Realtor.com CEO: World without buyer agency a ‘dangerous scenario’
Damian Eales talked to Real Estate News about why the industry “should be careful what some people are wishing for” and his perspective on NAR.
- Eales, a longtime News Corp exec, took over as CEO of Move, Inc. and Realtor.com in June
- “I advocate for a world that supports the role of a buyer's agent and a listing agent,” said Eales, who is from Australia, where buy-side representation is not the norm.
- Eales said Realtor.com continues to work closely with NAR and is aligned with the association on supporting agents.
Less than six months into his new role as CEO of Move, Inc. and Realtor.com, Damian Eales has emerged as an advocate for buyer agency in a world where buyer agent commissions are no longer guaranteed.
The Australian News Corp exec spoke with Real Estate News on Halloween morning — just hours before the verdict in the Sitzer/Burnett case was announced — about the evolving nature and rules of the real estate transaction, why he believes having representation on both sides of the transaction is best for consumers and the status of Realtor.com's relationship with NAR.
This is the first of a two-part conversation with Eales. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Do you see the Sitzer/Burnett verdict as a threat or an opportunity? And how could it affect Realtor.com's business model as it relates to selling leads and working with agents?
These cases — the class actions — are one thing, but it's really the Department of Justice that could make it a more fundamental change. I don't want to speculate on that. I advocate for a world that supports the role of a buyer's agent and a listing agent. They are two fundamentally different sides of a transaction for a purchase that is, in many cases, exponentially larger than the life savings held elsewhere by a customer purchasing that property.
And for all of the focus that we as a community and as a society put on ensuring that there is proper representation and advice on purchasing financial products, I think that we should advocate for a world where people are protected with an appropriate representation whether they're buying or selling a property.
I think it's a dangerous scenario if we consider a world without binary representation as an industry. I think that we should be careful what some people are wishing for.
You come from the real estate portal world in Australia. How does home transacting work there?
I come from a country where I was never represented on the buying side. It was me dealing directly with the selling agent who has a duty to only represent the seller of the property.
In the Australian model, you don't see flood maps, and noise maps, and you don't see the negatives about the property. You see all of the positives because it is only one side of the market represented and that's the people who are selling the property.
It's not to say that a lot of that information is not available if you work hard enough to find it, but in the American model, this information is at your fingertips because we are representing, to a large extent, the buying side of the market.
What's Realtor.com's relationship with NAR like right now?
We work very closely with them. I take advice from NAR CEO Bob Goldberg and NAR President Tracy Kasper (Note: This interview took place two days before NAR announced Goldberg would be stepping down early.). We all share one thing in common and that is that we are here to support Realtors to ensure that they can better serve their customers and we are here to ensure that they can be better professionals in delivering that service.
These are enormous financial transactions and Realtors have been intrinsic to every community throughout America — they are people that we know and have come to respect in our local communities. We should be talking up the benefit that they bring to those important transactions and we should be supporting them in becoming even more professional in the support that they can give consumers. And I think on that particular note, the NAR and Realtor.com are entirely aligned.
Do you believe that the class action suits and other controversies surrounding NAR will have an effect on the Realtor brand?
I don't think that this has had much of a bearing in terms of what consumers think of Realtors. It's a 115 year old brand used by Americans. It's a term that is synonymous with the industry, it is synonymous with being a real estate professional — it's synonymous with the professional service that is buying or selling a home.
I don't think that from a consumer perspective, they are paying a great deal of attention to what is occurring more broadly in the industry. And as much as these court cases play out, I think it will be in some respects very much confined to the industry conversation as opposed to the consumer conversation.
We have a brand license agreement with the NAR and an operating agreement with the NAR, but for all intents and purposes, we are a fully independent business. That's not the point. The point is that we have so much shared purpose which is to support the industry and to support Realtors. I really don't think that there is any advantage in talking down the term Realtor or the professionalism of Realtors, because from a consumer perspective — let me say again — the term Realtor is synonymous with real estate professional.