March 19, 2012
Geoffrey Schiering weighs in on the MLS listing syndication war between aggregators such as Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com and MLS Boards in multiple markets including the recent dropping of Diverse Solutions from Denver’s MetroList approved 3rd Party IDX Vendor List:
Realtors have finally started to push back against the questionable practices of the real estate listing aggregators (or “syndicators”), Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com and others. For years, these deep-pocketed online media corporations have been growing exponentially at the expense of the professional real estate community. The aggregators take the intellectual property of individual Realtors, mix it with other content, re-brand the property as their own, and then sell related advertising rights back to the Realtors who they took the property from in the first place. And in the process they create substantial confusion in the public marketplace of real estate buyers and sellers. Realtors have begun to realize that this is harming the real estate industry, and a “real estate syndication war” is heating up.
MLS listings definitely contain copyrighted material. Specifically, the property descriptions and photographs in the MLS listings belong to the individual real estate agents who wrote the descriptions or took the photographs. Copyright subsists from the moment of creation. Whether or not those copyrights are formally registered with the Library of Congress, they are copyrighted materials.
So how have the listing aggregators been allowed royalty-free publishing rights to copyrighted materials? Well, the individual real estate agents and real estate brokers who create MLS listings are members of local associations of Realtors. The Realtors associations publish the “Multiple Listing Service” (MLS) for their local communities. And the Realtors associations have, until recently, given unrestricted permission Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com and others to republish the MLS listing feeds.
But last month the Associations of Realtors in San Diego and in Denver took bold steps to attempt to protect the integrity of their MLS data vis-à-vis the syndicators. First Denver MetroList announced that it would no longer provide an MLS data feed to Diverse Solutions, an MLS listing distributor that was recently acquired by Zillow. Then the San Diego Association of Realtors modified its MLS data stream to allow listing agents to input “Advertising Remarks” which include the names, website addresses, and phone numbers of the listing agents. In the next two months the large syndicators must display the Advertising Remarks alongside the San Diego real estate listings on their sites. Any syndicators who refuse to make the change within the next 30 days will be cut off from the San Diego Realtors MLS.
The move by the San Diego Realtors (Sandicor) is a particularly positive step. A big problem with the MLS aggregators system is that they tend to mislead the public regarding the identity of the listing agent. In most cases the agents who are displayed alongside the syndicated listings have no relationship to the property, and may have little or no knowledge of the neighborhood. The “recommended” agents are usually just advertisers on the syndicators’ websites. This poses a serious likelihood of confusion with the public, and the San Diego Association of Realtors is working to fix that.
The MLS has been, and will continue to be, critical to well-functioning real estate markets. Individual agents and real estate brokers pay a hefty monthly fee to belong to their local boards of Realtors. Access to the MLS, both for receiving and for distributing information about homes for sale, has always been a big reason for Realtor membership. It is the way that professional Realtors exchange information about properties in their markets. And, with the help of IDX (Internet Data Exchange) and RETS (Real Estate Transaction Standard) technology, the MLS has become a direct source of information to the public. The MLS, either directly or through its member Realtors, matches buyers and sellers in an efficient, open marketplace.
So isn’t it a good thing when the MLS data is republished by Trulia, Realtor.com, or Zillow? Won’t sellers just get more exposure with buyers and buyers have an easier time finding properties for sale? It would be great if it were that simple, but the answer is NO. It is not better.
Another big problem is that the local MLS is not the only place that syndicators such as Zillow get information. The syndicators grab information from a variety of online sources. And not all the information is accurate or up-to-date. As a result, the public is being confused and often misled. Realtors are losing credibility with a public who no longer knows who or what to believe.
I’ve personally published a “house for sale” advertisement on Craigslist (a home that was not on the MLS), and in less than 24 hours the property description and photos that I’d posted on Craigslist were being displayed alongside my local San Diego MLS listings on Zillow. Anyone can publish anything on Craigslist, whether it’s real, fake, exaggerated, or a downright scam. And when Zillow displays unverified, junk information right alongside MLS listings, the public assumes that the junk is just as accurate as the MLS data.
Outdated information on Zillow, Trulia, and similar sites is also harmful. I regularly receive inquires from prospective buyers who’ve seen this or that property for sale on Zillow. When I look it up I find that the property is in escrow, or was recently sold, or was sold literally years earlier. Occasionally there are property addresses that don’t even exist. And when people get the truth they are often skeptical. If it was on Zillow, they wrongly assume, it must be correct.
The Realtors associations that publish MLS listings have strict standards, and those standards are meant to protect the public and to protect the reputations of member Realtors. The listings must contain accurate information and measurements. The listings may not have any misleading sales language or cross-promotions with other businesses. San Diego MLS Listings must be removed from the MLS within 48 hours after an offer is accepted from a potential buyer. Short sales and foreclosures with accepted offers awaiting bank approval must be re-categorized in “Contingent” status rather than remain on the MLS as an active “for sale” listing. There is a whole book of rules that Realtors must follow with regard to MLS listings and advertising. Yet the rules don’t apply to the listing aggregators. Public beware.
Fortunately the public does have access to legitimate MLS listing information. Individual Realtors and real estate brokers have access to MLS data feeds. The individual agents and local real estate brokers publish those MLS data feeds directly to their websites with the help of IDX and RETS service providers. The information on these individual agent and local brokerage websites is almost always more timely and accurate than the information found on Zillow or Trulia. Realtors who do not comply with the MLS listing rules on their websites can lose their Realtor membership and MLS service. There has been no such incentive for the listing aggregators.
The MLS listing syndicators can expect increased resistance from other local associations of Realtors. The syndicators have been profiting from the work of Realtors by selling advertising placement to the Realtors themselves. The syndicated websites tend to confuse the public regarding the identity of the listing agents. The MLS listings published by the syndicators are mixed in with inaccurate and unreliable data that the syndicators gather from other sources. As a result, the reputations of Realtors and the Realtor Multiple Listing Services are compromised. In the real estate business, reputation and reliability are critical factors in every Realtor’s career. Realtors and the public at large should be concerned, and support efforts to bring the listing aggregators under more reasonable control.
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About the author: Geoff
Geoffrey Schiering has been a San Diego Realtor and California real estate broker since 1999. More information at http://www.SDRealtyPros.com
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I like the move by Sandicor because it removes the main problem of confusing buyers. It will of course do nothing about the errors in their listings but what can be done about that?
In all likelihood the major syndicators will NEVER comply with the Local Boards rules and regulations on the display of listings. The only absolute resolution to this issue is to disallow these syndicators to display ANY listings.
Frankly I am amazed that the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has not stepped in to protect the intellectual property of its Members.
NAR’s failure to act servers the syndicator/aggregators interest and NOT the interest of NAR Members.
They don’t step in because they do the same thing.
They are owned by News Corp.
I agree 100%! As a realtor for more than 30 years;I would like to see NAR take control of this information?
The fact that the information about a house for sale that appears on Craig’s list, but is not on the MLS can (and often does) land on syndicator sites tells the whole story if you ask me. The information on those sites certainly can’t be trusted and just wastes the time of realtors and home buyers. And time is money! Thanks for the post.
It’s a catch 22. Realtors want the exposure creatred by the large aggregators but are also shooting themselves in the foot by basically giving them the content they need to take their search engine rankings, and traffic. I personally don’t like what they’ve done to the industry, don;t see the value they’ve contributed, and don’t think they have helped my business at all.
I am new to your blog and just loving it, as its so informative and useful for me. thanks for sharing and keep it up the great work.home improvements
Zillow is a big company and it would be hard for these realtors to push Zillow back. However, the article is informative enough for realtors to follow. Thanks
NAR is bigger.WE….Realtors own this information,NOT Zillow?
NAR should force a no compete clause to Zillow and the other sites in exchange for the MLS property information. These big 3rd party real estate sites are now really pushing to get the FSBOs to sell without a real estate professional through their sites. Where is the liability going to fall? If you use a RE agency the seller has less exposure.
I think fighting these syndicators/aggregators is the worst idea as a Realtor. Personally I love ZIllow. It’s been the best source of FSBO clients for me that have eventually listed their property for sale with me.
You are so right!!! I posted my FSBO on Zillow to find a savy agent who uses all available media to her advantage..I got a great agent to sell my house, very strong in marketing. Zillow is where consumers buying/selling houses are at, it is an easy tool for us to use, educational and brings us to agents doors. You are fighting a wave consumers like, it is just another tool that really works for your industry
It will be really interesting to see how things evolve over the next 2-3 yrs. I’ve read all sorts of blogs where real estate agents complaining about the issues and I don’t blame them one bit. But, it’s a challenging situation as these places continue to do it, have large budgets and show up high on the google searches.
Block them from getting your listings. Zillow allows FSBO, why would you support them? Trulia can’t be too far from doing that themselves.
After 13 years as a Realtor, it’s about time people started learning how inaccurate Zillow, Trulia, and the others are. These inaccuracies do affect housing prices and loan evaluation, and they shouldn’t. They have actually hurt real estate agents in many ways. How many times have you talked with a client who said something like – well on Zillow my house is worth such and such, basically challenging your knowledge.
