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The Debate About Syndicating to Third-Party Aggregation Sites

Note: If you are a non-real estate type, you may find this post only mildly interesting; it’s an important topic nonetheless. If you are a real estate type, chances are you have probably already written on the subject. It turns out at least four of my buddies – Jay Thompson, Rob Hahn, Drew Meyers and Jeffrey Douglas — are on the other side of this issue. Et tu, Brutes?)

As reported by Inman News (“Premium” content – sorry), Abbott Realty Group (ARG) recently announced that they will no longer syndicate listings to third-party aggregators. Subsequently, a big ol’ agent food fight ensued. OK, it’s more of a heated debate. But there are definitely two camps in the syndication discussion, and it’s an important one for buyers and seller, as well as agents, to understand. If affects us all.

If you are one of the three people remaining who hasn’t seen Jim Abbott’s video on the subject, here it is:

 

ARG’s decision followed a similar announcement by Edina Realty back in November. At the core, the arguments against syndication involve two issues: Data integrity and data control.

I’ll start with the issue of data integrity, because that is the simpler of the two. Sites like Trulia, Zillow and Realtor.com – let’s call them the troika – display loads of inaccurate data. There is no argument there. Because many of their listings are manually entered, many are outdated. I can point to numerous examples of homes being displayed as for sale that sold six months, or more, ago. I have seen my own listings entered by other agents as their own. There are foreclosure sites who routinely list homes by street – no address – that are not for sale but simply have had a Notice of Default filed, with the idea that buyers might contact their agents or sign up for there foreclosure listing services.

Some have argued that the likes of the troika do not have a corner on the inaccurate data market – that MLS listings are, too, fraught with errors. And while this is true, MLS errors represent agent input mistakes, oversight, or mere sloppiness. You won’t find double entries or intentional deceptions – or scams.

And then there are the rental scams which not only pose an inconvenience to our clients but present potential security risks. Where Craigslist used to own the rental scam space, we now see our listings appearing on the troika sites as rentals, and this happens nearly every time we list a home.  One of our clients learned that he was our latest victim when the first of a series of would-be renters knocked on his door – this one a Highway Patrolman who caused our elderly client much undo anxiety. Another client learned of the rental posting at the conclusion of a showing and from the showing agent who, having seen the listing on Trulia, was there only to help her client secure a six-month lease.

Absent syndication, would we eliminate rental scams? Of course not. The photos and listing information can be lifted just as easily from my site or any site with an IDX feed. But eliminating the ability for the scammers to do their one-stop shopping will make things a little more difficult.

Let’s talk about the larger issue of control. It’s about our information being hijacked for fun and profit and, yes, we handed them the keys.  It is about extortion. You gave us the car, and now you must pay for the ad, the enhanced positioning or profile, if you ever want to drive the conversation again. We are starting to see what this means for the agents and brokers. What does it mean for the buyers and sellers?

Let me share a story, a story that most agents have no doubt heard before. Our listings are on Realtor.com (no, we haven’t opted out), but we discontinued paying for the “special premium featured titanium agent” package on Realtor.com years ago when the bounty got a little too pricey and, philosophically, we got a little irked. So when I visited the page for one of our listings this week and filled out the contact form for more information, I wasn’t surprised by the outcome.

First we received an auto-generated response ensuring us that our inquiry had been sent to a “local area expert.” The “expert,” I’m sure, is a very fine company. It just happened to be one I had never heard of, with an office twenty miles away, and one who to my knowledge has never sold a home in this particular area. Next came another email informing us that an account had been set up for us on the referral agent’s website (“Our website has every listing in the San Diego area and it is updated daily”).

The next email was short and sweet; it gave us the name of their preferred “partner” lender who was standing by to help with all of our financing needs. It was the fourth and final email that finally hit on the subject at hand. “I have checked the status on this home and it is currently available. It is a traditional sale with no banks involved (like on a short sale or bank owned home). Did you have some particular questions about the home that I can answer for you?”

That’s it. Now with several hours and two pots of coffee separating me from my original query, I have a mortgage broker referral, I have an account on an agent’s IDX site, yet I still don’t have any answers nor have I been offered an opportunity to view the home I have expressed interest in. This is what we call a buyer left behind. The seller’s home was exposed, all right, but had I been a real buyer, the system failed him.

Further, relinquishing control of the conversation surrounding your inventory violates the most basic principle of Real Estate Career 101: The most valuable thing to a real estate agent is a stick in the ground. This is because listings breed listings, listings breed buyers, and listings build reputation. So when we “virtually” hand third party aggregators our body of work that took years and boatloads of money to cultivate, we slowly erode our own future growth potential – unless of course we pay for the opportunity to redirect the fruits of our labors back home.

