Redfin Offers Method To Modernize IDX

by Victor Lund on September 19, 2017

“Let’s modernize IDX by linking to the listing broker!”

IDX or Internet Data Exchange is a thesis that was developed by the collaboration between Brokers and MLSs that outlines a set of display rules for listings on broker websites. The idea behind IDX is that of cooperation among brokers. Fundamentally, the IDX policy states that a broker allows all other brokers participating in an MLS to display their listings on any broker (and usually Agent) website.

Over the years, the IDX policy has evolved. And today, Redfin CEO, Glenn Kelman suggests a radical new change. Kelman would like the IDX policy to require that every display of IDX listings provide a link to the listing broker’s website.

As the screenshot illustrates, the National Association of REALTORS® MLS Policy on IDX requires the Broker to be identified as shown here. Displaying the listing agent is a local election and sometimes required. In the illustration below, everything is static. The big idea is to add a requirement to include a hyperlink to the broker/agent website (canonical source of information).

Kelman goes further in the development of his concept to suggest that the broker name and link be prominently displayed above the fold (top of the page before you scroll).

WAV Group joins Redfin in the belief that this would massively increase the traffic to listing brokers’ websites form search engines. Having hundreds of real estate websites link to the listing brokerage for each listing should completely re-orient search rankings. Search Engines are always looking for the most authoritative source of information – including real estate information.

Kelman has strong beliefs and enormous respect for the listing firm. “The listing broker is the one who pays for, reviews and uploads all the photos. The listing broker updates and validates all the data about the property, and writes the marketing description. The home-buying consumer should be able to find her way to the full listing on the listing broker’s site, where she may also be able to see virtual tours, three-dimensional scans, and additional marketing materials about the listing, not to mention details on how to ask a question about the home or even arrange a tour with another agent at the listing brokerage if that’s what she prefers.”

WAV Group’s research and analytics team finds that Redfin is, by a factor of two or three, the most popular brokerage website today. The leading portal has seven time the traffic of Redfin, eight times the engineers, and nearly 10 times the marketing budget. By Kelman’s own admission, Redfin.com would likely be impacted by this rule change. They would lose some ground in local markets to brokers that have more listings. Redfin may become one of the top referring sites to listing brokers.

However, Kelman prefers to do the right thing for the industry and save IDX. Redfin isn’t just being altruistic here. Sending millions of redfin.com users off to other brokerage sites will hurt the company a lot in the short tun, but in the long run Redfin and every other broker depends on IDX to be the system of record for every listing in America. We need IDX to benefit the listing broker, or the listing broker will post listings elsewhere. More importantly, we need to make the eco system we’ve built for working together on deals also let us work together on websites. When consumers can connect directly with a brokerage’s agents though its site, less money from a home sale will go to a few online toll-booth websites, and more will be left for the consumer selling the house and the agent doing the work.

This proposed rule to link to the listing on the broker’s website would apply first and foremost to the portals, but also to every other broker that displays your IDX listings. The portals would also have to provide a plain HTML link to the listing broker at the top of each listing’s web page. Anyone with a browser can see with a simple Google search that the links the portals do provide are not easily found by consumers, and, most important, are not indexed at all by search engines. This is an area where MLSs and the NAR can work harder to be the technical eyes and ears for enforcing the terms of syndication agreements. Whatever we require of the IDX members who contribute listings to the MLS, we should also require of the advertising sites who get listing data from the MLS without sharing the listings on their own site in return. MLS membership should have its privileges. The brokers who play by the rules, with a share-and-share-alike approach to listing data, should always have the best listing data, on the most favorable terms.

There is no doubt that Kelman’s concept for reimagining IDX would disrupt search engines. It is more likely that search engines will direct consumers to the listing broker for address search. It’s great for the listing broker.

As much as any other company, Redfin sees where real estate search has gone. The overwhelming majorities of consumers visit advertising websites rather than broker websites. In his opinion, this is a challenge for real estate brokerages and a tax on consumers who ultimately pay for the advertising costs agents bear to appear on other websites, and it is getting worse.

