Dirty Tricks by the Harcourts Real Estate Group?

Most real estate agencies are not that proactive when it comes to the Internet. One of the advantages of belonging to any real estate group is that members can leverage the knowledge, experience, buying power and strategies put in place by Head Office with minimal effort.

Just about every head office operates a group website as well as templates for the individual offices. There are a few groups that take the lead on the internet for their members a lot further.  They invest heavily in dollars and human resources in SEO, and other traffic generation solutions.

Now most of the time the groups keep their strategies fairly clean and above board. Well that’s what I thought until I came across a Harcourts head office initiative that I believe crosses the line by a fair margin. In fact I decided to bounce the issue off a couple of people whose opinions I respect when it comes to emarketing in the real estate industry.  Both are creative and fairly open minded but both used the same word more than once….. DODGY!  and I reckon that sums it up nicely.

Many individual real estate agencies, real estate groups and even some portals upload their property to Google who then in turn integrate those listings into Google Maps.  Google also make their data available for anybody who wants it through an api interface.  This api allows sites like Base Estate to operate as they instantly have thousands of current property for sale through one single feed.

So somebody at Harcourts decided to tap into the Google Base API and integrate it into individual Harcourts offices. So you may be wondering why listings from other real estate groups like Ray White, First National, Professionals and a bunch of independents are on Harcourts offices.  The way the properties are displayed it is meant to appear that all the listings belong to that Harcourts office.

All of the information that identifies the salesperson and agency that has the authority to sell the property is removed as is the link back to the agents websites.  What is happening is they are claiming everyone elses hard work as their own. If you are not a Harcourts real estate agency yourself chances are your listings can be found on most individual Harcourt’s websites right now and the contact form on the page goes to a Harcourts salesperson.

I wonder how all those Harcourts offices are going to handle the question when the Fair Trading inspectors ask to sight their listing authority on each property they are promoting for sale on their website. .

So why would they do this?
It’s not for SEO purposes because the way they implemented it there is no real seo benefits at all.  It therefore can only be what I like to call “small man syndrome”  where somebody small wants to appear to be much bigger than what they are.  Harcourts agencies using this “dirty trick” are being promoted as being much larger and more successful than they really are.  A small agency with just 10 listing for sale and struggling with market share can appear to have hundreds of listings in the surrounding suburbs.

Just this small area below shows listings held by the local Ray White, LJ Hooker, First National and an independent agency on the Harcourts Southport website.

To check this out go to any Harcourts individual agency website, try one completely out of your area,  and enter your home suburb in the box indicated here

and you should see just about every listing available in your area shown on the map even if the office is located in a different state. I have used the Harcourts Southport office in the above example but most of their offices have their own site just like this.

So how do they get away with it?

I don’t believe they can as I am sure they have breached the Google API terms and conditions by removing the listing agents details and “passing off” themselves as the lister. And I believe by implying that they are the lister brings about its own legal issues. They also have not got an api key for each domain instead they have framed in the maps to each agent website which are hosted on the single domain helpsellmyproperty.net which is owned by Harcourts International in New Zealand.

The comments in the code is interesting and shows clearly their intention:

//<![CDATA[
var officesite = ‘http://southport.harcourts.com.au’; var showmoreinfolink=true; var showcontrols = false; var getbranches=true; var getharcourtssales = false; var getothersales = true; var getsuburbinfo = false; var showforsale =true;var MapServer = ”; var branchpks=”//]]>

Now I am sure they will offer the lame excuse that this search box states “All Properties For Sale” and there is another small link on the page that states “Our Property”  but IMHO that is just not going to work.  The listing agent has been removed from display as has been the link back to the original agency and the whole thing is the first search box on each home page.

Another thing to keep in mind is that they also have recent sales option in the menu which shows the sales of others offices.  I think the average person in the street would be totally fooled by this. into thinking a small agency is really a super agency.

There are quite a few agencies doing it tough at the moment and I would not blame anybody getting upset over losing a listing to a Harcourts sales agent because of this deception. In fact take it a step further and you have to wonder just how many sales have been conducted on conjunctional arrangements because the Harcourts agency claimed to represent the property to the buyer on their website.

If this practice impresses you as much as it does me then make sure you let them know below!

Google API, Harcourts

SEO For Real Estate
Listing Leads
Agentpoint Real estate

About Glenn Batten

Glenn Batten is the General Manager at First National Real Estate Nerang and Principal at the First National Real Estate Upper Coomera office and has over 20 years real estate experience and a passion for technology. Glenn has been writing from an agents perspective on industry issues and covering a range of topics on Business2 since 2007.

72 Responses to Dirty Tricks by the Harcourts Real Estate Group?

  1. Peter Ricci November 26, 2010 at 3:03 am #

    I think what they have done is brilliant and what I have been advocating for so long – right up until the removed the real listings agents details, that was just pure dumb and I think they would know this. Maybe they want some publicity?

    I am all for innovative ways for agents to add stickiness to their websites and displaying others listings on your site is a great way to do this, as long as it is open and fair.

    By displaying your competitors listings – this will show you are not afraid of competition.

    Put the listing agents details on your site and also the backvlinks and I love it!

  2. John Vendor November 26, 2010 at 7:11 am #

    Sounds like sour grapes to me Glenn.