I find that realtors have very little power in controlling their own business. I have been in business over 15 years and from day one I asked myself , how does trulia, zillow or realtor .com for that matter get access to information we as realtors have to pay to get? Makes no sense. Now trulia and zillow make the local agents pay to get leads to the property which they listed, and we should get those leads directly. It is totally insane. They steal the leads to the homes we list and then we pay them , to get some of the leads back.
More importantly I use diverse solutions which has been bought by zillow ? wondering what the long term affect of this is going to be. Need a good idx provider, so feel free to contact me .
It is almost as if they created a middle man that we do not need. That is a bit hit as Diverse Solutions is one of the largest IDX syndication companies out there. It really stinks that we pay for the feed and then they promote agents on their site that usually out ranks out own.
Personally I think Zillow is an absolute awful website, it’s so difficult to navigate and oftentimes the information is so outdated.
I too think that Zillow and the other major real estate websites have too much power. They always rank above us in our local area because of their deep pockets. But I think the government will allow them to get the listings
As a consumer, the information available on these sites is awesome. Is it not 100% accurate? Sure, and I take it all with a grain of salt. But it is at my fingertips…and that makes me come back again and again.
I am a consumer, but in the mortgage biz for 15 years and also teach real estate and mortgage CE. Tell me why Realtor.com is considered an aggregate of data. Isn’t it owned by NAR?
We have the same issue with syndication here in the UK. I spend more time telling potential buyers that the home that they found on a syndicator site has already sold than I can remember! Worst of all, the potential buyer blames me for the fact that an advertised property has been sold already!!!
McCarthy & Co, The Torquay Estate Agents
This info used to be for Broker’s and agent’s eyes only. Now, anyone can find out this info. Result: The systematic elimination for the need of using brokers and agents. If the public wants this info, they can find it on their local MLS website or Realtor.com where the agent who posted the listing is actually the one being credited for it. No Question about it…the NAR needs to stop this process & protect brokers & agents from being systematically eliminated by the public to help them locate properties for sale.
Thanks for the article. I know it is a little dated, but Zillow, Trulia, Redfin etc have become such big players in the real estate marketing area. It will definitely be interesting to see if NAR continues to fight this, or if they strike a deal kind of like Wrigley Field and the rooftop owners.
Intellectual Property: The photos and descriptions by definition are intellectual property. Unfortunately, many agents take photos with incorrect aspect ratios, low resolution photos, no photos, and photos that make the property look worse than when you see it in person. Descriptions of homes are also often short, misleading, and contain incorrect punctuation or sentences.
Mislead the Public: Most of the aggregators are gathering publicly available information about the region and combining that data to allow the consumer to have the most information possible. On your site you can’t even look at the details view of a property without registering. Sell-side real estate agents are incentivized to sell properties. This encourages the information listed by the agent to demonstrate the marketability of a home, and skews the information accordingly. These aggregator sites have to go out and get the full story, because they aren’t getting it from the MLS.
Local Real Estate Sites are More Accurate: Again, the industry is not incentivized that way. It’s incentivized to transact homes as quickly as possible. This encourages agent sites to only tell one side of the story. Aggregator sites have a focus on the consumer to allow them to differentiate their products from the agent sites.
Encourage your MLS listings to be distributed to as many channels as possible. Help connect buyers and sellers with the right property. Be transparent about the information.
I’m excited to see how agents like yourself and others evolve their business models to manage these aspects in a changing industry climate, instead of trying to hold on to the same model, as the industry evolves away from it.
It’s not just the MLS and other big companies creating this problem, it starts with the reality company not updating that a home is in contract or has been sold fast enough, some take their sweet time doing it. When I pull up a home and then have to tell the client it’s sold or off the market is frustrating. Thanks
We have a couple of rental houses managed by a local realtor. One of our tenants tried to sublet her rental and posted it online. It somehow ended up listed on zillow.com. We found out after the fact and called zillow. They wouldn’t tell us who listed it even though we own the house. Seems like these aggregators have a lot of problems on all sides. I don’t really know who they’re serving beyond themselves!
