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Think Before You Syndicate

December 14, 2011  |  by John Heithaus

MRIS welcomes blog posts from our customers on topics of timely and mutual interest. Today’s post is written by Mr. Jon Coile, President and CEO of Champion Realty.

“Help!”

The frantic cry came from one of my top agents. “The internet has exploded and I’ve got an angry ex-seller yelling at me to make it stop!”

The problem is a listing obtained two years ago. Overpriced, it hadn’t sold despite all the marketing we did both on and off-line. When the listing was eventually withdrawn from the MLS the For Sale sign came down, the flyers went in the trash and all on and off-line marketing ceased. But unbeknownst to us, the online marketing we initially set in motion now apparently can’t be stopped.

The listing has taken on a separate life now and keeps getting refreshed all over the Internet by companies operating out of Luxembourg, Uruguay, and India of all places. When you try and reach them through their website, the Live Chat button routes you through Atlanta to a call center in Mumbai. Requests to remove the listing have not been fruitful, and therefore this “off the market” listing keeps reappearing “For Sale” on almost all the major aggregator websites and countless other places. While we can play whack-a-mole with each individual website and implore them to yank it down, Google.com reports that this one listing is currently on 459,000 websites as an active address, even though it hasn’t been listed in the current decade!

 

The “law of unintended consequences” is unfortunately alive and well. The worst part is that as an industry, we did this to ourselves.

A few years ago, when Internet marketing was in its infancy and we – the brokers and agents — were seduced by the perceived need to shotgun our listings to the world, we were all over it. We were getting “free” placement on literally tens of thousands of websites for our sellers. And in our zeal to adapt, we essentially empowered “syndicators” to get our listings out there faster and farther and then lost track of where they all went. But it didn’t really matter. The buyer leads ended up coming back to us, we sold our listings for our sellers, and all was good. Or so we thought.

As their business models matured and our “partners” experienced pressure to create new revenue streams, many of these same companies started quietly selling the right to be positioned on a property results page as “the agent,” as in, “contact the agent for more information on this listing.” The only problem is, “the agent” that these aggregators put forward as an expert doesn’t necessarily know anything about the property, the neighborhood or the community. They are merely agents who have bought the rights to receive a percentage of all listing inquiries for a particular zip code.

Their primary motivation is to obtain a buyer prospect as opposed to selling that particular listing. At its core, this seems deceptive and unfair to the seller who originally entrusted their property to a specific agent and wanted that agent associated with their home.

If you think about it, a national aggregator selling agents leads off of a website becomes less about the quality of the listing database and far more about the quantity. More listings mean more “eye candy” thus more opportunities to sell agent placement.

That erosion of data oversight and accuracy  – plus the variety of methods of inserting other agents on our listings as “the agent” – is why you are now hearing about agents and brokers making the move to remove their listing inventory from the national aggregators.

We are suffering from past, well-intentioned enthusiasm to broadcast our listings without sufficient quality controls. We don’t have to keep doing things that are not in the best interest of our sellers, ourselves and ultimately the buying public. These internet-empowered buyers are relying on the real estate industry for accurate listing information to guide their buying process. And NAR stats from the 2011 Buyer Survey tell us that 90%+ of of customers go to the internet first when looking for a home. 

In the future it will be up to us to think before we syndicate as not all Internet exposure is good exposure. The MLS, as the “steward” of our intellectual property, may offer the perfect solution to this dilemma, if you have an MLS as well conceived and managed as MRIS here in the Mid-Atlantic.

The reality is there are some buyers of some generations who are distrustful of company websites. For these buyers, as an alternative to a national aggregator, a public facing MLS-run website that funnels property leads back to the actual listing agent is an excellent alternative. The database is the best source of information from the agents and brokers responsible for its quality. The leads go to the agent most able to answer questions about the listing.  And the buyers have access to a “brand-agnostic” website. This is all good.

The time for change is now and we’re determined to re-think syndication and modernize our business practices. You will see the current crop of national aggregators tweak their business models in the months ahead as they try to get back in good graces with real estate practitioners but I’m reminded of the old saying.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” I’m done fooling around with national aggregators.

______________________

 

Jon Coile is President and CEO of Champion Realty, Inc., a large regional broker in Maryland and a partner company of HomeServices of America, Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway Affiliate.