Redfin is eager to collaborate with other brokers and the nation’s MLSs to figure this out. The MLSs are the body that carries the burden of managing cooperation among brokerage firms. They set the rules. They enforce the rules. If IDX finds a path to work for the listing broker, it will continue to be remarkably durable.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Joan September 20, 2017 at 8:18 am

The Web site link needs to be able to go to the listing agent’s Web site, not just the broker or company Web site. The majority of agents have their own Web sites now aNd their listings should drive business to them, not the company which will disburse the lead to other agents.

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Victor Lund September 20, 2017 at 8:52 am

Great comment – I think that what Redfin has in mind is that the IDX feed would contain any link that is in the MLS – kinda like the VT links today

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Thomas Wissel September 20, 2017 at 10:16 am

Victor, I think you are missing their point that any buyer leads developed by a broker should be handed over to the listing broker. What will Redfin be paying for these buyer leads?

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Victor Lund September 20, 2017 at 10:46 am

Its a link – not a lead

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Victor Lund September 20, 2017 at 11:58 am

Its a link – not a lead. And would require the consumer to click – which they would not often do – but from an SEO perspective, it would be a benefit to all firm that have listings.

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Russ Bergeron September 21, 2017 at 9:56 am

If they are not going to click on it very often then the impact on SEO would also be minimal, wouldn’t it?

David Montgomery September 20, 2017 at 10:13 am

MLS is based upon cooperative marketing. A Broker lists a property and offers a share of the commission to any MLS participant who brings a buyer. IDX gives all Brokers the opportunity to advertise any properties in the MLS and seek buyers. This expands marketing potential to the benefit of all MLS participants and Sellers. A requirement that provides the opportunity for a redirect of a buyer inquiry to the listing Broker reduces the incentive for the IDX advertising broker to participate. They would be offering free advertising

IMO, Redfin’s IDX approach would benefit mostly the larger firms, particularly any who may seek to become a national competitor of the MLS concept.

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Jim Tomasello September 20, 2017 at 10:27 am

And what if the agent or broker do not have a website? Not all do. Will this force them to get one so that their listings remain in the IDX program?

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Victor Lund September 20, 2017 at 10:45 am

They could point to Homesnap – the Broker Public Portal MLS Consumer facing website – realtor.com or wherever they want.

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Victor Lund September 20, 2017 at 11:13 am

Then maybe they do not care –

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Ken Jenny September 20, 2017 at 10:31 am

Brilliant. And the next thing that Redfin could make an effort to do, as a leading referral site to the listing brokers, is to in some way monetize these redirected leads from Redfin.com? Never say never. All part of the joys of being a “hybrid business.” Both a broker and a portal. And so, I am confused. So why would any of the portals need to play by this new IDX display / disclosure rule? They do not use IDX feeds to display the broker’s data on their portals. They use broker opt-in MLS feeds and broker opt-in feeds distributed by syndicators. And oh by the way, I think the 600,000 non-productive members of the MLS that depend now on the current “mostly masked listing broker IDX policy” to snag buyers are not going to be be thrilled about this policy when voted on in the MLS committees they now control. Some advice. Going forward, the brokers should be cautious of the new strategies suggested by Redfin intended for “the good of the industry.” As a broker they are first and foremost your competitor, not your friend. As both a “wolf and a sheep” they will change “clothing” only to suit their needs in an effort to bolster their business as both a comparatively small brokerage company and as a moderately ranked portal.

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bill Kerbox September 20, 2017 at 11:41 am

Great article. Redfin is very smart, they realize the future may include a revolt on the portals with better organization of the MLS feeds pulling data back. I like the idea very much

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Ryan Castle September 20, 2017 at 12:05 pm

You and I just talked about this and it caused me to think more. Do you think it could cause any brokers to pull out of IDX in general, so they do not feed the lead? I don’t know the answer, just thinking on all sides.

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Victor Lund September 20, 2017 at 12:08 pm

I am very worried about listing brokers pulling out of IDX – but mostly because of the problem of paper brokers who contribute very little to the MLS – ergo – Neighborcity who is a broker who never lists or sells – they simply use the data for lead gen and referrals. The MLS must accept license brokers- and what Neighborcity is doing seems like regular uses of IDX data – but it is outside the spirit of IDX. You have hear the song – You come to the potluck bringing only a fork.

