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The Importance of Strategic Distribution

[Note from the editor: This article is re-posted from Spencerrascoff.com & Spencer’s Active Rain blog. Given the recent listing syndication discussion, I thought it would be relevant to the Geek Estate Community]

It’s a new year, so what better time to take on a controversial topic: listings syndication. There is a lot of discussion about this in our industry, and I thought it was time to give Zillow’s thoughts on this important topic. My comments below will also be the basis of my speech at this week’s Inman Connect in New York.

First, let me emphasize that Zillow has a lot of usage. In December 2011, more than 23 million unique visitors used our websites and mobile applications. The primary reason

they use Zillow is because of Zestimates, and the other unique content we have on our website. It is because of this traffic that nearly every major real estate brokerage in the nation puts their listings onto Zillow, for free.

Because the number of real estate websites has dramatically proliferated, real estate brokers and MLSs are now giving a more careful review of what sites they send listings to. I applaud this, as I think it is important to carefully evaluate which sites make the most sense. This trend towards “strategic distribution” is different from the more shotgun-like approach that characterized listings syndication for the last few years.

Strategic distribution is all about making the right decision on where to put listings based on criteria that makes sense for your business. Brokers own their listings, and can put them on whichever sites they choose. But in my opinion, brokers should carefully consider several important criteria when making these decisions:

1. Which sites are most likely to provide my listings with exposure to the most buyers. After all, that’s what the listing agents and their brokers have been hired to do by their home sellers: get the house sold quickly, at the best possible price.

2. Which sites have business rules which are most acceptable to my brokerage. Listings on Zillow receive exposure across Zillow.com, Zillow Mobile – the most popular suite of real estate apps across all major mobile platforms – and the Yahoo!-Zillow Real Real Estate Network the largest real estate network on the Web (according to comScore Media Metrix, 1), so clearly we have many millions of buyers visiting our website and using our mobile apps. Sellers benefit from their listing receiving as much exposure as possible.

Some in our industry have commented that although Zillow has more than 23 million unique monthly visitors to our websites and mobile apps, perhaps Zillow and other national media sites “don’t have very much traffic in my area”. That’s incorrect. Zillow reviewed November 2011 data from comScore Media Metrix, the leading third-party source of website traffic information. Note that this data does not include traffic on mobile applications, where Zillow and other national brands have overwhelmingly more usage than others. Just looking at website statistics though, the Yahoo!-Zillow Real Estate Network is the #1 or #2 real estate entity in all 20 of the top 20 local markets in the United States (2). The data simply does not support the argument that “those sites aren’t big in my area.” [If you’d like to learn more about Zillow’s traffic in your area, please email me; we will happily share Zillow’s internal traffic statistics for your region.]

To emphasize the mobile point further, let me stress that not putting listings on Zillow, REALTOR.com and Trulia is tantamount to abandoning any hope of finding a buyer who is using a mobile device. In December 2011, Zillow had more than 36 homes viewed every second of every day on a mobile device. Zillow has leading real estate apps on iPhone, iPad, Android phones, Android tablets, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, and Kindle Fire. Mobile usage accounts for about a quarter of all of Zillow’s usage — it’s too important a channel for a seller or their listing agent/broker to ignore.

Brokers and MLSs should not only consider a website’s traffic when making syndication decisions. But they should also consider how each website gets its traffic. At Zillow, most of our traffic comes directly to Zillow.com or Zillow’s mobile apps, rather than coming to us through SEO. Our tens of millions of users are attracted to Zillow’s unique content, including over 100 million Zestimates and 100,000 consumer reviews of real estate agents. We bring this traffic to the table in these syndication discussions; it’s not like we showed up at the potluck with just a fork.

