In what might be the quickest flip-flop decision since enraged customers forced Bank of America to rethink its ATM fees in 2011, RealtyTrac has rescinded its just-announced decision to include some objectionable community information in its listing data.
In early March 2014, RealtyTrac announced it had begun enhancing its roughly 108 million listings with community information such as the location of hazardous chemical spills, drug lab locations and the whereabouts of sex offenders in neighborhoods, among other unconventional information. It also had future plans to include more hot-button items such as racial composition of neighborhoods.
Some Realtors and real estate investors vehemently protested the move from the very beginning and worried over the potential backlash and harm to existing and future listings’ days on market. Some argued the validity of adding such information to listing data on a real estate site, even though most of the information is readily available to the public elsewhere on the internet. Some other critics of the initial move stated they saw this reversal coming, given how damaging the information could be to real estate sellers.
RealtyTrac acquired the data in 2012 when it purchased Homefacts.com. At that time, RealtyTrac’s CEO, Jamie Moyle expressed concern for the consumer (homebuyers), citing legal and ethical considerations for the disclosure of information relevant to buyers. It seems now RealtyTrac executives may be less concerned with consumer protection than it is fearful of the backlash by Multiple Listing Services (MLS's) and other interest groups nationwide.
To explain the quick change of heart, RealtyTrac says they made the decision to remove the data out of sensitivity to MLS’s, some of which have rules prohibiting displaying listings next to non-MLS data if listings are sourced from an MLS data exchange (IDX feed). RealtyTrac may have also been in jeopardy of breaching the rules of some of the MLS’s with which it partners.
According to RealtyTrac Vice President Darren Blomquist, “I think we realized that this was important to some of the MLS’s out there — that the [MLS] data be clearly separated from the local, the hyperlocal data,” He added that the decision was “the most responsible way to handle the data” and “was respectful of all stakeholders.”
Some speculate that the move may have also been prompted by an inquiry from the Northern Nevada Regional MLS (NNRMLS) from which RealtyTrac receives listings through an IDX feed. Reportedly, the NNRMLS made an inquiry immediately following RealtyTrac’s decision to add the information, but both RealtyTrac’s Vice President Blomquist and the spokesperson for the NNRMLS, CEO Shellie Specchio, says their inquiry was unrelated to the decision.
Nor did RealtyTrac stop with just removing the new data; they have also stopped displaying some of its old information along with the most recently added data. Information such as school ratings, crime rates and unemployment rates once found on the site are now no longer available.
Although the information has been removed from the site, consumers will still be able to access the information by clicking on an icon which will lead to that same data on another portal.
The public may never learn of RealtyTrac’s real motivation behind the decision to remove the information. Nevertheless, sellers everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief.
Tell us what you think of RealtyTrac’s new decision. Are you surprised by the quick reversal? Were you for or against having the information added to listings?