 

Posted in Blog, Guest Posts, Industry News

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42 Responses to “Think Before You Syndicate”

  1. David Charron says:

    Thanks Jon for your insight and perspective. I am sure your post will further the debate! Your comments on the unintended consequences associated with listing distribution is "spot on"!

  2. David Howell says:

    Brilliant and thought-provoking as usual Jon. I suspect we've all had simlar experiences trying to squelch listings no longer on the market, and there is no evident accountablility among our syndication "friends." As you said, for them, it isn't about accuracy – it's about traffic and eyeballs. In my view, it's even worse for those syndication sites that offer AVMs. They are wildly inaccurate – if you look at their fine print they even acknowledge they're inaccurate – but consumers seem to value the misinformation on these sites. And ultimately, we have only ourselves to blame.

  3. MRIS_CMO says:

    Thanks for your comments, David. MRIS has developed and is implementing a new strategy for 2012 that makes certain the broker has comprehensive control over their "asset", in this case the property listing. The new process will feature tighter controls, streamlined opt-in and out, business analytics and more.

    We will be sharing the new policies and procedures in the next few months, so stay tuned!

  4. Completely agree with your observations, Jon. Many agents get heartburn that the national syndicators profit from their listings – I get that. The other aspect of this that infuriates me is that they present these listings to consumers *knowing* their database is inaccurate, incomplete and outdated. Buyers are lured into their site and are given no warning that the quality of the listings are so poor. It's bad for consumers and, unfortunately for us, it makes the entire industry look smarmy.

    Consumers can get high quality listings from numerous MLS-sourced sites. As a profession, we need a brand (ala 'Intel Inside') and program to educate consumers on the difference. Or simply cut off the flow of listings to syndicators if they are unable to maintain a minimum quality standard.

  5. Jon Coile says:

    Bruce, I like your idea about a brand for the data, ala 'Intel Inside'. I'm sure Intel also has safeguards to prevent their chip being installed inside a garbage computer, detracting from their Intel brand. Our branded data should only go to websites that enhance our brand. Data quality is just one of several issues we need to be vigilant about going forward so we stop facilitating the survival of the smarmy websites.

  6. Victor Lund says:

    Jon – outstanding post – I think that you are highlighting a serious concern for brokers and consumers. Your company shows great leadership in trying to fix listing syndication.

    Do you think that the customer can seek relief and restitution in court from you or the third party sites?

    It would seem that there is some broker liability here as the contracted custodian for the listing.

    I know that the seller signed a listing agreement that provided your brokerage with the liberty to market the listing during the term of the agreement – but it would seem that online advertising methods may have unintentionally caused your company to market the listing without an evergreen permission that covers online marketing.

    I am not suggesting that you did anything wrong – but rather that the publishers have not protected the data. It would seem like the agreement between the publisher and the broker should outline the publisher's responsibility to protect the data and indemnify against any misuse.

  7. Sara Bonert says:

    Sara from Zillow here. Not all national syndication sites are created equally, so I’m just representing Zillow’s position here.

    1) Listing accuracy – You better believe Zillow cares about accuracy. As a media site it is important to not only have a large audience, but you want to make sure the approximate 25 million people that visit the site each month come back. As all Realtors know, not having repeat customers/visitors isn’t a way to build a long term business model. So accuracy is something we think about every day and are constantly working to build controls around.

    2) Data control – Definitely agree that the Broker/Agent should be in control of where their listing data ends up online, and kudos to MRIS for working to build tools to help their members do this. I believe a lot of the trouble stems here from sites that resyndicate data. The only site Zillow resyndicates to is Yahoo Real Estate (which actually is the most trafficked real estate site now according to hitwise). Resyndication is a fast way to lose control.
    .

  8. sara bonert says:

    (sorry, had to split my comment in two)

    3) Data sourcing – Knowing the address of the listing mentioned here would let me research it for you. Note that we don’t scrape other sites, but only display listings which are sent to us in feeds. We always source where the data came from at the bottom of the page. Removing the listing from this source will remove it from the site, as we run all feeds at least once a day.

    4) Advertising – If agents want to receive leads from their own listings, all they have to do is create a free profile on Zillow. They then will be found at the bottom of the page as the true listing agent (always present, similar to an IDX treatment) but they'll also be placed in the 1st place on the Buyer’s Agent list, which appears in 3 positions on most pages. They receive a special badge by their name that says “Listing Agent”. This is different than those which say “Premier Agent”, part of our advertising model. At that point, it is up to the home buyer as to whom they would like to contact for more information.