Putting listings onto top real estate sites is what sellers want, because it helps sell their homes. But don’t take my word for it — let’s look at the data. Zillow data shows that homes which receive the top 10% of page views sell more than a month faster than their counterparts in the bottom 10% of views.  Similarly, these highly viewed listings achieve sale prices closer to their asking price than those with less exposure. The difference is especially pronounced among homes priced less than $250,000. It’s obvious, but if you give your listing exposure to lots of buyers, it will sell faster and at a higher price. The data proves it.

The Objections

I’ve already addressed one objection to sending listings to leading media sites: the local traffic stats.

The second objection I sometimes hear is that “the media site is selling my leads“. Most major media sites (including Zillow) have free models which pass buyer contacts to the listing agent — all they have to do to be presented as the first choice for buyers on their own listings is set up a free account and free profile on the site (which ensures that the buyer contact will get through to them).

In addition, some listings syndication services such as ListHub, owned by Move, Inc. (operator of REALTOR.com), have recently introduced dashboards to help brokers and MLSs understand different media sites’ business rules, and decide which sites to send listings to. This allows the MLS to facilitate the efficient distribution of listings under the direction of the broker who owns the listings.

Diverse Solutions

No discussion of listings syndication would be complete without mentioning Zillow’s acquisition of Diverse Solutions, the leading tech provider of IDX for websites. Many of you have told us what a great company, staff and products they have. But there are some conspiracy theorists who have speculated that Zillow will simply flip a switch and take all of the IDX listings through Diverse and put them up on Zillow.com.

It won’t happen and can’t —due to contractual and legal reasons.

However, from the day the acquisition was announced, we started hearing from brokers that asked why they needed to continue to send Zillow a direct feed, when it was already coming to Diverse through their MLS. Therefore, if a broker wants us to use their listings from IDX, and their MLS agrees, then we will do this. We are in the midst of conversations with many brokerages and many MLSs about this, since it significantly reduces the complexity for the brokerage and it improves accuracy of listings on Zillow, which benefits brokers, agents and their MLS.

Speaking of listings accuracy … Zillow invests massive resources in making our listings as accurate as possible, and it all starts with what’s provided to us by our partners. Complaining about accuracy while providing us with a less than stellar feed or no feed at all does none of us or our industry any favors. Those who decide to pull listings from sites like ours due to their own business reasons have the right to do so. But to take that step and then say a key reason was listing accuracy feels disingenuous when they have removed the very direct feed that is the most accurate, often leaving their agents to rely on less reliable options.

Conclusion

Strategic Distribution is an important part of a broker’s marketing strategy. It is very important for brokers to put their listings where buyers will find them — this is critical for agent recruitment and retention, and to help sell clients’ houses. 

It is for these reasons that nearly every major brokerage in the country has chosen to put their listings onto Zillow. We are very proud of our partnerships with companies like RE/MAX International, Coldwell Banker, Century 21, Windermere, Halstead, Prudential Fox & Roach and hundreds more.

I look forward to further discussion of this important issue, and I hope to see you at Inman Connect later this week.

 

Data Sources:

(1) comScore Media Metrix Real Estate Category Ranking by Unique Visitors, November 2011, US Data.

(2) comScore Local Market Key Measures, November 2011, Real Estate Category by Unique Visitors

About Spencer Rascoff

CEO of Zillow.com, one of the largest real estate websites. I grew up in New York and then Los Angeles. Went to college in Boston and then back to New York, before moving to San Francisco and then Seattle.

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  • Thank you for re-posting this information here–yes, the topic is controversial but I’d have to agree that strategic distribution is incredibly important and often underestimated. 

  • I will continue to syndicate to aggregators as I see my fiduciary duty to my sellers is to sell their property in the best terms/conditions (not to put our self-interest first in that sending data to aggregators can be self-detrimental and defeating).

    However, I would like to respond to a couple of points above. Although Zillow may ‘invest massive resources in making our listings as accurate as possible’, it fails terribly. And to then turn around and to say that inaccuracies are due to ‘less than stellar feeds or no feeds at all’ shows lack of accountability. I get contacted by buyers interested in properties (not my own listings)
    they see on Zillow that subsequently have been sold, have been
    withdrawn, have expired, etc. on a continuous basis. Is it my fault your information is outdated? According to you, it is. If you have listings on your site, then make sure the information is accurate. Period. And in regards to “Most major media sites (including Zillow) have free models which pass buyer contacts to the listing agent”, from my own experience that’s not the case. Far from it. There’s no need to go into further detail on a comment but if you’d like to reiterate my comment, feel free to contact me and I’ll send specifics.

    Nonetheless, I see value in Zillow as it allows me to further market my listings, thereby providing further exposure to potential buyers. Albeit not everyone feels this way.

    • Hey Alex – Sara from Zillow here. I spend a lot of time thinking about syndication at Zillow, so always feel free to send ideas my way. But yes you are right in that
      we do post what we are sent in feeds. So if an agent doesn’t take something out
      of a feed, it could get posted. When we first started accepting feeds, we
      didn’t have any way to combat this, but in the last few months we’ve really
      tried to improve in this area. If the data isn’t current it doesn’t help
      anyone, consumers get frustrated and may not come back, and no one wants that.
      Here are a few examples of things we’ve implemented, with the first one having
      the biggest impact:

      1) If a listing comes out of a feed that is agent, broker or MLS sourced, it will be
      blocked from reappearing on the site from a third party aggregator. For
      example, if we get a listing from Listhub or Remax today and tomorrow it isn’t
      there, but it is in the Postlets feed – it will not republish to the site with
      this new source.

      2) We tried to assign a ‘quality score’ to every non broker/agent/mls feed based on things like listing data completeness and how old listings in their feed are.
      Then, based on this score, we will automatically expire listings that don’t
      change after X days in this feed. This expiration can range anywhere from 30 to
      180 days.

      3) We expanded our listing support team, so if you are having issues with something, you can reach them at listingsupport@zillow.com.
      They can also put permanent blocks on listings. For example, if you don’t know
      how to remove a listing from a particular feed, they can at least block it on
      our end.

      There are other things we are working on too, but wanted to illustrate that we are indeed doing our best to keep the database as true as possible.  Like I said, if you have other ideas on how to improve this, I’m all ears!  sarab@zillow.com

  • I wish “massive resources” were invested in accurate Zestimate data. Having to burst consumer bubbles about accurate value realities creates a disappointing experience for consumers and the real estate community.  

    If Zillow, or Trulia, or Realtor.com, or our company website went away, would the prospective buyer pool go away?  Or would they simply migrate to another site?  I don’t think that any seller/listing would suffer invisibility if the only web sites it showed up on was Brokerage websites.  All listings would be easily found by anyone, anywhere at any time, the only difference would be that all those millions of impressions (eye balls) would go exclusively to and “directly” benefit real estate brokerages and their agents. 

  • I think that Alex has nailed the main positives and potential concerns.

    The traffic is there, and listing agents would be foolish to avoid it.

    Accuracy is still an issue.  If we are going to syndicate as an industry, we need a standard data model. 

    We already have issues with MLS data accuracy.  It gets sloppier downstream.

  • I have to agree with you Spencer on Syndication’s importance. I market my properties on Zillow for my Seller’s and they receive traffic. This aids in selling their homes faster. The only concern that I have is for the home buyer with the Zestimate. My buyer’s agents are dealing with their clients wanting to offer low amounts on homes. The Zestimate tends to take the sold comps in the area and from what I can see is what they base the Zestimate on (please, correct me if I am wrong). Now, appraisers take other pieces into consideration when valuating a home. In our market homes are selling at between 88% and 92.7% of list price, which leads me to believe that agents in this market know how to price homes. Zillow regularly shows that these homes are listed too high and it confuses the consumer with what the offer price should be.

    The only negative that I see with this is that it undermines the Real Estate Professional, and makes the buyer question them. Aside from this, your article is spot on and I appreciate all of the other tools that Zillow has to offer. Thanks for the post!

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