Austin Board of REALTORS Bids Syndication Farewell

by Victor Lund on October 10, 2013

Listhub LogoSunsetting services is never any fun, especially services that do not cost the membership any money. That is exactly what the Austin Board of REALTORS® is on a path to do this spring. The ABoR directors released a formal statement this week announcing the plan to sunset the Listhub agreement by April 30th, 2014.  The process for researching this difficult decision is nicely outlined http://www.abor.com/syndication.

In June 2012, the ACTRIS committee, which is the MLS of the Austin area, created a Syndication Task Force with diverse representation of members and brokers. They cited some interesting findings.

  • The decision to syndicate to third party websites should be an independent broker decision.
  • They found there to be questionable consumer benefit in providing data to non-REALTOR® websites.
  • They opined that Non-REALTOR® websites damage the reputation of REALTORs®
  • They are of the belief that Non-REALTOR® websites misinform and mislead the consumer
  • They believe that they can support REALTOR® members market listings without facilitating syndication to Non-REALTOR® websites.

Note: There was no indication whatsoever that ListHub did not do an excellent job with the services offered to ABoR. The issues are occurring downstream of Listhub.

The sunset process

The committee put forth a roadmap for the process of sunsetting the Listhub service.

  1. Announcement to members and brokers
  2. Creation of a MLS Learning Community for online discussion
  3. Broker Forum

It is interesting that ABoR  moved in the exactly opposite direction of fellow Texas MLS operated by the Houston Board of REALTORS® this week. HAR announced that they are adopting the Listhub service. HAR was one of the final major markets in America to offer Listhub as a member benefit.

Publishers indicate that the best path to listing accuracy is a solid partnership with the MLS who provides the trusted source of accurate listing information. WAV Group research has shown that even in markets where the MLS provides data to publishers, the listing accuracy is still way off the accuracy found on a broker website. However, it does make an improvement. The key issue of listing accuracy is that publishers (REALTOR.com excluded) take listings from multiple sources. If they only took the MLS Listhub feed, the accuracy of a broker listing on the publisher website would be synchronized at least daily. Until publishers let brokers nominate the trumping rules and listing terms of use, data accuracy will continue to be a cancer.

Brokers in Austin will not be left in the lurch. Franchise brokers all have Listhub services offered though their franchise. Moreover, just about every broker website developer can provide a direct feed to publisher sites. Listhub will also offer any broker their services directly. Moreover, any agent or broker can manually enter listings on any publisher site. Point2 and Real Estate Digital also offer solutions.

If you are considering similar initiatives in your MLS, you may want to carefully study and monitor the sunset process at ABoR.  Research the issue. Communicate with your members and brokers. Move through the process slowly to insure a smooth transition.

Within hours of the notice going out to brokers, Julie Holden of Realty Austin published an insightful post about her brokerage support for the decision. It is a great article that highlights some unique effects of syndication in non-disclosure states. Realty Austin co-owner and broker Jonathan Boatwright said, “Buyers often get excited when they come across a ‘new’ listing on one of these websites only to find out from their agent that the listing sold months earlier. Most are unaware that they are missing out on as many as 1 in 5 homes that hit the market. They become frustrated with the inaccuracy of the inventory they find on these sites, and often channel their frustration toward the REALTOR® community.” The key frustration for Boatwright is that portals “display of listing data does not have to comply with the same rules, regulations, and Code of Ethics that REALTORS® and their websites are required to follow. “

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

John Whitney October 12, 2013 at 8:50 am

Thank you for pulling all of these pieces together Marilyn. ListHub fully supports broker choice in where their listings are advertised. We believe they should have that choice and be able to provide their data under a baseline set of protections which we have secured on their behalf. The platform allows brokers to opt-in or out of sites at will – they are in full control. We ask MLSs to provide us with a single set of RETS credentials to allow us to retrieve broker listings for them efficiently. This minimizes our data aggregation and support efforts and helps keep the platform free. We only retrieve data for brokers that have active ListHub accounts and only deliver listings to sites of their choosing. If brokers are required to submit their listings directly, they are bound by the broad terms of use that usually give publishers full rights to use the data as they wish. This will make the larger issues worse in the long term and will hinder the industry’s efforts to protect MLS sourced listing data.

Reply

Jonathan Boatwright October 14, 2013 at 5:56 am

John

With all due respect, we had these conversations with Listhub over a year ago, and even considered an option to ‘Reset’ Listhub and have brokers opt back in to the syndicators they deemed most appropriate. We decided this would have accomplished nothing as most brokers would have simply hit ‘Select All’ or used the famous ‘Maximize Marketing’ button that sends their listings to 100’s of websites that will never send them a single lead unless they also pay money to each website.