Informative and mostly accurate article. You understand why I rant about Pandora’s box being opened. We’ve given away our power to these aggregators who then sell our own information back to us and let the highest payer win! In the old days, before computers, Realtors had the”book” that only they had access to. Now every Tom, Dick & Harriet can go to Zulia and think they have found the complete story and they don’t need us anymore. They think we stand in the way of their getting to their goal of buyer and seller meeting in an open marketplace. The truth is that seeing the listings is only the opening salvo in the home buying process. Sellers need Realtors to help them market their home, vet prospective Buyers, negotiate with Buyers, Assist and explain the contract process, arrange for necessary contractors, recommend lawyers, attend inspections, etc, etc, the list goes on. But that part is invisible till the Seller is IN the actual process. Conversely, Buyers need us for many of the same processes on the reverse side. Both sides need us to protect their interests as we are required to do by licensing law. It’s frustrating to think that all this incorrect, out dated and completely false info is guiding and dictating the process. The public see it online and like the commercial that says,” if it’s online it must be true” they believe! And the money we are forced to spend to buy back our own leads fuels the process! Crazy! But how do we UN-ring the bell? What is the solution to this expensive conundrum? If all Realtors pull back their info from the aggregators, then the public loses, if they don’t Realtors lose. Enough griping, we need solutions! Any ideas?
There are pros and cons to everything. I really think that Zillow should do away with the zestimates, and the estimated rental amount. Often times this will over value a house. As for marketing and exposure I think that Zillow is great. As Real Estate Agents we are not doing our clients justice if we are not marketing their property in as many places as possible. Paying for these services is optional so for those that have a problem with it I say do not waste your money paying for it. If a client calls and questions the value that you have suggested they list thekr home at simply explain to them the misvaluation of Zillow and recommend an appraisal of your word is not good enough for them.
I think it is past time for this issue to finally come to light. Without our (as REALTORS) information about real estate these listing syndication companies would not have been in business from the begining. They are not held responsible for inaccurate information. We (REALTORS) are held accountable and we have no power to change it. As REALTORS we are bound by strict rules about the information we publish to the general public. Local information from the REALTORS
This is still an issue. Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com all hurt the little guy (The small Real Estate company competing to get his site noticed by the search engines). Don’t get me wrong, these big sites are great for the consumer, but they’re not always accurate. Kind of like Walmart Vs. the Ma & Pa store. I’d rather go local than some big franchise.
I see this post is a few years old and very little has changed. I can see both sides to this, but I also feel for the good agents who write up the listings that these sites are syndicating. But then again, what if the Agent or RE Office gets a sale because someone came through Zillow? I’m sure they’re not willing to share commissions with Zillow or another site! I see more and more of these sites pulling info from public records as well. Will be interesting to see how this changes in a few years.
I have been looking for a home for 3 months now in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Every house I find on Realtor that says its active is actually gone. Has a contract on it. Its just a waste of my time. I just sent them an email telling them to take the site down, its useless to me. Im using a portal, but its controlled by the Agent in the area I’m looking and it i want to look outside that , he has to change it. Everything is controlled! there’s no free will anymore. All to make MONEY!
I ask any real estate agent that defends Trulia or Zillow this simple question: What would happen if you invested the same amount of money into your clients’ real estate experience as you do Trulia or Zillow? You need to realize that any success you may be receiving from Zillow or Trulia is only as good as your next month’s payment. Invest in your clients’ experience, and you will build something that cannot be taken away from you.
I hope some of you can take time to read my article, Zillow and Trulia agent reviews – 4 Reasons why they’re junk.
…a property that closed in July…closed out in MLS is still in Zillow…as a lead generator…people drive in the driveway..knock on her door..three agents are contact for showings…agents suggesting drive bys…..my buyer a single woman..is frightened..asked me to help her make it stop….she is entitled to a sense of security in her new home…..and the unfortunately I cant help her other to tell her to post a no trespassing sign..and if someone comes on the property call the police…….
The thing is that Zillow and Trulia provide a LOT of value. Nothing is 100% and as a recent home buyer I have to say that Zillow was very helpful in searching homes. Trulia has crime maps. I can do complex searching in Zillow that I, as a prospective buyer, cannot do via MLS that is ever-so-primitive. I vote for Zillow and Trulia and not substandard presentation, searching, and info that I get via the “direct” providers.
This is a tough battle. As a former real estate agent I really did not see the benefit of Zillow, Trulia etc… It confuses the consumer. Often times giving them a listing that is no longer active or a valuation of properties that are not even valid.
Real estate professionals are changing the way they do business: offering potential buyers the chance to view detailed property listings online, using websites to gather leads on potential customers, and using the Internet to match buyers and sellers.
I allow my listings to syndicate to Zillow & Trulia because other agents’ listings are advertised on their websites. If I refuse to allow my listings to be advertised, I worry that my sellers will be at a disadvantage. I’d love for the NAR to step in and stop it all, but I’m sure the listing aggregators would cry foul and sue for Anti-Trust.
However if suddenly Zillow and others were cut off from the information you would still be in equal competition. The difference would be going direct to realtors websites instead of someone who picks your pocket in between.
