Homebuyers could soon benefit from a new listing portal with all the online bells and whistles they’ve come to expect — but with better service on the ground. The new search engine, Nestfully, will offer up-to-the-moment pricing information, plus the ability to search based on your individual needs.
You’ll be able to schedule showings, obtain information on recent sales and, most importantly, link up with the agent who listed the property for sale. The site will offer a “differentiated search experience” based on how people actually search for homes, the company claims. Users will have the ability to apply any number of filters: price, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, acreage, garage size — even places with a swimming pool.
If it takes hold, the portal holds great promise for consumers. But it is also a major step forward for local realty professionals who want to regain control of their listings. To date, agents have all but subjugated themselves to nationwide syndicators that publish listings as their own, even though they take their data directly from local multiple listing services.
These so-called aggregators sometimes allow other agents to purchase prominent ads on listings they did not create and of which they have no direct knowledge. In many cases, the other agent’s name and contact information is placed above the listing agent’s, even though the listing agent knows far more about the property. Unsuspecting consumers often contact the agent whose name is displayed first, under the impression that they are the listing agent.
Nestfully, on the other hand, will operate under the agent-friendly philosophy of, “It’s your listing; it’s your lead.” As such, it will adhere to fair display guidelines, posting only the listing agent’s name and contact information above all others.
Another aspect of the new portal that should help it gain traction is that the leads it generates will be provided to agents at no extra cost, “saving them millions” in referral fees they now pay Zillow, Realtor.com and others, per the company . Some agents reportedly pay as much as 40% of their commissions to these sites. One way or another, that cost is almost always shifted to the seller.
Perhaps the listing agent won’t work as hard to market the property as they otherwise would, for example, or maybe they will refuse to negotiate a lower commission. Aggregators charge agents and brokers all sorts of fees. And to maintain profitability in the face of a slower housing market, “they are getting more and more greedy,” says industry consultant Marilyn Wilson. “There’s always some angle, and the consumer always ends up paying for it.”
Especially a nuisance to the real estate community is a referral fee that aggregators charge if someone buys a house they find on their site. According to a study by the WAV Group, where Wilson is a managing partner, consumers are largely unaware of referral dollars taken by third-party portals.
“There is little, if any, consumer transparency that initial connections with ‘agents’ are often not with the listing agent, the one with the most listing information,” the WAV Group’s research found. “Instead, it is an inside salesperson from a third-party portal or an agent paying a large percentage of their commission to a referring company.” In contrast, Nestfully vows that leads will be provided to brokerages at no cost.
Nestfully is a collaboration between three of the country’s largest and most influential multiple listing services: the California Regional MLS, REcolorado and Bright MLS. Together, these three have some 240,000 agents and cover parts (or all) of eight states and the District of Columbia. Last year, their collective agent and broker subscribers had annual sales of more than $280 billion.
An unnamed “dozen or so” other multiple listing services — of the 600-plus throughout the country — have expressed interest in joining Nestfully, according to a Bright MLS spokesperson.
For Nestfully to succeed, though, it must capture the attention of homebuyers who have grown accustomed to pulling up Zillow and Realtor.com to look for houses. Previous attempts by others have not fared well. One, Homesnap, was purchased by CoStar, a commercial real estate site. CoStar now also owns Homes.com and is in talks to purchase Move Inc., the Murdoch media company that owns Realtor.com. CoStar is said to have big plans for the residential market, but has yet to make a big splash.
Getting in front of consumers could be a tall, expensive order for Nestfully, and it could take years to change the habits of either consumers or realty pros. After all, Zillow and Realtor.com, which is the official listing site of the National Association of Realtors, didn’t become the behemoths they were overnight.
Officials from the three collaborating MLSs are not ready to discuss the pending rollout of Nestfully or their marketing plans going forward. But a Bright MLS spokesperson believes the portal will have plenty of lift. “We understand the importance of gaining consumer mindshare and we will drive our marketing efforts accordingly,” he said in an email. “We also have the advantage of our member agents recommending Nestfully to their clients.”
Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at [email protected].