Brokers need to think of these websites the way they think of magazine ads. They need to sign an agreement, pay some money to get their contact information listed, negotiate how their listings will be displayed, and then decide which listings are appropriate for each publisher.

We don’t blame Listhub for the problem, but it is the enabler that empowers an industry that is not truly helping REALTORS® sell houses or helping consumers find houses.

Reply

Steve Crossland October 14, 2013 at 6:28 am

@John

You said “The platform allows brokers to opt-in or out of sites at will – they are in full control.”

Theoretically that’s true, but in actual practice there are a couple of problems:

1) Most Brokers are completely unaware of their ListHub settings. We encountered many in Austin who “turned it on” in 2006/07 and have never logged in since. Meanwhile your default setting adds every new website to their feed with no notice or notification. Therefore, most Brokers are completely uninformed about where they are sending their listing data.

If a Broker does log in a selectively pick which websites listings should go to, they are immediately confronted with a call to action with the big green “Maximum Marketing” button which says “Make the Most of your listings”, which is a 1-click way to turn “everything, everywhere” back on. Clearly this is a biased “more is better” viewpoint, endorsed and encouraged by ListHub, but which is supported by no measurable proof that “more is better”. Why does ListHub push the Maximum Marketing instead of simply remaining neutral, if you believe Brokers should have full choice. You say they can opt out at will, but then you immediately pester them, for ever after, to fully opt back in.

2) Even if a use picks only one website, such as Zillow. Most Brokers are completely unaware that Zillow “powers” other sites such as HotPads and Yahoo Real Estate, plus “over 100 newspaper websites”. The “extended network” further obfuscates to Brokers exactly where their listings are being sent, unless they take the time to study the full set of other sites. At present, picking just “Zillow” is not in fact picking “just Zillow”. It’s also picking a bunch of other sites. Brokers are not aware of this, which further supported our decision to return responsibility for researching and decising exactly where listing content is being delivered directly to each Broker.

3) Finally, we found no evidence that syndication causes any house to sell faster or for a high price then non-syndicated listings. Conversely, syndicating a listing to an unknown number of unknown sites does not cause that listing to sell a day faster or for a dollar more than it would if place only in the MLS and nowhere else.

For these reasons, I personally don’t syndicate my sales listings because there is no actual benefit to doing so, but the downsides are many.

Sincerely,

Steve Crossland
Austin TX

Reply

John Whitney October 15, 2013 at 8:41 am

@Steve
Thanks for the comments. We appreciate an open dialogue!

If we do not give brokers a vehicle that we can build protections around, they will provide listings to publishers without restriction and essentially hand them over for perpetual, unrestricted use. This has long term consequences that thwart industry efforts to control listing data use.

Of course, we agree that brokers should make informed decisions. We have very aggressive communication campaigns in collaboration with the MLS in most markets that include onsite events (and even snail mail) to increase awareness around syndication issues. We always encourage MLSs work with us to educate brokers and make sure they are making informed choices. All the tools are there for a broker to vet publishers and decide where to send their listings. They are in full control, and we are very careful to make things as transparent as possible and provide complete information to brokers.

When brokers create an account they are presented with two options: “Maximize Marketing” which subscribes them to all sites and “Selective Marketing” where they can choose from the list of available publishers, but the default is selective marketing. We recently surveyed brokers that chose “Maximum Marketing” to see if they knew what they were doing (http://news.listhub.net/broker/37/Newsletter_Broker.html). The vast majority said “Yes” and that their intention was to cast a wide net to meet expectations of their sellers.

Publishers are restricted from re-syndicating or redistributing listing data. They are allowed to “Power” other sites. These powered by sites are either framed searches or search widgets that take the consumer back to the publisher site once they hit “Search.” In either case, the data is remains resident and in control of the original publisher. All sites that are Powered by a publisher are fully disclosed to brokers in the dashboard.

We believe the choice on whether and where to advertise should be up to the listing broker. And, that there should be a vehicle for them to leverage the work they have already done in the MLS to deliver their listings to sites of their choosing. This not only relieves them of a lot of effort (opt-in/out, receive support, redirect leads, route consumer inquires to their sites, etc. all from one place). But, more importantly, if they are going to advertise online, the listings they provide receive should have baseline data protections to ensure their listings are being used appropriately.

John Whitney
ListHub

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: