Tag Archives: Syndication

It’s Time for a Grand Conversation on the MLS

I just got back from NAR New Orleans where I got to see old friends (not enough of y’all, because that event is so f’in huge) and meet some new friends. But I said that I would be watching for some things at the event. Turns out, there wasn’t much to watch. Not a lot of drama at all.

The CoX thing sailed through, but the result is that some workgroup will write up something. So we’ll wait to see what they come up with. The MLS stuff, with its very broad, general language, turned out to be important.

In fact, I think this vote approving the changes to the MLS is far more significant than most people seem to appreciate. The changes go right to the heart of what the MLS is and should be. And those changes may be really positive ones whose time has come.

For those reasons, I am now formally calling for a “Grand Conversation” about the MLS. If the industry is going to make these fundamental changes, then it ought to do so consciously, knowing what it wants to achieve, rather than making incremental changes here and there without realizing where it’s ended up.

Let’s get into it.

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Edina Realty Reverses Course on Syndication

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Jay Thompson of Zillow celebrating the Edina deal. With what I assume is coffee.

I realize that the news of the day will be the News Corp buying Move, which certainly requires some thought, but since important details are missing from that story as yet and may not be clear for months to come… I figured I should take notice of another sort of significant story that just crossed the wires.

Here’s the official press release:

SEATTLE, Sept. 30, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Zillow, Inc. (NASDAQ: Z), the leading real estate information marketplace, today announced that Edina Realty, a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate, has joined the Zillow® Pro for Brokers program and will display all of its thousands of listings on Zillow for the first time ever. Launched in June 2012, Zillow Pro for Brokers is a free, five-point program that improves listings accuracy, provides better reporting, includes a powerful contact follow-up system and increases the visibility of listing agents for participating brokerages.

“We couldn’t be more excited to be building a relationship with Edina Realty whereby their direct listing feed will be updated every 15 minutes,” said Spencer Rascoff, Zillow chief executive officer. “It has always been our goal to be the best partner to the industry we can be, and in turn, offer the millions of consumers who visit Zillow the best experience possible. Edina Realty joining Zillow Pro for Brokers helps make that a reality. Now, home shoppers in Minnesota and western Wisconsin will have the most accurate and up-to-date view of the market, while home sellers can rest assured their home is being marketed to the largest audience of home shoppers.”

Edina Realty is one of the nation’s largest real estate companies with approximately 60 real estate offices and 2,300 REALTORS® throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

According to Greg Schwartz, Chief Revenue Officer at Zillow, this is a non-monetary deal. Edina’s listing agents would receive preferential placement and clear identification as the listing agent on their listings (i.e., the listing agent would be the top contact among the 3-4 agents in the box). In exchange, Zillow would get a direct feed from Edina, updated every 15 minutes. Zillow would also get Edina’s completed transactions data, which will populate Edina agent profiles. (I assume Trulia’s deal is the same.)

The MLS is not involved in any way, from what I understand. This is an outside-of-Listhub arrangement.

That’s Zillow’s side of the story. For Edina’s take, we go to its official press release:

Edina, Minn. – Sept. 30, 2014 – Edina Realty, a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate, announced that it will begin sharing its listings directly with real estate media companies Zillow® and Trulia, as well as industry portal realtor.com directly from the MLS, beginning Sept. 30 at noon Central Time.

Edina Realty will share its listings information with Zillow for the first time, and the company is re-entering into partnerships with Trulia and realtor.com after pulling its listings from those sites beginning in 2011, citing concerns over accuracy, adequate disclosure of listing agent and broker information, and more.

“The position that Edina Realty took nearly three years ago has positively influenced the business practices of Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com,” said Greg Mason, president and CEO of Edina Realty Home Services. “The national sites have made enhancements in order to improve the consumer experience as well as the relationship with the broker and agent. For example, on Trulia, the listing agent is now identified alongside their listing at no charge to the agent,” said Mason. “Additionally, the sites are striving for greater data accuracy.”

Edina Realty’s website and mobile apps average a combined total of over two million visits every month and are the most highly trafficked real estate website and apps in the region. The company has led the market in sales for 14 consecutive years and is the region’s largest real estate company with more than 60 offices and 2,300 REALTORS®.

“We remain confident that our clients’ listings receive the best online exposure on edinarealty.com and through our mobile apps, but now their listings will also appear on these national online sites,” said Mason.

Edina Realty’s groundbreaking move to pull its listings from Trulia and realtor.com beginning in 2011 contributed to an ongoing industry-wide discourse about data accuracy and ownership, customer service, and legal obligations by non-broker controlled media companies. “We’re committed to providing the best customer experience,” said Mason, “so we’re happy that our position brought greater awareness around issues with accuracy and listing ownership, and that it contributed to many key changes with the national partners,” he added. “We’ll continue advocating on behalf of our clients and agents to deliver the best real estate experience possible.”

So… Edina’s position appears to be that its move to pull its listings in 2011 led to changes at the portals. Specifically, we’re talking about greater commitment to data accuracy, putting the listing agent first (citing Trulia as the example), and improvement in the consumer experience.

Thing is… the three sites have always been different, with different problems.

For example, data accuracy was never a concern with Realtor.com. And given Realtor.com’s primary product — the Showcase Listing — the “three-headed monster” was never a major issue with them either.

If “data accuracy” refers to outdated listing information on the sites, Zillow and Trulia have been hammering that hard for the past few years. The whole point of things like Z-Pro is to get direct feeds so that the data can be accurate. If it refers, instead, to the widely-despised Zestimates… well, I see nothing in either press release suggesting that Zillow will be doing away with that, or using some new broker-powered AVM.