Defenders of syndication say that an argument against syndication is an argument for dual agency. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much like you can opt out of syndication, you can opt out of dual agency.  Take the call, answer the questions, and then send the buyer to the nearest competing brokerage to view the home and write the offer if that helps you sleep nights. At least by having had the conversation, you haven’t opted out of your role as the champion for that home you signed on to sell, because that would not be in your client’s best interests.

Both Rob Hahn and Jay Thompson pointed out that Internet Data Exchange (IDX) sites like yours, mine, and the sites of every brokerage in the country, are no different than the Troika sites. I don’t agree. The data accuracy issue becomes a relative non-issue where IDX is concerned save the MLS input errors. Even then, the MLS's have procedures in place for policing and ultimately ensuring compliance. More importantly, IDX sites lack the resale component of the troika sites. While an inquiry on my listing may in fact go the agent-owner of another IDX site – and often does – consumers are generally clear on the fact that they are on a particular broker’s or agent’s site. And while some ambiguity may still exist where an IDX site is concerned, they are not simply trying to sell the customer to the highest bidder.

On a larger scale, this is about an industry handing over the car keys. We moan about the flaws in the Zestimates and then we send Zillow the eyeballs. We gripe about how Trulia and the likes are using our data to redirect our customer contact opportunities (what some agents might call “leads”) and spawn their own IPO’s, yet we continue to click the submit button. We lament the fact that buyers are confused and that the best interests of buyers and sellers alike are not necessarily served by the pay-to-play lead generation model. We defend syndication by saying that our sellers demand it, but our clients in fact look to us to explain what works and doesn’t in marketing their home. If you don’t believe this, then ask yourself when the last time was that you promoted your extensive newspaper advertising program to a would-be seller. Just because it is “free” does not make it a beneficial marketing strategy.

Sure, some sellers may not get it, and therein is the conundrum for both the agent and the brokerage. That’s also the genesis of our fear, our inaction, and our continuing down this dangerous road.

You see, my client’s home does not really need to be on 400 national websites. That is just a myth we have propagated out of convenience and our desire to win listings. It is rhetoric we bought into, rhetoric delivered by those who are in the business of profiting from our business. My client’s home does need to be in the MLS, because it is through that platform of broker cooperation that the overwhelming majority of sales still take place. Of course, through the miracles of IDX, my client’s home will still be exposed far and wide on sites other than the MLS and my own. But those sites are owned and operated by other agents and brokers, not by those who are in business to repurpose and profit from my efforts.

When Brad Inman opened the New York Real Estate Connect conference with a clip from the movie “Network” in which the news anchor shouts, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore,” he was talking about prevailing consumer attitudes in our “cottage economy.” It will take this same kind of outrage within our industry to reverse this trend toward putting distance between our customers and us. Taken to the extreme, this road could be leading toward a destination of disintermediation. In its more basic form, it is a flawed delivery system that benefits neither the customer nor the real estate community.

And it will take more than one ARG with 25 agents or even an Edina Realty with 2100 agents. One little San Diego Castles Realty with 11 agents would most certainly go unnoticed. But, I suppose, that is how big changes start – with little ripples. I, for one, applaud ARG’s move. It was bold and, in my opinion, it was right.

Kris Berg

Kris Berg is Owner and Designated Broker of San Diego Castles Realty. She has been serving San Diego buyers and sellers since 1997.

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  • Agentsteph, Nashville

    A stronger, fairer, less greedy Realtor.com funded by NAR with ALL the photos and direct listing agent info could put this whole mess to bed. I surprised that none of the blogs have mentioned this, and I can’t understand what NAR was thinking when they sold out to MOVE. It’s not too late to fix this, though yours and my IDX would likely lose traffic…

  • Up north

    Third party real estate sites’ alleged black hat SEO tactics

  • http://www.SanDiegoJeff.com/ jeffreydouglass

    Kris, North San Diego Association of REALTORS® just updated syndication through Point2 Agent.   The e-mail says that since August 2, 2011 there were 4217 listings from North San Diego Association of REALTORS® that were syndicated through Point2Agent.  Those listings had received 78,284 detailed views, including 3827 clicks from consumers.

    I hope more brokers opt out, just another value proposition for those of us who do!

    • Mogul

      this man speaks the truth. dont let these people steal your property rights.

  • Anonymous

    I blogged about this as well but took a different stance.  I have no issue with their business move.  I do take issue with their spin though.  This issue is absolutely a business to business issue.  It has little to do with consumers yet he created the spin as if this was a good thing for consumers and then the whole issue with the copyright was a bad, bad move.  

