Search Engines, Aggregators: Alleged IP Theft Prompts Agencies To Pull Real Estate Listings

House-for-Sale-The Wall Street Journal and other publishers are not the only content producers to put up a wall between their content and aggregators pulling information from their Web sites.

San Diego, Calif.-based Abbott Realty Group (ARG) recently took steps to prevent aggregators like, Trulia, and Zillow, as well as Yahoo Real Estate, from pulling in and posting real estate listings, according to the group's President and Managing Broker Jim Abbott. Google discontinued the real estate market feature on Google Maps February 2011, but still offers the tool.

In the video, Abbott calls the sites "slick advertising platforms" that often use "fear and peer pressure" to get agents to sign long-term contracts for lead-generation services. Numbers are not verified, which presents problems for an industry that is regulated by the government.

Abbott said these sites act as middlemen, posting valuable listing data alongside the contact information of other agents and brokers renting ad space on their Web site without permission to drive paid-search and display ad sales.

In San Diego, these companies often post between 30,000 and 40,000 more homes than the number that are actually for sale. They are mispriced or no longer on the market, and make it difficult to find the listing agent on a specific property. Abbott also claims that aggregators steal intellectual property and personal client data, such as addresses and property status, which often ends up on Craigslist.  

"We are certain that the hundreds of thousands of hits on our own listing during the sample period did not cause buyers to view the homes, nor produce quicker sales or better outcomes for our clients," he said. "These sites represent a failed approach to property marketing, and one that frustrates home buyers, hurts home sellers, and brings little value to the brokers and agents who own the listings."

Abbott believes aggregators have slowed the "recovery of the housing market" by inflating the number of available homes on the market. He wants to make it clear that ARG does not shun new ways to sell properties, but demands that marketing plans produce tangible results, not meaningless hits in cyberspace.

4 comments about "Search Engines, Aggregators: Alleged IP Theft Prompts Agencies To Pull Real Estate Listings".
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  1. Dave Kohl from First In Promotions, January 30, 2012 at 3:02 p.m.

    There are two sides to this story, which seems to only have covered one side. The story fails to point out how often (or seldom) some of the "other" sites update their listings and information. For example, my understanding is that Yahoo updates every week.

    In addition, I have seen numerous instances where the content of a listing ad on a "national" site has differences compared to what is posted on a realty office web page or site.

    This story does not reflect that point of view.

    Furthermore, I can't believe that Mr. Abbott (who I do not know and to the best of my knowledge has not previously been a client) has the nerve to be publicly quoted that these other sites have "slowed the recovery of the housing market". He can't really think that if a potential buyer who has to enter specific criteria to search for homes in locations where his office has listings will give up if the one listing they look at is no longer available.

    Having personally created more than 12,000 individual property ads during my 23 years of real estate related marketing and advertising duties, I can easily show him examples of how many realty firms do not even inspect ads they have directly placed within a variety of media and distribution sources.

    All this while the very realty associations his office and its agents belong to continue to publish negative statistics about the current local housing markets. He should be asking his association people how reporting that (for example) "Local home sales were down 4.8% last month compared with a year ago" is a help to local sales.

    But, sure, Mr. Abbott can go ahead and blame other web sites which, so far, have been promoting information his people have created without his office or agents having to pay for it.

  2. Chris Nielsen from Domain Incubation, January 30, 2012 at 3:59 p.m.

    My first thought was "What a bonehead!". Because real estate listings are "ads" and the more people that see them, the better to market the listings. Once those (current) listings are removed, the sellers may expect less people will find THEIR homes and rather find others that are still be listed.

    Since the listings normally say who the listing agent or company is, outdated listings still have a chance to attract buyers. The buyer may be disappointed, but most should look around to see what else the site has to offer. I know that's what I do.

    But perhaps the content in the old listings doesn't really help anyone but the site they are still being published on, and people click on ads for other real estate companies. Well maybe ARG needs to also be an advertiser in that game. If they are, but pull their own listings; are they getting an advantage or just limiting their own brand awareness...? I'm not sure.

    I guess the real test is to see how their action seems to affect their company's sales. I don't see how it can help them in the long run, but then I am just an Internet Consultant and not a real estate executive. I wonder if this was his idea or the advice of someone else? :-)

    Ok, I watched his video and many of his complaints could be explained or countered. The actual listing agent's information can be found on the page, but there could be some confusion about paid listings. Talk to the site owner to reduce the confusion. And while their may be inaccurate information, most of it comes from the MLS, so why not clean up the MLS and not blame the messengers...?

    As a seller I would not be too confidant of any company that would limit advertising options. In the end, they will be able to confirm they did the right thing, or come crawling back and bet sites to list them again. Remember that real estate listings are not just "content' but ADS. The real estate companies are paid by the sellers if the home sells. If listing sites help the agent sell the property(currently hard to confirm or disprove) shouldn't the company pay the listing site??? :-)

  3. sara bonert from zillow, January 30, 2012 at 5:34 p.m.

    Sara from Zillow here. Obviously I am not in agreement with Mr. Abbott's position and as a Seller would want my home on these large websites. I take issue with the misinformation stated about Zillow and the other companies in the video. It is free for ARG's listings to appear on the sites and (on Zillow at least) it is free for the agent's to get their due exposure as the person representing the home.

    As far as data accuracy, I'm not sure where he got his numbers as they sound very off to me. I can tell you all of the site mentioned update every listing feed they get at least once a day (@dave kohl - even Yahoo, as Zillow powers their listings). One reason why there may be more listings on Zillow than on sites like his, is that we also published other types of listings such as For Sale By Owner, REOs, Auctions, and New Construction - listing types not always found in a MLS.

    At the end of the day though, regardless of the internal issues the industry has about the idea of syndicating, it is really about what the Sellers and Buyers. I can't imagine any Seller thinking that limiting advertising and exposure is a good thing, especially to the huge audience these sites offer.

    (I left further comments on the YouTube video itself, if you want to see the inaccuracies I am talking about.)

  4. Laurie Sullivan from lauriesullivan, January 30, 2012 at 6:04 p.m.

    Thanks Dave, Chris, and Sara, for taking the time to comment. I think this is an important topic.

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