As one who just went through the home buying process again, I can’t say that my realtor did a whole lot help me find the house we wanted.
We gave her specific criteria and she ignored it. She put her filters in and sent us stuff that never met any of our qualifications. We told her multiple times to stop sending us stuff that didn’t match our basic criteria. In the end, it was through our own efforts that we found the house we wanted to buy.
The realtor was helpful in providing the legal paperwork that we needed to purchase the home, but that was about it. Commissions are far too high for the amount of work my realtors have done in recent years.
The MLS is an outdated and obsolete tool that was created by the Realtors to help themselves. They control and keep their local market closed to outside realtors with extra fees and inaccessible lockboxes even to a neighboring county. Realtors are no longer needed to “Match buyers and sellers” although they still perpetuate this to themselves in order to justify who sells what to who, in their control of their own community. Because of the internet and search tools like Zillow; today’s buyers now look up what They want. That is as an open market. The listing information first belongs to the seller that has entered into a contract to pay the realtor to list the information everywhere they can , like Zillow, to sell the home. It is not the realtors ownership of information. The realtors have abandoned all regaurd for the sellers that are paying them because they feel that sellers have no choice But to participate with them. Realtors have now turned all their attention to the buyers and the lenders in an attempt to promote that they are still neccesary. The Realtors fight against Zillow, is the fight to keep all the sellers held hostage to their control. Zillow would not be so popular if not for the publics approval ….to not participate in the old Realty system.
The real state market flowed just fine before their were large internet sights. And sellers received the highest possible sales prices with the assistance of highly trained realtors and brokers. Zillow has none more harm to buyers and sellers by sending out misinformation that can be costly to a buyer and seller.
😐 Just like car dealerships have to adapt, so does real estate. You can only be a luddite for so long before you’re passed by.
I totally agree with TJ here…realtors seem to be stuck in “union think”…unwilling to adapt to new ways of home shopping and buying.
Here is the catch ” The syndicators have been profiting from the work of Realtors by selling advertising placement to the Realtors themselves. The syndicated websites tend to confuse the public regarding the identity of the listing agents..”
I believe in order to STOP this Fiasco with NAR’s Negligence in protecting It’s members rights and allowing this MLS information to be taken out of the MLS system and provided to Non Member sites, A CLASS ACTION LAW SUIT IS IN ORDER for EACH MLS DIVISION THAT WE ARE A MEMBER OF! I remember the days we used to brag to the sellers that I WILL LIST YOUR HOME ON MLS FOR ALL THE AGENTS and THEIR BUYERS TO SEE YOUR PROPERTY …OR the same with buyers, THE BUYERS RELIED ON US, THE AGENTS TO DO THE SEARCH AND SHOW THEM WHAT IS AVAILABLE. The truth is THEY NEEDED US!!!! And Now I wonder…. As a Realtor, Why am I paying MLS Dues to NAR? I think that We are DUE an Explanation convincing Us, (the Realtors) How is the MLS content reach Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia and other cheap sites that take our listings and diminish its value and the value of the Realtors who should be THE ONLY ONES HAVING ACCESS TO MLS LISTING CONTENTS IN THE FIRST PLACE?! I do not Pay NAR my dues so they can betray me and compromise my business by selling my Listing Directly or Indirectly, through an affiliate that takes the Information from them and spreads it all over the Internet. I am so Fed up with NAR for selling its members out and basically taking our business away for their own side profits by providing our information first to Realtor.com then spread the Information like a contagious disease to other property advertising websites TAKING BUSINESS AWAY FROM REALTORS! Only a few who pay these websites benefit from it but they too are betraying the fellow Realtors.I ask myself this question? Why am I paying dues? To be a member so they cam Impose Fines on me for breaking their MLS laws and regulation or PREACHING REALTORS ABOUT ETHICS and POSING FINES on REALTORS FOR UNETHICAL CONDUCTS when NAR itself WROTE THE BOOK ON HOW TO BE UNETHICAL!!!!! I EXPECT SOME ETHICS IN YOUR WORK and FOR YOU TO PERFORM YOUR OBLIGATION TOWARDS THE AGENTS NAR !!!!!
3 times I have listed with a realtor. On 2 of them, I provided the photos. On the other, the realtor took one photo that could have been taken from Google.
As a user of these sites you mention, I use them. I know that both my realtor site and these others contain wrong information. My own realtor refused to change the sq footage of the home to what I had proof of. She wanted the wrong higher number.
Anyone using the internet could be harming themselves to believe any website out there. Both the listing agent and any others. But I own my photos, how can you say otherwise?
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