    If brokerages want to pull out because they see it as bad for business for them as a company.  No problem, just don’t go online spinning that into a consumer issue when it is a for profit business decision.  It’s okay to want to make a profit but let’s be honest about what it is.

    As for the bad response you received off of Realtor.com, you and I both know that happens off print ads, sign calls, etc.  Some agents just aren’t good.  That is part of our business, unfortunately, and it isn’t exclusive to responses off the internet.  If a buyer agent has a client set up for auto listings on the MLS and doesn’t return the buyers phone calls to see the house, that doesn’t help my seller either.  There is no difference between that and what you described.    

    If they had just said “We are tired of paying exorbitant fees to these sites and refuse to participate any more.”  Great.   a bold business move.  Totally fine.  Creating bad spin to sound good.  Not fine.   

    • http://www.SanDiegoJeff.com/ jeffreydouglass

      Melina, that is an excellent point, and perhaps what has upset me so about this issue.  Everyone has the right to run their business how they see fit, but spinning this into a win for the consumer is just laughable.

      • Anonymous

        That really is my issue. I would have had incredible respect for them as a business if they had just stated the real issue and taken a stand.  That would be bold.  Now, it is a “bold if we can get consumers to buy into us wanting to make more profit move.”  Needless to say, the power of the business decision loses traction with me.  

    • Anonymous

      “If brokerages want to pull out because they see it as bad for business
      for them as a company.  No problem, just don’t go online spinning that
      into a consumer issue when it is a for profit business decision.  It’s
      okay to want to make a profit but let’s be honest about what it is.”

      Insert irony here. That is precisely the subject of my Inman News
      article tomorrow. However, both arguments apply. And both are valid. And by the way, real estate agents don’t have the corner on spinning the whole “consumer issue.” Look at what the sites in question are spinning.

      • Anonymous

        Oh I don’t disagree with that.  Zillow folks are out in force commenting and participating in the discussion.  Of course they are going to defend their product and their way of doing business.  That is to be expected.   

        Well then I look forward to reading your article tomorrow.  :)  

        • Mogul

          The dude has some good points. Seems like a straight shooter. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/dena.stevens Dena L. Stevens

    This was the subject of our weekly office meeting. Wonder how many other offices had the same conversation? This discussion of syndication has gained some much needed strength in the last few days. 

    • Anonymous

      Not so coincidentally, the subject of our office meeting tomorrow. :)

  • Steve Berg

    I guess I would be remiss for not weighing in on this fun subject. What I have not yet heard in this discussion is the fact that we, as brokers and agents (including IDX sites), are bound by our rules and regulations to properly represent listings. We have a fiduciary responsibility under agency law and an ethical obligation under the our code of ethics; the failure to maintain these standards can result in the loss of our license. Syndication websites are under no such standards. They only seek profits and will use any method to enhance the number of eyeballs on their respective sites in order to fulfill their profit motive, regardless of the accuracy of the data or proper identification of the listing agent.         

    • Sean

      If syndicators are under no such standards it is only because those that provide listings have failed to do so. Easy fix.

      • Steve Berg

        No, Sean, actually that is not true. The only fix is to compel those syndicators to to be licensed in all of the markets in which they exist. Or, of course, to deny them the information. Neither is an easy fix.

            

        • Sean

          Steve – your arugment makes zero sense. It would be 100% like saying that Newspapers need to be licensed to advertise real estate. The real estate industry is providing the listing in return for exposure. The revenue model is flipped around, but it is still advertising. I’d also argue its flipped around to the benefit of agents… as a listing agent you get free advertising for your clients, and the choice of whether or not to pay for actionable leads. With a newspaper, or other traditional advertising, you pay to give your client’s property exposure whether or not you get any leads. The quality issue is also red herring, and self inflicted. The real estate industry DOES control where their listing information goes, they just need to do a better job exercising it. I can guarantee no syndicator wants to display inaccurate information – but it should be quite clear that getting reliable data from industry participants is challenging at best.

    • http://www.drewmeyersinsights.com/ Drew Meyers

      Syndication websites live or die by consumer trust & traffic. 

      Facebook could easily go and sell all that information they have about their millions (billions) of users to anyone. But they don’t. Why? Because they would get f’ing pounded by user & press backlash — which would jeopardize their business/traffic and make it easier for a competitor to steal their users out from under them.

      Make no mistake — Z/T/R of the world have a vested interest in figuring out how to make their data as good as possible. It’s just not a quick or easy problem to solve (which is why no one, including the MLS’) has 100% solved it yet.

