From the Associated Press:
“The Justice Department gave a boost Tuesday to online real estate brokers â€” and potentially their clients â€” by forcing new industry policies that give Internet-based agents access to home listings they were previously denied.”
Supposedly, this was done to make the playing field level for smaller and/or online real estate brokerages. However, the opposite may occur.
The National Association of Realtors has allowed local associations to withhold listing information from online realtors whose mega sites tend to outperform local realtorsâ€™ sites in some search results. Search engine optimization specialists have been aware for years that the hyperoptimized real estate vertical is one of the most highly competitive search markets.
The consumer may or may not benefit from the settlement, considering that local realtors offer opportunities for face-to-face discussions that online forms and search tools simply cannot provide. The fact that local realtors have little to no search visibility in some critical search terms may imply that the Justice Department has in fact created an unfair business advantage for an already overwhelmingly powerful industry group.
Local realtors just donâ€™t have the resources to compete with the mega sites, and the U.S. Justice Departmentâ€™s lawsuit fails to take this imbalance of search positioning resources into consideration. From a search perspective, the Justice Departmentâ€™s action may have the exact opposite result of its original intent in that it may very well limit the competition. After all, most searchers will never look beyond the first ten results shown to them and major search engines have no incentive to show the best results for queries where they are already showing acceptable results.
On the surface, the NRA is being required to treat online brokers as if they are local brokers by granting them full access to local brokerage shared databases. The search engines already treat online brokers the same way, and the reviewing court might very well take the view that consumersâ€™ best interests are not being served well by restricting online brokersâ€™ access to data (which they apparently make little or no contribution to themselves).
It has been my perception for a while now that the ones that may have the “unfair advantage” may be the online real estate firm, well-funded, working with venture capital and well-versed in search engine optimization and online marketing. This ruling may give them even more of a leg-up and further erode the full-service bricks-and-mortar real estate brokerage.