Zillow’s point man with MLSs, brokers departs

Bob Bemis frustrated by 'lack of inroads' in MLS community

Bob BemisBob Bemis

Bob Bemis — the former MLS executive hired last year by Zillow to help the company improve its relations with brokers and multiple listing services — has left his position after 18 months, citing frustration in his efforts to obtain direct listing feeds from MLSs on Zillow’s behalf.

“My charge was to build relationships with MLSs and the associations that run them to get more listing data from them,” Bemis said.

Despite the success of the Zillow Pro for Brokers program — more than 120 brokers are now sending direct listing feeds to Zillow — Zillow has secured only three feeds from MLSs during Bemis’ tenure. What Bemis sees as the long odds against adding to that total led him to consider taking on a new challenge, he said.

“I was frustrated with the lack of inroads we made in the MLS community,” Bemis said of his Monday departure from the Seattle-based listing portal.

Zillow, and other third-party real estate search sites like Trulia, have made a big push to get data feeds directly from brokers and MLSs because, without a direct feed, the portals face accuracy and timeliness issues with the listing data they get from a variety of sources.

A recent study by the brokerage and referral site ZipRealty, for example, showed that 16 and 17 percent of the homes listed as for sale on Zillow and Trulia, respectively, in the markets the study looked at were not listed as for sale in the MLS.

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“Most MLSs didn’t see a great advantage in setting up direct data feeds,” Bemis said. “I just don’t think we’re there yet.” From his perspective, Bemis said, a shift in attitudes about providing direct feeds to Zillow and other third-party sites could be years out.

Last June, Bemis sent emails to 50 of the 200 MLSs that send Zillow data through the listing distribution platform ListHub, asking them to consider giving Zillow direct data feeds so they could improve the accuracy and timeliness of their listings on the portal.

“While this channel is convenient, it is not always the speediest, and many of the complaints we receive about listing freshness can be traced to the speed with which new or updated listing information reaches Zillow,” Bemis said in a June 29, 2012, email. “Because of the multiple hands through which the data passes, it can sometimes be days before a revised listing reaches us for posting.”

Zillow’s desire to bypass syndicators may also stem in part from the fact that ListHub is owned by realtor.com operator Move Inc., which acquired the syndicator’s parent company in September 2010.

In July, Zillow announced that Bay Area Real Estate Information Services Inc. (BAREIS), a 7,500-member MLS in the San Francisco Bay Area, as the latest MLS to send the portal a direct feed. It joined the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR); Connecticut Multiple Listing Service (CTMLS); Shrewsbury, Mass.-based MLS Property Information Network Inc. (MLSPIN); Corpus Christi Association of Realtors (CCAR), which began sending a direct feed in March; and others as members of the Zillow Partnership Platform, which the portal introduced last year.

Despite the reluctance of other MLSs to follow suit, Bemis thinks Zillow will continue to be a major force in the real estate industry.

Bemis — who said the split was a mutual decision and that he left on good terms with Zillow leadership — joined the company last year as vice president of partner relations. It was a role he was seemingly well-suited to play, having served as CEO of one of the nation’s largest multiple listing services, Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service Inc. (ARMLS), since October 2007.

At ARMLS, Bemis was an outspoken advocate of providing brokers and agents with the latest tools to help them compete with third-party sites in providing information and services. Bemis was known for warning associations and MLSs that the rules they imposed on their own members can hurt their ability to compete with third-party sites not subject to the same rules.

When he left ARMLS for Zillow, Bemis said he was partly motivated by the breakdown of a plan to turn ARMLS into a statewide multiple listing service.

In August 2011, the Arizona Association of Realtors announced that its board had approved a plan to acquire ARMLS for $4.75 million, and that Bemis would lead the effort to build a statewide MLS. The plan was derailed when the SouthEast Valley Regional Association of Realtors (SEVRAR) announced that its board of directors had decided not to sell its 25 percent ownership stake in ARMLS.

“For the past year and a half, Bob has been instrumental in moving our industry relations program in the right direction and we wish him all the best,” a Zillow spokesperson told Inman News today. ”Bob is a really great, talented guy, but this sales job wasn’t a natural fit.”

As for his next move, Bemis, 65, says he will take a couple of days off to clear his head and then look into another opportunity in the real estate space or even another industry.

“I’d like to go out with some major accomplishment,” he said.

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