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Fight erupts over online real estate listings -- Page 2

You hear a snort of derision when you run that argument past Lashinsky of ZipRealty. "What privacy is that?" he says, explaining that even if a broker opts out, the listing will show up on Realtor.com, which is partly owned by the association.

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Sellers give several reasons for not wanting their listings displayed online, says Diane Saatchi, senior vice president of the Long Island, N.Y., office of the Corcoran Group, a traditional broker: The property might be in poor condition and pictures would turn off potential buyers, the seller might want to keep the sale and price quiet because of estate or divorce issues, or there might be conflicts with neighbors.

These issues arise fairly frequently, Saatchi says, for example "in cases where the house was left to one sibling, and the other siblings are really annoyed that they don't have a say in it. The sibling who sells it doesn't want the others to know." She knows of a case where next-door neighbors thought the asking price was too low, so they tried to undermine the sale by encouraging their dogs to bark while the house was being shown.

And, she says, some sellers simply want privacy because that's the way they are. The National Association of Realtors' hands are tied, she says: Brokers and agents have a duty to follow their clients' instructions, and if that means excessive privacy, so be it.

Threat to Internet brokers
Privacy isn't the issue, say executives with Internet brokerages: If just a few brick-and-mortar brokers bar listings from appearing on competitors' Web sites, home seekers won't see the point in searching for homes online. Buyers will want to look for houses the old-fashioned way: by having their agents search the MLS database. That removes the cost advantage of Internet brokers -- indeed, it removes their reason for existence.

Cook says few MLS listings are withheld from Web sites, and that for-sale-by-owner properties are a larger part of the market, "and the Justice case doesn't address that at all."

Internet brokers acknowledge that the withholding of listings isn't a big deal when you look at the nation as a whole, but they point out that the 850 local MLSs cover discrete geographical areas. Some of them have a high withholding rate. In Chicago, Lashinsky says, an estimated 65 percent of MLS-listed properties are withheld from Web sites. An executive with another Internet company says Cleveland and Des Moines have high percentages of opt-outs, too.

"It comes down to control of information," says Manuel Iraola, chief executive of Homekeys, a do-it-yourself real estate Web site based in Miami. "Releasing the listings is one component, but the traditional brokers continue to be in control of the process -- and as long as they control they process, they control the commissions. And that is not in the best interests of consumers."

Traditional commission structure
The Justice Department says the Realtors' Web policies are largely about protecting commissions, and so does Colby Sambrotto, chief operating officer of ForSaleByOwner.com, a no-commission online marketplace based in New York City. "It's not in the best interest of the consumer," he says, echoing Iraola's theme. "It's about protecting the traditional commission structure, which I think is doomed."

Others have said that it's not just about commissions, but about survival of traditional brokerages and of the local MLSs. On the surface, at least, it doesn't appear to be a battle over what's best for buyers and sellers.

"What you want is maximum exposure to your property," Iraola says. "So why restrict it to a few people?"

 
 
-- Posted: Sept.15, 2005
   

 

 
 

 

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