Redfin to Zillow: Make these 6 changes to how you show our properties online

redfin-chart33Another day, another spat in the online real estate arena. Today, it’s Redfin, which has picked a fight with its next door neighbor Zillow.

The two Seattle companies have butted heads several times over the years. And, this time, it is over how Zillow displays property information from Redfin. In a nutshell, Redfin doesn’t think it is getting enough credit and exposure for its listings, including on mobile where it alleges that there’s no way to easily navigate to the primary Redfin listing.

In addition, Redfin says that its listings are hidden on the page

In a detailed letter sent by Redfin vice president of engineering Bridget Frey to Zillow CTO David Beitel, Frey notes:

Imagine if Google redisplayed most of Amazon’s product page, kept it up when Amazon took it down, and didn’t show the link to the original Amazon listing in an easy-to-find spot? That’s what’s happening in real estate today, where the directories have sometimes sought to become the sole destination. By making the requested changes, Zillow and the brokers can work together to give the consumer complete access to all the information about a home for sale.

Redfin spokeswoman Jani Strand told Inman, where the open letter was first posted, that they have no intentions at this time to pull their listings from Zillow. And she noted that they hope to work things out later this month.

Commenters on the online real estate news site have taken Redfin to task for the letter, with some calling it a publicity stunt and others suggesting that Redfin doesn’t follow the guidelines for brokers that it is demanding on Zillow.

Asked by GeekWire why Redfin chose to send a letter rather than meet in person privately, Strand said that they do plan to discuss the matter with their cross-town compatriot. Strand said:

We are going to meet with Zillow, but the issue affects thousands of brokers, not just Redfin; most of those brokers don’t have time to understand whether they are getting proper attribution from the portals for the homes they’ve carefully photographed and described. Rather than having a one-off negotiation, we’d rather have the portals change their policy for all brokers, so that consumers can see everything about every agent-listed home for sale. We heard from others in the industry that they have raised the issue before but there’s still a problem.

Glenn Kelman

Glenn Kelman

Redfin and Zillow operate two very different businesses. Redfin is a broker, which buys and sells homes on behalf of clients. Zillow, on the other hand, is a real estate portal with a large audience of nearly 70 million monthly visitors.

This isn’t the first time that Redfin has shot at Zillow, with CEO Glenn Kelman saying in a 2011 interview that media sites such as Zillow were gaining too much power at the expense of brokerages.

“I think we are at the crossroads where the media sites will enslave us, I know that is a colorful term, but if we outsource our brains to them, they are going to make all of the money, and we are going to do all of the work,” said Kelman.

Zillow offered this statement on the latest missive from Redfin:

“We have great partnerships with brokerages around the country, and regularly solicit their input and ideas. We’d be happy to discuss this with Redfin and Glenn (Kelman) directly. In fact, we’re just a couple blocks down the road, and could even meet him at our local Starbucks.”

Here’s the full letter:

Hi David,

We’re writing to ask you to change how Zillow displays Redfin listings so consumers can easily navigate from Zillow to Redfin for the complete record of that listing. This is important to consumers because the full Redfin listing often includes more than 100 locale-specific property details that a national portal like Zillow isn’t designed to accommodate. We’re also asking you to respect the local listing rules around privacy that we promised to honor when photographing and describing our clients’ homes.

We have six specific requests:

  • Link to the full Redfin listing from Zillow’s mobile website and mobile apps. Links currently appear only on Zillow’s desktop website, but two-thirds of Zillow’s visits come from a mobile device. On most Zillow visits, a consumer has no way to navigate from the Zillow posting to the full Redfin listing. The images below of Zillow’s mobile website and iPhone app illustrate the problem.
  • Link to the full Redfin listing in a way that search engines can understand. Each Redfin posting on Zillow.com has an attribution section that identifies Redfin as the broker and links to the full Redfin listing. Zillow renders this section using JavaScript code rather than the plain HTML used for every other important section of the page. The Google cache, which shows each listing as it appears to Google, verifies the result: The Redfin link and every mention of Redfin are hidden from Google. We’re asking Zillow.com to render the listing attribution in the same simple way as the rest of the listing, so consumers can find the full source listing via search engines.
  • Display the link to the full Redfin listing prominently, near the property photos. Today the link appears at the bottom of the page, where even a determined consumer is unlikely to find it: below the photos, the price estimate, the price graph, the aerial photo, the price history, the tax information, the school ratings, the mortgage estimate, and advertisements of other agents. The image below shows how far down the page the link appears.
  • Respect local privacy restrictions on listing photos and descriptions. Zillow now assumes ownership of all syndicated data about the listing in perpetuity, regardless of local listing rules designed to protect homeowners’ privacy and security. In markets where agents have a commitment to publish listing data only while a home is for sale, we ask that Zillow respect the same rules that we do: limiting public access to the photos and listing descriptions of off-market homes, without requiring the agent or homeowner to do this for each listing on each portal. If accommodating local listing rules is too hard for a national site, please just take Redfin listing data down seven days after a Redfin listing goes off-market.
  • When displaying Redfin-provided information about off-market properties, do not remove the attribution: In situations where you continue to display photos and other information about a Redfin listing no longer for sale, please continue to recognize the Redfin listing agent as the source of this information, with the appropriate link. Today, you remove the attribution section and listing-agent photo once the property sells, even though you continue to display all the other information provided by that agent.
  • Implement these changes across the Zillow network, including HotPads.com, Yahoo! Homes and other Zillow-powered sites.

We’re committed to creating an open market for consumers to see homes for sale. For such a market to work for the seller, the listing agent and consumers, anyone should easily be able to find the original, authoritative source of information on the full listing on the listing broker’s website.

We see a portal like Zillow as just that: a portal to data on other sites — a broad starting point for a consumer seeking general real estate information — not the only point, not an ending point. This model is well-established on the Internet. Google, for example, displays only a small snippet of information about a product being sold by Amazon, with a very prominent link to Amazon. Imagine if Google redisplayed most of Amazon’s product page, kept it up when Amazon took it down, and didn’t show the link to the original Amazon listing in an easy-to-find spot? That’s what’s happening in real estate today, where the directories have sometimes sought to become the sole destination. By making the requested changes, Zillow and the brokers can work together to give the consumer complete access to all the information about a home for sale.

We’re sending a similar request to other portal sites, and are publishing this as an open letter so that other brokers can easily make similar requests. Our hope is that these requests will lead to a change in how all portal sites handle broker listings, but our immediate priority is for Zillow to change how it handles Redfin listings.

For your reference, here’s an example of a Redfin listing, and how Zillow represents it. We’d love to talk with you further about these requests and look forward to hearing from you in the next two weeks.  

Best,

Bridget Frey

Redfin vice president of engineering

  • Kevin McCarthy

    Yeah, I’m sure a public letter will get a better response than walking a few blocks and having a meeting with a real person.