The news that Realtor.com operator Move Inc. acquired listing syndication platform ListHub and its parent company has drawn praise and concern among industry experts and professionals.
In an open letter, Sami Inkinen, chief operating officer and co-founder of real estate portal Trulia — one of ListHub’s 70 distribution partners and a Move competitor — expressed concerns that the deal by a major power player like Move will mean decreased competition for industry dollars. Realtor.com displays listings data from more than 900 multiple listing services across the country.
"Pricing power aggregated into fewer hands means bigger bills. Move Inc. could use this power and data to help Realtor.com extract more money from the industry without having much alternative: pay and syndicate — or die," Inkinen said.
In a blog post, Brian Boero of online marketing consulting firm 1000Watt Consulting said the deal may help turn around a company that has lost money almost every quarter since 1999, when Move went public.
"With a robust syndication engine (and a ton of partners already built-in) Move is not only prepared to compete with the myriad listings sites that have sprung up in the past few years — they can now leverage them by controlling the flow of listings and, also, I would imagine, take a piece of the advertising dollars sold on top of them on these sites," he said.
Comparing the online listing space to the oil industry, Boero told Inman News that MLSs are like Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing states, "sitting on the gold that lies beneath the surface."
Like companies that drill, ship and refine oil, online listing sites are "the companies that help them bring (their products) to market," Boero said. By acquiring Listhub, "Move just bought one of the largest pipelines from the oilfield out to the marketplace. What they are going to do with it we don’t know."
Jason Lopez, a broker and director of interactive business at Century 21 Award in San Diego, Calif., which has more than 1,000 agents in Southern California, said he is worried about Move feeding listings to competing sites.
"I do have concerns about how Move will ultimately integrate ListHub (and) if there will be issues or disputes with Zillow or Trulia, as both of those sites drive way more traffic to us than Realtor.com at this point. So it’s a little bit of ‘wait and see,’ " Lopez said.
"As long as Move can maintain the current relationships, syndication and/or expand it, I think it will be a good thing for brokers and agents," he said. His brokerage uses ListHub and he likes the product’s reach, he added.
Bob Bemis, CEO of Arizona Regional MLS Inc., wondered what the deal’s effect might be on MLSs.
"The initial fear would be that some of the destinations ListHub served are competitors to Move and Realtor.com. If they do not want to receive their syndicated data from a competitive source, they may seek other channels or go directly to the MLSs themselves, which would add to the MLSs’ workload in managing many more data feeds," he said.
"So long as Move maintains some degree of separation between the Realtor.com operation of the website and the Move operation of ListHub, I imagine many of the destination recipients won’t be unduly worried. But it’s a tricky path to walk down."
Arizona Regional MLS has been using ListHub for more than a year and is pleased with the results, Bemis added. The MLS plans to continue its relationship with ListHub.
In his blog post, Inkinen suggested that Move’s acquisition of ListHub could harm the platform’s objectivity in terms of performance measurements.
"Nielsen is an independent, unbiased third party for a good reason. TV channels and advertisers like that. The previously independent ListHub platform (some called it the ‘Switzerland of listing syndication’) for listing reporting is now owned by one of the largest ‘channels.’
"What happens if there’s a dip in performance and Realtor.com’s numbers drop below those of its competitor sites?" he stated.
Move Inc. officials were not immediatley available for comment about Inkinen’s blog comments.
Some agents and brokers expressed worry about Move Inc. charging for more services that are based around broker-provided listings data.
"This all makes sense, except for one thing: The real estate agents who provide the … listings data receive no compensation for their work product. Moreover, agents are asked to pay for a service only made possible by their own efforts. You can’t make this stuff up. Truly amazing," said Charles Berge, a broker at AuctionRefer.com, in a comment at Inman.com.
While the syndication services ListHub offers are free, the platform does require a subscription ranging from $99 to $299 for brokerages that would like performance reports for distributed listings.
"Syndication has little value unless you have the analytics to measure success. Several of the syndication companies offer ‘upgraded accounts’ for a (fee), which are supposed to provide you with those numbers. When you pay, you find that few of the websites provide ListHub with the stats to report back to the agents and brokers," said Brian Copeland, an agent at Village Real Estate Services in Nashville and a ListHub user.
"Syndication is a customer expectation in today’s marketplace," Copeland also said, adding that sellers deserve to have their homes appear on multiple property search sites.
"However, agents (shouldn’t be required to pay) more money for statistics, enhanced listings or specialized, supreme services. Without the broker’s listings, there is nothing. We shouldn’t be charged for something we’re providing in the first place."
Some agents expressed dissatisfaction with a feature of ListHub’s service that Move said it is hoping to improve: listings accuracy.
"Listhub consistently has data errors (and) is slow to update," complained Jonathan Osman, a broker at Keller Williams Realty’s Charlotte House Hunter Group in Charlotte, N.C. He also said he’d like the ability to push his listings to his own website at no charge, rather than to a page at the MLS site.
The Move-ListHub deal will hopefully keep listings "more up to date and … more complete and accurate," said Barrett Powell, a broker at Coldwell Banker Advantage’s Southern Advantage Team in Pittsboro, N.C.
"Hopefully this will also mean sold, withdrawn and expired listings will disappear from these (third-party) sites much faster, as well. This should have been done a long time ago," said Powell. He has been using ListHub for two or three years and said that he considered the service an advantage for sellers and buyers.
Previously, "those sellers who were not lucky enough to be listing with a tech-savvy agent or happen to be in an area covered by an MLS that used a service like ListHub were simply out of luck. So this is great news for the sellers," he said.
"But it is equally great news for buyers and for more choice and flexibility. For a long time I have been blogging about Google Base Real Estate and how with Google you could search for real estate and have a rich informational environment also associated with that search.
"Since ListHub is one of the services supporting syndication to Google, we will now see more evenly distributed listings and more (consistency) from one property listing to another. Data should be more reliable and (there is potential for) more common language and standards from one part of the country to another."
Other industry professionals also had high hopes for the new service.
"This is certainly something I would take advantage of for my company’s listings," said Alexis Eldorrado, managing broker at Eldorrado Chicago Real Estate.
"I believe the more online exposure you can secure for a listing, the better. I do also like that it is not mandatory and allows us to still have control of the full data through our local multiple listing services of which we must all subscribe to and work with in terms of our listings keeping the data pure," Eldorrado said.
Some expressed indifference: "I don’t see what difference this makes in our market. Trulia and other sites already seem to have full access to our MLS. Realtor.com is rarely used for searches by local buyers here in (San Francisco). They prefer Zip(Realty), Trulia and Craigslist," said Cece Blase, an agent at Paragon Real Estate Group.
Jim Harrison, president and CEO of MLSListings Inc., said his MLS was already syndicating its listings through Point2 Technologies, a ListHub competitor, and did not plan to make a change.
"In our arrangement with Move, they are only allowed to display the data they receive from us on Realtor.com. They are restricted from redistributing our listings. In addition, we offer Point2 as a free, broker-opt-in listing syndication service, so Move will not be allowed or needed to facilitate the redistribution or syndication of the listings they receive from us for our brokers," he said.
Commenting on the deal, Point2’s CEO Saul Klein said he was "very pleased to see the industry adopt listing syndication on a broad scale."
He declined to say whether or not Move had approached Point2 for a similar deal before acquiring ListHub.