I predicted last fall that there would be 100,000 web sites with VOW capabilities by the end of 2010. I rarely make predictions, because I hate to be wrong. Fortunately, I made this prediction with a high degree of confidence, and I’m prepared to claim that we are halfway there based on one company: ListingBook. Here’s my argument.
ListingBook describes itself as an
MLS-wide online service that connects agents and their clients through an integrated platform of client management, sales productivity and direct marketing tools…. An Intelligent Virtual Assistant working 24/7 for agents.
I describe ListingBook as a portal to which an agent can give access for her clients/customers to view very rich listing data (often much more than is available in IDX); a portal that provides the agent a number of customer relationship management (CRM) tools to track what her customers/clients do on the site, including tracking what listings they have looked at, etc.
ListingBook is also a VOW: If you are a real estate broker displaying another broker’s listings on your own web site, you’re either breaking the law and violating MLS rules or you are doing one of the following three things:
- Getting express permission from each listing broker (this is possible, but a little unlikely);
- Displaying listings pursuant to MLS’s IDX program (hundreds of thousands of brokers and agents are doing this now; OR
- Displaying listings pursuant to MLS’s VOW rules.
To my knowledge, ListingBook does not go around asking listing brokers to display their listings; and the ListingBook portal displays more data than IDX permits (at least in some markets); so I’m pretty sure it functions as a VOW.
ListingBook delivers a VOW/portal to each agent in the MLS free of charge through a contract with the MLS, and agents can pay to buy-up to ListingBook’s premium or “B2C” services to have a custom-branded site (the link goes to an example).
I asked Ira Luntz, ListingBook’s Executive VP/COO, how many VOWs/portals ListingBook currently operates. As of a week or so ago, Ira says the company has a “reach” of 420,000 agents (total of agents who have access to free portals/sites because their MLSs have signed with ListingBook), and 52,000 “active agents” (those who actually do use the free portals regularly). Right now, Ira estimates 25% of active agents have purchased B2C services. The company anticipates that 120,000 agents will be “active agents” and 40% will purchase B2C services by the end of 2009 – that would be 48,000 B2C sites!
Each free agent portal provides for brokerage relationships with consumers; and those agents can link into the free portal from their other web sites, so I’m going to claim each agent portal as a web site with VOW capabilities. And if Ira’s right, ListingBook alone will be providing more than the 100,000 sites that I predicted by the end of this year, one year early!
But there is more: ListingBook is probably the market leader in providing VOW capabilities now. But some agents who use it are bound to look for alternatives – they’ll want tools that do the portal thing in slightly different ways, meeting the highly idiosyncratic needs that agents exhibit. ListingBook’s existence and success in propagating VOW portals will lead to more competitors in the space. Remember that the VOW policy permits agents to have VOWs (Section I.1.b) and permits agents and brokers to work with multiple AVPs (Section II.7). There is no reason for agents not to have multiple VOWs, especially as other AVPs may follow ListingBook’s lead and make them free.
I set out in this post to assuage my insecurities by claiming much of my prediction has already come true. But I’m left asking whether my original prediction was such an underestimate as to be considered a miss anyway.
So how many portals/sites with VOW capabilities will there be?
(Disclosure: In case anyone wants to know, I don’t have any relationship with ListingBook, but I have negotiated contracts with them for some MLS clients, and like most folks who have been in the industry for a few years, I know Ira Luntz. I’ve used the ListingBook portal in the Minneapolis market; I liked using it, but I have not compared it with other VOW/CRM portals. I don’t endorse or recommend this product or any other product, for that matter.)