WASHINGTON — Realtor.com operator Move could theoretically deprive competitors of millions of listings by shutting down ListHub, the listing syndicator that it acquired in 2010 for $13 million.
So why doesn’t it?
That’s a question Greg Robertson, co-founder of W&R Studies, put to Move CEO Steven Berkowitz Wednesday in a room packed with multiple listing services executives.
Given Trulia and Zillow’s dependence on listings supplied by ListHub, “Why don’t you just shut down ListHub?” Robertson asked Berkowitz at the National Association of Realtors’ midyear conference in the District.
By the time the sites recover from the blow, realtor.com would be “far ahead of the game,” Robertson speculated.
“Is it batshit crazy?” Robertson asked. “I don’t think there’s anything in antitrust laws that says I have to feed my competitors listings.”
“If you ask me, I think it’s a little bit batshit crazy,” Berkowitz responded.
That’s because shuttering ListHub, which supplies listings to realtor.com competitors including Zillow and Trulia, would hurt agent productivity, Berkowitz said.
ListHub offers tools that let brokers choose what websites to syndicate their listings to, and to see hard numbers that demonstrate how their listings engage consumers across those sites. Eliminating those tools, he said, would make it more challenging for brokers to control and analyze their listings.
“The whole premise of [ListHub] is to put the power in the hands of the people that own the listings … that’s ListHub’s only mission,” he said.
Some brokers are leaning towards feeding their listings directly to portals because they believe it would improve the accuracy and timeliness of listings on those sites.
But they shouldn’t, Berkowitz said.
“Work with us, and we’ll get it timely,” he said.
Berkowitz didn’t completely rule out the possibility of ever shutting down ListHub, however, saying the current impracticality of doing so “doesn’t mean I wouldn’t turn them off.”
Speculation that ListHub’s business model is vulnerable to disruption has been fueled by evidence submitted in a lawsuit Move and NAR filed against a former Move executive, Errol Samuelson, that seeks to prevent Samuelson from working for competitor Zillow.
Filings in the case revealed that the executive in line to replace Samuelson, Curt Beardsley, was worried about the speed at which he would be expected to execute a plan to “save ListHub.” Beardsley ended up leaving Move for Zillow, too.
But in Move’s most recent quarterly report, the company said ListHub and the company’s two other software and services products — TigerLead and Top Producer — all saw annual revenue growth. Combined revenue from those three software and services products was up 10 percent from a year ago, to $13.2 million for the first three months of the year.
In announcing first-quarter results, Move boasted of ListHub’s “growth momentum,” saying the company “continues to expand its reach by distributing content from more than 500 sources to more than 130 publishers.”
Contributing that momentum were two “key alliances” forged in the first quarter — deals with SouFun Holdings Ltd., the operator of the leading real estate portal in China, and ListGlobally, which expanded ListHub’s reach to new locations in Asia, Russia, Western Europe and South America.
ListHub also signed a software integration agreement with Showing Suite Inc. in January allowing brokers and agents who use ListHub and Showing Suite to purchase reports that meld Showing Suite data, like feedback from buyers who attend showings, with ListHub market analytics.
And today, ListHub announced it had signed a deal with real estate tech firm Systems Engineering Inc. that could add another 130 MLSs to its current customer base of 465 MLSs.
If ListHub is in fact thriving, some think Move could still use its ownership of ListHub to put realtor.com competitors at a disadvantage — if not by cutting off the flow of listings altogether, then by imposing more restrictive terms on their use.
Speculation that Move might use its acquisition of ListHub to help realtor.com by cutting off the supply of listings to some sites altogether was largely quelled when Zillow signed a long-term agreement locking in Zillow’s right to continue receiving listing data from ListHub.
As part of the 2011 agreement, Zillow began providing ListHub with metrics on the page views and leads generated by listings, which ListHub includes in reports it sells to agents, brokers and MLSs.