Bottom line, who cares what the motivations were for Edina to reverse course? Maybe it was because they felt that they had spanked Zillow and Trulia enough, that the portals had learned their lesson, and were now behaving correctly. Having achieved those goals, Edina is now going to partner with them. Maybe it was because Edina saw that failing to syndicate to the largest websites in the real estate category was hurting their recruiting, retention, and business. No one really knows outside of Edina’s HQ.

What we do know, and this is significant, is the implication of Mason’s statement: “We’ll continue advocating on behalf of our clients and agents to deliver the best real estate experience possible.”

As of October of 2014, it appears that the “best real estate experience possible” includes advertising on the portals, at least for Edina Realty.

Whether that has any ongoing significance for others remains to be seen.

-rsh

Antitrust Questions on MLS Decision to Screw With Syndication

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Having just spent a couple of days at CMLS, a young man’s fancy turns to questions of MLS-related things. In this case, a middle-aged man’s fancy might turn that way too, since it’s been a while since I’ve been a young man with fancy of any sort.

As most of my readers probably know, RealTracs, a large regional MLS in Nashville, recently made news:

By the end of the month, Brentwood, Tennessee-based RealTracs Solutions says it will limit the information included in direct data feeds it sends to public portals. RealTracs, which has nearly 10,000 members, is also in negotiations with listing syndicator ListHub to limit third-party portals’ display of listing data.

The changes include a four-photo limit; the elimination of several data fields; listing descriptions will be restricted to 150 characters; and public portals will be required to include a link to the listing detail page on the listing broker’s website.

As part of its reasoning behind the changes, RealTracs said consumers deserve a closer relationship with Realtors who provide the work product powering public portals, and brokerage websites can provide a more personal experience for consumers. The MLS also said brokerages should be allowed to manage advertising in ways advantageous to their companies.

Zillow has already said Nyet to the plan:

Now, White says Zillow has informed him it would reject any data feed that did not have complete data and would therefore terminate the feeds of RealTracs listings it receives from listing syndicators ListHub and Point2 on Sept. 23. Zillow is the most highly trafficked real estate portal on the Web with 46 million unique visitors via desktop and mobiles devices in June, according to comScore.

No response yet from Realtor.com, but Trulia has already said it’ll go along with the MLS’s wishes.

I have to admit to being some sort of strange real estate nerd in that this situation makes me wonder about a couple of antitrusty things. But here goes.

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Listhub Acquires Point2; I Think of TS Eliot

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[EDIT: Please see the clarification posted below.]

I’ve been hearing rumblings about a big game-changing deal for a couple of days, and this morning, it’s been confirmed. Listhub, a Move entity, has acquired Point2 from Yardi, bringing all listings syndication in the United States under one roof.

From Celeste Starchild, General Manager of Listhub:

Move has acquired the Point2 U.S.-based syndication business to further our shared vision of delivering a single listing aggregation, storage and distribution service.  As one of our key partners, we wanted to make sure that you were among the first to hear this good news.

Point2 realized the benefits to the industry of having a single platform, and ultimately worked with ListHub to help bring it to fruition.  The ListHub vision is to provide the industry with a single platform to improve data synchronization between systems, organize appropriate data licensing provisions for participants, and solve for the fragmentation and duplication of efforts that occurs throughout our industry today. Combining the Point2 and ListHub technologies into a single platform is a giant leap forward in reaching these goals.

Benefits to the industry of the single platform include:

  • Better access to listing data for thousands of brokers and franchises who operate across multiple MLSs
  • Increased accuracy for online listings, as agent-entered listings will be transitioned to MLS-connected solutions wherever possible
  • Enhanced customer service to the industry through a single help desk
  • Ability to better measure the results of online marketing across sites and across MLS markets 
  • Leading data protections for all brokerages through ListHub’s comprehensive publisher agreements
  • Ability for software and website technology companies to focus efforts on innovation for REALTORS®, not managing data from multiple sources

How will the acquisition work?

  • The ListHub platform technology will be provided to all of Point2’s previous MLS customers (in the U.S.)
  • ListHub and Point2 will work collaboratively with each MLS to cutover all of Point2’s U.S. based MLS customers to ListHub over the next six months.
  • The MLS-connected Point2 syndication service will operate unchanged for each MLS market during the period prior to their ListHub cutover date to ensure no disruption in service.
  • Once an MLS market is transitioned, the Point2 syndication service will cease operations.

NOTE: While it’s nice of Celeste to say I am a “key partner”, I assume this was a blast email that went out to their actual key partners. :) As the main thing I partner with Listhub on is karaoke with their people, I doubt the phrase applies to me.

In any event… a couple of thoughts.

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The Five Unspeakables from the California Association of REALTORS Event

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The above is my view right now, as I’m in the Lakes of the Ozarks for an event tomorrow and Friday, so this post is heavily influenced by the fact that I’m sitting at a bar with a tropical drink, listening to Jimmy Buffet. So if it seems a bit of a disconnected ramble… blame Margaritaville.

But I did get some requests to discuss the event on Monday in San Jose for the California Association of REALTORS. I love this event, because it brings together leadership of organized real estate to look at serious strategic issues in the industry. CAR likes to push the thinking beyond business as usual, and I’m honored to participate.

Steve Murray of REALTrends was spectacular. If you’ve never heard him speak, make arrangements to do so. If you haven’t read his new book Gamechangers, make arrangements to do so. He’s far more radical than you might think for a stalwart of the industry, and he sees almost all of the big issues confronting us. I’m not going to go into much detail of his presentation, since you can get most of it from the book, and I don’t want to misrepresent inadvertently. Instead, let’s talk briefly about my presentation.

I actually went into the event with a different presentation in mind, but based on what I had heard that morning, made the command decision to talk about the five things that we in the industry talk about privately, acknowledge as problems, but don’t really discuss in polite company. So here’s the gist of the Five Unspeakables.

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