Purpose Built Data for Listing Syndication

by Victor Lund on August 11, 2011

Over the past three years, I have spent time with listing publishers, real estate brokers, MLS executives, and real estate agents collecting information on the strengths and weaknesses of listing syndication. At the core of these conversations was the topic of data quality, terms of use, the value of the listing, the effectiveness of online marketing, and overlapping syndication disorder.

Without dissecting each issue, suffice it to suggest that listing syndication is not meeting the needs of todays stakeholders. The systems in place today need to evolve to meet everyone’s needs. This article will suggest that IDX data was not built for syndication, and provide two examples of how that damages the brokers online marketing strategy. The conclusion will offer two suggestions for change.

First Problem: IDX was not built for syndication

Today’s syndication solutions pull the IDX data set from the MLS and route that data set to third party websites as selected by the broker. This is the first problem with listing syndication that needs to be fixed.

The IDX data set was designed as a purpose built data set. The purpose of IDX is to provide MLS broker participants with the opportunity to display listings on their broker and agent websites. The IDX data set has rules that allow fair and even competition among broker sites displaying the data. Everyone gets the exact same stuff, which may or may not be limited in the mind of the broker.

The number of photos allowed to be inserted into the MLS and distributed through IDX is sometimes limited. Depending on the marketplace, you may only be able to insert 15 or 25 photos. These photos are loaded into the MLS for two purposes. The first purpose is to provide real estate sales associates with a visual overview of a property that they may share with a prospective homebuyer. The second purpose is to allow the home to be marketed through IDX on other broker websites to prospective homebuyers. This does not work for syndication.

There are two distinct philosophies about photos used in listing syndication. Neither philosophy is met by the photo limitation of IDX.

One philosophy is to send as many photos as possible to publisher sites. The opposing philosophy is to send only one. REALTOR.com has performed studies that indicate that more photos drive more online inquiries on advertised listings. If they are correct, then some brokers are excluded from putting 50 or even 100 photos into the MLS for the purpose of listing syndication.

The opposing philosophy is that less is more. If you want to drive more traffic to your broker website, then the broker needs to provide a reason to go there. If the data set on the listing publisher’s site is exactly the same as the listing information on the broker’s site, why would the consumer ever go to the broker’s site? Today, some brokers like Howard Hanna only syndicate 1 photo. By limiting the photos to 1, they are establishing that they have more information about property than the listing publisher. Its the newspaper ad model. Send one photo and the description text and make them call the agent or broker. Howard Hanna has increased traffic to their website by limiting photos.

Enhanced Photo Management Solution: Listing syndication services need to evolve to give the broker the choice of more or fewer photos for syndication.

Second Problem: IDX description text rules were not designed for syndication

When MLS established rules for IDX, it was for the purpose of allowing the description text to be displayed on another broker’s website, not for listing syndication. As such, the rules strictly prohibit the inclusion of any information in the description text which identifies the agent or agency representing the listing.

IDX description text is limited to a specific number of characters or words. Some brokers want to enhance their listings by telling the story of the property to engage the consumer. Much in the same way that more photos tell a story that engages consumers, longer description text has the same effect.

Additionally, companies like Long Realty in Tucson and others have found that they generate more calls off syndication if they include the name of the listing agent and their phone number in the description text.

Enhanced Description Text Solution: Listing Syndication Services need to evolve to give the broker the ability to modify or enhance the description text.

Suggestions for change

I think that a lively debate could be had over how to deliver the solutions outlined in this article. The enhanced management features may be molded into the MLS system, or they may be added to listing syndication solutions like Point2 or Listhub.

At first blush, allowing for listing management enhancements on the listing syndication solutions seems to be the path of least resistance, and greatest flexibility. Indeed, the control pannel features of syndication tools put the broker in control of where the listings are going. It would not be a significant programming challenge to provide the broker with management controls for photos or description text. There are other benefits too. Brokers may want the option to do A/B testing experiments to see how many photos provides the best results. They may also want to send more photos to one site and fewer to another. The channel management features of syndication control panels would give the broker the greatest amount of flexibility.

The second thought is to add functionality into the MLS system. For the issues above, the MLS vendor could place a checkbox below a photo to exclude it from syndication. The vendor could either add a description text box for syndication purposes, or add a check box that inserts the agency and agent name and phone number into the description text when the listing is syndicated. More elaborate developments would call for an MLS system that has all of the features of a typical syndication control pannel. The latter would be heavy lifting.

If you agree with this article – go fix these problems and let us know how it works out. If you disagree, leave a comment below and let us know why so we can learn from your vision and evolve the solution.

 

 

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: