Are online real estate listings hurting you?

Posted: June 10, 2013 in National Real Estate News

The growth of websites featuring home listings, wildly popular among U.S. consumers, continues to stir debate on whether open access to that data is good or bad for the real estate market.

Open access means more exposure for listings, allowing consumers to make better decisions, proponents say. Opponents argue that erroneous property data tend to be shared through those sites, potentially harming consumers. Real estate brokerages and multiple listing services say they should be the only sources of property information.

Industry experts from both sides engaged in heated discussion Thursday on those topics at the National Association of Real Estate Editors conference, which runs until Saturday in Atlanta.

This discussion is not new. However, it has gotten more heated with the growing popularity of online real estate sites such as Zillow and Trulia as well as online-only brokerages. One San Diego brokerage grabbed headlines in 2012 after cutting off its listings access to Zillow and Trulia.

A key problem that has lingered on listings sites continues to be TMBI, or “too much bad information,” said John Heithaus, chief marketing officer of MRIS, the largest Multiple Listing Service system in the nation. It’s not uncommon for real estate listings sites to feature incorrect stats on properties. Agents have reported seeing problems such as wrong bedroom counts and listings being tagged as for sale when they actually have been sold.

Inaccuracies generally tend to happen because real estate sites pull listings from different sources. And sometimes those sources, including virtual home tours and magazines, could feature wrong data for properties.

Reps from Zillow and Trulia said they do their best to improve their data but offered no specifics. They shifted the debate Thursday to the importance of open information for consumers, who they say have become more savvy about the home-buying and home-selling process.

Trulia spokesman Ken Shuman said personalization, much like what Amazon and Netflix offer to users, is the next wave for online real estate listings. The company has a new feature that makes listing recommendations to users based on previous homes they liked. On the topic of open information, Shuman pointed out that Trulia users can also rate their experiences with real estate agents, much like people grade businesses on Yelp. Such a feature also is available at other real estate sites.

Heithaus, of MRIS, said many brokerages are hesitant about sharing their listing data because they want to be seen as the exclusive source. They’re also wary of agent and broker reviews, which tend to skew toward negative reviews. What’s missing, he said, is an independent website that rates agents nationwide, much like how Morningstar rates investments.

Errol Samuelson, representing, which pulls information only from MLS feeds, said the debate should focus on helping the consumer — buyers and sellers — because they ultimately are the ones who have to pay agents’ commissions.


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