One of the largest real estate agencies in the South is talking about cutting its ties with Trulia and Zillow, two of the Internet's largest real estate syndication sites.
Harold Crye, co-founder and president of Crye-Leike Real Estate Services, told area Crye-Leike employees that the Tennessee-based real estate company is pulling its Memphis-area listings off Trulia.com and Zillow.com in the next few days, and maybe its companywide listings - including Chattanooga - within the next three months.
The announcement was met by applause.
Crye spoke Tuesday at Crye-Leike's 2014 kick-off event for Chattanooga-area branches of the company, where local agents came to hear Crye give his annual company outlook for the new year.
To a crowd of around 200, Crye said allowing Trulia and Zillow to feature Crye-Leike listings was "the cool thing to do" back when the sites first began popping up just under a decade ago.
But now, he said "they're just extorting money from us."
Crye said pulling Trulia and Zillow listings in the Memphis market is a sort of feeler, to see if taking the move companywide will have significant pushback. The Crye-Leike headquarters is in Memphis.
He said Crye-Leike is dissatisfied with Trulia and Zillow's services, saying they frequently publish wrong and outdated information. He also said the websites don't necessarily match the correct agents with their listings, sometimes placing several agents - from competing agencies - on one property.
Vicki Trapp, managing broker at Crye-Leike's downtown Chattanooga branch, said Trulia and Zillow also allow agents to purchase the space beside listings, which the agent may or may not represent.
"Basically, they're saying to the customer: 'Just pick one,'" Crye said.
He likened it to driving around and popping a Crye-Leike yard sign next to any sign already placed by another agency.
"Isn't this the same thing?" he asked.
Zillow.com representatives said Tuesday they were unaware of Crye-Leike's possible move off of their site. And they aren't happy about it.
"We have not heard directly from Crye-Leike, so we cannot comment specifically on what they are or are not doing," said Cynthia Nowak, Zillow spokeswoman, in an email. "However, any entity that restricts access of listings to the widest possible audience of home shoppers is only hurting sellers, buyers and agents."
Nowak did say that agents can pay to appear beside a certain number of listings in a ZIP code, which may result in an agent appearing alongside another, potential rival, agent's listing. But she said the listing agent gets the better top spot by default, at no cost.
She said Zillow is useful whether agents pay to be featured or not.
"Zillow also operates the most popular suite of mobile real estate apps nationwide across all major platforms, which is important as more and more people shop for homes on their mobile devices - at Zillow more than 65 percent of our traffic comes from mobile," Nowak said.
Zillow.com also said it peaked at reaching 64 million users in one month in 2013.
Trulia.com did not return requests for comment.
Nowak said the emphasis in the conversation should be on the consumer, whom she said will hurt if agencies start pulling out of sites like Zillow.
But Crye and Trapp disagree.
"We're trying to see what's going to be in the best intersts of our customers and our consumers," said Trapp.
And she said it's misleading to say Crye-Leike's departure would take information out of consumers' hands. Because "the information [on Trulia and Zillow] wasn't accurate," she said.
"I think agents are tired of inaccurate data being out there," she added.
Brandi Thompson, an agent at Keller Williams Real Estate in downtown Chattanooga, said if listing information on Trulia or Zillow is wrong, it isn't Trulia or Zillow's fault.
While the real estate community refers to a "third party" when talking about Trulia and Zillow, Thompson said there are actually four or five entities between an agent and an agent's listing on a syndication website.
She said agencies usually send their listings to a multiple listing service MLS), which in turn sends the listings to another agency, which in turn sends the listings to Trulia, Zillow or a similar site. Thompson said there is not a direct feed from local agencies to Trulia or Zillow.
So if the information is wrong, Thompson said it's probably on the agency or MLS, who likely haven't updated their listings.
"Who's to blame? Well, everyone blames Zillow," she said. "[Agents] could give them direct feeds from our data, we just have chosen not to, and we've enlisted third-party companies. People don't understand how [Trulia and Zillow] work."
Steve Champion, managing broker at the downtown Keller Williams, said Crye-Leike's move doesn't surpise him. But he's holding out to see what Keller Williams executives think.
"We're certainly trying to be good listeners at this time and hear all the discourse on this topic," he said.
Champion said Keller Williams executives will likely address the issue at an upcoming company meeting.
Meanwhile, the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors is meeting today at 1 p.m. to discuss the issue. Crye-Leike's Trulia and Zillow listings in the Memphis area are scheduled to be pulled by the end of the week.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at email@example.com or 423-757-6480.