Time to Defrag?

Kristn.jpgMarlow of the 360Digest reports that the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (Washington) will not be renewing their contract with Realtor.com, thereby pulling all of their listings from the search engine giant effective this Spring. This is potentially big news as I think it could be the beginning of the end of their dominance in the third-party search engine category. Gregg Swan, in a comment on Galen’s Rain City Guide post feels otherwise, as he reminds us that Central Arizona stopped their Realtor.com feed years ago yet this issue has since been resolved.

For the consumer, first let me make the distinction between the MLS systems and IDX. The MLS systems allow brokers to cooperate with one another. It is intended for member use and allows the sharing of listings and the agreement to compensate brokers who participate in the sale of those listings. IDX, or Internet Data Exchange, is a mechanism which allows MLS Participants (Principal Brokers) to give each other permission to display each others’ listings on their web sites. The search features you see on individual broker and agent websites are the result of IDX agreements. MLS participants, however, may opt out of the IDX agreement. The result is that hundreds of (typically smaller) brokers in San Diego will not have their listings represented. Therefore, the consumer is not getting access to each and every property offered for sale.

In today’s web world, there are many established and many more emerging home search sites, and they populate their sites in different ways. Trulia, and I will trust Galen on this, uses web crawlers to sweep listings from individual sites. In addition, much like Craigslist, Backpage and the myriad of other online classifieds, individual agents or brokerages can subscribe and place their listings on these sites. Realtor.com, on the other hand, has relied on free feeds, from the source if you will: The MLS’s.

The question becomes, why should Realtor.com play by different rules? It seems that there is strong sentiment that the fact that the for-profit giant is laden with advertising banners from competing brokers is not in the best interest of the MLS agent members who “own” the listings. I don’t entirely disagree. In order to allow our contact information, along with enhanced photos and property descriptions, to be displayed on Realtor.com, we are now forced to pay thousands of dollars a year. Will pulling the property feed in Washington have an adverse affect on the clients, however, by limiting their exposure? In the case of the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, I am not so sure, as their website is public and offers full access to all listings to anyone who is interested. In San Diego, however, our MLS is not public, so the consequences could be significant.

Having said that, with the veritable candy store of search engines available to the consumer, it may just be time to stop treating the independent search engines differently. Is the answer to withhold MLS feeds or provide them to all? I am admittedly somewhat confused as to the direction we are heading, a confusion apparently shared by Jim Duncan at RealCentralVA. Obviously, there will be many in the broker community who shun full cooperation as they fear it will diminish the value of the agent when/if the MLS is no longer a private matter. However, I see privacy and privelege of information as a dinosaur on its way to extinction. The larger brokerages have already hopped on the cluetrain (as Jim put it) and are feeding their listings directly to the more popular sites, case in point Prudential’s recent parterships with Yahoo! and now Google Base. I, for one, am placing my listings on every online search site I can get my hands on, as I continue to feel that maximum exposure is critical to my clients. For the time being, though, fragmentation is the word.

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