  • http://www.SanDiegoJeff.com/ jeffreydouglass

    Kris, visit Syndication Part 2 for my thoughts on listing syndication.

    http://www.realtyv2.com/2012/01/listing-syndication-part-2/

    I am with Jay, there is no right or wrong, it’s just the reality of the world that we live in today.  Trying to control the Internet is not going to happen.  This discussion is not unlike having a stockbroker wanting to get stock prices off the internet.  What they have done instead is syndicate for reliable and timely data available to everyone.

    Today I was shown a listing for a downtown high rise.  The listing agent indicated it was in completely the wrong building, had several opinions of how many floors the tower had, misspelled the majority of the remarks, and did not have any pictures of the interior posted.

    This is where the Industry needs to improve, not trying to boycott other companies that are a perceived threat.

  • http://PhoenixRealEstateGuy.com Jay Thompson

    You’re wrong!  I just had to say that, because I’ve never been able to before, and probably never will be able to again.

    Actually, there really isn’t a “right or wrong” here, in my opinion. There are pro’s and con’s on both sides of the fence. And what may be wrong for one brokerage may well be right for another. Real estate is local, or something like that.

    The more I think about this whole thing, the more I see IDX as “local syndication”. IDX is really nothing more than what the Troika is doing but on a local, smaller scale. 
    And THAT may well mean some sort of change is in the air. Of course if that change is left to the committees of the NAR, state and local associations, along with their respective MLS’s, well then who knows how long said change may take.

    • Anonymous

      Wrong? :) I have to admit that we are rarely on the opposite sides of an issue.

      IDX is not the same. It is syndication, yes. But both the purpose and the execution are different. We’ve done a pretty good job talking about the execution aspect – straight from the MLS to you, so the data accuracy is infinitely better. Even though we can argue all day about MLS listing input errors, I think we all agree on this point. So let’s talk about purpose. (I understand this isn’t the consumer argument, but IDX keeps coming up, so we need to address it.) The MLS represents a cooperative agreement between brokers, and so goes IDX. I allow you, a member participant, to display my listings; I in turn may display yours. You get something; I and my site visitors get something — we have a reciprocal arrangement. There is no reciprocity in third-party listing syndication in its current form. They get something (the listing data); they sell that something. I hear it coming… “Kris, you get EXPOSURE for your listings!” But my listings are exposed, thank you, with or without Zillow, in every IDX feed emanating from my MLS and — oh, yeah — in the MLS.

      • http://www.drewmeyersinsights.com/ Drew Meyers

        Kris? Wrong? Have those two words been uttered in the same sentence before? I think not :)

        Agree with Jay though. There isn’t right or wrong. It’s a business strategy decision as to whether or not to syndicate. I have no doubt people on both sides of the fence will figure out how to succeed. Equally, I have no doubt people on both sides of the fence will figure out a way to fail.

        Great discussion…

  • http://www.mikebowler.net mbowlersr

    Good post Kris, It’s all a big mess and needs to be cleaned up. The withdrawing seems to be popular topics for everyone in the Blog world, Facebook, and Twitter to run up their ratings on Klout. Other than that, nothing will happen with data, like it should. Not being pessimistic, just realistic…. Your post may help the ripple but it will take a RPR type system to take our inventory back and reverse the situation coming. IMHO

    Brokers used to waste their money on newspaper advertising,  now it’s on 3rd party websites. :-) 

    “Expect the Best” 

    • http://PhoenixRealEstateGuy.com Jay Thompson

      “Brokers used to waste their money on newspaper advertising,  now it’s on 3rd party websites.”
      I’ve never given Trulia, Zillow or r.com a nickle Mike…. 

      • Sean

        I think that’s the best part of this shift Jay – with newspapers your clients expected their listing to be there and you had to pay, now they expect their listing to be on these sites… and you get to be there for free, with the CHOICE to pay for leads. The one thing I will say is that these companies all seem to suck at explaining this fairly simple shift in value proposition, and it continues to cost them.

  • TheRECoach

    I’m with ya Kris! Been on this “bandwagon” for about 5 years now. Made a complete idiot out of myself at Inman SF, when I sat in on the MLS “Private” session and brought up this very point (I felt like it was done tactfully, but my hasty exit at the hands of security suggests they didn’t). Sean is correct, when he says there is an “Easy” solution, but it fails to take into consideration that the “Good Old Boys” of the MLS Monopoly are the real issue, not the Trolka! They want money from the Trolka, in exchange for the access that will fuel the update process, and could care less about the accuracy issue .. Beleed dat! 

    I applaud ARG as well as others who are stepping up. It is, after all, the way our country was designed. I do however believe that we can not fix this “Cluster %&#@” until we create a regulated (God Forbid by NAR, or the Government) Nationwide MLS. perhaps RPR is the first step, perhaps not. We will see.

    Take Care
     
    TheRECoach

    • http://PhoenixRealEstateGuy.com Jay Thompson

      Coach – a national MLS? Good grief man, you’ve seen the wreck that can be a local MLS. The carnage just might scale. It would be Armageddon! I don’t need a national MLS, I sell homes in Phoenix.

      • http://SeattleHome.com Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

        Totally on board with Jay here.  There’s no need for a national MLS.  I used to be in favor of it, but that’s more of a web/tech interesting goal than something that actually benefits consumers. 

        Local search provides better local results.

  • http://www.dougfrancis.com/ Doug Francis

    Misinformation on the Internet, really?

  • Sean

    This problem seems so easily solved.
    1. Have MLSs take responsibility for >allowing< access to credible third parties (Zillow, Trulia, et al)
    2. Require that third parties display the listing agents (perhaps brokers) name and contact info more prominently then any other contact info, form or button the page (instant free advertising).
    3. Require that 3rd parties refresh the data at least daily.
    It is ridiculous to think that this genie can be put back in the bottle… homeowners who want to sell will put it up themselves if their agent fails to do it. The real estate industry is brining the data quality problem on themselves by failing to come together and find a way to reliably deliver this information to 3rd parties in a way that makes sense.

  • http://www.SanDiegoJeff.com/ jeffreydouglass

    Kris, I love when you play devil’s advocate!  I think there are a few points that most are lumping all the 3rd party sites into one bucket.  Like them or not, Realtor.com, has always used feeds making them as accurate as the data is on the MLS, which is another topic.  Much of the inaccuracy of reporting contingencies, pendings, and closing come directly from the MLS and filter through the Internet.  Jim Abbott mentioned Craig’s List as one of the offenders, and it is clearly not the same as a Zillow or Trulia which utilize both syndication and broker/agent load.

    Your statement that follows makes me worry there is something funny in the water out there in Scripps Ranch…

    “Defenders of syndication say that an argument against syndication is an argument for dual agency. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much like you can opt out of syndication, you can opt out of dual agency.  Take the call, answer the questions, and then send the buyer to the nearest competing brokerage to view the home and write the offer if that helps you sleep nights. ”

    Listen to the video again and the whole undercurrent including the spiffy little logo scream, call the listing agent, we know best!  You can’t have it both ways when your IDX system does what you have such issue with, not identifying the listng agent and the apparence the ARG is indeed the listing agent.    Check out my screen shot with the 3 calls of action on another downtown broker’s listing.  It is about dual agency and it is about not wanting to pay to promote listings on these sites or building effective local sites to promote individual listings.

    Yes, we are getting our listings sold back to us.  Does anyone think this is the only industry facing this challenge?  Times have changed from running a paper ad in the local penny saver, Dream Homes Magazine, and daily Union Tribune.  The Internet is now a primary marketing platform in getting “for sale” information out.  Sites like Realtor.com serve a purpose for those prospective home buyers moving to San Diego.  They are not going to know about the ARG site, Castle Realty, or RealtyV2.  It is nice for them to have an aggregated data base rather than the fractionalized mini MLS kingdoms, or hundeds of brokerage sites with IDX feeds and featured listings.  

    It is time to stop whining about the 3rd party sites and step up our collectively game as an industry and promote regional and statewide, and nationwide multiple listing systems.  The public facing Sandicor application is a mess compared with the slick offerings of Realtor.com, Zillow, and Trulia including the ability to search on smart phones and tablets.   The real estate consumer benefits from this technology and it brings a way to collectively find information.  Zillow has  purchased Diverse Solutions giving them direct IDX to the majority of the MLS’s in the country.  You know something is amiss when the consumer search options are far better, faster, and easier to use than our professional tools which will only boot on  a windows machine with 32 plugins on Internet Explorer.

    While I don’t list property very much, I assure you that anytime I do I will be in the top 5 search results for my listing.  For someone searching from a cabin in Maine they want to know all the listings, not just one, IMHO.

  • http://www.uberrealty.com Jim Whatley

    Syndication is like a lot of things, sounds better the it real is. 

  • http://www.Kens411.com Ken Brand

    I appreciate thoughtful commentary like this, whether I agree or not.  In this case, I All-In with you.  Cheers.

  • http://SeattleHome.com Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

    Kris, your analysis is always refreshing.  I syndicate, but I feel the building angst of many in the industry.

