Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Small Step, Fraught With Significance: ListHub Introduces “MLS Preferred” Concept

 

Oh my...

Back in November of 2010, I wrote about Move’s acquisition of ListHub and what it might mean for “Syndication Quality”. I thought then that the reason why Move acquired ListHub was strategic — to control the source of listing data, in order to impose on its main competitors the same restrictions that Move had on operating REALTOR.com:

There was little doubt in my mind when the acquisition was announced that what Move was doing was a strategic maneuver to neutralize some of the advantages that its big competitors had — freedom to do whatever they wanted with the data, given the widespread ignorance of brokers and agents on intellectual property issues.  Having spoken to Messrs. Berkowitz and Samuelson, as well as other players in the drama, I have confirmed that this is indeed the mutual vision of the Move and ListHub teams.

“Let’s see how Trulia and Zillow compete if they have to live up to our standards of data protection and data integrity” might be something Move executives never actually said, but I rather think they are thinking it.

Well, it only took a year and a half, but I believe we’re starting to see the strategy be implemented:

ListHub, the largest syndicator of real estate listings and website analytics, today announced the launch of the ListHub Preferred Publisher Program. Real estate brokers syndicating listings through ListHub’s Preferred Publisher Program can now quickly identify preferred publishers and publisher rules, rate publisher websites and access reports through the control panel. The new features bring greater transparency, control and protection to real estate brokers as they syndicate listings to multiple publishers. ListHub is operated by Move, Inc., (Nasdaq: MOVE), the leader in online real estate.

Earlier this week, prior to the press release, I had the rare opportunity to get a demo from Luke Glass, General Manager, and Mark Wise, VP Operations and Technology, of ListHub of these new features, and to ask them some questions about what they were doing. Well, what they’re doing is a small step, but it is one fraught with real significance for real estate data policy.

There are two things in the new ListHub that work together to create the significance. Let’s dive in, shall we?

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Expanding On My RETSO Speech On the Future of the REALTOR Association

 

I’ve been traveling pretty much nonstop since attending the best event on the real estate conference calendar: RETechSouth (or RETSO for short). As always, Brad Nix, Mike Pennington, and Ben Carter (with an amazing team of people) put on a fantastic event. I did a little debate on syndication with Jay Thompson, leveraging my expensive legal education to argue positions I don’t believe in. And then I gave a little ten minute speech on the future of the REALTOR Association:

I am grateful to my friend Sue Adler for taping the speech, and to the RETSO team for giving me permission to publish video footage of their conference. The audio isn’t the greatest, but considering that Sue filmed this on her iPhone, I think she did a fantastic job. And technology is pretty damn amazing.

What I recommended, essentially, is an echo of this post, entitled, “Ask Not What Your NAR Can Do For You“:

Second, having rediscovered your core mission, start purging. As it is today, only about half of the nation’s real estate brokers and agents belong to the Association and can call themselves REALTORS. And that percentage may be less, since NAR dipped below the 1 million mark recently. Smaller and dedicated beats larger and apathetic every time.

I’d like to expand on this notion a bit.

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A Quick Note on Asset Bubbles: A Response to Barry Ritholtz

Home Prices, 1970-2011 in Gold

I’m on the road so don’t have a ton of time to be doing a long post, but a reader emailed me a post by Barry Ritholtz of the Big Picture Blog that was an Op/Ed in the Washington Post. It’s worth reading in full, so go check it out here.

I thought I’d try to add one tiny little piece of data to a specific point that Ritholtz raises:

Regardless of the asset class — stocks, bonds, commodities, houses, etc. — assets do not merely stabilize. We have never seen a stock market run up into bubble territory and then revert to fair value. Instead, we careen wildly past that level, to deeply undersold and exceedingly cheap.

That is the marvelous mechanism of markets. It is how assets are repriced, distressed holdings liquidated, capital markets stabilized, fools revealed, speculators punished — and money returned to its rightful owner, the prudent investor.

For a lasting recovery, we need to see houses cheap enough that they fall into “good hands” — long-term owners who can afford their mortgage payments.

First of all, I happen to agree with Ritholtz 100% on this point. No asset bubble inflates and then simply reverts to the mean. It goes deep into negative territory, and then bounces back to the mean (i.e., “fair value”).

But I do wonder if we haven’t hit that point of housing being deeply undersold and exceedingly cheap. I suppose the definition of cheap depends on the buyer’s perspective, but the graph above is one from a post I wrote a while back looking at the price of housing in terms of gold — that ultimate holder of value, the non-fiat money in this world of fiat currency.

According to that chart, housing prices in 2011 were down to 1980 levels at least in terms of gold. 1980 was the absolute depths of the Jimmy Carter Malaise, when annual inflation was 13.5% and mortgage interest rates were around 18%. (Reagan didn’t take office until January of 1981, and you can see home prices recovering by 1982.)

The question is whether 1980 price levels are “deeply undersold and exceedingly cheap”, especially when rates are at historic lows thanks to the printing presses of the Fed going full speed. If you have the cash or the gilt-edged credit to get a mortgage in today’s environment, it may just be that prices have tumbled to “exceedingly cheap” levels thanks to unreported devaluation of the dollar.

I’ll have more speculating to do later on Ritholtz’s fantastic series on housing, but I did want to add this little tidbit for now.

-rsh

SuperZips and Real Estate: In Which I Seek Answers from Economists

One of the most eye-opening books I’ve read in the past few years is Coming Apart: State of White America 1960-2010 by Charles Murray, a sometimes controversial scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This is not a full book review, as there have been dozens of them already done, and there will be hundreds of discussions started throughout the country because of this book.

But there were a couple of items that really piqued my interest as it relates directly to the real estate industry. Since I know that real estate economists from NAR, Zillow, Trulia, and others sometimes read this blog, I’d like to pose the questions and ask them for some answers after crunching their data.

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The Strange Song of Subsidies

Poets for the People! Share!

Over on the Raise the Bar Facebook Group, I posted a question to the thousand-plus members:

Question for this group, because it has so many ultra-engaged and informed people in it.

If your MLS proposed to change fees from a flat-fee subscription to a percentage of closed transaction (NB: FMLS in Atlanta area does this), would you support such a change or oppose it?

Please explain your reason, if you can.

The answers were fascinating, mostly for the reason that they were pretty much uniformly against the idea because it would subsidize the unproductive. A few examples:

The responses are not surprising, since the entire Raise The Bar movement has as a theme the idea that there are too many bad real estate agents out there who are giving a bad name to the good agents. Furthermore, the existence of too many of these “accidental salespeople” in the words of David Charron, CEO of MRIS, hurts the business opportunities of better agents.

But the question of subsidies is a bit more complex than that.

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