  9. sara bonert says:

    Sara from Zillow here. Not all national syndication sites are created equally, so I’m just representing Zillow’s position on the points addressed here.

    1) Listing accuracy – You better believe Zillow cares about accuracy. As a media site it is important to not only have a large audience, but you want to make sure the approximate 25 million people that visit the site each month come back. As all Realtors know, not having repeat customers/visitors isn’t a way to build a long term business model. So accuracy is something we think about every day and are constantly working to build controls around.

    2) Data control – Definitely agree that the Broker/Agent should be in control of where their listing data ends up online, and kudos to MRIS for working to build tools to help their members do this. I believe a lot of the trouble stems here from sites that resyndicate data. The only site Zillow resyndicates to is Yahoo Real Estate (which actually is the most trafficked real estate site now according to hitwise). Resyndication is a fast way to lose control.

    • Jon Coile says:

      Hi, Sara,

      I think we met at the Realty Alliance meeting in New York about a year ago. Thanks for weighing in on my post. I’m learning more all the time about this. Please correct me if I misstate but it appears you are saying the data you mention in #2 above goes like this:

      1. My agents and I put our listings into the MLS run by MRIS.
      2. With our permission, MRIS send our listings to Realtor.com.
      3. Unbeknownst to us, Realtor.com re-syndicates our listings to Zillow.com.
      4. Also unbeknownst to us, Zillow.com further re-syndicates our listing to Yahoo Real Estate.
      5. Begs the question, where are THEY sending it?

      And that appears to be how we are losing control of our data. I guess if we pull down from Realtor.com we can stop the daisy-chain, but should we have to do that?

      Jon

    • Jon Coile says:

      Hi, Sara,

      Thanks for posting. I believe we met when you came to The Realty Alliance meeting in NYC a couple years ago. You raise two interesting issues in your post.

      First is how did Zillow get our listings in the first place?

      Back in the Stuart Wolfe era at Move (nee HomeStore, nee RealSelect), we brokers made a decision to put all our listings up on “our” site, Realtor.com. Somewhere along the way, a decision was made without our knowledge or consent to re-syndicate our listings to Zillow. You point out in (2) above that Zillow has, without our knowledge or consent made our listing content available through re-syndication to Yahoo Real Estate. Begs the question, where has Yahoo sent our listing data? Do they re-syndicate our data on down the road without our permission like everybody else? Maybe not, but I think one of the reasons this issue has suddenly become a topic is that Broker’s really have no idea where our listings have gone on the internet, and how are they being displayed, and that is a concern.

      • sara bonert says:

        Wow- good memory! Yes, we did meet. Regarding how Zillow got your listings, it is sourced at the bottom of each page so you can see exactly. As Luke says below, it is highly likely many of your brokers and agents are using Listhub and opting in to the syndication.

        Good question about Yahoo, no they don't resyndicate. That is an important point of our contract with them. Every feed provider was notified when this deal went into effect. Further, I know Listhub sent out communication to their MLS contacts and some clients as well. Also, this information is on the scorecard that Luke references below.

  10. sara bonert says:

    (part 2)
    3) Data sourcing – If I knew the address, I could look up the history of that rogue listing for you. Note that we don’t just take data from other public sites, but only display listings which are sent to us in feeds. Zillow always sources where the data came from at the bottom of the page. Removing the listing from this source will remove it from the site, as we run all feeds at least once a day.

    4) Advertising model – If agents want to receive leads from their own listings, all they have to do is create a free profile on Zillow. They will then be found at the bottom of the page as the listing agent (similar to an IDX treatment) but they will also be placed in the 1st place on the Buyer’s Agent list, which appears in 3 positions on most pages. They receive a special badge by their name that says “Listing Agent”, which is different than the other agents appearing in this list which say “Premier Agent” and is part of our advertising model. At that point, it is up to the home buyer as to whom they would like to contact for more information.

