Online brokerage Redfin has sent an open letter to Zillow asking the portal to prominently display links to the brokerage’s website on listing pages for Redfin’s listings, among other requests.

Redfin sends all of its listings in the 23 major markets it serves to Zillow through multiple listing services or through Redfin agents who upload their listings to the site manually, Redfin spokeswoman Jani Strand told Inman News. Redfin has not brought up its issues with the way Zillow displays its listings to the portal before, Strand said.

Strand said the brokerage decided to address its issues in an open letter and advocate for other brokers because of its position as a tech leader in the space.

“Because Redfin is a real estate brokerage and a technology company, we have the technical resources to uncover situations like these, and it’s our obligation to communicate our findings to the industry and our users,” Strand said. “Consumers using any website should be able to access the source listing regardless of whether it’s a Redfin listing or a listing from another broker.”

Redfin says it hopes to hear from Zillow within two weeks about its concerns, but Strand says the firm has no plans now to withdraw its listings if no changes are made. “We think we can work this out,” Strand said.

In response to the letter, Zillow spokeswoman Amanda Woolley told Inman News, “We have great partnerships with brokerages around the country, and regularly solicit their input and ideas. We’d be happy to discuss this with Redfin and Glenn directly. In fact, we’re just a couple blocks down the road, and could even meet him at our local Starbucks.”

More than 200 brokerages have joined Zillow’s Pro for Brokers program, in which they send listings directly to Zillow in exchange for more prominent placement of their listings, better reporting and enhanced access to a contact follow-up system.

Redfin’s letter resurfaces tension that has simmered between some brokerages and third-party portals. While some Realtor associations and multiple listing services have recently decided to stop or delay syndicating listings to third-party portals, large brokerages such as HomeServices of America subsidiary Edina Realty and New York brokerage Nothnagle Realtors got the ball rolling when they stopped syndicating listings to some portals citing concerns about the portals’ practices of placing lead forms for competing agents next to its listings on the sites.

More recently, major brokerage Crye-Leike Real Estate Services pulled the roughly 3,000 listings the brokerage represents in the Memphis, Tenn., area from Zillow and Trulia for similar reasons.

Crye-Leike is a member of The Realty Alliance, a network of dozens of the U.S.’s largest brokerages. Under “Fair Display Guidelines” the network devised for public-facing MLS websites, the network asks that such sites prominently display the logo and contact information of the brokerage supplying the listing, along with a link to the listing on the brokerage’s site.

Redfin’s letter calls for six changes to Zillow’s display of Redfin listings:

  • Provide a link to the full Redfin listing (on Redfin’s website) from Zillow’s mobile apps and mobile website.
  • Include a link to the full Redfin listing that’s readable by search engines.
  • Display a link to the full Redfin listing prominently.
  • Take down Redfin listing photos and descriptions subject to privacy restrictions after a home sells.
  • Retain Redfin attribution on listing data supplied from Redfin even after a home sells.
  • Include these changes across Zillow’s network, including Yahoo Homes, HotPads, HGTV and AOL Real Estate.

Redfin singled out Zillow first because it’s the site where Redfin sees these issues the most, but the brokerage has plans to address similar concerns with Trulia and soon, Strand said.

Bridget Frey, Redfin’s vice president of engineering, sent the following open letter to Dave Beitel, Zillow’s chief technology officer, today:

Hi David,

We’re writing to ask you to change how Zillow displays Redfin listings so consumers can easily navigate from Zillow to Redfin for the complete record of that listing. This is important to consumers because the full Redfin listing often includes more than 100 locale-specific property details that a national portal like Zillow isn’t designed to accommodate. We’re also asking you to respect the local listing rules around privacy that we promised to honor when photographing and describing our clients’ homes.

We have six specific requests:

  • Link to the full Redfin listing from Zillow’s mobile website and mobile apps. Links currently appear only on Zillow’s desktop website, but two-thirds of Zillow’s visits come from a mobile device. On most Zillow visits, a consumer has no way to navigate from the Zillow posting to the full Redfin listing. The images below of Zillow’s mobile website and iPhone app illustrate the problem.
  • Link to the full Redfin listing in a way that search engines can understand. Each Redfin posting on has an attribution section that identifies Redfin as the broker and links to the full Redfin listing. Zillow renders this section using JavaScript code rather than the plain HTML used for every other important section of the page. The Google cache, which shows each listing as it appears to Google, verifies the result: The Redfin link and every mention of Redfin are hidden from Google. We’re asking to render the listing attribution in the same simple way as the rest of the listing, so consumers can find the full source listing via search engines.
  • Display the link to the full Redfin listing prominently, near the property photos. Today the link appears at the bottom of the page, where even a determined consumer is unlikely to find it: below the photos, the price estimate, the price graph, the aerial photo, the price history, the tax information, the school ratings, the mortgage estimate, and advertisements of other agents. The image below shows how far down the page the link appears.
  • Respect local privacy restrictions on listing photos and descriptions. Zillow now assumes ownership of all syndicated data about the listing in perpetuity, regardless of local listing rules designed to protect homeowners’ privacy and security. In markets where agents have a commitment to publish listing data only while a home is for sale, we ask that Zillow respect the same rules that we do: limiting public access to the photos and listing descriptions of off-market homes, without requiring the agent or homeowner to do this for each listing on each portal. If accommodating local listing rules is too hard for a national site, please just take Redfin listing data down seven days after a Redfin listing goes off-market.
  • When displaying Redfin-provided information about off-market properties, do not remove the attribution: In situations where you continue to display photos and other information about a Redfin listing no longer for sale, please continue to recognize the Redfin listing agent as the source of this information, with the appropriate link. Today, you remove the attribution section and listing-agent photo once the property sells, even though you continue to display all the other information provided by that agent.
  • Implement these changes across the Zillow network, including, Yahoo! Homes and other Zillow-powered sites.

We’re committed to creating an open market for consumers to see homes for sale. For such a market to work for the seller, the listing agent and consumers, anyone should easily be able to find the original, authoritative source of information on the full listing on the listing broker’s website.

We see a portal like Zillow as just that: a portal to data on other sites — a broad starting point for a consumer seeking general real estate information — not the only point, not an ending point. This model is well-established on the Internet. Google, for example, displays only a small snippet of information about a product being sold by Amazon, with a very prominent link to Amazon. Imagine if Google redisplayed most of Amazon’s product page, kept it up when Amazon took it down, and didn’t show the link to the original Amazon listing in an easy-to-find spot? That’s what’s happening in real estate today, where the directories have sometimes sought to become the sole destination. By making the requested changes, Zillow and the brokers can work together to give the consumer complete access to all the information about a home for sale.

We’re sending a similar request to other portal sites, and are publishing this as an open letter so that other brokers can easily make similar requests. Our hope is that these requests will lead to a change in how all portal sites handle broker listings, but our immediate priority is for Zillow to change how it handles Redfin listings.

For your reference, here’s an example of a Redfin listing, and how Zillow represents it. We’d love to talk with you further about these requests and look forward to hearing from you in the next two weeks.  


Bridget Frey

Redfin vice president of engineering

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