Tag Archives: Zillow

Concerning MLS Enforcement of Cooperation and Compensation, An Observation

In the comments section of my post on Listhub and Zillow, an intelligent discussion and debate broke out. Given the rarity of such thing on the Interwebz, I think we should celebrate that.

Now then, the subject of the discussion was around the “value proposition” of the MLS in the 21st century and how the rise of these huge tech companies, as well as potential threats from things like the as-yet-unknown Project Upstream, could impact it. The discussion turned to what many consider to be the core value proposition of the MLS: “cooperation and compensation.” As it turns out, there’s something to think about here, so let’s get into it.

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Initial Thoughts on the Listhub-Zillow Divorce

By now, any reader of mine has heard about Listhub and Zillow waving goodbye to each other. As the great American philosopher Louis CK once observed, “No good marriage ever ends in divorce.” Clearly, this divorce was coming for years and years.

I’m writing this in large part to figure out what I think about it. The overwhelming impression within the real estate industry appears to be that this is bad news for Zillow. Inman’s headline is “Rupert Murdoch Playing Hardball With Zillow” (Subscription Required) after all.

If this is playing hardball, it comes a few days late and more than a few dollars short. We’ll see how it plays out, but I wonder if this isn’t worse news for Listhub/Move than it is for Zillow.

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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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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