Industry release 18th June 2014
The challenge to our Industry’s online destiny
An article by Geoff Baldwin, Founding Chairman – CPREA
Over recent times I have observed the ever increasing industry discontent in regards to the current unpalatable online environment and the seemingly arrogant, almost bullying domination of REA.
The harsh truth is, as well meaning as it may be, no amount of verbiage on social media groups or other forums is going to assist in correcting this worsening situation. Only decisive, rational, tangible well-structured action can make a difference and that requires courage, dedication, commitment and vision.
Let’s consider the facts and some of the possibilities:
- The major player is a public company with a focus, like all similar entities, on shareholder profit. They have a right, or even obligation, to maximise profits and only us real estate people would see anything unusual or wrong in their actions. Our Industry would be much better served to pursue a sustainable alternative (or alternatives) than to attempt to slay the giant with verbal slingshots and baseless talk of bans that often walk dangerously close to collusion.
- It has been argued by many that agents should jump off REA and support the runner up, the site “that would be king”. Considering the alternative is owned by “the other” major media player in Australia I would suggest that really may not be the best move although I have nothing at all against Domain. Again they are a commercial entity trying to maximise profits.
- Then we have the websites of the state representative bodies, some of which are reasonably successful in their own regions but none of which have ever demonstrated that they can work together in a meaningful way to establish an effective national real estate portal. As a member of one of these bodies I consider it a disgraceful shame as collectively these bodies control around 70% of agent’s listings in Australia and have done for over a decade. Some would argue that www.realestateview.com.au is an attempt but really, it has been around for years and yet has never managed to gain any significant traction.
- Lastly we have a growing list of privately owned and controlled minnow portals each promoting themselves as “the answer”. But again, we must be vigilant and understand that should any of these portals gain significant traction to the point of becoming a threat to REA, the chequebooks are certain to be opened. In fact, a cynical mind would suggest that perhaps the owners of these portals look forward to the day when they will be bought out by the majors so alarms bells should ring before we empower any privately owned portal/s.
- There is also recent talk of the major groups banding together to establish a site and, as long as it is genuinely structured to allow direct agent shareholdings I believe there may well be room for such an initiative. It would be wonderful to see two or even three quality new sites so as to eliminate the current situation where one player dominates and controls pricing without genuine competition.
So, is there a solution?
The answer is YES and what’s more, it is in our own hands.
We (our industry) controls the data (listings) and hence we can control where those listings are promoted. This may seem like an obvious observation but it often seems that this is a fact we agents totally overlook.
The first thing we must do is forget about “taking on” the current major player/s, to do so will achieve little more than expend energy and, to some degree, release frustration. There is nothing wrong with the product they offer, it is more the spiralling prices and commercial arrogance that causes concern.
We must also drop the utopian idea that agents will all instantly stop competing and work together in supporting a new website while ceasing to support REA. History demonstrates that is simply never going to happen, however we can certainly achieve the goal of establishing and supporting a viable alternative without taking any radical steps that may negatively affect our businesses.
One thing is certain, we need to stop believing that any site or business, no matter how large, is beyond being challenged by a competitor. For example go back only a few years and Realtor.com was the dominant site across the US but today it’s a distant third to Trulia.com and Zillow.com.
For a new national portal to succeed at any significant level (ie: to be a viable alternative) it MUST have the following components:
- Majority shareholder owned by Industry participants (agents and people who work in our industry). Not through institutes, groups or third parties but through individual industry agents and employees directly owning shares.
- Ownership must NOT be dominated by any individuals, entities or groups.
- Individual shareholder ownership will ensure all agents whether they be an independent, franchisee or in a marketing group, will have equal representation.
- It must not be able to be sold out in the future to a commercial player.
- It must have strict guidelines around the advertising structure.
- It must be controlled by agents.
- Our Industry must support it.
None of the above are rocket science. The overall objective is very achievable but we also need to drop the cloud of suspicion, cynicism and self-interest that often hinders our ability to trust and to work together for the common good.
In summary, if we are serious about positively influencing our online destiny then I compel my fellow Industry members be prepared to cease the war of words and to take sensible steps towards supporting those who are focussed on achieving the above vision.
I encourage readers of this article and all agents to learn more about the www.ROOMEO.com.au project and to consider supporting it. It is the result of people, many years ago, recognising the inevitable challenges on the horizon and quietly setting to work to come up with a solution.