    As a real estate agent isn’t it your job to help sell my property? If you have my property listing and it appears on a Harcourts website, Harcourts then contact you to advise they have a buyer for my property. Then I win and you win. So you didn’t get the buy side of the transaction, you still got the list side and therefore your commission.

    What’s the problem? I just want my house sold!

  3. Greg Vincent November 26, 2010 at 8:09 am #

    Peter, can you explain the benefits for doing that? Agents upload to lots of portals already, I don’t understand why an agency would want to have other agents listings appearing on their site and whether they could legally do it in the first place. Surely, it would water down their brand???

    Glenn, I’m guessing that there will be some significant backlash over this. As they say, you can’t get a little bit pregnant.

  4. The Big Property List November 26, 2010 at 8:54 am #

    I wondered whether any agents would be brave enough to do this but never considered they would remove the ability to contact the lister – I think this goes against the intent of the google api although I don’t believe it is strictly against the T&Cs.

    Like Base Estate, The Big Property List (http://www.thebigpropertylist.co.uk) displays Real Estate listings from Google Maps – but focused on the UK market. Alongside every listing is a link to the vendor agent’s website and their is an email facility to send the vendor a message.

    I must say, whether Fair Trading rules this ok or not, or even whether it goes that far – you have to take your hat off to the level of innovation of portals and real estate websites in the Land Down Under.

    J.

  5. Ian Campbell November 26, 2010 at 9:08 am #

    I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago after receiving a couple of complaints from some of our franchisees. I don’t think there is much of a problem with tapping in to the Google API, but to syphon enquiry away from the agent that the vendor has chosen to represent their property is unethical. I have spoken directly with a senior representative at Harcourts, who I won’t name, but his response was that they didn’t see that they were doing anything wrong!!

  6. B Wilson November 26, 2010 at 9:11 am #

    Harcourts…?…. Never heard of them… 🙂

  7. Nick November 26, 2010 at 9:22 am #

    This is exactly why the Google Base API ToS states that you may show a listing’s details, but it *must* link directly to the url provided without any redirects or frames.

    It is misleading the way they have done it, but they are sending their traffic to other agencies at no detriment to the other agencies.

    By the way, I could not reproduce the results. Have they removed it?

  8. Robert Simeon November 26, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    At the end of the day it may be technologically smart for the savvy IT observers – however for the consumer it would be seen and perceived as false and misleading. I’m not aware of any Harcourt agencies in Sydney so I would doubt that it would happen here.

    However, a written complaint to the Office of Fair Trading would be interesting given their perceived representation is without vendor authorisation – agency agreement, contract etc. Otherwise known as a licence breach which would then be subject to prosecution and or cancellation given the breaches are numerous.

  9. George Rousos November 26, 2010 at 9:50 am #

    Glenn,

    The way the properties are being displayed maybe a concern but I think what’s an even bigger concern for these guy’s could be the price which is stated in their agency agreements not being the price reflected or shown in their advertising.

    If in fact that is the case,it could be catastrophic for them.

  10. Brock November 26, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    Why don’t they just scrape all the other franchise web sites, which would be the old school way of doing exactly this!

    As a everyday user, there is no doubt these listings would be 100% associated with a Harcourts office, regardless of the origin.

    What if every other franchise did the same?
    Now that would be messy.

    Peter: I’d agree the general idea is good, the implementation is poor, they just got it wrong.

  11. Greg Vincent November 26, 2010 at 10:05 am #

    From a consumer perspective, many buyers would say that lots of agents are a bit clueless when it comes to details about the listings they have on their own books.

    Imagine how the consumer experience would be… Can you imagine these agents handling an enquiry? It would have to make them look really stupid in the eyes of the customers…
    1. Does it have air-conditioning? Umm! Don’t know??
    2. Does it have a swimming pool? Umm! I’m not sure?? Is their one in the photo?
    3. Does it have built-ins? Sorry, can’t say? Can you put me onto someone who does know? No!

    I’d love to be a fly on the wall listening in to what explanations the agents have to make to their customer enquiries to try to overcome the fact that they don’t know anything about the listings that are appearing on their site.

  12. Glenn Batten November 26, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    Peter,

    Do you really think they would leave it there if they declared the real listing agent and a link back to their site. I agree the concept would be good but as an added feature to the site if they offered up the listers details as long as it is transparent. But the problem here is not what they could have done, they have chosen to deliberately mislead and thats been done not at the agency level, but at the head office level. With our group everything done by head office is run past a solicitor first. I cant see this ever being ticked off like this do you?

    John Vendor,

    You really have no clue do you. Misrepresentation and deceptive practice cannot be ok under any circumstances, even when you just want your house sold. It’s wrong in this industry and any other.

    The Big Property List

    It will be Google who rules on this first and since they are breaching ToS so blantantlyI think their API key will be disabled

    Nick,

    The results are still up. Go to here http://www.southport.harcourts.com.au/ and then use the first suburb search box on the right.

    Ian Cambell,
    I went back and read your blog post. You certainly did touch on the issue in your article at an agency level, Harcourts Blue Realty, but the real disappointment for me is that this is the Harcourts group doing this even back to head office in New Zealand. From what I can see if you are a Harcourts office you dont have any choice over this as it is part of the template. You said you never heard back from Harcourts, but did you send them an official complaint on behalf of your members? The “nasty” letter you speak about… This is wrong on a few different levels and is effecting hundreds of your members around Australia as Harcourts offices pretend to have listed and sold all their stock. I personally would hope that groups right around the country will be expressing their displeasure with the Harcourts group directly over this issue.

