agent pays nothing and gets something – massive exposure of their listings.  You pay the portal NOTHING for the use of their free ad platform.

      Here is how the conversation would go with your consultant friend if he understood the platform:

      You: I put my listings into [insert portal name here] and they sell ads that help other agents get leads from my listings

      Consultant: What’s your objective for putting this listing on this website?

      You: To more quickly and efficiently sell their home and move onto the next.

      Consultant: Does the site get you leads to help you sell the home to a buyer?

      You: Well, dual agency is illegal in TX so I would have to show them other properties that I am not listing or refer them out to other agents for me to be compensated for that.

      Consultant: Does your listings being on that site get them more exposure to the market at large? Significantly more than your own website?

      You: Yes and Hell’s yes.

      Consultant: Are the people who see your listings up on that site more inclined to buy it since they actually saw it up there and read about it and were exposed to it already vs. the listings not on there?

      You: Hell’s yes.

      Consultant: What do you pay per month to have these listings up on this site?

      You: Nothing

      Consultant: Can you take them down any time you like?

      You: Yes.

      Consultant: Is it fair to say that these sites have helped your business more than hurt your business?

      You: Yes.

      Consultant: Are these sites run by the Salvation Army?

      You: No, what does that have to do with anything?

      Consultant: So they are not a charity?

      You: No.

      Consultant: You have three choices. 

      A) continue to use their services for free and see improved exposure to your lists via these free ads. 
      B) Invest some of the money you use for fliers, print advertising, yard signs, and other marketing spends in buying some ads up there and doing to those agents the same thing they do to you and get more leads that way.
      C) Pull your listings and take your chances. 

      My advice would be to do one of the first two since this site seems to be one of the most trafficked real estate sites on the web and garners millions of eyeballs per year – which very few broker/agent sites do. Here is my bill for this time. You could have gotten all of this for free if you would have just thoroughly read Patrick Healy’s post on Phacient. 🙂

      I think the important thing to take away from all of this is that these portals don’t exist by accident or through anti-trust practices. Everything they are doing is completely legit and you are right. If the industry pulls their listings it will hurt them significantly. Zillow will still have their Zestimates though and Trulia will still have Trulia Voices. These sites are more than listings aggregators. They are, for better or worse, part of the real estate community at large and everyone is going to have to get use to that. 

      This industry is a sales driven, competitive place. If you really think that the majority is going to just pull their listings for the sake of getting rid of something they don’t want to pay for you are mistaken. The alternative is that they can just charge you by the listing and have you get all the eyeballs and traffic and leads. Would you be willing to pay $50/listing/month? If that’s the case I think the portals would be up for a conversation. I’m sure there is a way they could buy exclusivity for your listings. But keep in mind, it won’t be free to use any longer…..and they would be really viewed by everyone for what they are: ads.

    • Ken, great write up. In Texas – yes, dual agency is prohibited. However, brokers can act as intermediaries and don’t even have to appoint different agents to the transaction, which is pretty much dual agency, but only slightly ‘better’ because full fiduciary duty is required (with only limited fiduciary duty required for dual agency relationships to exist in other states).

      I do agree with some of the points you’ve made especially in your scenario with the biz consultant. I guess I just don’t quite have a solid stance on this issue yet. I do like the conversation and look forward to hearing some more input on the topic.

      For instance, you’re right, it’s not smart for you to let other brokers/agents get leads off of your listings. It’s a common point made by those who endorse Zillow to point out the ‘dual-agency’ argument, which I agree, is a little misleading. There is absolutely nothing wrong with someone contacting the listing agent or brokerage about a listing – it’s what happens after that, that matters most as far as dual-agency issues are concerned. In fact this is a great opportunity for the agent/broker to gain a client (who may wan’t to see other homes anyway). So although I’m not a fan of dual agency, I think using it as the logic to argue for the merit of Zillow (by promoting independent buyers agents) does not truly add value to the conversation for those who like the Zillow business model. Zillow was not created just to offer consumers the chance to find buyers agents and avoid dual-agency scenarios, so I think this argument needs to mature for us to gain ground on the discussion.

