It’s no secret that Realtor.com has lost its mojo over the past 5 years due to Zillow, Trulia, their lack of vision and other market and industry factors. The result is a majority of the Realtor community seeing little to no value in their site, and has little interest in its success. The only value for REALTOR members comes from paying extra money to showcase their listings or advertise on the site. With traffic being half of Zillow, that value has only been decreasing. I surveyed some of our associates over the past few weeks on how many leads they receive from Realtor.com. They all said pretty much none. Only when I talked to a few agents who showcase their listings, did they say they received any leads. That is the crux of the problem with Realtor.com and all of the third party listing portals. Realtors are tired of giving their listing data to portals for free and receiving basically nothing in return for it. All while these sites make tons of advertising money off their hard work and their listings. But Realtor.com is now under new ownership, new management, and has little influence from NAR. They have an incredible opportunity in front of them to change the entire portal game if they listen to the Realtor community, and the next generation of buyers and sellers. But first, they need to recognize the chess pieces on the board, and make strategic moves to win the hearts and minds of the Realtor membership. More importantly, they need to even the playing field with their competition.

Here are the current pieces on the board:

  • Realtors find little value in Realtor.com unless they pay high advertising costs for basic things that should be free. Create value immediately for all members and the Realtor community will notice. They are dying to have a national portal they can rally behind and call their own. What better than the one with their name on it?
  • I don’t know many Realtors who actually want to provide their data to Zillow and Trulia. Unfortunately, when they control the majority of buyer/seller eyeballs, Realtors don’t really have a choice. You go where the buyers are, and you put a seller’s home on the most effective marketing sites. There is an enormous opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the members, when they’re being forced to do things they don’t want to do. Without listing data, these sites will fail. Everyone knows this, and it’s even stated in their S-1 filings with the SEC.
  • Zillow/Trulia make a large portion of their revenue by selling Pro accounts and zip code placement to agents who want to show up on competitors listing. For years now, brokers have been paying these companies to feature their listings to ensure their agents are the only ones showing up on the property details page and receive all buyer inquiries – which limits advertising revenue. Obviously, that’s exactly what Zillow and Trulia doesn’t want. They will continue to raise their prices until brokers can no longer afford to do it, freeing up more opportunities to sell advertising to individual agents. This direction, that they are already taking, will eventually cause even more contentious relationships between Zillow/Trulia, brokers and franchises. Brokers will be looking for any opportunity to remove their data without agent or consumer recourse. This is another chance for Realtor.com to go a completely different direction.
  • With NAR now having little ownership interest in Realtor.com, the membership will look at the site as just another portal, and if that portal does not become more Realtor friendly, members will eventually see it in the same bucket as Zillow and Trulia. In many cases, we’re already there as stated in the next bullet point.
  • Brokers are starting to band together to create their own national portal to compete with Zillow, Trulia, and now even Realtor.com, making it more obvious that they are desperate for change and do not like the current business or advertising models being offered by the portals. Realtor.com has an opportunity to stop this momentum if they become broker and agent centric. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. The only way for Realtor.com to win is to listen to their customers, and play their own game, not their competitors.

Here is how they need to move the pieces:

  • Spend the next three months traveling around the country meeting with agents and brokerages of all sizes – especially the ones behind the new national broker portal. Hold focus groups and town halls. Listen to what the members don’t like about all of the listing portals. Learn what their frustrations are about their local MLS’s. Find out what they don’t like about Realtor.com. Test advertising ideas and where they will be open to spending money. Show them you genuinely care about their feedback and take extensive notes. Recap the meetings to the members so they see you are paying attention and listening to them.
  • Hiring two executives to create better relationships with local associations and MLS’s is admirable, but will solve little. Unfortunately, most Realtors are not heavily involved in their local associations, so their influence is minimal. Hire executives for broker and agent relations. Their job needs to be all about fighting for the Realtor members in product development, rollouts, etc. Membership perspective should have influence and the members want to see it. They need to see that someone is on their side.
  • Showcase all listings immediately. Make the competitors business models even more contentious. Put the pressure on them. Send all buyer inquiries directly to the listing agent. Display the listing agent’s photo, contact information, social media links, brokerage information, and make it extremely Realtor friendly. Advertise these benefits extensively to the Realtor membership. Sure, Realtors will need to pay for additional products and advertising opportunities, but not when it comes to inquiries on their own. Let’s not forget that this is also in the seller’s best interest. Nobody knows more about that listing than the seller’s agent. Listings are the primary reason why consumers’ come to a real estate site. Without listings, the website is useless. Watch how fast the Realtor community will start to rally around the site if everyone was receiving benefits immediately. Watch how fast they will consider pulling their data from other sites that don’t follow suit. Start sending them their leads exclusively, and you’ll get their attention. When Realtor.com begins to provide them actual value, people will notice.
  • Provide the traffic data on every listing back to the agent and the brokerage. Give it to them in different formats and make it easy for the members to provide this information to the seller in traffic reports.
  • Put a home value estimation tool on the site. Make it extremely Realtor friendly – in other words, make sure the consumer understands that it is an automated tool. It’s just a starting point. Show a percentage range of expected accuracy. Ask the consumer to create an account on Realtor.com to anonymously receive an actual CMA from a local Realtor to help balance the automated valuation. Realtors can pay for this service to receive seller leads and make it exclusive for the agent. Realtors need to be the focal point of home valuations, so give the consumer an estimate and follow it up with a real CMA. Consumers want it and it needs to be provided. By giving them actual CMA’s, Realtors increase their value.

There are 50 different products that Realtor.com could build to replace the advertising revenue received from showcased listings, but their first goal needs to be making the site Realtor friendly. If Realtor.com creates value for every Realtor and gives them the essentials they should be receiving already, the industry will rally around the site. They’re dying to have a portal to call their own. If they love the site and see true benefit, they will gladly pay to advertise for upgraded features and will become interested and willing to only provide their listings to sites offering these benefits. Control who has the listings, and you control the game.

Checkmate.