    Robert,

    It’s unfortunate but the wheels of the fair trading offices will probably turn to slow to catch this. The exposure and the breaches of the Google ToS will probably bring the practice down before it becomes an issue for them.

    George,

    I agree, who is going to be held responsible when the data is wrong. I cant really see an upside for them with this except for enquries and I can’t believe that they are that desperate for enquiries as a group.

  13. Sarah November 26, 2010 at 10:29 am #

    John,

    Who is to say that Harcourts are going to conduct themselves in an ethical manner and pass on any enquiry details to the “real” selling agent??
    Seems they have taken the agents details away not only because they want to appear as though they have plenty of listings, but also to take any enquiry and try and flog potential purchasers one of their own listings instead.
    Nothing ethical about this I’m sorry!

    John, maybe you should have faith in your listing agent to sell your property – you obviously engaged them in the first place for or a reason.
    P.S – What about the permission of all the Vendors to have their listings on the Harcourts site?

  14. Glenn Rogers November 26, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    This is very deceptive, the buyer making an inquiry would think they are dealing with the appointed agent but they aren’t, they have a link at the top of the page that says to view OUR listing click here but thats not good enough.

    This wont last long it will hit the fan sooner rather than later – UNLESS they place a large notice in there leaving no doubt that these are not their listings but places for sale generally, fairly pointless.

    This has been done for SEO purposes, to gain credibility and to get some conjunctional sales.

  15. Glenn Rogers November 26, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    AND to get a foothold into other suburbs and perhaps get enough traction to open more offices.

  16. Vic November 26, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    My understanding of Google’s philosophy is that everything on the net should be free but that if it is replicated it must be replicated fully and correctly- agent details and all.

    Agree with George- how will Harcourts get updates to appear on their non Harcourts listings? Property details are a moving feast.

    Google definitely will be looking closely at this one.

  17. Glenn Rogers November 26, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    But Vic you can’t just use other peoples IP under your own brand, listings “belong” to the listing agent no one else is authorised to advertise them.
    Many things might be free but commercial interests aren’t.

  18. George Rousos November 26, 2010 at 11:26 am #

    Glenn,

    I think there could even be allegations made of price manipulation or the possible practice of setting different tiers of pricing, with higher prices being advertised to consumers who are, for example, resident outside the particular area of the property or who are otherwise unaware of material facts such that they are prepared to pay prices for the property higher than the prices shown in their agency agreements.

    This could endup being very bad for them.

  19. Mark Williams November 26, 2010 at 11:36 am #

    John Vendor

    Which Agency are you from??? I have rarely, if ever heard an owner refer to themselves as a vendor or discuss transaction sides. They are real estate terms not common usage. Considering unethical practices for your financial gain acceptable, maybe shows a bit more of your character than you intended to display.

    Glenn

    Thanks for exposing this.

  20. Vic November 26, 2010 at 12:09 pm #

    All very complicated Glen R.

    There seems to be some agreement that provided that Harcourts show listing agent’s name and phone contact then it is OK to do what Harcourts have done.

    Would you also be against the the practice used by some portals who are fundamentally doing the same. Or is it only when an competing agent is doing it?

  21. Glenn Batten November 26, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    Vic,

    There would be no problem at all if they showed the agent name and link back to the original source like they are suppose to, but thats not what they did. To do that they could have embedded it very simple and anybody can do it. This was easier to do than what they did.

    What harcourts did was get a programmer to change the display of the property so it misled their visitors into believing it is there property for sale and their sold properties.

    If they or anybody ever wanted to properly embed this data on their website the right way I doubt they would promote it as their primary search box on the site. You could do it as an added function with full transparency and inviting your visitors to use you to represent them in a conjunctional sale.

    I would have no problem if Harcourts wanted to advertise our property on their site if we get the proper acknowledgment and the link clicks back to us as they are suppose to be. But that does not suit them now does it :).

  22. Glenn Batten November 26, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    John Vendor,

    Care to share your relationship with the Harcourts Group in New Zealand or here in Australia with everyone?

  23. David Willis November 26, 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    Greg, thanks for the heads up on this mate.
    As a real estate agent myself, I was disgusted to see my Listings on a Harcourt website! I agree totally with your point about buyer enquiries.
    How long has it been on the market…umm???
    Have the owners made any alterations to the property….umm???
    This can cost the seller a potential sale because Harcourts appears totally clueless, when the enquiry could have been handled efficiently and professionally by the Listing Agent.

    The clincher; “can I view the property please”?…”Certainly Sir, it’s not Listed with us, so I’ll just contact the Listing agent and get you through”.

    False and misleading in my view!

  24. H. Powell November 26, 2010 at 12:38 pm #

    This is deceptive conduct from Harcourts and should not be allowed.

    Harcourts should be ashamed of themselves for taking advantage of this whilst the public are unaware.

    Harcourts – credible???? I don’t thinks so by doing this.

  25. Sarah November 26, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    Funny, was just thinking the same thing Glenn.

  26. Terri Cooper November 26, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    My immediate reaction is that this action could be construed as “Soliciting through false or misleading advertisements or communications” – PAMD Code of Conduct Clause 18 – which says: “A real estate agent must not solicit clients or customers through advertisements or other communications that the agents knows are false or misleading” For me, the INTENT is what is important here. In applying the “reasonable person’s test” to this practice, would not a “reasonable person” assume that all properties appearing on the site were listed by Harcourt’s agencies, especially when there is no reference to other agencies or not even the link back to the other agent’s site. So is the intent to mislead or deceive? If so, then the practice, to my mind, is unethical and damaging.