      But, I’m also in the camp of marketing the listing as much as possible and why I don’t mind the “aggregators”, they have a ton of users and consumers generally like these sites. With Zillow, I can ‘claim’ (I know sounds a little trite as I’m writing it) our listings and now, can even co-brand the user-experience on Zillow by enabling a widget at the top of Zillow that displays a picture and contact information for me as the user explores different pages and properties on the site. It’s at least the start of a middle ground and something I’m paying attention to. Also, I do agree with the premise of the article, which basically points out the outdated habits of the real estate industry as a whole. The best part about the discussion is that it is making us think about how we market our real estate businesses, and to me – that is a very positive thing. Thanks for taking the time to post, I’m going to read your comments again.

    • Your product is your inventory.  Someone else can make something else their product – and that does not take your exclusive away from you.  How is it  shooting you if someone else takes market information and uses it to bring a buyer to you?

      • It’s been our experience that real estate agents who bring the buyer do so as a result of the MLS.  I can’t imagine an agent not consulting the MLS before showing or selling a home to any buyer.

        As for how I would be shooting myself in the head or giving my competitors bullets, I am doing this by empowering (with my listing data) my competitors to earn a commission and develop a relationship with new clients because aggregators make the listing agent look invisible and the advertising agent prominent.  

        Aggregators and their advertising clients don’t sell our listings, hard working agent using the MLS sell the listings whether they’ve ever been viewed online or not.  In my experience even the agents who have to buy leads to survive or make some extra cash use the MLS before they show and sell homes.  Not to do so would be malpractice.  

        It would be same thing if I let my competitors advertise their contact numbers on my For Sale signs, and when they sold a home to the person who called “them” on “my”sign I said, “Congratulations, I’m glad I could help you succeed my market place.  Would you like put your contact numbers on my business card too, maybe you’ll bring me a buyer some day? 

        I have no problem with anyone and everyone succeeding in the business, I’m just not in favor of having the aggregators and my competitors benefiting financially and in exchange for our/your contribution (listing data), we/us receive zero.   Doesn’t make sense to me.

        • IDX is the same exact thing with a lesser user experience and less exposure. Whether it’s the buyer’s agent referencing the MLS or their client, what does it matter? And if it doesn’t, why does it matter where they reference it? The home you are selling is getting put in front of the buyers more than it would be if ZTR didn’t exist.

    • Crap, Ken – forgot to mention. Love the book. Read 4 chapters last night. Ha, small world…

    • “Wow?  You do the work to get the listings, you send it to an aggregator who sells ads around your listing, the aggregator makes big money, the agents who pays the aggregator gets leads from your listings and you get….well, I guess you get nothing.  I hate to break it to you, but this sounds really lame, why do you do it?  Would buyers find the information anywhere else if the aggregators didn’t exist?”

      You get your commission check ONLY when the listing SELLS — so free advertising makes sense for agents. IMHO, of course.

      • In my experience here’s how I see it working in real life.  

        Whether a buyer has visited all the 3rd party sites or zero, when they meet with their agent they ask their buyers agent to scour the MLS in search of new listing inventory or listing they may or may not have seen.  Their agent may also know of listing that are not currently on the market, but are being prepared to market (pocket listing), or buyers who would sell but don’t want to broadcast the availability.  Their buyers agent show them all the available properties that match their criteria.  If the buyer loves one of them they buy it.  My success as a listing agent and my sellers success is not dependent on Zillow, Trulia or  They do not cause Days On Market to decline, higher sales prices, lower sales prices, attract more qualified buyers or effect the negotiated sales price.  They do knowingly misinform the public about actual values though.

        Free advertising is great, but this isn’t FREE, it actually costs the listing agent/broker opportunity, their competitors are leveraging the listing broker/agents listings to create opportunity for themselves.  IMHO of course.  

