Web search controversy erupts with NAR – Can Google index my listings?

In the last week, a major controversy has erupted between real estate agents and the National Association of Realtors. The Indianapolis Board of REALTORS has blocked one of the agents from allowing their IDX listing feed from being indexed by Google. You can read more about it on this post from Agent Genius.

What is an “IDX feed” and why does it matter to you as a home seller? IDX stands for “Internet Data eXchange”. It is the technology that real estate brokers use to distribute your listings to other brokers. If you list your property with Broker A, that broker lists your property in their local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) database. The MLS sends out your listings via IDX feed to all other brokers on the local MLS. This is why your listing instantly appears on websites for Broker B, Broker C, Broker D, etc.

The agent in Indianapolis had a website where IDX listing data was being displayed and was being indexed by Google and other search engines. If you searched on Google, any listing in the agent’s IDX feed was appearing in search results, along with details about each property.

The controversy erupted when the local Board of REALTORS categorized Google and other search engines as “web scrapers”. Web scrapers are sites that copy content from other websites in an attempt to generate web traffic and advertising revenues from content that is not their own. They claimed that Google was a “web scraper” and forced this agent to prevent Google from indexing data from the MLS feed.

It may seem like a small technical issue, but home sellers should care a lot about this. It is a policy decision in Indianapolis that will potentially have far-reaching effects nationally. When representing a seller, our primary job is to look out for the best interests of the seller and maximize the marketing exposure for their listings, ultimately reaching the most potential buyers. Search engines like Google are a primary mechanism that home buyers are using to search for information. As a listing agent, I want to make sure that homes reach the broadest possible audience. If this means appearing on my competitors website, of course that is OK. If this means that Google allows a buyer to find my listing on my competitors website, even better!

Brokers with the NAR have implemented this policy to “protect their MLS data”. The idea is that listing agents should be able to “control” their listing data and where it gets advertised. The primary motivation behind this is that they want the clients that a listing generates to come to them, not their competitors. They also want to hold back information from the web so that buyers are forced to call an agent for their “expertise”. This obviously runs counter to the best interests of sellers, which is to provide the maximum market exposure for their listings.

The world has changed and consumers expect to find what they need on the web. It seems that there are many real estate brokers and NAR members who are clinging to “pre-web” notions of their role as information keepers. It looked like the NAR was going to revise this policy at their mid-year meeting, but the issue was referred back to committee for further consideration in November. Here’s hoping that the NAR and its members come to their senses. Home sellers expect their listings to appear everywhere in today’s online world, and antiquated policies from the NAR should not prevent this from happening.