Spokane Journal of Business

Realtors debate on-line sharing

Spokane association task force studies issue after national affiliate blocks one proposal

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In the last year, John L. Scott Real Estates Internet site has gone from receiving about 1.6 million visits, or hits, a month to about 10 million hits, and that number still is increasing rapidly.

Now, Lennox Scott, president of the Bellevue, Wash.-based real estate agency with offices here, wants another number to increase rapidly: the number of homes in the companys Internet database.

To accomplish that, he has proposed an arrangement that would allow all real estate agencies here to share web-site listing data gathered by the Spokane Multiple Listing Service, regardless of which agency has listed a property.

If such an arrangement were approved, real estate firms would be able to add to their web sites all of the pictures and listing information from the Spokane Multiple Listing Services home page, making larger, searchable databases available on individual companies web sites.

Weve been doing this in the Puget Sound area for some time now, Scott says. The benefits of cooperation for this particular medium are huge.

The issue, however, is neither simple nor clear-cut.

The Spokane Association of Realtors has established a task force to review Internet issues, including whether agencies should be allowed to download MLS web pages, says Sabrina Jones, the associations president-elect and associate broker and sales manager at the Gregg Jones & Associates real estate firm here.

She says the MLS downloading issue first arose about six months ago, when another firm made a pitch similar to that made by Scott. Then, Jones says, the association changed its bylaws so that agencies could download pictures and listing information from the MLS under certain conditions: For each property, the downloading firm had to include the listing agents name, phone number, and the company for which the agent works.

The National Association of Realtors, however, rejected that bylaw change. It said that sharing information on listings without the listing brokers permission violated the national associations code of ethics. Jones says the Spokane group must stay in conformity with the national associations code of ethics to maintain errors and omissions insurance offered through the national association.

The decision at the national level sent the Spokane association back to the drawing board, she says.

Without being able to assure that a listing agent gets proper billing, Jones says she is unsure whether sharing data via the Internet is a good idea in Spokanes real estate market.

While companies like Gregg Jones & Associates would be able to afford to download information from the MLS, smaller concerns in the area couldnt spare the expense, she says.

In essence, this becomes a big company-small company issue, says Jones, whose firm employs 14 agents and is considered medium-sized here. The big companies are the ones who can afford the expensive software and would be able to download the MLS. To keep trade fair among the companies, they should give the (listing) company credit.

Agreements like the one proposed for Spokane have been implemented in Seattle and Portland, Scott says. When listing information appears on the John L. Scott Real Estate web page for homes in those areas, the listing company and area MLS are credited, although the listing agents name and phone number arent included.

Like Jones, Scott says that the issue pits big real estate firms vs. smaller ones. However, he lumps his agencya regional firm with 87 offices in Washington, Oregon, and Montanawith the local firms and describes national real estate franchise networks, such as Century 21 and Coldwell Banker, as the big guys.

Scott says sharing listings would make both the local agencies web sites and the regional agencies web sites more competitive.

Otherwise, the national sites will get our local buyers, Scott says.

Even if the Spokane Association of Realtors doesnt approve some sort of cooperative agreement, individual firms can make such agreements among themselves, although apparently none have done so yet.

Laraine Hunter, broker/manager at the Spokane office of John L. Scott Real Estate, says other real estate agencies have mixed feelings about sharing listings on web sites. She likens the issue to when real estate agencies first started sharing information through the MLS.

Any time you try to get someone in real estate to change and try to get them to share information, they have to think about it before they get into it, Hunter says.

Local web technologies

Regardless of views on sharing information on Internet sites, most real estate agents concede that the Internet is becoming a more powerful tool in the marketing and selling of real estate.

Jones, whose companys home page includes pictures and data on its own listings but doesnt offer instant-search capability for web users to look through the properties, says that her biggest sales the past two years originated from Internet inquiries. The Gregg Jones & Associates web site enables potential buyers to enter information about what they want in a property, and a Gregg Jones agent will e-mail them a list of properties that include those things.

Other local companies, Tomlinson Black Real Estate and Janek Co. among them, offer on-line searches of their listings, through which properties can be searched by type, price range, and area of the city.

With its investment in technology, John L. Scott Real Estate can offer audio descriptions of many properties and recently added The Property Link, a system of giving each property its own web page by adding a back slash and five digits unique to an individual property to the companys web address. The Property Link allows potential buyers to obtain information quickly, Scott says.

Scotts thoughts

John L. Scott Real Estate invests about $600,000 annually in its interactive marketing group, and Scott himself has been nominated for an Inman Innovator Award, which recognizes innovation in use of the Internet by U.S. real estate companies.

Scott says that, according to an in-house survey, about 33 percent of John L. Scott Real Estates buyers last year used the Internet at some point during the home-buying process.

He expects that number to increase to 50 percent by the year 2001 and 70 percent by 2003.

Use of the Internet generally matures the home-buying process, Scott says. He says that the home buyer who uses the Internet will choose a home in an average of one month, compared with an average of four months for the non-Internet-using home buyer.

With the Internet making home buyers more efficient, Scott predicts that the number of real estate agents nationwide will drop substantially in coming years.

Nationally, there will be 50,000 fewer real estate agents by 2001 and 150,000 fewer agents by 2003, Scott says.

This is the biggest quantum leap in marketing in my 22 years in the business, Scott says. Agents have to find out more about the Internet.

Linn  Parish
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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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