Zillow brings battle to Listhub

by Victor Lund on July 3, 2012

ListingSyndicationsmallZillow launched a preemptive strike against Listhub yesterday by requesting IDX feeds from the nation’s MLS providers. Zillow Executive Bob Bemis sent an email to all MLS CEOs and Executives titled “Why two data feeds when one will do.” In the email, Bemis admits that Zillow.com is focused on improving data accuracy and timeliness. The note goes on to explain that Zillow’s IDX service, Diverse Solutions, already has the data, why not allow Zillow to use it for Zillow.com so Zillow can circumvent their reliance on Listhub data feeds. A battle ensued when Listhub got word that Zillow was calling them out on the frequency of listing updates.  The Bemis email stated: “Because of the multiple hands through which the data passes, it can sometimes be days before a revised listing reaches us for posting.”

Listhub responded to the call out from Zillow in an email titled “Correcting Zillow’s recent communication regarding Listhub.” Listhub executive Luke Glass indicates that Listhub feeds data to Zillow every day, and moreover – Listhub has had a standing offer to send data feeds to Zillow every 6 hours, but Zillow refused. Glass goes on to talk about the disadvantages of sending listings directly to Zillow which include multiple broker syndication dashboards, increased complexity of brokers managing feed sources, customer support, and something about setting a precedent of using IDX for Syndication.

Here is the deal. If Zillow or other publishers want to clean up their data, they can do so in two steps. First, they can only display data that comes from a broker (not franchise) combined with the Listhub or Point2 feed. Zillow is spoiling their data by accepting feeds from non-MLS sources as an action of their own will, including FSBO listings. Until they end this practice, their data will always be kludgy, Listhub aside. Secondly, any listing that has not been updated for a time certain (90 days?) could be purged from Zillow display. It would appear that some consumers have gotten wind that Zillow data is suspect. This represents a significant risk to the company’s long term success and reputation. I applaud them for trying to fix it.

MLSs should take great care in their next steps. IDX is restricted for display on Participant and sometimes subscriber websites. Licensing broker data to a third party without the expressed consent of the broker is a serious matter.

If you want to measure Zillow accuracy in your area, search for listings in a town in your area and be sure to unclick the Make Me Move, Rental, and Sold listing boxes. I am in San Francisco today. My search yielded 1870 listings on Zillow. REALTOR.com displayed 1115 results. Broker websites by Coldwell Banker and Pacific Union each displayed 1452 and 1403 respectively.

In other syndication news, Trulia and Listhub finally came to terms and Trulia will now provide property view analytics to Listhub! This move allows Listhub to service brokers with better reporting on the effectiveness and reach of listing syndication on various publisher websites. Until now, Trulia has been unwilling to share that data with Listhub.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Barnett July 3, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Nice posting Victor.., EXCEPT the problem we are witnessing is that what is being syndicated to the public portals in the way of virtual tours is the ‘unbranded’ version. So, agents are not being found (maybe they are secret agents). The solution (to us) is to have two feeds…, one for those who need IDX compliance (non-branded) and one for the rest of the Internet (the public sites). I look forward to your response.

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Bob Bemis July 3, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Victor,
To clarify and correct a couple of points:

Friday’s email to a small group of MLS executives (less than 50) was based around our desire to have an ongoing dialog about listings accuracy and the various associated listing feeds. However, we made an error when we said that “it can sometimes be days before a revised listing reaches us for posting.” The statement should have said “hours before” rather than “days before.”

ListHub remains a valuable partner in our ongoing efforts to improve the accuracy of listings. Ideally, what works best for the broker and gives the consumer the best experience is what we believe is best for the industry.
Thanks.
Bob Bemis, VP Partner Relations, Zillow

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Bill Rovillo July 4, 2012 at 4:42 am

Pretty funny stuff. Saying “days before” instead of “hours before” seems like a small enough error. Except when the misquote is part of your core business model. Kind of like the guy at the McDonalds drive through window mistakenly asking “would you like cheese on your Whopper?”.
Zillow still = clueless.

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Mike Audet July 5, 2012 at 5:49 am

Bob, I can appreciate why you want to have a single feed and the desire to improve accuracy. I agree that would be good for consumers using your site…not sure about the broker and industry, but that is another discussion. But, if that is true, how do you feel accepting non MLS sourced data, which is often dated or incorrect, from sources that do not provide a high confidence level or history of updating that data, is good for consumers, brokers or the industry? Why not just take the high road and stop accepting data from poor data sources?

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Saul Klein July 5, 2012 at 9:53 am

Hi Victor,

It was great seeing you in Dallas a few weeks ago, and based on some of the points you made in our conversations then, and this “feed discussion,” I thought you might be interested in the following. It is from The Road Ahead, by Bill Gates, 1995, as he described real estate listings on the WWW.

“If you put your house on the market, you will be able to describe it fully and include photographs, video, floor plans, tax records, utility and repair bills, even a little mood music. The chances that a potential buyer for your house will see your ad are improved because the information highway will make it easy for anyone to look it up. The whole system of real estate agencies and commissions may be changed by the principals’ having direct access to so much information.”

Bill goes on to say in the next paragraph:

At first, online classified ads won’t be very attractive, because not many people will be using them. But then word of mouth by a few satisfied customers will entice more and more users to the service. There will be a positive feedback loop created as more sellers attract more buyers and vice versa. When a critical mass is achieved, which might be only a year or two after the service is first offered, the information highway’s classified advertising service will be transformed from a curiosity to the primary way sellers and buyers get together.”

Of course Bill and Microsoft went on to start Expedia, which disrupted the travel industry. I know, real estate is not travel so we have nothing to worry about, right?

Oh yea, Zillow co-founder, Rich Barton, worked for Microsoft, and he was also the founder of Expedia.

What does this have to do with sending feeds to Zillow…nothing I guess, just conversation and food for thought.

Saul Klein
SVP Point2

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Jonathon Ward July 6, 2012 at 2:13 pm

A fun read!

As stated, “accepting feeds from non-MLS sources” leaves room potential loss. With this in mind it would have been nice to see the listing count from the MLS itself next to the numbers at Zillow, REALTOR.com, and the Broker websites. The more hands in the cookie jar, the filthier my cookie is going to get. If someone is allowed to take cookies from the jar, they should know the rule of washing their hands first. When they don’t they don’t wash their hands they won’t get any more cookies; and everybody loves cookies! With rules and regulations as important as they are, it is imperative to observe any data fields that identify the display rights of the data; that is if the source of the feed doesn’t pre-emptively use those fields to restrict the data available.

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