    First, to Jay and Rob’s point:  No, IDX and syndication are not the same.  Data integrity is far more important than any of the other arguments. 

    We’ve all pointed out ad nauseum that there are data input problems in the MLS. Comparing that to the huge inventories of cancelled, expired, and sold listings on syndication sites is just disingenuous.  Syndication creates exponentially more errors in listing displays and generates revenue from the inflated inventories and misled traffic.  The level of inaccuracy is a world apart from the MLS data input and we should stop the silly comparison.

    ARG’s argument about which agent gets the lead is really not the point.  Both IDX and syndication can send home buyers to an agent who is not associated with the home.  At least we know that IDX will only show them homes that are actually available for sale.

    This is really the only argument that needs to be made.  If it can’t be displayed correctly, it shouldn’t be at all.  Will brokerages give syndicators a direct MLS feed?  Not a chance. 

    It’s up to syndicators to deal with this issue of accuracy.  The MLS is not required, or obliged, to help.  A 3rd party, for-profit company, wants to use MLS listings to make money.  I’m all for it.  Do it right, or more companies will opt out.

    • http://mocorealestate.com/ Bruce Lemieux

      Sam – have you checked the data quality of Zillow/Trulia data for a couple of zip codes in Seattle?  Is it still really bad — right now?  In my market, we have one MLS and all listings feed one syndication platform which is ideal. It looks like data quality on the syndicated sites has improved a lot in my market over the last two years.  They are missing some listings, but very few bogus listings.

      • http://SeattleHome.com Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

        Trulia was off by 32% and 37% in the first two Seattle zip codes I checked.  Those aren’t all FSBOs.

    • http://PhoenixRealEstateGuy.com Jay Thompson

      Sam – When I say IDX and syndication are the same, I’m referring to how the listing data is displayed to the web surfing potential home buyer or seller. Mr. Abbott claimed that consumers were being mislead by TruZillTor into thinking they were going to be contacting the listing agent. IDX displays do *exactly* the same thing. 

      We have fielded countless calls and emails from people on TruZillTor asking about a specific property. We of course look it up in the MLS. When we tell that person that the property was sold three months ago (or never was for sale) it takes 30 seconds to explain why. To date, as far as I know, no consumer has taken a header off a bridge because TruZillTor “deceived” them. They say, “Oh, that sucks, but I get it now. Where should I search?”

      • http://SeattleHome.com Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

        Your point that they’re doing *exactly* the same thing applies to one small facet of IDX.  Of course, I’ve heard it repeated by many others since that IDX and syndication are the same, if you support one, you must support the other.  It’s simply false.

        IDX allows member brokers in a dues-paying, regulated organization to display one anothers’ listings and have member professionals field responses about those listings. 

        Syndication allows a non-industry website to field inquiries.  The receipt of the initial point of buyer contact is by an unlicensed 3rd party.  Whether we approve of that or not is up to the individual.  To say that it’s the same as IDX is disingenuous.

        Your last point is really the key.  If we’re ok all pointing our SEO toward a site that routinely sends consumers to outdated listings, then that’s a decision we’ll make as an industry.  Avoiding consumers “taking a header off a bridge” isn’t really the thrust of the conversation.  Getting it right the first time should still be our goal, even if it’s difficult.

        • Anonymous

          Well said.

  • http://mocorealestate.com/ Bruce Lemieux

    Poor Trulia and Zillow data quality has always given me heartburn. Two years ago I reconciled all MLS listings in a zip code and found that half of Zillow and Trulia’s listings were not actually available to buy.  Disgusting. After Jim’s video, I did a quick data quality check again.  I was very surprised to see a big improvement with only 2 bogus listings on Zillow (none on Trulia) for the zip I checked.  I wonder if you’ve checked their data quality in San Diego?  One has to be a little psycho to go through this exercise (I don’t know you, but you seem like you might be up for it).  I *do* think this is a very important consideration.  If their database is full of bogus listings, then that’s reason enough to pull one’s listings from them.   

    From my checks, R.com’s data has always been pristine. I agree that their relationship with agents kinda blows.  This will be the first year that I don’t pay to enhance listings.  If I actually got value from the investment, I would continue – but it’s just not there. Still – it’s a clean database, so my client’s listings will be there. Even if I don’t get the lead call.

    Last point:  If you look at Trulia and Zillow’s listing details, they both link back to the broker. And, you can claim listings on Trulia so a buyer contacts you directly — something that doesn’t happen on broker IDX sites.  If their data isn’t spammy, and they roughly follow IDX rules, then why would a broker hold their listings from them?  Isn’t the same as participating in IDX?

    I would have been at the front of the mob with pitchfork and torch to track down the Ogre Syndicators before my last data check. Now, I’m not so sure.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the comment, Bruce. In one Zip code alone, we are aware of many listings that are incorrectly displayed on one of these sites – some are not available and never have been and others are just homes that sold during a former presidential administration. Yes, Realtor.com’s data is pure, but I have philosophical issues with being punished on “The Official Site of the National Association of Realtors” for not anteing up. This is a agent issue, obviously, and not a client issue, but an issue nonetheless. However, it becomes a client issue when they are losing opportunities, as in my example above.

      Regarding the listing agent display with agent registration, I understand that. I also understand that on one of these sites, having my info displayed means I am lumped on the side bar with several others who have paid to be there. Further, they have more “stars” than I do because they heeded the siren call of “Send all of your clients to our site to rate you so that we might drive more traffic our way and, oh, in doing so, those ads become more valuable and the prices will go up.”

  • http://www.notorious-rob.com Notorious R.O.B.

    Good post, Kris. And as I mentioned on Twitter, I hardly think I’m on the other side of you on the syndication issue. All I’m really concerned about is that the arguments against syndication also apply to IDX, and what that means for the future of the MLS.

    Take your distinction between IDX and syndication.

    1. The data accuracy issue becomes a relative non-issue where IDX is concerned save the MLS input errors. Even then, the MLS’s have procedures in place for policing and ultimately ensuring compliance. 

    The obvious answer to that is to let the third party sites have the direct data feed from the MLS, the same as IDX. Treat Realtor, Zillow, or Trulia the same was as one might treat your brokerage website, with same privileges and responsibilities.

    Of course, if you do that, people will throw a FIT, because now you’ve undermined the whole reason why the MLS exists, and the meaning of “participant”.

    2. More importantly, IDX sites lack the resale component of the troika sites. While an inquiry on my listing may in fact go the agent-owner of another IDX site – and often does – consumers are generally clear on the fact that they are on a particular broker’s or agent’s site. And while some ambiguity may still exist where an IDX site is concerned, they are not simply trying to sell the customer to the highest bidder.

    This is one answer I simply can’t understand. Most consumers have no idea, have never thought about, and do not care that they’re on a “third party” website or not. They see a house, they make an inquiry, someone calls them. Why would it make any difference to a consumer whether the site is supported by advertising dollars or by commission splits?

    Plus, my point (and I think Jay’s point) is that Jim Abbott’s beef is with agents who don’t know the property, who don’t know the area, who just paid some fee to TruZilTor getting the consumer inquiry and screwing things up. Remember his, “If you want honest accurate information, talk to the source” and the “Official Listing Agent” badge.

    How does being on a website owned/operated by someone who has a real estate license and paid dues to a REALTOR organization change any of that? Neither the license nor the Association membership grants a person special insight into neighborhoods she’s never visited, or a development she’s never sold before.

    As you so eloquently point out! The lead in your story above went to some broker 20 miles away with zero transactions in the relevant neighborhood.

    Whether the consumer ended up talking to said broker because he went to Trulia, or because he went to Google and landed on the IDX page… the result is the same: consumer is now talking to an agent who doesn’t know jack-diddly-squat.

    Does it matter really whether the consumer ended up there because of a “pay-for” third party site or a “free” IDX site? I don’t see how.

    So I’m very much understanding, and am likely in favor of controlling syndication. I think Jim Abbott did the right thing for his company, and I believe that we’ll see withdrawal from syndication across the industry.

    My question is, whither IDX? Because Jay Thompson is right. You can’t be against syndication (for the reasons articulated) and be for IDX. The two are the same thing.

    • Anonymous

      As for you, Mr. Hahn, excellent points all. Duty calls but, when I return, I will have a thoughtful response.

      • Jim the Realtor

        R.O.B. has a great point.

        The original intent of the MLS was to serve all clients by cooperating together to sell each other’s listings. 

        But IDX allows me to use your listings to get a client, which now the third-party syndicators have taken to the next level and are making money off their advertising of what is in effect, an IDX platform.

        The genie is out of the bottle now. 

        Kris, if you quit sending your listings to IDX, are you going to take the IDX feed off of this blog?  Just curious.

    • Anonymous

      First, I noticed the comments are suddenly all wonky. Err. I’ll get that fixed.

      On topic, I understand the similarities you point out between IDX and syndication, at least where the issue of who is taking the calls is concerned. Point noted. However, that is where the similarities end. Data is the IDX feed is not fraught with the same accuracy problems as TruZilia. So should we just send the IDX on over, problem solved? Of course not, at least not in my opinion. Further, one could argue (one being me) that an MLS member displaying IDX data on their site is far different than a third-party site repurposing that data for their own profit. OK, tomatoes, tomahtoes. But right or wrong, there is one reason IDX will never go away: VOWs. Take IDX away from the Brokers/agents, and you will still have IDX on every virtual office website. Think Redfin. So this is in that respect, I suppose, a “participant” issue.

      As you are well aware, this is a complex issue with a lot of players affected. It is probably better argued broken down into chunks lest we get into circular arguments. However, and as a footnote, donning my self-serving hat for a minute, the biggest difference I see between IDX and TruZilia is the purpose for which the data is being used. Brokers and agents use IDX to further their own real estate business; the latter use the data to profit from our real estate business. So what? I think it’s a big distinction. By syndicating my listings, I am giving permission to these sites to auction off my business. It is the virtual equivalent of allowing an agent to slap their name rider on my yard sign and then having the sign company charge me to remove it. No sane agent would allow that, yet we seem to have no problem allowing it to occur online.

      • http://www.notorious-rob.com Notorious R.O.B.

        Hi Kris — love the quality of the counterargument here. It’s sadly rare to think things through with such detail and well… such elan.

        So here’s what we have, boiled down.

        1. IDX and Syndication are the same insofar as the issue of “who takes the call” is concerned. The low quality of service delivered to the buyer from the Zillow-lead-handling agent is the same as that delivered by the IDX-lead-handling agent. In either case, if the agent helping the buyer knows the area and knows the property, she can do a good job of helping that buyer, and ultimately delivering an interested buyer to the seller (and listing agent). If the agent doesn’t know, then it doesn’t much matter whether the inquiry came from Zillow or from IDX.

        I think we both agree on that.

        2. “MLS member displaying IDX data on her site is different than a third-party repurposing that data for their own profit.”

        This is the part I’m not understanding. The MLS member displaying IDX data isn’t doing it as a public service, or for charity. She’s doing it for her own profit — hopefully by securing that lead and earning the buy-side commission on the ultimate transaction, but even if not, that inquiry could lead to a name in the database to be emailed, farmed, etc. etc. In fact, you know as well as I do that there are “brokerage” companies out there, who are officially participants in the MLS, dues-paying members of the Association of REALTORS, whose entire business model is predicated on earning referral fees from other agents to whom they will ship the “lead” to. And that “lead” is generated from the IDX search sites, which some of these guys set up by the hundreds to capture every possible long-tail search term. You know they exist.

        Does the fact that such referral-farms have a license, is paying dues to the Association, and paying MLS fees make such a dramatic difference? I don’t see it.

        And later you say, “the biggest difference I see between IDX and TruZilia is the purpose for which the data is being used. Brokers and agents use IDX to further their own real estate business; the latter use the data to profit from our real estate business.”

        The purpose for which the data is being used is the same, in either case: make money. To say that it is somehow noble to further “their own real estate business” but evil to further an advertising business strikes me as a distinction worthy of Vatican monks arguing over 14th century manuscripts.

        3. “Take away the IDX, and the VOW remains”

        Interestingly enough, I believe THIS is the distinction at the heart of the debate that matters. As I’ve pointed out on my blog a few times, the issue is whether you can use my listings to get yourself clients, or whether you can use my listings only to SERVE your clients.

        Geoffrey Lewis of REMAX said during the Congressional hearings that the idea of the MLS is “you get a client, you can use the MLS to serve that client” and that it isn’t “you get to use the MLS to get yourself a client in the first place”. Or something along those lines.

        I think that’s exactly the issue. No broker, no participant, no agent has ANY issues with you bringing your client, someone with whom you already have a relationship, to their property for sale. That’s what makes VOW’s so fine — to provide a VOW to anyone, the broker in question has to have established a “client relationship” with the consumer. What that means differs from state to state, and maybe the bar is too low, but it’s one that all of you guys are comfortable with.

        The problem with IDX is the same one with Syndication. Now you have a situation in which companies use the listing data in order to procure a client relationship. And that is what I think all these anti-syndication brokers have a problem with. Because that does feel like, to them, someone slapping their name on your yard sign. I can see that. I really do.

        And… hence… to me, the core issue at the heart of syndication also affects IDX: “Are you allowed to use my listing information to procure a client? Or are you only allowed to use it to serve a client that you have procured in some other fashion?” That’s the issue. And on that, much turns.

        • http://www.drewmeyersinsights.com/ Drew Meyers

          I still haven’t heard a counter to your point #2 — which is a legitimate one. Seems like the exact same thing as what the syndicators are doing, and because they are paying dues, that makes it okay?

          I don’t get it either

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