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By Kristian Alekov | Broker in Naples, FL

On Big Real Estate Sites, Study Finds Gaps in Listings

On Big Real Estate Sites, Study Finds Gaps in Listings

By NICK WINGFIELD
A house for sale in Los Angeles.Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press A house for sale in Los Angeles.

For some time, executives at Redfin, an online real estate brokerage firm, grumbled to themselves that better-known real estate sites like Zillow and Trulia didn’t have all the property listings that Redfin and other sites had. So Glenn Kelman, the chief executive of Redfin, finally set out to prove it.

A study underwritten by Redfin to be released on Wednesday seeks to compare the comprehensiveness and accuracy of real estate listings on five sites, Zillow, Trulia, Redfin and the sites of two regional real estate brokerage firms, Windermere and Long & Foster. The study, conducted by a real estate consulting firm called the WAV Group, looked at a sample of 6,401 home listings in 33 ZIP codes from 11 metropolitan areas in the United States. It found that Redfin, Long & Foster and Windermere all had 100 percent of the agent-listed homes for sale, while Trulia had 81 percent and Zillow had 79 percent.

The study also found that 36 percent of the agent-listed properties shown as active listings on Zillow and and 37 percent of those on Trulia were no longer for sale on the local multiple listing service, or MLS, the local associations around the country through which agents share their property listings. The study said that 0.1 percent of the listings on Redfin and 1.7 percent of the listings on Windermere’s site were no longer for sale. All of Long & Foster’s listings mirrored their status in the local MLS.

O.B. Jacobi, the president of Windermere, a big real estate brokerage firm in the Pacific Northwest, said consumers should be aware that local real estate Web sites provide the most complete view of properties for sale. “If I’m doing the largest purchase of my life, I want to see everything,” Mr. Jacobi said.

Zillow and Trulia do not dispute that their listings have some gaps and inaccuracies, though they dispute some of the particulars of the Redfin study. There’s a simple reason they don’t have everything their rivals do: neither of them belongs to the local MLSes, which provide the most complete sets of agent-listed properties.

That’s because Zillow and Trulia are not real estate brokerage firms. Rather than making money by selling properties, the companies sell advertising and other services that allow agents to reach home shoppers and buyers through their sites. They have both built up big online audiences by packing their sites with a variety of information services, including real-time estimates of the value of properties.

Because Zillow and Trulia have such big audiences, they have been able to form relationships with many local real estate brokers like Windermere, which provide electronic feeds of all their listings. The problem with that approach, said Redfin’s Mr. Kelman, is that there are a lot of small real estate firms because the barriers are relatively low for entering the real estate businesses.

“Most of those mom-and-pop brokers don’t upload their listings” to sites like Zillow and Trulia, Mr. Kelman said.

Sometimes agents that do provide feeds to the sites don’t take listings down quickly when the properties sell, Mr. Kelman said. Although Redfin is an Internet start-up firm, it employs brokers, so it gets access to MLS listings.

Ken Shuman, a spokesman for Trulia, said the company had a dedicated team that was forming stronger relationships with brokers around the country to improve the completeness and accuracy of its real estate data. Mr. Shuman estimated that Trulia had about 90 percent of the property listings in the United States at any given time.

Cynthia Nowak, a spokeswoman for Zillow, said it was making a similar effort. “We’re always looking to improve accuracy,” she said.

“There is no gold standard for listings data, so comparing Zillow’s MLS-only listings to an MLS isn’t going to give you the whole picture. For example, Zillow has hundreds of thousands of rental, for-sale-by-owner, new construction and foreclosure listings, which often aren’t listed on an MLS,” she said.

“In addition to these listings, home shoppers visit Zillow for deep information on all homes, Zestimates, price cuts and community and historical home data, all of which typically can’t be found on a brokerage site,” she said.


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