Home Brokers & Agents So, About This "Our Listings" Business…

So, About This "Our Listings" Business…

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I saw a post on a Facebook group that references this Inman News story about Zillow having no plans to raise prices. The Facebook author (Miriam Bernstein) thought the key graf from the story was this:

“As long as we’re partners in success, we’re happy,” Liniger [CEO of REMAX] told Rascoff in front of the audience of approximately 1,000 Re/Max broker-owners, predominantly from the U.S. and Canada. “If we become competitors (if Zillow starts making moves as a real estate firm rather than a media company), you won’t get any more of our listings.”

“I hear you loud and clear,” Rascoff said. [Emphasis mine]

Then of course, like most things on Facebook, the rest of the commentary quickly dissolved into various “I R Hate da Zillow” stuff. But that phrase by Dave Liniger makes me wonder about something.

When Liniger says “our listings”… what exactly does he mean by that?

I mean, yes, I understand that it’s a figure of speech referring to the feed that REMAX corporate, the franchise company, sends to Zillow. So if Zillow pisses REMAX off, REMAX will stop sending that feed. Okay, that’s obvious. But we hear brokers and franchise leaders say these types of things — our listings, our data, our, our, our — all the time.

Three reasons why I’m asking.

1. REMAX is a franchise; its customers are brokerages. It has no copyright or ownership over any listing of its franchisee brokerages (unless such a thing is written into the franchise agreement, which it may be).

(If the answer is, Yes, those copyright assignments do exist, then my followup question is whether every franchise has such assignments, and if they do, whether those are nonexclusive licenses or actual transfer of ownership. But now we’re entering legalese land.)

2. Even if such an assignment did exist, we have the Edina Realty issue. No one denies that Edina Realty is a brokerage, with full copyright ownership over all of its listings. We also know that Edina pulled out of syndication a couple of years ago. But roughly 50% of its listings are still on Zillow, because Edina agents can choose to post listings themselves. Allowing agents to make that decision is actually Edina’s policy.

Does REMAX have more control than the actual brokerage does?

3. Perhaps the usage of “our listings” here means something like: “We have so much influence over our franchisees and their agents that they will do what we tell them to do.”

In fact, think of the issue this way: imagine for a moment that every single agent and broker affiliated with REMAX decides not to advertise their listings on Zillow. It seems obvious that REMAX corporate could not still keep sending a feed to Zillow. Those listings are not “ours” to send over the objections of the agents and brokers, who actually own and control the listing, right?

So… I’m inclined to think that the actual translation of that phrase is #3: REMAX has so much influence over its brokers and agents that they will do what REMAX tells them to do. It isn’t so much that Dave Liniger decides one day to kill the feed to Zillow, and overnight, every REMAX listing would disappear. No, rather, it must mean that REMAX is so influential with the brokers and agents affiliated with REMAX that they would cease advertising on Zillow.

If this is the correct interpretation, then there are all kinds of odd dichotomies in our industry. Because on the one hand, it seems that brokers and franchises exercise so much influence that they can direct listing agents to send or not send listings to one website or another. On the other hand, how often do we hear brokers saying they can’t get agents to show up to training, or take better photographs of listings, or stay in touch with past clients, or return phone calls promptly, or… well, a hundred other things… because the agents are 1099 independent contractors?

Do brokerages and franchises exercise enormous influence on agents or do they not? Do they, in fact, more or less control those agents or do they not?

These are the times when I feel like this industry suffers from multiple personality disorder. Either REMAX (and other brands and big brokerages) exercises such control, in which case many of the ills of the industry that’s all over Raise The Bar and elsewhere can be laid at their feet, or they do not have such control, because agents are independent contractors who don’t have to listen to the broker or the brand, in which case this talk of “our listings” seems a bit overblown.

But it can’t be both… can it?

So which way do you lean? Do they have control? Or do they not have control?

-rsh

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Rob Hahn
Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.