The Austin Board of Realtors has decided that its more than 9,000 members can choose to syndicate their listings to third-party websites, but it will no longer help them do it.
On Sept. 30, the trade group’s board of directors voted to end ABoR’s agreement with listing syndicator ListHub, citing concerns about unethical business practices and inaccurate listing data on consumer websites not affiliated with a Realtor trade group.
After the agreement’s termination on April 30, 2014, ABoR’s members will be able to decide whether to syndicate their listings to third-party sites on their own.
ABoR will continue to feed its members’ listings to Realtor-affiliated sites, including realtor.com (the official search portal of the National Association of Realtors), AustinHomeSearch.com (ABoR’s official search site), and TexasRealEstate.com (operated by the Texas Association of Realtors).
Realtor.com is operated by Move Inc., which acquired ListHub three years ago. Thanks to its ties to NAR, realtor.com acquires listing data directly from nearly all U.S. MLSs — it does not rely on ListHub for listings.
When asked whether brokers could continue to syndicate their listings to other third-party sites through ListHub after that date, ABoR said it “can’t speculate … about what brokers or ListHub may choose to do.”
But Realty Austin, which claims to be the second largest residential real estate firm in Austin, announced today that it will stop syndicating real estate listings to national third party websites.
“We understand some sellers will still want to see their homes advertised on certain websites, so our agents will still be free to post their listings wherever they deem appropriate,” said Realty Austin co-owner Jonathan Boatwright, in a statement.
Luke Glass, vice president and general manager of ListHub, said the company was “actively working” with ABoR’s wholly owned multiple listing service, the Austin/Central Texas Realty Information Service (ACTRIS), on the plans and hoped to “find a way to continue helping brokers make informed advertising decisions from a centralized platform.”
“[T]he decision seems to be an indictment of non-Realtor consumer websites more than anything. Ultimately, the brokers, agents and their sellers will determine how properties will be marketed,” Glass said.
In a statement, ABoR President Cathy Coneway said third-party websites that receive syndicated data are not required to provide reliable property information or to protect consumers through the Realtor code of ethics.
“This lack of regulation has resulted in outdated, inaccurate property information being displayed online that disappoints homebuyers and frustrates sellers,” she said.
Inaccurate data on consumer sites sets “false expectations for consumers that inhibit their ability to make sound real estate decisions” and “damage(s) the reputation of Realtors” when consumers rely on the inaccurate data and believe their Realtor to be misinformed, ABoR said.
“Examples include when clients feel they’re losing out on properties that they find on non-Realtor websites but which are actually no longer available, and inaccurate property valuation estimates on these sites,” the trade group said.
Proponents of listing syndication say it helps for-sale homes receive maximum exposure to potential buyers. In a media FAQ about the decision, ABoR emphasized that limiting the sites where Austin home listings are available would not make the homebuying and selling process more difficult.
“On the contrary. When a homebuyer views listings on a Realtor-affiliated website, they can trust the property information on these sites to be accurate and reliable. We believe syndication to only Realtor-affiliated sites will reduce the headaches that homebuyers experience from inaccurate data,” the trade group said.
And “(b)y syndicating property information only to Realtor-affiliated websites, the seller’s property information will remain up-to-date, yielding serious inquiries from potential homebuyers and increasing the chances that a property will be sold smoothly,” the trade group added.
Non-Realtor sites also use listings to sell consumer leads to agents other than the listing agent and therefore damage the business of the Realtors providing the listing information, ABoR said. Some such websites display listing agent information in a way that misleads consumers about who actually represents a seller and encourages them to contact someone who may not knowledgeable about the property or market area, the trade group added.
Speaking at the Council of Multiple Listing Services (CMLS) conference last week, Beth Gatlin, ABoR’s director of MLS and member services, said, “Our group is tired of paying for leads.”
ABoR’s members think the portals are taking advantage of them, she said. While members have to abide by Internet Data Exchange (IDX) rules and regulations in order to display each other’s listing data, non-Realtor websites do not, she added.
“It’s not a safe environment. We’ve done so many studies, everybody has, and the data on the portals is not correct,” Gatlin said.
Fellow CMLS panelist Curt Beardsley, Move’s vice president of customer and industry development, pointed out that pulling out of syndication won’t solve the data accuracy problem on consumer portals. ListHub’s data comes directly from MLSs and brokers, he said, but the issue is that the portals also take listings from other sources — virtual tour companies, for instance.
In a recently released white paper, ListHub noted that in markets where MLSs do not directly feed listing data to a managed advertising platform like ListHub, brokers who wish to syndicate have no choice but to use less reliable methods of syndication, with the result that the listing accuracy in those markets suffers.
For instance, in a study of MLS markets with and without an MLS-connected platform available to brokers, only 47 percent of the examined listings in the latter markets had the correct price on Zillow, Trulia and Homes.com compared with just above 70 percent in MLS-connected markets.
“MLS-connected syndication platforms have significantly higher accuracy rates than MLSs that do not support a platform. The only reason there are any accuracy issues with an MLS-connected platform is that there are still brokers within the MLS not using the platform and using less reliable means to send the data,” Glass said.
“There is no doubt that accuracy will get worse on these sites if brokers (or) agents are using other non-MLS connected processes to get their listings distributed.”
When asked whether ABoR anticipated data accuracy on third-party sites to get better or worse if brokers are handed the syndication reins, Gatlin said she wouldn’t speculate about how non-Realtor websites would be affected.
“What we do know is that listing data provided to the public through the websites of brokers and Realtors is the most accurate information on which consumers can base decisions. That is because it is directly fed from the multiple listing service that is governed by ACTRIS regulations to help ensure data integrity,” she said.
At the CMLS conference, Matt Cohen, chief technologist for Clareity Consulting, warned Gatlin to “be very careful if you go off on your own. If you don’t think (ListHub is) doing a good job … how good a job do you think Joe Agent is going to do? Not very well.”
Bob Hale, president and CEO of the Houston Association of Realtors, noted that if ABoR withdrew its MLS feed from the portals, it would also be withdrawing the vast majority of listings that are accurate.
“The data is going to find its way back to those portals through channels are that are not (monitored) or compliant,” he said.
HAR recently took a tack opposite to ABoR’s and decided to outsource HAR’s listing syndication services to ListHub. Among its reasons for making the move, HAR cited “consolidated marketing analytics, centralized lead and traffic routing, a centralized control panel for making all online marketing choices, and the benefit of the data licensing protections provided by ListHub through their agreements with the publishers in their network.”
ListHub will also provide HAR members with marketing reports that include analytics from websites such as realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, HAR.com and other portals.
CMLS panelist Saul Klein, senior vice president of ListHub competitor Point2, noted that the benefits of syndication — leads, analytics, broker choice of channel — are often overlooked.
But Gatlin noted a lack of awareness of these offerings among members. “We’ve been doing a site license with ListHub for five or six years. When we did a survey, most of (our members) didn’t even know they were getting the traffic reports.”
ABoR’s decision was the result of a recommendation from a syndication task force created in June 2012 “to investigate reports of increased member frustration with listing data by non-Realtor websites,” the trade group said. The task force included nine Realtor members that represented brokerages of various sizes who met with ListHub and surveyed ABoR members in the association’s top 100 offices by agent count, in addition to other research.
“It’s our responsibility as Realtors to act with integrity, and that means providing consumers with the most timely, trustworthy data possible. We believe this decision will do just that,” Coneway said.
ABoR said it would use the next six months to gather member input about the decision and conduct additional due diligence.