        I respect counter points of view, I just don’t buy or believe them.

        Cheers Drew and thanks for commenting on my comment.

    • I actually crafted a very good response and it took me some time to do. Somehow Disqus seems to have dropped it. I will sum it up briefly. 

      Agents are free to pull their listings if they feel that the deal is not beneficial to them. What I seem to hear from the industry is that they don’t want to pay for the service and they don’t want anyone else to be able to pay for what those that “own” the listings aren’t willing to. Perhaps the best solution could be:Listing owner gets first right of refusal to pay for all leads as they come in on any particular listing.

      Listing owner can pay upfront something like $25-50/month/listing for exclusivity. 

      Personally, I think that either of these solutions is a step back for the industry.

      If that is not agreeable then they should order their listings pulled since what they are then saying is that they want these portals to be a completely free service to all – which really isn’t reasonable. 

      Realistically, it’s their site and they can do what they like with it but if you think you are going to cut off their oxygen by non-participation simply because they do it better than you, you are kidding yourself – and borderline anti-trust. At the end, killing these portals will only hurt the consumers and help an already colluded industry to stay colluded.  

      • So I’m possibly in Anti Trust Violation if I express my concern that other parties monazite my listing data?  

        If aggregators went out of business, consumers wouldn’t suffer, Days On Market wouldn’t go up, sold prices wouldn’t fall, the real estate market wouldn’t crash, the only thing that would happen is that brokers and agents spending millions of dollars to chase strangers/leads could and should reinvest their recovered revenue to design and develop consumer friendly and wow worthy sites.  

        I’m not not suggesting we tear down the internet, simply improve the real estate universe.  My 2cents

        • I want to agree with you Ken but the fact of the matter is that none of this was happening prior to these portals being created. Living in a place where there is no MLS and essentially run by a handful of brokerages I am very sensitive to closed markets. It’s not just in NYC either. It seems wherever there is a monopoly or oligopoly of brokerages there are those that want change and those that don’t. 

          I see these portals eventually replacing the classifieds of newspapers. I see better collaboration between agents due to the communities they build. I see better educated consumers. I see these portals bringing value that brokerage and agent sites simply haven’t. 

          I think at the end of the day these portals so a heck of a lot more good than harm. The thing I have not heard yet is a complaint from the people who are paying for these leads that they are converting since they are making use of another avenue of service being offered to them. That same service is offered to everyone, including the listing owners.

          People are going to complain because you can’t make everyone happy and those people maybe should pull their listings off the portals and do their own thing. Heck, they may be able to do it cheaper and better. I’m betting not though. It seems the only thing that will make you happy Ken is if the listing agent is the only one that is allowed to get leads off of their listing and they want it for free. Not very likely.

          • I’m a super happy guy in general, but yes, I’d smile a little wider if agents and brokers who are unable to earn the trust and confidence of sellers and buyers directly and personally were unable to buy lottery-ticket leads generated from the hard work (listing inventory) of others.

            Meanwhile, I’ll stay focused on deepening my relationships and relevance in my markets.  This way I won’t be dependent on aggregators for my success. 

            PS.  I remember when corporate relocation fees were in the 25% range, now they’re in the 40% range.  Why? Because if you don’t pay and you rely on them, you’ll starve.  

            Aggregators are also in the big business of montazing agents and brokers, overtime their referral fees and subscription fees will rise and rise and rise and broker and agent profits will fall and fall and fall.  

          • There’s probably some truth there. It sounds like you do a good job of getting your own leads and don’t need something like this. Others do. 

            To the same point, rising costs and higher margins will only make it more attractive for others to enter the portal space. This would inherently create a larger market for these services and help to self regulate pricing like any market

          • One thing for sure Patrick, everyday brings new challenges, new opportunity and new competitors.  Cheers.

        • “If aggregators went out of business”

          This is a “what if” that will never ever happen. Z/T are here to stay, Z is a public company, they have millions of visitors, and they wouldn’t disappear from the internet even if the entire industry pulled their listings.