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John Mosey September 20, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Victor:
I am amazed and appalled that Neighborcity may still be out there.

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Travis Wright September 21, 2017 at 6:47 am

Call me old fashioned. This makes me think of the days when a homebuyer would come to my office and review / discuss listings in the MLS paperback book.

So when my buyer sees a listing in the book provided by a cooperating broker and she likes it, am I supposed to walk her over to my competitor and let her discuss that listing with the listing broker? Isn’t that the same as allowing my buyer to hit the listing IDX link and leave my site and go visit the listing broker?

Makes good sense if I own the majority of listings and I want the clients of my competitors to hit the link and come home to me. I’m not smart enough to figure out the unintended consequences of the link back to the listing broker, but I’m confident there are some.

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Victor Lund September 21, 2017 at 7:20 am

Travis – I understand your appreciation of What’s In It for Me? But I think that you need to move forward and consider what’s in it for us. Real estate is about cooperation between firms – this is an initiative that will benefit the brokers – all brokers with listings. If you understand long tail search – and who dominates the space today – you can begin to in vision what our industry can do to network itself and improve its position online. Do you really think that anyone other than spiders are going to click the link to view the exact same information on another IDX site? I don’t. This is a structure for search engine optimization – and a good one.

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Travis Wright September 21, 2017 at 7:44 am

Victor, all good points. And may I remind you that I have been in this industry since 1971; seen a lot, done a lot.

In any business, including real estate brokerage and sales, there is a fine line between cooperation and competition. Sometimes folks refer to it as coopetition. I’m with you for doing good things to advance the industry, but at the end of the day, independent brokers and 1099 sales associates are concerned with their bottom line. Assuming they have one.

During the great franchise wars of the ’80’s and 90’s, we used to say there were really only three things brokers wanted from a franchise system: more buyers, more sellers, and more agents.

I think if fair for organized real estate to consider that mantra in its master planning: what can the industry do (including MLS, IDX links, data standards, etc) that will help brokers and agents attract more business and improve their bottom line. If Redfin’s idea will accomplish that, then I’m all in.

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Russ Bergeron September 21, 2017 at 10:08 am

1. As a broker I go to the trouble of creating an awesome site, develop a following and great SEO in my market, spend money on marketing – I am now required to send leads to my competitor because they have the listing. Count me out of IDX.

2. IDX was introduced as a marketing tool for brokers whereby they could use the power of the MLS database to drive traffic to their website, and to enable them to compete with portals. It was called Citynet when we introduced it at Homeseekers in 1995.

3. Require the portals to follow IDX rules is a fools errand and outside the scope and control of the MLS. Brokers should/will decide where their listings go, not MLSs.

4. Redfin would like this because they are already considered a portal (and not a brokerage) by 90% of consumers and 90% of real estate professionals.

5. The focus on listings is always a bit of a dilemma – since the last time I checked only 30-35% of MLS members actually HAD listings.

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Russ Bergeron September 21, 2017 at 10:11 am

Forgot to add that trying to stifle business models is not the proper motivation for making rules and decisions. Unless with the termination of the DOJ judgment coming due, we want to start another one. 🙂

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Patrick Kelley September 22, 2017 at 6:18 am

I think you are confusing two different issues. Rules covering IDX and Advertisers need not be the same.
IDX rules were developed for brokers. IDX non-branding rules are in place to protect a broker’s investment in their website while making it clear to the public what broker the listing belongs to.

Syndication feeds to advertisers are covered under your contract with them and may operate with a slightly different set of rules. Prominent display of Listing Agent and Broker is required. Member rules allow branding in public fields.

I like the idea of requiring a link to the listing broker on Advertising sites but it will take a broad commitment from the industry to make it mandatory. Don’t expect it to be easy since bait and switch is how they get paid,

For Broker websites, adding a link to the listing broker’s website would destroy the value of IDX for our members.

Don’t break IDX trying to fix a problem with Advertising Syndication.

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