In the new world of online listings, more exposure is not always better.

That’s the sentiment of some Realtors who are balking at a recent announcement by – operator of the National Association of Realtors’ Web site, – that it is entering into an exclusive alliance with the country’s leading Internet service provider.

For local Realtors, that news, released earlier this month, has overshadowed foreboding reports from that the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division has asked the company for information about its business.

Instead of taking a lower profile after learning of the Justice Department’s request, instead heralded deals that would further cement its role as the premier online real estate listing provider.

On May 2, CEO Stuart Wolff sent a letter to real estate professionals explaining a five-year strategic alliance it had entered into with America Online the day before. Under the terms of the agreement, will become the exclusive national provider of professional home and moving services on AOL and other brands owned by AOL, including CompuServe, Netscape Netcenter and Digital City.

Homestore is also planning to develop a home-related channel on AOL.

This alliance means that AOL’s 24 million users will be viewing your homes more often. In the last six months we have significantly increased our traffic, and this will further propel us in continuing to widen our traffic and content lead, Wolff wrote. This new alliance with AOL promises to reach to untold new heights.

What does all this mean for brokers, agents and associations? It means unprecedented access to the largest online audience in the world, he continued.

The potential marketing and exposure bonanza isn’t sitting well with everyone, however.

There is some concern about the AOL deal, said Kathleen E. Condon, president and CEO of MLS-Property Information Network, Massachusetts’ largest MLS that lists some 80 percent of all properties for sale in the state. MLS-PIN has a Gold Alliance with, which offers the MLS stock options in exchange for being the exclusive Internet partner for the MLS.

Some offices welcome the additional exposure, Condon said, but not all.

We have certain offices that only want [their listings] on and not on AOL, she said. While she would not say which specific agencies expressed concern over the widescale availability of the listing, she confirmed that the offices carry mostly higher-end listings that traditionally are marketed to only a small segment of the homebuying population. The fact that those listings will now appear en masse on AOL has angered agents in those offices, she said.

But it’s not only the boutique agencies offering luxury homes that are up in arms. Affiliates of some of the largest companies are also crying foul, Condon said.

Some of the larger franchises have their own Web sites, Condon said, adding that those companies would rather see Internet-surfing homebuyers clicking on their own sites. They don’t want them just staying on AOL, she said.

‘Powerful Alliance’
John H. Peckham III, executive director of the Real Estate CyberSpace Society, said regardless of how the larger companies feel about the alliance, it’s something they inevitably have to deal with.

Right now, the power is in creating strategic alliances. That’s more important than money, he said, and [the partnership] is a powerful alliance.

It’s something the major real estate companies are going to have to consider as they define and refine their Internet strategy, he continued. They have to understand that where there’s a threat, there’s opportunity, and they have to react appropriately.

In addition to reacting to the AOL partnership, Condon said MLS-PIN, and likely other listing services, are leery of another Homestore announcement made two days after the AOL alliance was announced. On May 3, Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based announced it has acquired Silicon Valley, Calif.-based WyldFyre Technologies, a leading developer of technology solutions for real estate professionals to looking to gather MLS information via the Internet.

WyldFyre’s existing products are used by more than 100,000 real estate professionals in the United States, Canada and Australia, and in more than 200 real estate associations located throughout North America, according to a statement from Among its clients is the Property Information Network, which uses the software for its MLS.

Now they’ve purchased our software vendor, Condon said of the acquisition. We want to know what’s their intention in the long run. Could they take now take the control of the MLS entirely out of our own hands and just put it on the Internet?

These are concerns we need to discuss with Homestore representatives, she continued.

Peckham said Homestore’s acquisition of the MLS software company should be looked at more closely than the AOL partnership. That might be an area of concern for the MLSs, he said. This is the first news [concerning] where my eyebrows raised a bit.

Condon said she and other officials plan to meet with representatives at during a technology conference hosted by the National Association of Realtors in Washington, D.C., later this month.

We do have a number of a participants who don’t want the Gold Alliance anymore, Condon said. Our agreement expires in January of 2001, and I’m sure we’ll be seriously looking at whether to continue to list with exclusively.

No DOJ Panic
What hasn’t raised much concern at all, unlike the WyldFyre and AOL announcements, is the DOJ antitrust inquiry into’s Gold Alliances and other relationships that have allowed it to attain its status of having the most listings on the Web.

The government has not alleged any violation of the law, and the company believes it has complied with all laws and regulations, said in a statement. intends to fully cooperate with the DOJ’s request.

I haven’t heard any discussion at all about it, said Fred Meyer, 2000 president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. It’s been a very busy spring selling season, and I think most Realtors have had far more pressing things to worry about than Homestore’s trouble.

Meyer said because and have been so successful, the DOJ is duty bound to investigate to find out whether the sites have become so successful through good business practices or through coercion, though I have yet to hear of any instances of coercion.

There’s no reason to panic in any way over this, he said. This is what happens in the course of any successful business. Meyer added I make no claim of knowing all the facts of the case, however.

Condon said she also has heard no concerns voiced about the DOJ inquiry in her office.

It sounds like what they tried to do with the old MLSs, said Jay Burnham, an associate vice president of DeWolfe Real Estate based in Beverly who runs his own Web site. is just like a national-level MLS. He added that he has not heard of any concern over the inquiry.

Peckham said of the inquiry: It’s a great tribute to the fact that NAR, and have done a heck of a job building the most powerful database of listings in the world. When you soar like an eagle, people are going take a shot at you.

A year ago, hadn’t won the war of who was the biggest, but that’s quite clear now, he said. This DOJ exploration is just the last nail in the coffin as to determining who is number one. But you always worry a little bit when the government is breathing down your back.

Peckham added that the inquiry hasn’t stirred much attention in Internet chat rooms either. It hasn’t taken up the bandwidth that the ‘I Love You’ virus has taken up so far.

Realtors Wary of Homestore-AOL Alliance

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 5 min