Give us your listings and no one gets hurt.

I remember an old joke from years ago, although I have probably butchered it over time as the old brain cells have moved well beyond their half-lives. It's a joke about picking your argument.

A man faces his accuser in court, the victim of an attack by a big, black dog. “It couldn’t have been my dog, because I don’t have a dog. Besides, my dog doesn’t bite. And he’s white.”

Just give us the damn listings, already, and no one gets hurt.

As reported by Inman News, that’s the appeal that Zillow sent this week to Multiple Listing Services (MLS’s) across the country.

Back in May, I wrote about the real elephant in the listing syndication room – content. So this appeal by Zillow for free content comes as no surprise. Except for the part about having the huevos to lay their cards out in such a matter-of-fact, cut-to-the-chase manner.

Just give us the listings, already.

Maybe the whole coercion angle wasn’t working quite as well or as swiftly as they had hoped. Just last month, the former friends-of-the-agent I applauded in those more innocent, salad days, were insisting they didn’t have a dog in this fight. “The home buying and selling public demands that your listings be gift wrapped and shipped directly to Zillow. You owe it to your clients. Do it for the People!”

Except it’s not about the People at all. It is about the “agent wallet,” that big pot of gold that catapulted the company into IPO stardom. It’s about shareholders, profitability, and future earnings.

All the fancy algorithms and questionable Zestimates and whimsical blogs about celebrity houses in the world will not keep the agent wallet in the house without the listings. Because, it is the listings that buyers and sellers want to see. And it is the buyers and sellers looking for those listings that the agents are after.

Apparently, the argument du jour is that by simply going to the source — the MLS’s — Zillow’s pesky problems with data integrity can be readily solved. And so they could. My own future earnings could also be greatly enhanced if Nordstrom simply shipped me their entire fall line so that I might set up my own little marketplace on eBay. But, I am smart enough to know that they wouldn’t just send me their stuff for free. Nordstrom would probably want something in return.  It’s crazy, I know.

It’s the content, stupid. And Zillow has a bit of a mess on its hands right now. Some feeds come from brokers; others come from individual agents. Much of the listing data they do have is out of date, incorrect, misattributed or otherwise misrepresented. And, with more agents and brokers opting out of the whole thing, the data set is incomplete.

The real estate agent community is a tough one to corral. There are too many of them and, as any broker will tell you, it’s a revolving door. There is the constant need to recruit, train, rinse and repeat. Where populating a site is concerned, better to just cut out the middle man, that little guy, the agent community that you once ferociously courted in order to gain the necessary traction to publish that prospectus.

In May, I quoted my daughter, the journalist. “It’s stupid to give away your content for free.”

Indeed.

The MLS’s are the department stores of real estate. They run the showrooms that display the wares of all of the individual designers – the agents. It is stupid to give away your content for free; it is even dumber to give it away only to have to repurchase the rights to what was yours to begin with.

And I am certain that, if not the agents, the MLS’s across the country get this.

They do, right?

Get your Instant Home Value…