The Real Estate Board of New York will adopt a widely used web marketing tool that makes it easier for consumers to search listings from multiple brokers on a single brokerage’s website.
Following the integration of the Internet Data Exchange, or IDX, potential renters and buyers will no longer have to go through a registration process to access listings provided through REBNY’s RLS data platform, the trade group said Thursday. IDX is already woven into multiple listings services operated by other real estate associations around the country.
“It’s going to benefit the consumer, because it’s an easier way to search for real estate,” Steven Goldschmidt, co-chair of the RLS board of directors and senior vice president at Warburg Realty, told The Real Deal. “Anything that makes it easier for consumers to search for real estate benefits us.”
Consumers can already search all of REBNY’s listings on a single virtual office website, or VOW, which are run by brokerages. But users have to set up an account and sign in to see listings on VOWs.
Industry insiders say asking consumers to provide email and other contact information can create a barrier.
“In this day and age, the consumer is used to getting information when they want it, where they want it,” said Paul Purcell, managing director at William Raveis New York City.
Allowing the general public to skip that step brings REBNY’s RLS system in line with Zillow and StreetEasy, which do not require users to log in to browse listings. Purcell said the absence of IDX in New York City’s real estate industry gave StreetEasy a great opportunity to come in and create a user-friendly product, which eventually drew traffic from brokerage websites.
“We got entrenched in our business models and something else came along and shifted the way the consumer, our target, does business,” Purcell said.
Kathy Braddock, Purcell’s fellow managing director at William Raveis, also cited the rise of StreetEasy, which was bought by Zillow last year for $50 million, as the key factor in REBNY’s decision to adopt IDX.
“I think REBNY has been forced to do this basically because of StreetEasy,” said Braddock. “The VOW didn’t work. It was handcuffing the consumer. We all know the consumer doesn’t want to register.”
Asked to respond to StreetEasy’s influence on the move, Goldschmidt wrote via email, “IDX in NYC is the direct result of REBNY RLS’s long term efforts to provide the latest in technology to the real estate industry in ways that ultimately benefit the consumer.”
Brokerages and startups in New York City began launching VOWs following a 2008 settlement between the Department of Justice and the National Association of Realtors. The agreement required local real estate organizations such as REBNY to give VOWs access to the same data available to traditional brick-and-mortar brokerages.
Since consumers sign in when they use VOWs, the companies operating them are able to monitor their search patterns, The Real Deal previously reported. Allowing anonymous browsing with IDX would presumably make it harder to contact users or glean information on their activity.
Braddock said the loss of market intelligence afforded by VOWs is not a concern in New York.
“I don’t think it really matters, because you know what they’re searching for. They’re searching for whatever’s selling,” said Braddock.
REBNY expects to fully integrate IDX into its RLS in the fourth quarter.
The IDX system gives brokerages more flexibility than VOWs, which automatically display all of REBNY’s RLS listings. It will be up to firms and their agents to decide whether they want to share listings with the IDX system. Those that do will have the option, but are not required, to display on their website search tools that let consumers browse listings in the IDX.
It’s not certain whether big firms will sign on or take a wait-and-see attitude, said Purcell, noting that New York’s real estate industry is relatively slow to adopt change.
That said, he thinks adopting IDX will only help brokerages, as he believes it has in other parts of the country. While it’s true that consumers now typically start the search for a home online, he said, they still turn to brokers for expertise and context.
“The business fundamentally is still a one-on-one business,” said Purcell. “This is still an emotional process that needs more than a [website] registration.”