1000watt Blog

Writings about real estate, branding, marketing, media and technology from the principals of 1000watt.

The long, slow demise of listing search

Something struck me when I watched Zillow’s new television ad last week. Let’s rewind and cue it up…

Fade from black. A mother and her elementary school-aged son are sitting on the couch looking at their iPad. Cut to close-up of Zillow app. She draws on the app with her a finger and highlights a neighborhood she’s interested in.

The ad’s hip emo track got me a little sentimental, yes, but it also brought to mind this old military saying:

Generals are always preparing to fight the last war.

I’m beginning to think that brokers and agents might as well give up on IDX and listing search for their websites. That war is over.

Teresa Boardman, in a recent column for Inman, picks up on the same vibe, but she’s coming at it from a different angle:

“When they were introduced, IDX listings were a big deal, because they allowed brokers and agents to display not just their own listings but all of the listings represented by brokers participating in IDX in their market.

But the buyers who contact me today have already started looking for homes for sale on the Internet, and they rarely need my help finding homes. Some get into my car clutching a piece of paper that has the logo of the largest real estate company in these parts on it.”

Bottom line, visitors to her website aren’t coming for the search experience she offers.

My take is this: Listing search activity is moving almost exclusively to apps.

The latest numbers I hear from the portal folks I’ve spoken with is their mobile traffic is ticking upwards of 30%. Zillow claims over 50%. The trend line is clear and it makes sense. It’s much more comfortable to surf for property on an iPad on the couch than to crowd around a dusty desktop in the corner. It’s much more relevant to pull up listing details on a smartphone while in the car, than to “log on” to a website at home.

Messy, complicated, expensive and uncomfortable

The uncomfortable fact though, is that many agents and brokers cannot compete in this app-dominated world.

I believe we’re really moving to a place where listing search will be the domain of the big real estate brands and the technology players in the space. They’re the ones with the resources, know-how and dollars to invest in building these tools.

Tangentially, this reality is what makes a program like Move’s white-labelled Realtor.com app such a brilliant strategic move.

So, rather than focus on listing search, which, as Teresa points out, has become a commodity, brokers and agents may be better off shifting their digital efforts to what they can do better than any of the big national players.

Local content is an obvious candidate.

I could be wrong with the hypothesis that the app is the future of listing search, but the fact that we had lines around the block around the world for the launch of a five-year old phone, that sales of iPads are absolutely crushing PC shipments quarter after quarter, and that there are 1.3 million Android activations every day, paints a pretty clear picture.

I think it’s time to look up and start fighting the battle at hand. Think differently about your website. Focus on what you as an agent or broker are uniquely positioned to win.

[Disclosure: Move, Inc. is a 1000watt client]

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19 Responses to “The long, slow demise of listing search”

  1. Ryan Hartman says:

    IDX/Listing Search as a lead generation tool has been dying (arguably dead) for a while… No doubt more search is happening via apps and mobile — but this isn’t a good reason to focus on having an app focused on delivering local content.

    Instead, folks should be thinking Landing/Squeeze Page that offers local content in exchange for an email address (or a social hook up)… with more locally focused content being delivered via email/social follow up.

    But maybe this isn’t really about lead generation?

  2. Don Stewart says:

    Agree – “Focus on what you as an agent or broker are positioned to win”.

    When agents sell their experience, local expertise, and outstanding client satisfaction they are helping a prospective client make a good decision. They are bringing value.

    We are more than a face and a phone number beside a listing.

  3. Bob Wilson says:

    This is nonsense. Theresa uses her failure to capture leads as the reason why IDX is dead. Maybe she just doesnt have one that converts traffic to leads.

    Tiger Leads, BoomTown, et al can’t carve up enough territories to provide for the demand of an IDX that converts. If it didnt work, agents and brokers wouldnt be paying 4 figures a month to generate the business they do from IDX based leads.

    A site I originally developed in San Diego generates business all day long. IDX alone will account for 150+ buyer side transactions.

    Its easy to make generic claims like this that cant you back up, but it is also irresponsible.

  4. David Pylyp says:

    Very pleased with my VOW Virtual Office Website running with ALL the listings that are available on the Toronto Real Estate Board.

    With a Mobilized SITE http://HomeswestToronto.tumblr.com/mobile buyers will be able to search prices and exteriors “live time” during their drive through the neighbourhood and property searches.

    I look forward to buyers who are clutching their pre qualified lists of potential properties for sale. I think it empowers consumers who are informed.

    David Pylyp
    Living in Toronto

  5. Karri Flatla says:

    I say this so often I feel like I’m beating a dead horse … but if Realtors’s keep clinging to the idea that listing search/MLS=justification for commission, then, well, so will their client base. And rightly so.

    My job isn’t to open doors and stick signs in the ground. It’s to help homeowners/buyers navigate the biggest transaction(s) of their lives with peace of mind and a positive result.

    Don is right. You can’t win the race “against” technology … so leverage it!

  6. Virginia Hepp says:

    People are looking for information on the neighborhood, lifestyle, amenities – pictures, maps, and nearby places. The big guys are getting better at presenting the whole story. Agents need to step up their game. Unless you have a lot of referrals, a huge sphere …

  7. Bruce Lemieux says:

    An RE site without listings isn’t much use to a home buyer.

    Zillow is heavily promoting their mobile apps, but I don’t think that “listing search activity is moving almost exclusively to apps.” If that were the case, I would expect to see this migration reflected in my google analytics stats.

    Also, I wonder how ‘mobile’ breaks-down between phone vs tablet/ipad? Regular browser-based sites often look great and are completely functional on tablets. So on a tablet, a browser is the app, isn’t it? Hard to imagine buyers doing heavy analysis on a phone — too hard to do on such a small screen.