  27. Glenn Batten November 26, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    Mark Williams,

    Anonymous posts like Mr Vendor are always done for a reason. Sometimes its because they are sharing something that they dont want to be traced back to them but often in the case of opinion orientated posts its to hide their connection to the subject.

    As you pointed out, the use of the term vendor (and others) gives his connection away even more so than opinions expressed in his post. When you combine the two along with some other info its pretty clear he is a lot more connected than he is trying to portray.

    If I was to guess, and it is a guess, I would say he works for Harcourts NZ either head office or a franchise and possibly even the person behind this strategy trying to mitigate the damage.

    Stop in for a coffee mate..

  28. Glenn Batten November 26, 2010 at 2:08 pm #

    It appears that these Harcourts sites do offer a link back to the original site…. as long as it links back to the HARCOURTS website.

    This confirms that their design it to remove the link back on everyone, they are purposefully removing the link just on all NON-Harcourts properties.

  29. Consumer November 26, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    Fancy Ray White complaining about Harcourt’s
    Now thats the kettle calling the pot black !

  30. Mac November 26, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

    It amuses me the way that a Southport (Qld) site displays ANY Australian suburb on Google maps e.g. South Yarra (Vic) and Mosman (NSW) (Robert), etc

  31. Tony Wiles November 26, 2010 at 3:07 pm #

    Where there is money there is muck (misquote).

  32. Tatiana Mijalica November 26, 2010 at 5:27 pm #

    Actually, if you have a closer look they are properties that were sold up to a month ago.

    Example:
    27 Stradmore Templestowe. Sold through Barry Plant 31/10/2010.

    http://www.realestate.com.au/property-house-vic-templestowe-106843444

    Apparently Harcourts can still sell it to you at a mere $1.3 million.
    I wonder if this is how much it sold for and were this price even comes from?

    http://www.croydon.harcourts.com.au/ValueProperty.aspx?search=templestowe&type=All&sale=true&recent=false&properties=trueI

    They don’t need to know anything about the property, its already been sold.
    Are they indicating to vendors that they have sold the property?
    Dodgy.

  33. Frank Suzuki November 26, 2010 at 7:07 pm #

    Interesting. How did you verify that the data source is the google base data, and if not, what proof is there that some sort of breach has taken place? Have you contacted a Harcourts agent about a property you know is ‘other data’ and has that agent mislead you in any way?

    Although well known, Google isn’t the only source of data in the world, although they’re maybe the newest. There are many other, older data sources which many of the big players use and also publish to. If the data comes from another source, there may be no requirement of source attribution.

    Some research indicates that Google property search only came on the scene in 2009. ref http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/google-launches-nz-real-estate-site-with-so-so-support-agents-104937 but the internet archive lists helpsellmyproperty.net as being around since 2006. It’s interesting to note that the Harcourts website in question looks a lot like the older harcourts website, and is not in the style of their newer website.

    http://news.harcourts.net/news/harcourts-launches-new-website/

    Digging deeper, did you notice that all the images for ‘other’s come from domain.com.au for Australia? Also, as much as I tried, I could not find any ‘other’ agent listings for Harcourts in their New Zealand version of the site? Makes you wonder if their Aussie data comes from Domain.Com.AU (A Fairfax Digital company) and not Google as you are suggesting?

    Storm in a teacup?

    All that aside, as someone from America, I sure don’t get is what the big fuss is about. This is all fairly common, industry standard practice in the rest of the world. These ‘other’ agents will still make their commission for doing less work. Wouldn’t these Harcourts agent fields calls and answer questions about these other properties, setting up appointments, etc. So if a Harcourts agent goes through all this work, why don’t they then deserve a fair cut of the commission?

    All this really indicates is that NZ and Australia need to get an MLS service and have buyer and seller commission split as a regulated ndustry standard. Currently it’s an appalling process for buyers unless you’re buying from the same agent you’re also selling to. If there was a standard, there would be an incentive for agents to work harder and actually find properties for people wanting to buy.

  34. Glenn Rogers November 27, 2010 at 8:18 am #

    I don’t know how it works elsewhere Frank you seem to know an awful lot about industry standards worldwide, you’re an expert of some kind ?

    “”” So if a Harcourts agent goes through all this work, why don

  35. Glenn Rogers November 27, 2010 at 8:19 am #

    AND it really doesn’t matter where the information comes from, Google or whatever.

  36. Vic November 27, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    Glen, did you try to get Mike Green’s (CEO Harcourts) take on this?

  37. Glenn Batten November 27, 2010 at 10:38 am #

    Frank,

    Thanks for you input. It’s very hard to verify exactly where their data is coming from since they don’t display much in order to hide the originating lister.

    I believe that Google Base is the only source data that they can access legally although as already discussed if they are using Google Base data they are in breach of ToS because of how they displaying the data.

    HOWEVER… If they are scraping data from Domain that would explain a lot, especially why their data is so old, prices wrong and still showing properties that sold weeks or months ago. Unfortunately for them that only makes matter worse though. With Google they would have had a license to use the data at least, but with Domain they would be scraping the data without permission from Domain or the agents concerned.

    Data sharing in the US is licensed through the MLS systems and there have been plenty of legal stoushes over who gets to use that information. It’s nice of you to suggest we should share our commission so openly and automatically but Australian rates are less than half of the US equivalent already. Conjunction arrangements have to be in writing here in Australia and whilst its nice of you to try and apply a US system to us you are doing so without the full understanding of everything involved.

    Agents advertising other agents properties on their website is not the worldwide industry standard you think it is. You do realise that despite many americans thoughts the US is not the WORLD?

    You may be right with the Domain thing, I will check it out, but if thats the case it only gets worse for them not better.

    You said “Currently it

  38. Glenn Batten November 27, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    Vic,

    I didn’t but Ian Cambell from Ray White reported that he discussed the issue with a Senior Rep at Harcourts and they did not feel they were doing anything wrong.

  39. Tatiana Mijalica November 27, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    Actually, this just got worse.

    The Harcourts listings are revealing the hidden price of the property that is not revealed on the listing agents website or the portals.

    Properties that go to auction will have POA or Contact Agent instead of a confidential price, known only by the vendor and listing agent.

    This is the 3rd time in a few months I am encountering an unauthorised 3rd party taking liberties with a vendors listing and treating it as their own.

    This is a huge breach of trust of the vendor who, if they wanted the price revealed, would not have listed the property as P.O.A or Contact Agent.

    I have an itemised copy of 15 properties across 6 different agencies in Melbourne that have pricing revealed.

    It is disappointing to see that the

  40. Glenn Batten November 27, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    Tatiana,

    Now you have to wonder how they are getting the hidden price then as far as I know you cant scrape it. In both cases prior the third parties who were incorrectly displaying publicly prices that were suppose to remain hidden were licensing the data from REA. They did not handle the data they were getting correctly.

    So once again this just raises more questions.

    Has domain sold them the data..?? I would like to think not… but they got that hidden data from somewhere and if not Google then where?

    or possibly they are mashing two data sources, say Google Data and Domain.

    They better get this fixed soon before the mainstream media realise that they are displaying what is meant to be hidden prices for Auctions and Tenders right around the country. I wonder how ACA or TT would spin this one? I cant see Harcourts coming out of that looking too good.

    This is what happens when you sneakily play with people’s data without their permission. You botch it up!

  41. Greg Vincent November 28, 2010 at 10:42 am #

    Oh No! Not again. When I previously posted http://www.business2.com.au/2010/08/yet-another-stuff-up-where-is-our-data-going/ Graham Mirabito the CEO of RPData came out and made a public apology. http://www.business2.com.au/2010/09/ceo-responds-to-yet-another-stuff-up-where-is-our-data-going/.

    Glenn & Tatiana is it possible that it’s still an issue coming from RP Data?

  42. Tatiana Mijalica November 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    Not 100% however these are parts of the code:

    246 var harcourtsListing = new Array(0);
    247 var harcourtsSold = new Array(0);
    248 var APMListing = new Array(0);
    249 var APMSold = new Array(0);

    if (isHarcourtsListing && isListing)
    456 harcourtsListing.push(nhtml);
    457 else if (isHarcourtsListing)
    458 harcourtsSold.push(nhtml);
    459 else if (isListing)
    460 APMListing.push(nhtml);
    461 else
    462 APMSold.push(nhtml);

    APM?

  43. Vic November 28, 2010 at 6:01 pm #

    Glen,

    I think I know Harcourts motivation. It’s SEO related.

    If we compare Harcourts with their next closest competitor (agent numbers), Hookers: Hookers Alexa ranking in Australia is 1178 compared to Harcourts 2196. Hookers had the advantage through brand whilst Harcourts is in the process of building brand. In NZ Harcourts have a high profile and the strategy to improve rankings in NZ is not so imperative.

    Harcourts took on a high profile Tech manager early 2009 and I would say this is his contribution to building higher organic search.

    I really don’t think there is anything sinister with Harcourts strategy. I really do believe it was a vehicle to gain SEO ranking. And of course they would not want property listings that direct the searcher to other agents.

    I would say that the extra SEO value, although not the primary objective, would be utilized to attract 3rd party (CPM) advertising, as has Hookers done.

    The other main motivation would be to increase profile for a launch into NSW where they are not so strong.

    From all that has been said above it seems that Harcourts strategy is correct but their implementation is flawed.

    I just cannot see them adding agent names and contact numbers to their “scraped” listings but I can see them now scrambling to make it clear that the listings are not theirs and sorting out all the issues that have been brought to their attention via this article/comments.

  44. John Cunningham November 28, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    Once you cut through all the techno speak it is time for some reality. It is simply misleading and deceptive conduct under every state Fair Trading law and The Trade Practices Act. It confuses the Consumer and is plain and simply STUPID.

  45. Glenn Batten November 28, 2010 at 8:04 pm #

    Ok… now one of our properties are on their for sale and we last had a Domain subscription back in June 2009.

    That property was sold but is still up for sale nearly 18 months later.

    I think Tatiana might be right and the source is APM. I dont have an APM subscription but for those that do can you check if the search prices which are hidden in the case of an Auction are showing in APM.

    So if its APM… are they being sold the information by APM or are they scraping? Neither is acceptable.

  46. Glenn Batten November 28, 2010 at 8:33 pm #

    Vic,

    Because they need better SEO does not mean that this is an SEO play. I think they are after more traffic but there appears to be no SEO benefit in what they have done. All the properties are located on another domain that is owned by Harcourts but its traffic would not be attributed to the primary Harcourts domain.

    But all that is not even relevent. Using a competitors data for your own gain is wrong and the strategy is not correct under any circumstances. Sure if they have a license (ie google) and they followed the license terms (display agent and link) then they might be legally able to get away with it but its wrong.

    I am pretty sure its pointing to Domain and APM but what is still not clear is whether they have been sold this information or they are scraping it. The fact that they are showing hidden fields seems to point to them getting the full data fully from APM however the fact that the data is so badly out of data and wrong seems to suggest they are scraping it.

    On top of the intellectual property issues of copyright and moral rights there is also the issue not having an valid authority whilst advertising a property for sale.

    With so many homes shown for sale that are not really for sale …what do you think would happen if every owner involved was made aware that their property is for sale on all of these Harcourts websites ?

    Then you have the potential damage to the industry with an article on ACA or TT story “Is Your Home For Sale and You Dont Even Know it?” Harcourts would be the focus but the industry at larges also cops it.

    If APM has sold this data to Harcourts then this will turn really ugly.

    I first discussed this issue in http://www.business2.com.au/2007/12/privacy-be-damned/

    and Greg covered the issue of this data being sold and stuffed up in http://www.business2.com.au/2010/08/yet-another-stuff-up-where-is-our-data-going/

    With no answers coming from anybody involved yet can somebody send me Harcourts CEO’s email and someone at APM and Domain who might be able to shed some light on this issue.

  47. Vic November 28, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    Glen, Give me a ring tomorrow, after 10.am, for the email address.

    We clearly differ on the motivation. You may be right but I think I’m closer to the mark.

    Hopefully Mike Green can shed some light on this matter.

    I just find it incredible that he would set something in motion that was deliberately immoral or illegal. He has worked too hard to establish the brand.

    Cheers

  48. Glenn Batten November 28, 2010 at 10:36 pm #

    Vic

    They have already responded to Ian from Ray White stating that they don’t believe they are doing anything wrong. Have a look at the responses in this thread by the agents. The only responses that did not totally damn the idea are non agents and even they say it was implemented wrong.

    If Hookers, Ray White or First National did it to them their membership would be up in arms.

    We have all seen ACA or TT make more out of less. How will they come off when there are thousands and possibly tens of thousands of property advertised on their websites using this method that are not really for sale. How will Mike Green and Harcourts principals like being chased down the street and out of carparks by cameraman for a story with owners screaming that their homes are not really for sale and what right do they have to advertise them for sale..

    How do the Harcourts salespeople deal with the enquiries on these properties? Short answer as far as I can see is that they can only lie about the properties..which is not good.

    Motivation can be debated and to be honest I would never totally believe what they say anyway as it will be cover my butt stuff as you would expect. What they are doing is there for everyone to see and they cant hide from that.

    The issue is there is a real problem out there that needs fixing now and those agents that are effected and thats close to everybody, need to know where they got our data from. Why they think its ok to use our images. If its from APM and their were sold it then this becomes more about Data flow from Domain, to APM and then our competitors than it does about Harcourts using it.

    The frustrating part is these clauses in the portals contracts make this sort of data sale semi-legal. I remember commenting on this blog somewhere that technically Domain and REA could sell all of our data to one of our competitors and because of these hidden clauses in the ToS they would be able to… Has this become a reality? I hope not.

    I am hoping for everyones sake they are scraping the data and it is just a poorly thought out strategy that they now realise was wrong and they stop it.

  49. Glenn Batten November 28, 2010 at 10:48 pm #

    John Cunningham.

    As far as Harcourts are concerned you are spot on.

    However, IF (and that is still to be determined) they purchased this data from APM who purchased it from Domain because when you signed the Domain contract it had a clause that gave them “irrevocable, world-wide, royalty free licence to commercialise, copy, license to other persons” then there is a bigger issue involved.

    Now you probably never even read those terms and conditions like 99.9% of others and even if you did you never thought that would result in your opposition displaying your property for sale and recent sales and implying that they are their own to compete with you.

  50. Vic November 29, 2010 at 7:20 am #

    Glen,

    An interesting response from you.

    Earlier in this thread you say that it would be OK to capture the data for their web site as long as they give credit to the originating agents by showing their name and contact number.
    Now the thread has gone forward to a broader issue of whether it is legal for web site owners to scrape or obtain data, to which they do not have ownership of.
    This debate “should” be on that very point. “Who owns the data”

    Since the start of our portal I have been against the scraping of data. Our guiding principle has been not to touch anything to which we do not have the owners consent (and I consider that the agents, who have the agency agreements, own the listings). But the norm within the portal industry has been to scrape or buy listings to boost their SEO and or find a backdoor to poaching agents business. It has not been comfortable to watch this practice and has hurt our ability to be a relavent player.

    Now, following on this theme, the data must be coming from somewhere be it APM or Google or elsewhere,and probably arrived at that point anyway without the understanding by agents that this data could be further distributed without their consent.

    Google certainly is of the belief that all content they obtain is free but I doubt whether agents realize that this google philosphy means it can be further distributed.

    I do not not know on what terms APM obtain their data: but obviously they believe that they have ownership therefore they can do what they want with it.

    So Harcourts being aware of this have tried to take advantage of it. Albeit an inane strategy.

    I emphathise with the dilemna that agents are facing with this issue but they should also be aware of that the issue goes beyond Harcourts use of their data, but to the very heart of the issue. Who owns the data????

    Until this is sorted out legally. there will be property listings all over portals, and now Harcourts site, that are old, sold and shown as current, auction reserves shown, outdated descriptions etc which cannot be updated because the agents updates do not flow through.

    This is an issue the Real estate Institutes should be vigourously taking up on behalf of their member agents.

    I’m aware that Greg Vincent wrote on this subject and I applaud him and you for the stands you are taking.

  51. Glenn Batten November 29, 2010 at 9:04 am #

    Vic,

    IF the data source was Google and they did INCLUDE the agent information, contact details and the the original link then it would be LEGAL at least.

    If they did that I would be OK with it…. mind you I would not like it but it would be better than what they have now but at least they would be following the rules, the properties would be up to date and accurate and the listing company would generate traffic with the correct attribution. All in all there would be a transparency involved. If an agent did not like it they could just sever the data feed to Google.

    But they are not even close to this.

  52. George Rousos November 29, 2010 at 10:31 am #

    Hi Glenn,

    Here are the tips for avoiding misleading representations and product descriptions from the Small Business Compliance Guide to the Trade Practices Act 1974.

    Do they

  53. Tatiana Mijalica November 29, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    All listings have been removed – thank you Harcourts for the prompt resolution to this matter.

  54. Bill November 29, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    If Harcourts have taken down the listings, I think it has been real win for Business2 and an example of how effective these open discussions can be.

    I don’t know the motive of why Harcourts did what they did, the head office may not have been aware of what was happening.

    However they were obviously aware that their brand was starting to be negatively effected and they acted quickly.

    It’s a great example of why business should be monitoring their brand name on social networks, blogs etc.

    Well done Business2.

  55. Glenn Batten November 29, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

    As Tatiana mentioned all offending properties have been removed.

    There are still outstanding questions though such as where they got their data from. I have emailed Mike Green the Harcourts CEO for comment
    and hopefully he will respond here soon.

    Bill, someone at head office knew what was going on because it involved head office resources, but I doubt everyone knew and hopefully Mike Green was not one of those involved or who signed off on this strategy.

  56. Vic November 29, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    Well done Glenn and B2. Mike Green’s response, if you get one, will be really interesting.

    And Glenn, the bigger picture regarding the way data is being used, abused, misrepresented and profited from should not be swept under the carpet. I hope that someone with the knowledge can articulate the issue on B2 some day.
    Greg V started on it but this Harcourts exercise has highlighted further the potential disaster it could be when abused.

  57. Glenn Batten November 29, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    Vic,

    I think you will find that the topic has been raging for quite a few years on this blog. It seems to raise its head every 6 months or so.

    I remember even raising the scenario that your opposition having access to your listing and sales data and using that against you, something that Harcourts has done in 2010.

  58. Paddy November 29, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

    Surely any industry investigation, education or action, should be championed by the Institutes!

    Perhaps some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent by REIV, REINSW, REIWA, REISA et al… on the ‘national industry’ portal, should be spent on providing information, advice and guidelines to agents regarding this and other online marketing issues.

    This has to fall under the responsibilities of the REI’s!

    Great work Glenn, Tatiana and B2!

  59. Lara Scott November 29, 2010 at 8:15 pm #

    Now the dust has settled on this matter here at B2 I would be really interested to hear Pete Ricci expand on his opening comment (maybe in a post).
    Done correctly, I too agree that competitor hyper-local listings would add stickiness and a degree of transparency to an agency website but wondering whether the current listing protocol in Australia is up for it. So much reliance is placed by a majority of both agents and consumers on the portals for their list and search at present that I can’t help feeling it is a pipe-dream. Is he is advocating a reasoned move away from the current model and if so what would it take on the part of agents and consumers to “break-free”?

    Maybe this is a discussion we could all continue, particularly as it relates to personal and agency brand building and engagement in the web 2.0 space. What is the point (apart from B2B industry communication) if the consumer it still going to the portal?

    Just a thought!

  60. Bill November 30, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    Lara wrote:

    if so what would it take on the part of agents and consumers to

  61. Frank Suzuki December 1, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

    I’m not an expert, just someone who has bought and sold houses in more than one country, and have an opinion on the level of service down under. In short, I’m the consumer you’re trying to protect.

    So. No real facts. This blog is pure speculation I guess.

    Since nobody seems to know any actual facts, I’ll present my view:
    – Companies sign data agreements with a portals to get more exposure. They either pay or are paid, or there is maybe a reciprocal agreement. There are no standard contracts here, and I’ll reiterate that Google Base data is a single portal.
    – Agents sign agreements with their franchisor, and these usually have provisions that the data belongs to the franchisor, or the franchisor has rights to that data.
    – Consumers who sell their houses sign agreements, and part of that is marketing their properties.

    Further, there are no such things as hidden clauses is a contract. By signing a contract, parties are entering an agreement that binds them by the terms of the agreement. Contract law doesn’t favor the lazy reader.

    Based on the above reasoning, I couldn’t say that the chain of trust has been broken, and I would have a hard time justifying any slanderous comments on the matter. You may not like it, but it’s just as conceivable that no impropriety has occurred.

    Where I come from, that sort of speculation is a lawsuit waiting to happen. is it fair if somebodies business is damaged from baseless allegations?

    From a consumer perspective in real estate, you go with big companies precisely because you know that your data will have a good reach. I don’t care who I pay to sell my house.

    The only thing that old website is guilty of is missing the disclaimer “Not all properties displayed are represented by Harcourts”.

    lex parsimoniae aka Ockham’s razor; the simplest explanation is often the correct one

  62. Glenn Batten December 3, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

    It seems from a couple of sources now that the data source for Harcourts “car crash” of a system that kicked off this whole crusade was a licensed feed from APM. The access and licensing of the data was only one part of the issue and the other is the misleading and deceptive practice that inferring they were the real estate responsible for all that property.

    The scheme has been under development for quite awhile.

    That license did not allow for the information to be used on all those websites like it was. I think someone hoped that becuase it was all hosted on a single domain and then iframed in to all the member sites that APM would not notice.

    Whats interesting here is that Agents upload the data and photographs to Domain and hidden in the terms and conditions is an allowance for Domain to sell the data. .

    Domain then license it to APM which is another Fairfax company

    APM then sell it to Harcourts and god knows who else.

    Harcourts then use their competitors data against them to try and fool the public into thinking they are bigger and more successful than what they are.

    It’s a crazy world.

    It would be great if APM could explain just what this licensed feed to Harcourts can be used for and hopefully provide us some assurances that this sort of thing cant happen again.

  63. Andy Del Vecchio December 3, 2010 at 7:26 pm #

    Frank Suzuki

    In your earlier comment you were anonymous, then “voila” you appear as connected to Wikipedia. Do they know you are using their name, or is this OK under US standards ?

    Makes it hard to take you seriously.

    I still think that REIs need to step in to sort out the ownership of data issue, or are they too busy running a portal business to represent their agents interests?
    For the life of me I cannot understand how any data base can profit from something that was obtained as a seconday aspect of a contract between parties.
    I’m sure that something as important as the ability to onsell should be prominently noted in a contract and acknowledgement from the owner sought. Many contracts, because of the importance of certain clauses, have parties initial the important clause/s.

  64. betta fish care December 4, 2010 at 8:32 pm #

    Wow, Im really suprised at Harcourts doing something like this. Certainly an interesting read Glen, thanks.

  65. Oscar December 8, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    Dear Mr Del Vecchio.

    If you can’t refute Frank Suzuki’s point of view logically, I’m sure everyone would appreciate your refraining from the ad hominem attacks.

  66. Vic December 12, 2010 at 7:10 am #

    Oscar,

    The comments attributed to Mr. Andy Del Vecchio were actually mine.
    They have appeared under his name through me inadvertently using his registration. I apologize for that.

    I have already said in earlier posts that I do not think that Harcourts did what they did for any sinister reason.

    I am sure that you know, as well as most people do, that contracts have been tested in court to be found wanting because one party has not appropriately pointed out a critical clause (or implication) of a contract.

    As Glenn B and many other thinking bloggers have pointed out, the data use and proprietorial ownership, is the main issue here.

    Those that have it now (the data) must ensure that the terms and “intent” for its use, under which they originally bought it or procured it, must be honoured.

    For Mr Suzuki to imply that it is “stiff Sh..” that the original owner of the data has lost their rights, simply because, as he puts it “contract law doesn’t favour the lazy reader”, then he has missed the point of this debate.

    There is ground swell of opinion that suggests that agents (and that would include Harcourts) and the consumer ( the original seller) are not happy as to how the data that they have passed on, is now being used or distributed.

    I suggest you keep up with the thread of this article. Then if you can add something sensible to the debate identify yourself.

  67. Latoya Bridges December 22, 2010 at 7:51 pm #

    Wow, Im really suprised at Harcourts doing something like this. Certainly an interesting read Glen, thanks.

  68. Keneza February 25, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    Seems very similar to the practices of many franchises who put out “Recent Sales In Your Area” information which has all or many sales in the area by all agents which they leave open to the public to determine if those sales are by the agent or across the board. This is done as a clear attempt to make the agent look like they are the dominant selling agent and it is preached in training by many franchises and trainers as a good way to go if you have got many recent sales.. Same as the Harcourts method but on the opposite end of the transaction..

  69. sam April 29, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    The Melbourne city office is also engaging in a very dodgy tactic by lying about the number of days on the market. They are dropping flyers all over the city and quoted “Sold in xx days”, which also appeared on the internet ad in their sold properties.

  70. Benno February 9, 2015 at 10:52 pm #

    It’s illegal and its called ‘baiting’ or ‘bait advertising’ translated offering products for sale that you don’t have simply to get people in the door whom may then be re-directed. Harvey Norman were crucified in SA a few years ago for advertising an incredible deal on a TV that they only had one in stock of. Of course that sold very quickly but the people kept coming for it…..

  71. Benno February 9, 2015 at 10:58 pm #

    Forgot to add.
    Just because this is a function of Google and/or it exists in the realm of the WWW doesn’t mean that they aren’t bound by the fair trading act.
    OCBA in SA would throw the book at them if someone brings it to their attention.

  72. Glenn Batten February 10, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

    Benno,

    Harcourts fixed this very very quickly and removed this when it became public. I would like to think it was a ill thought out marketing play that had repercussions far further than they thought.

    The strategy was so USA in nature that I reckon there was a high chance it was somebody who was more familiar with that market without understanding how our local laws would impact on it.

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