Trulia lures ListHub VP John Whitney to build MLS partnerships, improve listing accuracy

Job description also calls for expanding relationships with syndicators ListHub and Point2

Done deal image via Shutterstock.Done deal image via Shutterstock.

Trulia has hired John Whitney, most recently vice president of industry relations for listing syndicator ListHub, to help lead the real estate search portal’s efforts to improve its listing data quality and grow its relationship with multiple listing services.

The accuracy, freshness and comprehensiveness of listings displayed by third-party sites like Trulia and Zillow can suffer in some markets where the sites rely on multiple data sources. That’s not an issue in markets where third-party sites receive listing feeds directly from MLSs, which are widely considered the gold standard among listing data sources.

Part of Whitney’s job will be to grow the number of MLSs that provide Trulia direct feeds.

Whitney has a long history of working with MLSs and Realtor associations, starting with a 4 1/2-year stint as executive director of Albuquerque, N.M.-based Southwest MLS in 1993. He held the same position at the California-based Central Valley MLS from 2003 to 2005.

In between those MLS leadership positions, he worked as an account manager for the electronic lockbox provider Supra. Before joining ListHub, Whitney served as national sales director at National Association of Realtors subsidiary SentriLock LLC.

“Trulia continues to invest in providing the best listing data because accurate listings are not only fundamental to a good consumer experience, but generate the highest quality of leads for agents and brokers,” Trulia spokesman Matt Flegal wrote in a blog post announcing Whitney’s appointment.

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Trulia, Zillow and other third-party sites have made improving the accuracy of listings a priority. Last year realtor.com — which thanks to its ties to NAR, receives listings data directly from nearly all of the nation’s MLSs — launched an aggressive marketing campaign portraying the timeliness, accuracy and completeness of listings on the portal as a competitive advantage for buyers competing for scarce listings.

In March, ZipRealty conducted a study that revealed that 17 percent of the listings for sale on Trulia in the markets it looked at were not for sale in the local MLS. The study also showed that in the markets examined, Trulia had an average of 78 percent of the listings the local MLSs had. Zillow had similar results.

Whitney joined ListHub in April 2012, and according to his LinkedIn profile worked there up until joining Trulia this week as director of business development. At Trulia, he will focus on building relationships with multiple listing services and improving the site’s listing accuracy and coverage from the large listing syndicators ListHub and Point2, Flegal wrote.

Brokerages and multiple listing services use Point2 and ListHub to syndicate their listings to “third party” websites not affiliated with a Realtor association, brokerage or MLS. Realtor.com operator Move Inc. has owned and operated ListHub since acquiring it in 2010.

Citing accuracy concerns, several MLSs — including the Wilmington (N.C.) Association of Realtors and the Austin Board of Realtors — have recently decided to stop handling the syndication of their members’ listings to third-party portals. For similar reasons, on Feb. 3 the Combined Los Angeles/Westside MLS (CLAW) began delaying both its ListHub feed and the one it sends to realtor.com by 48 hours.

Trulia has been squarely focused on wooing MLSs for more than a year now.

Whitney will work under Alon Chaver, Trulia’s vice president of industry relations, who joined Trulia in December 2012 to guide the firm’s efforts in improving its listing accuracy by building relationships with MLSs and brokerages. In January 2013, Trulia began updating MLS-sourced listings in its database every 10 minutes.

John Whitney

John Whitney

Trulia established a data program in October, “Data Connect,” that gives MLSs and their member brokerages incentives like increased branding in exchange for direct MLS feeds. Zillow launched a comparable program, the “Zillow Partnership Platform,” in May 2012.

Trulia is already receiving direct data feeds from some of the biggest MLSs in the country, including the Houston Association of Realtors, Midwest Real Estate Data LLC (MRED), Boston-area MLS Property Information Service Inc., Bay Area Real Estate Information Services Inc. in the San Francisco Bay Area, Connecticut MLS and the North Carolina Mountains MLS.

Zillow gets direct data feeds from MLSs that have signed on to the Zillow Partnership Platform, which the portal introduced in 2012. Those MLSs include Bay Area Real Estate Information Services Inc. (BAREIS), a 7,500-member MLS in the San Francisco Bay Area; the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR); Connecticut Multiple Listing Service (CTMLS); Shrewsbury, Mass.-based MLS Property Information Network Inc. (MLSPIN); and the Corpus Christi Association of Realtors (CCAR).

Both Trulia and Zillow also operate programs that target direct data feeds from brokers in exchange for enhanced listing placement and other incentives on the portals. Trulia launched the Trulia Broker Program in July 2012, and Zillow’s program, Zillow Pro for Brokers, launched the same month and currently has more than 200 members. Trulia doesn’t release how many brokers are part of its program.

It remains to be seen how successful third-party portals will be in their attempts to forge stronger ties to MLSs.

Bob Bemis, an industry vet Zillow brought on board in 2012 to secure relationships with MLSs to get direct feeds for the portal, left his position last July, citing a belief that many MLSs would not choose to send direct feeds to Zillow anytime soon.

Despite the success of the Zillow Pro for Brokers program, Zillow had secured only three feeds from MLSs during Bemis’ tenure. The long odds Bemis saw against adding to that total led him to consider taking on a new challenge.

“I was frustrated with the lack of inroads we made in the MLS community,” Bemis said of his departure from Zillow.

“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.

Move is set to double down on its realtor.com consumer marketing campaign that touts accuracy and freshness of the site’s listings in 2014. Zillow and Trulia have pledged a combined $110 million to their consumer marketing efforts in 2014.

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