The North Carolina-based Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors plans to stop syndicating listings to third-party websites on behalf of its nearly 1,700 members, but Zillow and Trulia say they’ll still be able to display information on the majority of listings in the market thanks to direct feeds they already receive from brokers.
Beginning May 9, brokers will still have the choice of providing listing data to portals not affiliated with Realtor trade groups on an individual, case-by-case basis, but WRAR is discontinuing the program it offered through listing syndicator ListHub, the association said in an announcement.
Binary data image via Shutterstock.
The association will continue to send listings to realtor.com, which acquires listing data directly from nearly all U.S. multiple listing services through its ties to the National Association of Realtors. WRAR’s listings will also be available through its public-facing MLS website, TheWilmingtonMLS.com.
The association’s rationale for the decision mirrors that of the Austin Board of Realtors, which plans to terminate its agreement with ListHub on April 30, citing concerns about unethical business practices and inaccurate listing data on third-party consumer websites.
A year ago, WRAR assembled a task force to research whether syndication was still a valuable part of members’ marketing strategy. The task force concluded syndicating listing data was not in the best interest of its members or clients and decided to end its syndication program with ListHub, WRAR said.
“Through the research done by our task force, they determined that third-party websites no longer gave us a balanced exchange of value,” Jody Wainio, WRAR’s president, told Inman News.
“When syndication began, Realtor organizations gave third-party sites our listing data and they gave us buyer leads. Now all the value flows in one direction. In fact, not only do they take our hard-earned data, they sell the leads back to our members. They also cause confusion and create distrust in the public’s mind about Realtors.”
Most syndication sites are not bound by the Realtor code of ethics and have business practices that are inconsistent with that code, WRAR said. In particular, Article 12 of the code states, “Realtors shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications, and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing and other representations.”
Among other things, this requires that listing data be accurate and current, and that a Realtor’s name, firm and state’s license number be displayed “in a reasonable and readily apparent manner — not in 6-point type, for example,” Wainio said.
She cited a host of frustrations experienced by agents and clients in regards to syndication, including:
- inaccurate and old data that mislead and frustrate sellers, buyers, and agents.
- overstatement of listing inventories due to old data still showing active.
- misrepresentation of who the listing agent/firm is.
- buyer leads and inquiries going to agents who are purchasing these leads and have little to no knowledge of the property.
- buyers getting misinformation and hurting seller’s chances to entice a qualified buyer.
“Rules made by the (North Carolina) Real Estate Commission holding listing agents (and) firms accountable for inaccurate data have driven our Realtor organization to help brokers reclaim control of their data, manage the interest and expectations of buyers and sellers, and promote the most valuable resource in a real estate transaction — the experienced, knowledgeable and professional local Realtor,” Wainio said.
In November, ListHub announced that more than 425 MLSs were using its platform to manage their listing syndication, including 36 MLSs that signed on last year. ListHub allows brokers in participating MLSs to individually choose which specific third-party sites to send their listings to.
“Research shows that the accuracy and protections are maximized when an MLS has a standard platform for all their members. However, we respect an MLS’ decision for brokers to manage it themselves,” said Luke Glass, vice president and general manager of ListHub.
“ListHub serves many brokers today directly without the involvement of the MLS. We look forward to continuing our relationship with many of the brokers in Wilmington on an individual basis,” he added.
In a white paper published last fall, 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.
“The ListHub advertising platform ensures listing accuracy, data protections, and provides tools for brokers to optimize their syndication program such as lead routing, consolidated marketing analytics, and links back to the broker’s website,” Glass said.
“All of this is provided to the MLS and its members at no cost.”
But Wainio said there is a cost.
“Syndicating data costs time and money. Gathering and sending the data is only a small portion of the process. Troubleshooting its inaccuracies with these sites has become a nightmare,” she said.
For this reason, WRAR is not concerned about members’ listing data becoming more inaccurate on third-party sites should agents and brokers decide to syndicate on an individual basis.
“We are confident that the education and training we provide in the near future will give them the tools needed to make good business decisions with regard to their data,” she said, referring in part to a webinar WRAR will hold on March 4 titled, “WRAR — Helping Brokers to Reclaim Their Listing Data.” The webinar will be co-hosted by Marilyn Wilson of real estate consulting firm WAV Group.
“We anticipate that once this burden has fallen onto their own shoulders, they will come to the same decision as WRAR.”
Zillow already receives the vast majority of listings in the Wilmington area in direct feeds from brokers through its free Zillow Pro for Brokers program and is already in active discussions with brokers who will be disrupted by the ListHub shutoff to join the program, Zillow Chief Revenue Officer Greg Schwartz told Inman News.
“So I expect no interruption on Zillow ultimately for the overwhelming majority of listings in (the) market,” Schwartz said.
The Zillow Pro for Brokers network has grown to more than 200 brokerages who, in return for sending a direct feed of their listings to the portal, receive more visibility for listing agents, weekly listing reports, and access to a contact follow-up system.
The direct feed trumps all other sources, including ListHub, and ensures data accuracy, Schwartz said.
But Zillow does not have preference for how brokers choose to send the portal listings, he added.
“We just want it to be accurate, timely listing data,” Schwartz said. “We have had a wonderful relationship with ListHub,” but Zillow supports whatever technology solution brokers want to use.
Zillow rival Trulia offers a similar direct feed program, the Trulia Broker Program, as well as a recently launched “Data Connect” program designed to entice multiple listing services to send the portal direct feeds.
“The decision made by WRAR is counter to the trend we’re seeing. MLSs are increasingly partnering with Trulia to provide direct listing feeds in order to deliver the best exposure for sellers in their markets,” said Alon Chaver, Trulia’s vice president of industry services.
“The freshest and most accurate listings provide the best-quality information for consumers and generate the highest volume of free leads for listing brokers and agents,” Chaver said.
As is the case with Zillow, Trulia already has direct relationships with most of the large brokers in the Wilmington market, according to Chaver.
Nonetheless, Trulia is “committed to collaboration with the MLS community and hopes to work closely with Wilmington MLS, to provide direct MLS feeds for small brokers who don’t have the financial means to syndicate directly, but want to provide the best exposure for their sellers’ listings,” he said.