    • JonCoile says:

      Second, as to your point in (4) above, you are offering to allow us to be one of three agents posted on our own listing. I’m sorry but I don’t feel that is as generous an offering as Zillow does. Through subtle enhancements on the premier agent’s contact info, the listing agent – unless they also pony up some money to the Aggregator to be a premier agent themselves – appears less professional and competent than the premier agents. (No contact phone number until you hunt for it. No broker logo. Etc.) Zillow is not nearly as bad as the other mega-aggregator in detracting from an agent’s personal brand, but it still isn’t right. Without that property from the listing agent/broker in the first place you would have nothing to sell to your premier agents under your current ad model.

      To take our merchandise off your shelf appears to involve us terminating our feed to Realtor.com. Cut it off at the source. I’m not sure I’m ready to do that, but I would like to know where MY client’s information is going if I agree to put MY listing data up on any website. Otherwise we’re back to dealing with the call center 8,000 miles from home.

      • Luke_Glass says:

        Hi Jon – just to clarify. ListHub does not power your listing feed to Realtor.com. Each of your offices can access their ListHub account and turn off syndication to any site without affecting your Realtor.com feed. While I am sure Sara does not want you to terminate your feed, you can certainly do it at any time in ListHub and it would only affect your listing distribution to Zillow and Yahoo.

        In addition, happy to spend some time offline to share with you how Zillow, HomeFinder, and other "powered by" networks function. Each of these sites search functionality is framed on other partner sites. We have the complete list for all Publishers if you would like to review – it is also accessible in ListHub as well.

  11. MRIS_CMO says:

    Sara, thanks for the comments and clarifications. And we agree that not all syndicators work in similar fashion. That's clearly part of the issue as we work towards some standards for the industry, or for MRIS at least. We look forward to working with you and the other third party publishers in 2012 to implement the new plan. I have a few questions regarding one or two of your statements and will be reaching out to you directly to discuss. Thanks again for the timely and comprehensive reply. Best, John

  12. Jon Coile says:

    Hi, Sara,

    I’m learning more all the time about this. Please correct me if I misstate but it appears you are saying the data chain you mention above is:

    1. My agents and I put our listings into the MLS run by MRIS.
    2. With our permission, MRIS send our listings to Realtor.com.
    3. Unbeknownst to us, Realtor.com re-syndicates our listings to Zillow.com.
    4. Also unbeknownst to us, Zillow.com further re-syndicates our listing to Yahoo Real Estate.
    5. Begs the question, where are THEY sending it?

    And that appears to be how we are losing control of our data.

    Jon

    • sara bonert says:

      1) Correct
      2) Correct
      3) Not correct, I don't believe R.com resyndicates anywhere else? Their content may be framed on MSN and AOL real estate, but I don't think it is sent there (sure your R.com rep could tell you). Or perhaps with this statement you are saying R.com = Listhub, which it is my understanding they keep these companies very seperate, even though both are owned by MOVE. Listhub does send us data, but within MRIS the broker has to opt in to the locations where the data is sent. It is all permission based.
      4) This fact is stated within the Listhub system on their scorecard and in their "menu" of sites to send to.
      5) I believe Luke addresses this in comment left after you asked this question.

  13. Luke Glass says:

    Hi – Luke Glass from ListHub chiming in – we have a very broad view of the syndication landscape and I wanted to share some perspective.

    For the brokers in the MRIS territory using the ListHub system, all of the listing data is sourced from the MLS system and synchronized with the Publishers at least daily (some more frequently). The average error rate in the month of November for ListHub provided listings was 0.0001% (including incorrect data, wrong photos, stale listings, etc…). The real accuracy issues on the Publisher sites are caused by the non-MLS connected and non-broker authorized feeds of data that the Publishers accept. MLSs and Brokers need to ask these Publishers – why are they accepting data feeds from indirect, “back-door” sources rather than authorized syndication networks?

    (see part 2 below)

  14. Luke Glass says:

    Hi – Luke Glass from ListHub chiming in – we have a very broad view of the syndication landscape and I wanted to share some perspective.

    For the brokers in the MRIS territory using the ListHub system, all of the listing data is sourced from the MLS system and synchronized with the Publishers at least daily (some more frequently). The average error rate in the month of November for ListHub provided listings was 0.0001% (including incorrect data, wrong photos, stale listings, etc…). The real accuracy issues on the Publisher sites are caused by the non-MLS connected and non-broker authorized feeds of data that the Publishers accept. MLSs and Brokers need to ask these Publishers – why are they accepting data feeds from indirect, “back-door” sources rather than authorized syndication networks?

