The red herring of protecting listing data
It’s valuable, it’s important, and it’s something that a lot of folks are trying VERY hard to steal and misuse.”
So, I figured it would only be fair to start my editorial with something equally provocative:
It’s so common online that it’s a commodity of far less value than you’ve been led to believe.”
Before the comments fill up with angry missives, I want to be clear that I don’t condone scraping, I think it’s unprofessional and undignified, and I fully support Realtor.com’s efforts to prevent it. But I also don’t lose any sleep over it, and here’s why I think it’s a red herring.
Realtors used to be valuable because we were the gatekeepers to listing data. We knew what was for sale, how much it cost, and where you could find it. And the only way to get that information was to work with us. Perhaps you saw a name and number on a lawn sign, or a friend suggested their agent, or you just walked into a real estate office and chatted with the available floor agent.
In an era where all of the information we once so closely guarded is now available for anyone online 2/47 without having to talk to a Realtor, it’s easy to feel irrelevant. Our value hasn’t gone away, and I’d say our value has actually increased because of the incredible amount of data now available online. Where is the value in a Realtor?
The modern value of a Realtor
First: Making all of the data make sense
We can make sense of all of that data and put it in a meaningful context in a way that makes it easy for a particular client to understand. For an agent that actively tours in their market and engages daily with buyers, sellers, lenders, appraisers, and other real estate professionals it’s so easy that we sometimes don’t realize how valuable it is to take a huge amount of data and distill it to the relevant, essential and important information. This isn’t meant to sound patronizing to home buyers and sellers. They aren’t babies who need to be gently spoon-fed an easy to digest puree of real estate information. But home buyers and sellers have jobs, lives, families, children, pets, travel plans and hobbies – and they can’t put all of those things on pause to buy or sell a home.
Second: Real Estate will always be about People
It’s about people buying and selling homes. Yes, square footage matters. Yes, location matters. Yes, bedrooms, bathrooms, school-districts and plenty of other data points factor into the decision. Research1 has shown that the greater number of data points involved, the worse our conscious minds are at making the decision. It’s the ability to trust your gut, and have someone that you trust – an expert – to cross-check that feeling by being able to turn and say “I can’t put my finger on it, but I really think I like this home. What do you think?” Moments like that are when real estate is more about the people involved than the home itself. While I might ask Siri where to help me hide a dead body (just for fun and games, I assure you), I can’t envision the day when people are comfortable asking her if they should buy this home or that home. There are too many intangibles for a computer program to ever capture the quirky, bizarre, hard-to-describe but important details in buying a home.
Third: Websites only capture the easy data
Beds, bath, Square Feet, Date of Construction, Schools, etc. Those are the easy fields to capture, display, sort, and generally manipulate. But what about those items that are highly subjective, periodic or otherwise hard to easily classify and assign a value to? What’s light and airy to you may be a cave to me. What about the house next to the high school field used for band practice late into the evenings – but only during certain months of the year? Can you imagine the number of data fields it would take to capture every possible aspect of a home throughout a year? And if you can, see point two above.
Fourth: Negotiating and Navigating Escrow
Ever gone white water rafting without a guide? If you have, and you’re still alive to tell the tale, then you are both insane and lucky. It’s common sense to hire a guide when you are negotiating and navigating wilderness that is unknown to you – particularly when your day job involves sitting in a cubicle and wearing stylish shoes. Plunging into the river called escrow without a Real Estate agent to smartly negotiate and navigate on your behalf is inviting disaster. Real estate is filled with wildly unpredictable animals, well-camouflaged dead-ends, and false mirages – the cost of a simple mistake can be far greater than it originally appears. Just like the wilderness!
Realtors are more valuable when listing data is a commodity
So if Realtors are more valuable when listing data becomes a commodity, why the concern with scraping?
One: it makes it easy to misrepresent who the listing agent for a property is. If you are going to display my listing on your website (and depending on who you are, I might or might not be okay with that), at a minimum, I want credit as the listing agent. Not because I want to represent both sides of the transaction (double-popping/agent level dual agency) but because I worked hard to get that listing and my reputation online is incredibly valuable to my business.
Two: Accuracy. If I had a dollar for every phone call I got from clients looking on Trulia, Redfin, or Zillow asking about listings that are advertised as available but really aren’t available, I’d have a Benjamin and a few extra Lincolns in my wallet. And these are from some of the big players that work hard at keeping their data up-to-date.
Three: I’d prefer to make money from my hard work, thanks very much. Plenty of sites using scraped or syndicated data have business models that don’t rely at all on selling houses. Trulia, Zillow and even Realtor.com (and these aren’t even the scrapers) are in the advertising business, making money by selling advertisting on their sites regardless of if a particular home sells or not. They aren’t interested in selling homes, they are interested in generating page views and click-throughs. But to generate those page views, they need your listing data. Which they get without ever offering me or my broker a few dollars…
The continuing evolution
Listing data is on the internet, and it’s not going anywhere. How and where it is displayed, how it is protected (or not protected), and who controls it will continue to change and evolve. Realtor.com wants you to know they are obsessed with defeating the scrapers. But like I said, I think it’s a red herring and pretty far down on my list of concerns. What about you?