Realtor.com, the joint venture between Move Inc and the National Association of Realtors (NAR), is at last looking for a Chief Economist. The role will "be responsible for developing and translating real estate data and trends into consumer and industry insights in an engaging and easy to digest way for a variety of audiences."
The role of an economist is not a new one for property portals. In the US alone, Zillow and Trulia have had an economist since 2009 and 2011. Other portals around the world have them too. The role of the Chief Economist is as much about analysis as it is about PR. The objective is to create free coverage for the portal in the local press and thus drive awareness and traffic back to the portal. A well executed data driven PR strategy can create strong brand awareness in a market - just check out the impact Rightmove has in the UK with its asking price index.
So why hasn't Realtor.com done this earlier? What has hindered the appointment of an economist at Realtor.com has been the NAR. The 1996 arrangement between the Move Inc and the NAR has prohibited realtor.com from hiring an in-house economist with that role being fulfilled by the NAR itself.
The move is probably one of reality biting and biting hard. Realtor.com should be where Zillow is now - the clear leader. However, the restrictions placed on the business by the NAR have seen the site fall far behind Zillow and Trulia. In fact, for a company that had a 10 year head start on Zillow and Trulia, it is valued at half of Trulia and 1/7th of Zillow.
However the biggest challenge for the new Chief Economist is getting airtime. With Zillow, Trulia, the NAR, RealtyTrac and others all having Chief Economists working for them, it will be hard to be heard amongst the crowd and to do so will require some bold and perhaps controversial calls. The question is - will this be allowed to happen?