Re/Max Site to Show All U.S. Listings
The nation’s second-largest real estate brokerage is expected to announce today a plan to pool all U.S. residential property listings on its website, a move that would create a formidable national competitor to industry-backed Realtor.com.
The move by Re/Max International Inc. also could eventually help reduce consumers’ costs of buying and selling homes, as competition with other Web-based brokerages heats up.
Online real estate companies and consumer advocates have long complained about the real estate industry’s efforts to limit access to property listings on the Internet. They see it as an attempt to thwart competition from Web-based upstarts, which typically charge lower commissions or charge referral fees.
The issue has attracted the attention of federal antitrust officials, who have been investigating the online policy of the industry’s powerful trade group, the National Assn. of Realtors, which gives its members the right to withhold their listings from online brokerages.
But Re/Max, which has supported the trade group’s policy, will announce today that it will compete head-on with online companies and create a national database that would include any property listing, whether it is a Re/Max listing or not.
“It’s a very big positive for consumers,” said Steve Murray, an industry consultant and editor of the trade newsletter Real Trends. “With competition and with more choice, my bet is this will lead to more efficient pricing.”
Although Re/Max is not expected to formally lower its commissions, its decision could affect the fees that it and other traditional brokerages receive by giving more visibility to discounters’ listings.
But the step could also encourage more home shoppers to visit Re/Max’s website and hire its agents. Re/Max is a franchise network with 5,600 independently owned offices that operate in all 50 states.
Re/Max executives confirmed but declined to offer much information about the plan, which they expect to launch early next year. Details are to be unveiled today at the annual meeting of franchisees at the company’s headquarters in Greenwood Village, Colo.
Re/Max’s new plan could be seen as a salvo at Realtor.com, the national listings database owned by the National Assn. of Realtors. Realtor.com has been supported by the major brokerages, including Re/Max, since its inception nearly a decade ago. But many brokers have complained about a lack of control over the site.
Erin Campbell, a spokeswoman for Westlake Village-based Homestore Inc., which operates Realtor.com, declined to comment on Re/Max’s announcement, except to say that both companies “continue to be partners.”
Visitors to Re/Max’s website now are redirected to Realtor.com when they begin a property search. With the launch of its own search function, Re/Max will be able to hang on to those visitors and steer them to other Re/Max-controlled sites.
“This plays into the hands of those firms that have good brand names and are willing to spend the money on developing their sites,” consultant Murray said.
Re/Max wouldn’t be the first company to aggregate property listings, but it would be the biggest. This year Prudential Real Estate Affiliates Inc. signed a pact with Yahoo Inc. to provide nationwide property listings, and Web-based discount brokerages such as ZipRealty Inc. and Help-U-Sell have based their business models on providing free access to national listings on the Internet.
Industry sources said that Cendant Corp., the No. 1 U.S. real estate brokerage, with the Coldwell Banker, Century 21, ERA and Sotheby’s brands, is working on a similar national listings site.
What Re/Max is doing “is what many others of us have done for years,” said Patrick Lashinsky, ZipRealty’s vice president of marketing. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
He said that Re/Max’s plan “is an affirmation that the Internet plays a critical role in the consumer’s real estate experience.”
A majority of prospective home buyers today use the Internet to help narrow their search for properties before contacting an agent, according to the Realtors trade group’s studies.
Many real estate upstarts recognized this shift in consumer behavior early on and created business models to accommodate it. But many traditional, bricks-and-mortar brokerages were slow to capitalize on the changes and instead sought to limit the new companies’ access to listings by retaining control of them.