    (see part 2 below)

  15. Luke Glass says:

    part 2

    At ListHub, we provide reports to help brokers make these trade-off decisions. We publish a National Scorecard that looks at the practices of each Publisher. But we have gone even further. Beginning in January brokers will be able to use our “Publisher Select” to choose Publishers based on business rules. For example, “only send listings to sites that do not resyndicate” and “only send listings to sites that update my content daily”, and so on. The ListHub platform is built to facilitate the easy opt-in or opt-out of all sites in the platform.

  16. Luke Glass says:

    part 3

    A separate issue is how listings make it to sites outside of the selected Publishers:

    1) Some Publishers resyndicate listings to third parties. If an MLS is using ListHub, our platform controls this issue. ListHub requires each Publisher to agree contractually to not resyndicate the data unless specifically authorized by the broker, and separately lists any sites where their search experience is framed. ListHub also requires that Publisher keep listings resident in a database controlled by the Publisher.

  17. Luke Glass says:

    part 4

    2) The second and most common way for listing data to show up on unauthorized third-party sites is scraping. Realtor.com saw 1 Million separate attempts of scraping on its site over the last 30 days. While Realtor.com has sophisticated technologies to block this scraping, the vast majority of 3rd party, broker, agent, and MLS public websites do not. How then do we, as an industry, deal with erroneous and unauthorized data on Publisher sites? First, brokers need to choose a single syndication source for their listing data and make sure none of their vendors or agents are syndicating data through other means. MLSs can play a role here as well in making sure that vendors (IDX companies, CMA suppliers, etc.) are not violating their MLS agreements by resyndicating the data that is being provided by the MLS for a certain purpose.

  18. Luke Glass says:

    part 5 (sorry I had a lot to say)

    Brokers and agents need to vote with their wallets. Professional real estate practitioners should only spend money on sites whose practices or business models match the values and needs of the brokers. The sites that display scraped and unauthorized data often generate money from products targeted for agents and brokers. In short, Brokers and agents have two methods to address their challenges. The first is to use the right tools to syndicate their listings. The second is to make the right decisions about where to spend their money.

  19. Mark Weiss says:

    Hi Jon et al,

    We appreciate your viewpoint and share your frustration when it comes to online real estate data quality. In fact, we have a dedicated team at Trulia that is 100% focused on giving consumers the most accurate search experience possible. We strive to accomplish this in several ways:

    1.Improving the quality of data we receive – The fact is that many of the available data feeds, especially those from 3rd party syndicators, are inherently filled with stale listing information. For this reason we offer Trulia Direct Reference, a technology nominated by Inman for Most Innovative New Technology, that identifies data discrepancies between the MLS data and that provided by 3rd party syndicators and other non-MLS sources.
    2.Improving the quality of data we display – We also invest in technology solutions that use complex data parsing algorithms to compare data sources and automatically display the most accurate information provided to us.
    3.Letting agents and brokers know when they have bad data – Another benefit of TDR is the feedback loop that is provided to the real estate industry. Trulia automatically reports data discrepancies back to the MLS, broker and listing agent, providing full transparency into the data Trulia publishes in its search index.
    4.Refreshing our data as often as possible – We've also reduced the time it takes to correct errors. When an error is spotted an agent or broker can fix the problem by directly claiming and editing their listing.

    We are starting the New Year off at Inman in NYC January 11-13th. We would love to meet with everyone who has questions/suggestions regarding this free service from Trulia.

    Best,
    Mark

  20. MRIS_CMO says:

    Luke, as always a very comprehensive and informative post. Thanks for weighing in. I'm wondering (out loud) should it be ListHub's role to deal with the "Publishers (that are) accepting data feeds from indirect, “back-door” sources rather than authorized syndication networks?" If not, let's discuss and see how we can work together on that front.

    Next, you're spot on about MLS' needing to control their "vendors" that you refer to above. We're working quickly to improve our skills and tools in this effort as I write this, so I concur 100% it's time to gain more control.

    Last, I'd modify your statement about "voting with wallets" to "voting with a clear head and strategy." Return on investment means different things to different brokers, depending on their share of the market and strategic objectives and we view syndication as a vital tool in the Broker's arsenal that has different ROI to different brokers. Either way, as Mr. Coile suggests, think first.

