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:
|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!