Watch out, Trulia and Zillow! Sandicor is coming!

From my inbox to you:

San Diego’s four Association of REALTORS® and Sandicor are excited to announce the release of a new consumer website! This website is designed to turn the consumer’s focus back to Brokers and Agents and away from third party sites such as Zillow and Trulia that rank among the top 20 websites in the category of San Diego real estate.

First, I will say that this is a step in the right direction. Everyone and their uncle have been displaying (read: monetizing) the data for consumer consumption for years – except the owner of the data, our MLS. So conceding that the ol’ cat is out of the bag and finally offering of a consumer-facing search portal is long overdue, the first step in a healthy 12-step program.

Here’s where they got it wrong.

This site can’t compete, at least not in its present form. It can’t be a category killer for two reasons: Data displayed is only a subset of homes for sale (San Diego County); and it lacks depth.

I’ll get to the former, subset, issue in a moment. Where the latter is concerned, this could be easily addressed if our MLS and local REALTOR® associations were willing. But are they?

As it stands, this site offers no more than any agent or broker site with an IDX (Internet Data Exchange) solution, mine included. So the consumer can search “unbiased, timely and comprehensive” MLS data on my site. Unless you provide something more, something different, this is neither a blockbuster opportunity for the customer nor is it a “tremendous benefit” to me. In fact, it will only serve to drive local traffic away from my site, as I am fairly sure my MLS will ultimately beat me in an SEO thumb war.

So, be different, and maybe over time this industry-sponsored offering will morph into something more robust. If all the consumer wanted was a list of homes for sale and a couple of links to school and chamber of commerce sites, I would be retired. What they want is the rest of the story, ala Redfin.  These are the things I would like to see because, heck, you can do it. The data is yours!

  • Property histories – Instead of showing just the CliffsNotes on active listings, show sale histories for these properties. Allow folks to search in all categories – active, pending, contingent and sold. Throw in the tax records if you dare; these are public records, after all. In short, lay it out there. Others are.
  • Agent information – Fine, so your members would tar and feather you if you even hinted at displaying their production numbers. And on the cusp of the Agent Scouting Reports debacle, we know that getting the numbers right is next to impossible. But, simply offering a search-by-name roster is meaningless and a waste of real estate on the site. How about at least showing “Member since…” next to the agents’ names? At a minimum, consumers would know how long an agent has been around these parts.
  • Statistics – Again, let me remind you that you’ve got the data. Use it! This has long been a beef of mine, the fact that I can’t use the MLS to compile any reasonable statistical analysis or download customized market trend information for my clients, at least not without a lot of sweat, time spent in the profanity zone, and spreadsheet gymnastics. So, I am left to go to third parties for the information, third parties who get the data from you, manipulate it, and sell it back to me. If one of your goals is truly to “Lead to a reduction in the fees paid by Brokers for participation in national third party sites,” then let’s start here. If you won’t do it for me, then do it for the customer.
  • Listing display – You can do better. For starters, include the agent “supplements.” Have you noticed how so many of the remarks say “See Supplement?” That is because the supplement is the place where we have the opportunity to spew a glorious 1896 characters describing the home. Think of the remarks as the headline and the supplement as the story. (This is admittedly a minor nit in the scheme of things, but it has long been my nit.)

There is more, of course, if I wanted to think that hard this morning. But I am going to stick with my story that this is a good idea poorly executed. And I will cut Sandicor and our associations some slack, given that this is (I hope) still in Beta.

My real agitation, or maybe discontent is a better word, is with the rhetoric in the big unveil I received.  As explained by Sandicor, these are some of the “benefits for brokers and agents” that will result:

Facilitate a consumer’s search for San Diego County real estate information and properties. Sorry to be the one to break the news, but they can already do this.

Allow the consumer to find an agent using a name, affiliated office or location. I don’t see a list of thousands of names absent any context being a big help to anyone.

Permit county-wide Open House searches. This is not new. Have you checked out Redfin lately?

Provide valuable Community Data. Just make sure it is more “valuable” than they can get on dozens of other (gasp) third party sites.

Provide links to helpful information such as Population Statistics, School Systems, and Government Resources. Been there, done that.

This is admittedly all minutia.  So there’s nothing new here. So what? Turning the MLS front-facing is an idea whose time long ago came.  But, these last two objectives suggest that either our leaders are seriously delusional or it is propaganda intended to sell the agents on the idea.

Lead to a reduction in the fees paid by Brokers for participation in national third party sites, and Drive traffic back to brokers and agents and away from third party sites like Trulia and Zillow.

Neither will happen. Don’t kid yourselves. The issue of incomplete data, incomplete in the sense that the site necessarily only displays San Diego County properties, is arguably the biggest reason why. That, and the fact that while you are running a local MLS, others are out there securing and spending venture capital and IPO-ing their way into the hearts and search boxes of the consumer on a national level and providing a richer consumer experience to boot.

I continue to hold that this was a great idea, but it is a great idea that should be implemented on a larger stage. It’s not Sandicor’s fault that they can’t. If my member organizations really wanted to “drive traffic back” and “lead to a reduction in fees,” the effort needs to start with NAR.

Remember Realtor.com? The official site of the National Association of Realtors? That’s where this play should be occurring — without charging agents for enhanced listings and side bar ads, without forcing me to pay an evil third-party site (my site) to redeem my listings and drive traffic back home.

Until that happens, all Sandicor’s consumer site will likely accomplish is to clip the wings of any member agents with a respectable digital footprint by effectively competing for local traffic.

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