    Thanks for your efforts (and those of others in your company) to improve this process — we have a long way to go but today forward is a good start,

  21. sara bonert says:

    Luke is right that there are particular "third party vendors" that don't keep their feeds as current as an MLS or Broker would – and these can be a problem. But it is some agent's only option for syndication, so we have to figure out how to work with them. A few months ago, we implemented some changes to help fight quality issues with these folks. I'll highlight the two which had the biggest impact, within this category:

    1) We scored each feed. Depending on how low this score was, we assigned an auto expiration to the listings in their feed. For example, on many if a listing goes unchanged for 30 days, it is removed from the site. Some scores were low enough to turn them off altogether. Some weren't bad and the vendor was able to make a few tweaks that vastly improved the score.

  22. sara bonert says:

    The second change had a huge impact. The issue was that we were recieving the same listing from a broker and from vendor(s). We used the broker's data in this case. But when the listing came out of the broker's feed (say it sold) the agent wouldn't update the vendor feed (usually because it is a manual process to do this) and the listing would come back online.

    Now whenever a listing comes out of an agent, broker or MLS sourced feed (this includes Listhub and Point2) we block the listing from reappearing on the site from any lower level feeds. This blocks 1000's of listings and has made a big listing freshness difference.

  23. Bob Bemis says:

    When I read these discussions on a blog or hear them in a live panel, I have tons of questions, mostly along the line of "Who's on First?" I think it would be easier to follow these discussions if everyone started naming names. If Trulia, and Zillow, and List Hub, and Point2 are all the good guys, who are these evil third party syndicators of whom you speak – "The fact is that many of the available data feeds, especially those from 3rd party syndicators, are inherently filled with stale listing information." And if you know their data is stale, why even consider using it.

  24. Good posts all! Everyone agrees the grey market is hurting this business big time. Mr.Coile's other concern deals with the decision to upsell nearby ad space to unrelated agents. Herein (it appears) is the final insult. The conundrum for brokers involves collective efforts to improve the quality of the listing which in turn makes for a better experience that drives more traffic to people and entities unrelated to the listing. The monetization that accrues to third parties has reached it's tipping point. Public, soon to be public and dreamers are all looking for a moon shot. For some, it has already occurred. At what point do brokers say "no mas"? If I share my listings at the very least you must share revenues. Maybe Cooperation and Compensation takes on n meaning?

  25. David Charron says:

    Sorry for typo
    Maybe cooperation and compensation takes on "a new" meaning

  26. cijones52 says:

    I recently got a call from a buyer who 2 years after they had close on their home it was still appearing as "for sale" on a number of sites including the listing agent. Turns out the agent is no longer in business and since their website is connected to a number of aggregator sites, each time they did an update they still saw the listing as active. Tracked down their broker who was going to see if they could get the agent to log-in to their site and change the status. Crazy.

  27. Alex Long says:

    Transparency and honesty are hallmarks of the NAR brand as furthered by our ethics and professional standards. Those traits are also a big part of the solution.

    Jon, it is my understanding a significant part of the problem you cited is the use of data by aggregators to feed responses back to agents who pay for the leads. Generating revenues from those agents who will pay for leads is the backbone of the business model.

    A solution for NAR to require through our professional standards, that agents act honestly and forthrightly in their representations to buyers and those who respond to the aggregators. Perhaps mandatory disclosures, in terms of the relationship to the listings, are necessary for agents who work with those buyers caught in the aggregator’s net and served to the agent.

    Alex Long, Weichert Realtors; Chairman, Fredericksburg Area Association of Realtors (Virginia)

  28. jennykotulak says:

    I think agents need to take more responsibility of their listings. I have a Point2 Agent website and often get calls from the public asking about a listing and when I check on mls it is long sold. Agents are not taking the time to log in and change the status. In a seller's market, buyers are searching online for that elusive listing that we haven't provided to them. They check real estate company websites, agent's personal websites and obviously these third party websites. Yes there is a lot of off market listings floating around out there. Here in Canada there is only one website that is always accurate and up to date, controlled by the Canadian Real Estate Association. Almost every board/association uploads their listings daily to http://www.realtor.ca It's one stop shopping for consumers.

