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San Diego real estate agent Jim Abbott

The battle over online real estate listings is starting to heat up again. Jim Abbott, president of the Abbott Realty Group and a 20-year real estate veteran in San Diego, recently announced plans to pull listings from Trulia, Realtor.com, Zillow and other online real estate sites. In a YouTube video announcing the plan (posted below), Abbott offers some colorful and damning language about the practices of these companies. The remarks have once again sparked a debate on the role real estate agents play in 2012, and how listing services play a role.

“All listing syndicators have one thing in common: They act as middlemen and post our valuable listing data alongside the contact information of other agents and brokers who rent ad space on their sites,” Abbott said in the video. “Usually, they do this with(out) our permission, while claiming that exposure of our listings in any way on the Internet is a good thing. Time and results prove that it is absolutely not.”

He adds that neither the home buyer nor the home seller is “remotely well served by listing syndicators.” And he goes on to call Trulia, Zillow and Realtor.com “slick advertising platforms” which use “fear and peer pressure” to sign costly long-term contracts for lead generation services.

Abbott’s comments go a step further than remarks that Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman made last October in which he said media sites such as Trulia and Zillow would “enslave” real estate brokerages if the brokers didn’t find ways to innovate.

Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff

Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff is now jumping into the fray, posting a detailed commentary about listings syndication on the company’s blog. Rascoff’s point is that the real estate business has changed, allowing brokerages to “strategically” post their listings in the most effective (and biggest) channels.

“Strategic Distribution is an important part of a broker’s marketing strategy. It is very important for brokers to put their listings where buyers will find them — this is critical for agent recruitment and retention, and to help sell clients’ houses,” he writes. “It is for these reasons that nearly every major brokerage in the country has chosen to put their listings onto Zillow.”

Rascoff’s remarks were backed up by Jay Thompson who writes under the blog “The Phoenix Real Estate Guy.”

Interestingly, the debate is similar to what occurred in the travel business (a sector Zillow executives know very well given their Expedia roots) where airlines debated whether it made sense to have airfares posted on sites such as Kayak, Orbitz and Expedia. (To this day, airlines such as Southwest have chosen not to play ball with the “syndicators.”)

Here are Abbott’s remarks in which he sounds off on a number of topics, claiming that the online real estate services are engaged in theft of intellectual property and force home shoppers to sift through thousands of “bogus postings” and redundant advertising.”

“We demand … that any marketing plan produce tangible results, not meaningless hits in cyberspace,” he says.

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