Future of Listing Syndication Six Years After Birth

Volviendo / Coming Back...

Six years ago, Trulia started the new era of online real estate marketing by introducing listing syndication to brokers across the country. This unique type of listing syndication allowed listing brokers and agents to selectively market their own listings to a broader online audience and receive the related leads - typically for free.

What distinguishes Trulia from the thousands of IDX listing websites run by brokers, agents and various third-party sites is that the actual listing broker or agent is the originator and representative of the listing on Trulia.com

Now that listing syndication has become a mainstream practice and “syndication sites” like Trulia have grown to serve millions of users, an old question has raised its head again, namely: Is syndication good or bad for me as a real estate broker?

In many recent conversations with brokers and industry leaders, it is clear to me that some people are frustrated and concerned with the direction of listing syndication.

At Trulia, we have operated under a consistent set of principles specifically designed to balance the needs of the industry and consumers since 2005. Pete and I founded Trulia with a focused mission to revolutionize real estate search and empower individuals to make smarter decisions. Our key promise was the following:

  • For consumers: We want to create the most engaging consumer experience possible to help families through the big, emotional process of buying or selling a home
  • For the industry: We want to be your No.1 source of new clients and transactions by offering:
    • Free inclusion: We always accept agent and broker listing in our search index for free
    • Listing owner attribution: We always credit the actual listing broker and/or agent while allowing them to control the quality of their listing data
    • Free leads and clicks: Leads and clicks are sent to listing agent/broker from their listings
    • Option to upgrade: Listing owners and other advertising participants can, but are not obligated to, purchase upgrades to generate more leads from their advertising on Trulia
    • Freedom of choice and control: Listing owner can remove their listings from Trulia AND we will never send listings outside of Trulia’s control

The uncertainty around listing syndication that I’ve heard involves three concerns:

  • Am I getting value by sharing my listings?
  • Am I giving up control/quality of my data?
  • I don’t want other agent’s receiving leads from my listings.

What is the value from listing syndication?

Your listings now reach millions of unique prospective buyers for free on Trulia alone:

  • Over 10 million unique users to our site every month
  • 570 million total property views in 2010
  • Nearly 100 percent audience growth every year for the past five years with the first two weeks of 2011 indicating yet another 60 percent or more year-over-year growth
  • 72 percent of Trulia’s users plan to purchase a home in the next year
  • Three out of four Trulia users do not visit Realtor.com and Zillow

Access to this kind of audience for free is a pretty good arrangement that’s hard to find anywhere else. Instead of paying thousands of dollars to newspapers and other print media to distribute your listings or giving up half of your commission to another company, syndicating to sites like Trulia gives you practically free access to millions of active homebuyers. We think this is a pretty good deal. Not only do you get free access to these customers, but now you can track and measure the results of every media dollar. For instance, you can target your marketing towards specific ZIP codes or cities while tracking every lead until it becomes a completed transaction. No other medium - not even other online services - can do this.

Moreover, in most markets, you can buy a year of upgrades and premium advertising on Trulia for the price of a one-page ad in your local newspaper. I would argue that even a one page newspaper ad is still a waste of marketing money on a medium that doesn’t deliver the kind of return that online - especially those with listing syndication - can offer.

Consumers have clearly voted in favor of syndication sites based on their behavior. In addition to broker and agent websites, many want to conduct research on non-industry, consumer-facing sites. So from all the signs that I can see, I believe that the importance and value of listing syndication as a marketing activity for brokers and agents will only increase in the coming months and years.

How to ensure control over data and quality?

Industry leading brokers have started to move over to direct syndication and I predict this shift will become a widespread trend. Large brokers - those with their own internal IT capabilities - are eliminating middleware such as Threewide and Point2 because of the increased control and visibility that results from direct relationships with sites like Trulia.

While I predict listing syndication will grow in importance, I also believe that the number of “syndication sites” will go down dramatically in the next year or two. Many brokers initially endorsed the view of “syndicate everywhere” and sent their listings to 30 or more websites thinking “more is better,” but now I see the opposite happening for several reasons. Many of the smaller syndication sites simply have no value to deliver or they are faced with a high overhead trying to manage their broker relationships. For example, one of the larger online sites, Roost, recently pivoted its business model while many others are still struggling to keep the lights on without a large-scale audience. I think Brokers will continue this trend of “syndicate selectively” to a few sites so they can control their listing assets. I also believe they should apply selection criteria in choosing these sites based on what delivers the best value for their business, i.e., large audience, quality audience, control of your data.

How do I protect my leads?

Perhaps the loudest negative feedback we hear is about sites, including Trulia, that allow agents to receive leads on or near another broker’s or agent’s listing. On Trulia, this feature is called QuickConnect, which also allows consumers to connect with buyer agents. I can’t speak for other sites, but I want to clarify the Trulia approach and how we have remained true to our principles of delivering for both consumers and the industry.

The reason why we introduced QuickConnect is to ensure a great customer experience AND to provide more leads to agents. In addition to making it easy to connect with the listing agent, we want to make sure end users are getting a response from an agent (since nearly 70 percent of leads don’t get an agent response) and have the option to speak with a buyer agent. Plus, we also know that agents can never get enough leads.

Since we launched QuickConnect, leads to both listing agents and other agents have increased by 40 percent. In just about every market, leads have increased. In no case did leads to listing agents decrease as a result of QuickConnect.

Despite those results, we wanted to deliver on our principle of freedom and control, so we have provided two alternative options for listing brokers:

  • Option 1 is completely free: We work with the broker to ensure that all agents claim their listing on Trulia. This is an easy, one-time process. If an agent claims their listing, then we know they are more likely to respond to a customer’s request.When the listing is claimed, only the listing agent is offered as a default agent to contact.In these cases, potential customers typically only send messages to the listing agent.
  • Option 2 is a paid upgrade: Brokers can sign up for premium listings, which ensures that only the premium agent is featured on the premium listing with no QuickConnect feature.

Delighting both consumers and the industry can be a challenge, but creating and working hard to maintain this balance is what makes Trulia different from other sites.

Share your thoughts with us: Our Actions Are Driven By Your Feedback

Being customer obsessed is one of Trulia’s core values so I invite you to engage with us in an ongoing dialogue!  Tell us what you think - the good and the bad.

Trulia was the first among our peers to create advisory boards with brokers, franchisors and MLS’s that represent a mix of different sized companies. During these industry meetings, we openly discuss our product ideas and future plans so that we get your feedback on our designs, thoughts and innovation. We also gather customer feedback in our usability lab and via our hundreds of meetings with individual brokers that we conduct each year.

Join us in this dialogue and we’ll work side by side towards achieving mutual success. Georg and I will be reaching out to many of you in the coming months. Or drop us a line at georg@trulia.com or sami@trulia.com to share what’s on your mind.