          • Lots of public companies have gone out of business.

            They have millions of visitors because they have our listing data.  If they didn’t have any listing data, those millions of viewers would visit agent and broker sites instead.   

            If they could stay in business without the listing data, more power to them, that’d be great.  I’m not a Wall Street expert but I would venture to say that if it was announced that Zillow or would no longer receive listing data, their stock would crash through the floor.  I imagine that would happen if they lost as little as 25% of their data, 25% of their revenue and 25% of their viewers.

            Also, I think their using visitor count as a measure of awesomeness is sorta smoke and mirrors marketing for the hopeful agent masses.  How about selling their ads based on something as tangible as the fees they charge. Maybe they could measure and report on  the quality of their leads, conversion ratios and improvement in production for ALL their agent subscribers?

          • I can get on board with that. Maybe only charge by the lead received not buying the zip code or town name. Personally, I don’t love that aspect of the way the pricing is structured. There’s always room for improvement. That begs the question though, what is a lead worth? I’d say the prices vary depending on the market and types of homes in that market? How do you valuate that? I smell another blog post coming on.

      • Sorry, it got stuck in SPAM. I un-spammed it.

  • NY Times and Craigslist can work very well–maybe not for selling your own listings–but definitely for driving traffic to a real estate website.

    I think, Trulia and particularly Zillow are great. The problem with these sites is that just because they have a ton of overall traffic doesn’t mean they have a large share of traffic for a particular neighborhood, town, city or even state. They can (for places like California and New York) but for many agents–if all you did was advertise in the big 3–it is not nearly enough.

    So, I’ll propose 2 other free options (to be used in addition with the big 3):

    1. Build a Google+ business page. They rank well in Google, and very quickly (skipping the sandbox). With an agent’s local knowledge you can beat out Realtor/Trulia/Zillow for your area and generate more traffic than the big 3 for your niche.

    2. Hang your license at a Brokerage with good online marketing already built in.

  • “Free advertising is great, but this isn’t FREE, it actually costs the listing agent/broker opportunity, their competitors are leveraging the listing broker/agents listings to create opportunity for themselves.”

    IDX is the exact same thing. So I ask “so what?” Who cares if they are generating leads? Anything you can do to improve the chances of the listing selling should be done for your client — no? cc @robhahn:twitter 

    • Maybe IDX should go away too. Perhaps it would just be better if all listings were exclusive to their respective brokers and buyers should have to work with multiple offices to get enough exposure to enough listings to make an educated decision. That’s the way it is in my neighborhood and I can tell you it’s a delight. Everyone loves the agents around here. 🙂

  • JeffRiber

    Lively debate!  Love it…

    From a Broker/Agent perspective…  If you don’t like it, then go spend some $ on a site and educate yourself about what’s necessary to acquire leads online (which is what I ended up doing). 

    This is why I love geekestate – keeps me in the know… 

    • I appreciate that we can all express our opinions without getting personal about, you guys are pros and it makes all the difference.  Thanks.

  • Sorry, I got late to this party.  Great discussion.

    Most of the broker arguments about Z/T/R are complaints about advertising costs, and brokers not being able to sell their own listings.  Great arguments for your internal expense/budgeting meeting, but it’s not consumer-focused.

    The more important issue is the way the listings are treated and displayed for consumers.  If a brokerage pays a website $1 million to display their listings above all other brokerages ( ), that’s fair game.  However, would you tell consumers that the site represents the most transparent, accurate picture of the market?  Of course not.

    These sites will survive and make big money.  Agents will advertise with them.  That doesn’t mean we all have to cheerlead their cause carte blanche.  There are great things that they do, and others that flat out stink (zestimates).  Thoughtful criticism about a business practice shouldn’t be met with “I’m tired of hearing complaining…if people don’t like it, do something about it.”

    We will all continue to innovate on our own, but being able to critique or applaud any business practice is still important for the industry.  Z/T/R aren’t going away any time soon, but we can certainly influence their direction.

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