Should Home Buyers Search on Broker Websites?

No. Home buyers needn’t bother searching on brokers’ websites because they will either have incomplete data, listings and/or be onerous to access (i.e. registration required).

Furthermore, even the most expensive, custom built agent website will be hard pressed to compete against the monolithic 3rd party listings aggregators like Zillow and StreetEasy that completely dominate the home search market.

Difference between IDX vs VOW websites

IDX and VOW are both viable methods for brokers to display listings data from their local MLS (REBNY RLS for NYC) on their websites. They are different largely in that IDX won’t have a complete selection of listings, whereas VOW will have a complete selection of listings but requires consumers to register before seeing much data.

What is IDX?

IDX stands for Internet Data Exchange, and consists of the rules, licenses and technologies that allow agents to display MLS data on their own websites.

A website displaying IDX listings is easy to access, and buyers are able to freely search without needing to register or give out any personal information to do so.

IDX is built on the concept of reciprocity between brokers. Meaning if a broker opts into the IDX program, then that broker will be able to display the listings of every other broker who has opted in, and every other broker who has opted in will be able to display that broker’s listings.

Unfortunately for IDX, many brokers do not opt in, usually because they don’t feel the need to allow other brokers to display their listings.

No, neither IDX nor VOX agent websites can compete with 3rd party listings aggregators like Zillow or StreetEasy, and for good reason as we'll explain.

Usually these are brokers with their own website development teams who think they can do a better job on their own, or perhaps because they already control a large amount of market share, and do not feel like helping their potential competitors by giving them a more complete, easy to apply IDX feed.

What is VOW?

VOW stands for Virtual Office Website, and is a more comprehensive listings feed that brokers can add to their websites. It will have listings from all member firms, and may have more comprehensive data such as sold listings, expired listings, de-listed listings, days on market, price changes etc.

How much additional data that is available with a VOW feed vs a IDX feed will vary by MLS, and many MLS associations these days provide pretty much the same data via IDX as they do via VOW.

The downside of VOW of course is ease of use for the consumer. Listings pages with VOW data typically require consumers to register and provide some amount of personal information before being allowed to see much of anything.

As you can imagine, this can be a major deterrent for home buyers who simply do not wish to register for yet another website.

Pro Tip: The DOJ Anti-Trust Division investigated the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in the early 2000’s and eventually sued the NAR in 2005 for anti-competitive practices regarding the fair dissemination of VOW data.

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Which brokers don't participate in IDX in NYC?

Per the Real Estate Board of New York, the following member firms don’t participate in IDX as of April 29, 2020:

  1. CORE Group Marketing LLC

  2. DG Neary Realty

  3. Douglas Elliman Real Estate

  4. Fouros Lauren

  5. Krug & Company Realty LLC

  6. McIntosh Company

  7. Newell & Associates Ltd.

  8. P S Burnham Inc


  10. Sotheby’s International Realty

  11. Weisbord Jeffrey D

This means buyers will not be able to see listings from these firms when searching on a broker’s website that utilizes an IDX feed to display listings.

This can be problematic as several of the firms are rather large and well known, especially Douglas Elliman which consistently ranks as either the first or second biggest real estate brokerage in New York City.

While not as large, CORE and Sotheby’s also have a reasonably sized presence in NYC, and the lack of their listings in any IDX website makes any search experience on said website rather incomprehensive.

Can broker websites compete with StreetEasy or Zillow?

No. The sad truth is that template websites or even custom built agent websites can never compete with purpose built, publicly traded, 3rd party listings aggregators like StreetEasy and Zillow.

These behemoths completely dominate their respective markets, have multi-million dollar marketing and development budgets and most importantly years of impossible to replicate historical listings data.

For example, one of the reasons why StreetEasy is so useful for the NYC market is because it has so much historical building data for condos and co-ops, i.e. sold listings, de-listed listings, publicly recorded sale prices etc.

And because it receives its data directly from brokers without having to abide by REBNY rules, it is not bound by any rules on how it can display its data, unlike brokers using a VOW feed.

By default, this means a broker’s website can never compete with a 3rd party listings portal like StreetEasy that has all the same data and more.

StreetEasy will not only be able to provide better and more useful data, but broker websites will have only incomplete solutions for consumers, either:

(1) An IDX website with listings missing from any broker that doesn’t participate, as well as incomplete data on the listings that are presented (i.e. no sales history, past history etc.)

(2) A VOW website with all current listings, but onerous requirements for consumers to register before being able to view anything meaningful. Furthermore, VOW data will almost certainly be inferior to what a site like StreetEasy will be able to provide in terms of historical data, past listings, public records etc.

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Where should home buyers search for listings?

Use StreetEasy for New York City

As much as we hate to say it, given the exorbitant fees charged to brokers by this portal and its monopolistic pricing power, StreetEasy remains the best option for consumers searching for rentals and sales listings in NYC.

This is especially the case given that the equivalent for the MLS in NYC, The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), still does not have a consumer facing portal for RLS data.

As a result, consumers essentially have to choose between individual broker websites with the issues we’ve previously discussed, or a 3rd party listings portal. And if you have to choose a 3rd party listings portal, you might as well use one that has the most data.

Remember that Trulia, StreetEasy and HotPads are owned by The Zillow Group, a multi-billion dollar publicly traded corporation.

Use the MLS for Long Island and the Hudson Valley

If you’re searching in Long Island, use the Long Island MLS. If you’re searching in the Hudson Valley, use the Hudson Gateway MLS. Both MLS systems offer a public search functionality online.

You can search the HGMLS here and you can search the MLSLI here. If you want to search both regions at once, you can do so on the OneKey MLS consumer search portal here.

The OneKey MLS was formed through a merger of the HGMLS and the MLSLI, slated to be completed in 2020.

Even better, if you work with a buyer’s agent who’s a member of the MLS, he or she can send you a virtual account where you can search the MLS using essentially the same setup as your agent.

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Disclosure: Hauseit® and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. No representation, guarantee or warranty of any kind is made regarding the completeness or accuracy of information provided. Hauseit LLC is a Licensed Real Estate Broker, licensed to do business in New York under license number 10991232340. Principal Office: 148 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10013.

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