In an effort to give listing agents and listing brokers better exposure on third-party real estate websites, San Diego-area multiple listing service Sandicor Inc. has added a new data field where they can enter contact details.
The MLS will reportedly terminate its data feed to those third-party publishers that do not comply in displaying the new field within 60 days.
The MLS will also soon decrease the number of photos that can go out to listing syndicators to four, down from the current maximum of 25, and add watermarks with listing agent or broker contact information on images sent to third-party sites.
Starting today, listing agents can include information such as their name, brokerage, email addresses, telephone numbers, website URLs, California real estate license number, open-house schedules, and the property’s description, in a field called "Advertising Remarks," that will go out to listings syndicators such as ListHub and Point2, the MLS said.
Listings syndicators feed listings from brokers and MLSs to third-party real estate portals.
"For those consumer sites (e.g., Trulia and Zillow) that display MLS remarks, the ‘Advertising Remarks’ field will provide the consumer with agent contact information that is prominently displayed, making it clear on how to contact the listing agent directly," the MLS said in an announcement.
Sandicor CEO Ray Ewing told Inman News that Sandicor’s "goal is to make agent and broker sites a better source for property information. The agents will be able to put in the advertising remarks language such as ‘for more photos, please go to my website at …’ "
Ewing said the MLS will begin to limit the number of photos going to syndicators sometime in the next 60 days or so, pending a software update. The MLS has not yet set an approximate date for its implementation of watermarks on photos sent to syndicators, he added.
The move is the latest in a long-running debate over listings syndication and the control of listings data. In November, HomeServices of America subsidiary Edina Realty Inc. announced it would stop sending listings to property search sites Trulia and Realtor.com.
Last month, a San Diego brokerage, ARG Abbott Realty Group, announced via YouTube video that it had pulled its listings from third-party sites. The announcement was quickly followed by a video rebuttal defending listings syndication posted by Philadelphia-based broker Fred Glick.
This week, news broke that two MLSs discontinued their agreements approving real estate technology company Diverse Solutions as an Internet Data Exchange (IDX) provider for their members due to the company’s acquisition by real estate portal Zillow in November.
Two Orange County, Calif., real estate professionals also reported that their listings on Zillow had been wrongfully claimed by other agents, a practice that Zillow representatives said happens rarely and that the company takes quick action to resolve.
In this latest development, Sandicor has introduced a new, optional data field specifically for listings syndication that will allow listing agents to display their names and contact information on third-party websites in a place that normally contains a property description.
Because the property description tends to be displayed higher on a listing page — currently under property photos on both Trulia’s and Zillow’s websites — the listing agent’s contact information then gets an additional, highly visible spot on the listing page. Sandicor does not allow agents to self-promote beyond contact details in the new field.
Victor Lund, partner at real estate consulting firm WAV Group, said the move allows "the advertising agent or broker to provide more information about their listing that’s not allowed within the rules and regulations of IDX." Sandicor is a WAV Group client.
Real estate professionals are not allowed to put their name or contact information in an MLS field designated specifically for IDX (Internet Data Exchange) purposes, but because this new field is specifically for listings syndication, those rules do not apply, Lund said. The new field is limited to about 550 characters, he added.
WAV Group initially brought the idea of adding a new MLS field to Sandicor’s attention by showing the MLS that Tucson-based Long Realty was already putting their agents’ contact information in property descriptions on third-party sites. Long Realty is not a WAV Group client.
Screenshots (above) of a Long Realty listing on Trulia that includes the listing agent’s contact information in property description. (The bottom image has been altered here with highlighting.)
"Brokers who’ve experimented with this — specifically those who have put the agent’s name and telephone number in this field — have seen an increase in the number of telephone calls they get from listings syndication," Lund said.
"What Sandicor is doing here is in response to what their brokers are requesting," he added.
"One of the largest brokerages in Sandicor is Prudential California Realty, which is a HomeServices (of America) company, which is also the parent company of Long Realty. To the degree that the MLS is supporting the brokerage by giving them the same freedom and flexibility that they have in other markets, their MLS is helping them and responding to their needs."
Gregg Larson, president and CEO of Clareity Consulting, in a blog post said Sandicor’s new field "could make a profound difference for the future of real estate advertising." Sandicor is a Clareity client.
"Sandicor has concluded that the current practice of obscuring the listing agent or broker by selling the ad space that surrounds a listing is misleading to consumers. At a minimum, this will at least establish a fair means for consumers to contact the listing agent directly," Larson said.