  8. Michelle Poccia says:

    Brilliant piece. Agents, brokers, associations, all need to look further into the future. Technology changes at a pace that I am afraid is just too swift for an industry known for moving at a snail’s pace. Many just simple will not grasp what you are speaking about…”what does this mean that people are using “apps” to do a search for a home?”
    Your opening point about your thoughts after viewing the Zillow commercial…”Generals are always preparing to fight the last war.”…well, I must confess, I had not been having those deep thoughts…until after reading this!
    You are SO right.
    Zillow even had me applauding their commercial!
    They are strategizing and going deep with their bold moves…and they have me “clapping my hands and cheering them on!”…man, they are clever, aren’t they?
    Hey, I think I hear what you are saying.
    They can set up the apps, provide the info, attract the eyeballs…on a HUGE national level.
    I need to focus on “local content”.
    I need to learn how to feed off their success…
    I can use them as “bait” can’t I?
    You are SO right about the IDX search not being the main concern for us little guys.
    There is nothing that says that we cannot be “the General” of our own turf…driving local content…more in depth knowledge of these real estate offerings…like, what is that area really like? what does the neighborhood look like? what is available in that area?
    Thanks for making me think!

  9. Andrea Geller says:

    On Monday I attended a non- real estate mobile marketing conference where I was reminded often this industry is focusing on yesterday’s news.

    Large corporations presented their strategies including Walgreens, Encyclopedia Britannica, ESPN, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Anhusher Busch and Best Buy. The only one from the real state world was Apartments.com. In front of the a room of about 150 people he clearly stated “Zillow is killing us with their iPhone app for rentals”. He went on to show the impact on their business of having a “bad” mobile app.

    And FYI, other take away from the day: Apps are the next thing to become obsolete as mobile speed increases. Corporations are looking forward to developing mobile browser formatted sites for their content.

    To make it easy for all of us, I ask my clients to add my email address in their app of choice and then they can just email what they are interested in. For the most part they are spending their time on Z, T and R. Although I do send them listings, they are always looking. Rather than fighting them on it, I just make sure to include myself in their process. Not so concerned where they find the property.

    As a real estate professional what I do is work with them to turn a listing into their “home”. More often than not, it is the property that I find for them that they never would have looked at unless I took them there because it did not fit the criteria they thought they wanted and didn’t come up in their search or they passed over.

  10. Colin Storm says:

    I think you are absolutely correct. And I think you would have been correct if you said this a year ago, or maybe even two years ago, even before mobile had exploded the way it has.

    Certainly some agents (mostly agent teams) have done well generating leads via IDX. However, most of those success stories can probably be tracked back to other content as the pull. Though I could be wrong.

    For me, at the beginning (which for me was 4 or 5 years ago) I bought an IDX solution not because I thought I was going to take over the internet, but because I thought I should have listings on my site. Now, however, I keep my IDX subscription almost exclusively to generate content around.

    I will do a post about a location and tack on an “oh by the way, here are the available listings nearby”. Or I’ll do a “catch of the day” for listings that are new that week OR have been on the market for a long time and might be a missed opportunity.

    Anyway, I have thought for a long time now that seeing my IDX function as a competitive element would be a huge mistake and waste of time. For the most part, I don’t know that too many people actually use Google to get to listings all that much compared to saying “ooo, I wonder what that house is selling for” and just opening their Redfin app.

    To jaw on a little more: I do have a mobile aspect to my IDX solution (Diverse Solutions), but if someone elects to use that tool 99% of the time it will be because they are already working with me.

  11. Todd Carpenter says:

    I think IDX search is sort of like a mobile phone. It’s a vital tool, but not one that necessarily sets them apart from their competition.

    On another note, the most interesting thing about working at Trulia is when I tell friends and family where I work, the most common acknowledgment that they are familier with the company is, “Oh yeah, I have your app.”

  12. Jackie Berg says:

    I don’t think you’re wrong in your app hypothesis. Given the intensity of the search experience and unpredictability the buyer faces, vigilant tablet-armed buyers are often the winners.

    I have to echo what Virginia is saying. We’ve gotten better as an industry at listings UX but the physical property is one page of the story. Allowing people to search by commute time, draw their own polygons over search areas, and get the birds eye of what their neighborhood is like are just a few things that come to mind to deliver the right experience.

    Creating continuity is important too. If I’m browsing for homes at work, shouldn’t I be able to pick up where I left off on my tablet when I get home? Focusing on the right experiential pieces is key.

  13. Lori Turoff says:

    I have a nice agent site with the usual IDX. I have another site without any listings which thoroughly describes and analyzes nothing but the local real estate market. Guess which one brings me 99% of my business?

    Buyers can, and do get listings from anywhere. They go to whichever app or site is easiest for them to use. Buyers can’t get my experience, knowledge and guidance anywhere. My efforts are spent communicating to them why they should bring those listings to me when they are ready to find a home.

  14. Sam DeBord says:

    Wish I had seen this when it was new. Great final thoughts. Lots of contradictions, though. Focusing on local is a good idea. Giving up on IDX is a terrible one:

    “I’m beginning to think that brokers and agents might as well give up on IDX and listing search for their websites. That war is over.”

    Yet, your following support was an example of Leslie’s clients using a competitor’s IDX site (a broker site).

    “My take is this: Listing search activity is moving almost exclusively to apps. The latest numbers I hear from the portal folks I’ve spoken with is their mobile traffic is ticking upwards of 30%. Zillow claims over 50%”

    …the data comes solely from 2 portals. There’s no way to analyze the statement based on those facts, except that 30% to 50% means mobile is an overall minority of search.

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