  29. I'd like to address the third party website inclusion of buyer agents who purchase zip codes. As a premier agent in Zillow, this has been a great way for me to connect with buyers who are using what they trust as an authority site to search for available homes. I understand the argument from the brokerages that these are their listings and now all these other people are getting the leads. In reality, those listings are in the MLS with an offer of compensation for a buyer's agent, there is a sign in the front yard advertising them for sale and very likely the homes are held open for buyers and/or their agents to visit. As buyer agents, we have a lot of access to the listing data from the source. The third party site is simply another means of advertising. Do you really mean to say to your sellers that you'll pay a buyer's agent if they come through any of these other means you've used but now you object to the widest form of advertising you could possibly give to a seller? Consider that none of these aggregator sites is inexpensive and frankly acquiring and managing these leads is the most expensive part of my marketing.

    For each buyer that I meet through an open house, through my network, as a referral, through aggregator sites or a relocation I use the MLS system to ensure they have a current search of all the listings which may meet their criteria. Listings that again the brokerages put out there to sell! I’m not the listing agent for any of those properties either but the daily notice will come to them with my contact info and no one else’s. How is this any different? And this is from our very own MLS we all pay for not an aggregator site. The buyers have the right to use the person they deem best to help them in their real estate purchase, be it the listing agent or any other agent with whom they feel comfortable. Any movement to restrict that choice to simply a listing agent seems like a large step backwards in our industry.

    If they are pulled from syndication but still exist on the VOW and IDX sites, then for those of us with IDX sites or VOWs and highly ranked sites for specific terms we would still be able to market for buyers using the tools we have in place in our MLS. Albeit, conceivably now the data is very current and coming directly from our RETS feeds. And frankly it would be a lot cheaper for me if they didn’t exist anywhere but the MLS. The SEO work will never cost so much as the aggregator sites do currently. But I doubt any individual brokerage will be able to deliver the eyeballs on the listings that some of the aggregators can and that would be a disservice to the sellers.

    If you don’t like that someone else is willing to pay marketing money to sell your listings then explain that to your sellers. Personally I hate any conversation with them that starts with, “well, Mr. Seller I saved you from a buyer today.” They hire us to market their house and bring a buyer. And they all want us to have their house on the Internet, in the places where buyers are searching.

    We all agree that the data needs to be cleaned up and the syndication channels cleaner, but that is a separate discussion from how agents are marketing for business and helping to get listings sold. I applaud the discussion and move to ensure the integrity of the data and its removal when no longer active. The current process is a mess.

    Josette Skilling, Associate Broker, Century 21 Redwood Realty

  30. joann kokindo says:

    I have been thinking long and hard about what benefit I have as a Realtor. My listings that I put blood sweat and tears into are benefiting non Realtor sites. My dues increase my benefits decrease and my phone does not ring but rather the agent who pays for a zip code gets the call. Large brokers (and yes the business is going this way) might think how much money they could make by keeping all sales in house.

  31. malendaz says:

    Great post, time will only tell what will happen in the future. Lets all hope we get more control or the machine…
    Thanks…

  32. [...] ‘Think Before You Syndicate’ [...]

  33. [...] waves, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. MRIS, the nation’s second largest MLS, recently put up a guest blogpost from Jon Coile, the President & CEO of Champion Realty. The money grafs: As their business models matured and [...]

  34. Darlene says:

    First I'd like to address Alex. As a real estate agent who, on a daily basis, has to navigate through already too many legal documents without a "law degree," I cringe at the thought of anyone suggesting we have yet another disclosure. I do believe our "Agency" disclosure here in Maryland does address this issue. However, I'm not an attorney. However, I'd like to see these sites take more responsibility themselves rather than, yet again, that responsibility falling to the agents!

    Secondly, one of the major issues, in my opinion, is the estimates or "zestimates" of property values, which are posted along side our listings on many, if not all, these "consumer-trusted" sites. I believe by allowing these sites to hold themselves up as the "experts" on property values in the industry is a disservice to our Sellers and Buyers and the struggling economy as a whole.

    Where do these sites get their data, and how can they claim to have accurate data in determining values when their offices are located over 3000+ miles from my listings, have never stepped foot in my listings, and have never viewed any comparables? With over 16-years experience as a full-time agent, I will not even attempt a Market Analysis with respect to homes which are outside my area of expertise in my own state.

    Further, why would the consumer even need a "local agent" if they can get everything they need from Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com? I know the last statement is far from the truth; however, is this the message our industry is sending to the public?

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