He added that third-party publishers have 60 days to adapt their data feeds to accept the new data field and display it, and that the MLS will terminate the data feed to websites that do not comply.
Point2 said it is working with Sandicor to implement the changes and will start rolling them out in April.
"If stricter distribution of data is the preferred choice for some MLSs, with the intention that consumers go on to the broker or agent site for more information, Point2’s systems will cater to that need," said Saul Klein, Point2’s senior vice president.
ListHub said it also plans to work with Sandicor to implement the changes and will pull in the new data.
"We have 43,000 brokers (we work with) and there are a lot of a opinions about what works and what doesn’t. So ListHub’s goal is just to be flexible," said Luke Glass, vice president and general manager of ListHub.
"At the end of the day, the broker is the actual advertiser of the listing (so) at the end of the day it’s what that broker wants to do."
Zillow spokeswoman Cynthia Nowak said the site welcomed Sandicor’s decision to add a new data field because, "in general, more information about a listing is in the best interest of consumers."
She added that "the listing agent always is clearly identified on Zillow. Once the listing agent sets up a free profile on Zillow, we always place him in the first position on the buyer’s agent list at no charge."
Ginger Wilcox, head of industry training at Trulia, pointed to a "data pledge" for listings syndication and display Trulia posted on its blog in January that, among other things, says "ads will be identified as ads to distinguish advertising from listing content. We will remove ads that confuse consumers about the official agent or broker for a listing."
"At Trulia, we’re committed to making it easy for consumers to contact the listing data source and the listing agent based on the information provided to Trulia," Wilcox told Inman News.
Reactions to the decision to decrease the listing photos that go to third-party sites down to four, from 25, was mixed.
Clareity’s Larson praised the decision.
"Member IDX sites and the Sandicor public-facing site will display all of the photos and agent remarks in the MLS system. Sandicor’s goal is to make member IDX sites a much better source for the consumer seeking real estate information. This move will eventually train consumers to visit a broker or the MLS site to see all the property data and pictures," he said.
Trulia’s Wilcox said Sandicor’s decision to limit listing photos on third-party sites will affect prospective homebuyers.
"The No. 1 request homebuyers have when searching for properties is more photos. Consumers want choice and information. It doesn’t benefit buyers, sellers or their agents to reduce the amount of photos displayed or property information available to prospective buyers," she said.
Reactions from San Diego area real estate professionals Inman News contacted were mixed to positive about the changes.
Kris Berg, Inman News columnist and designated broker of San Diego Castles Realty, applauded Sandicor’s decision to add a new field and limit listing photos in a blog post, calling it a "smart middle-ground approach to take" in the face of differing opinions regarding listings syndication among their membership.
Jim Abbott, president and managing broker of ARG, said his brokerage was fully aware of Sandicor’s upcoming changes prior to ARG’s decision to stop syndicating its listings.
"I think it’s a step in the right direction for agents and brokers who want to continue in syndication, but it doesn’t remotely solve the problem" of agents other than the listing agent appearing next to a listing, Abbott said.
He added, "We don’t know where these advertising remarks are going to be displayed on a given syndicator’s site.
"They could bury it the way they bury (listing agent information) now. They could display it in six-point type. I have no confidence that the sites will display the listing agent information to the public."
He approved of Sandicor’s decision to limit listing photos to third-party sites.
"I think theres a long-term benefit here where, by virtue of the fact that consumers will now be able to go to a consumer-facing MLS site and get six times the photographs, (that) will slowly drive traffic in the right direction," Abbott said.
Jason Lopez, managing broker at Smart Real Estate Solutions, disagreed.
"Reducing the number of photos is something I don’t like because it just adds another step that has to be done manually and that is time consuming," Lopez said. "I’m surprised they did this especially when there is tons of data indicating consumers want lots of pictures."
Kimberly Dotseth, broker-owner of Green Box Homes, said she thought the new field was "an excellent idea" and a "game-changer."
"I do plan to use the field; I do plan to continue syndicating my listings; and I plan to continue taking about 200 photos for each new listing. Twenty-five are used on the local MLS and if only four are disseminated out to the syndicators, I don’t mind. Why? Because I don’t sell houses through syndicated sites," she said.
"So far, those sites are merely a conduit from a buyer to me, who usually reaches out for some additional information. In this case, I will use my advertising remarks to offer additional photos by email."