SAN FRANCISCO — FSBOs in the MLS, unauthorized resyndication of real estate listings, a duet with the music industry, analytics vs. privacy, gatekeepers vs. enablers, and copyright violations and protections were among the discussion topics during the first day of an Inman News Data Summit event Monday.

The nature of real estate listings syndication — the sharing of information — is changing, and syndication continues to be a charged subject for the industry, noted Merri Jo Cowen, CEO for My Florida Regional MLS.

Inherent in discussions about syndication are the accuracy and timeliness of the data, and how the data is being used and redistributed by other parties.

The sharing of listings information seems to have morphed from its original scope, she said. "It does definitely feel that it’s gone beyond the original definition of syndication," she said.

Rather than more "pure syndication," in which brokers individually decide where they want their listings to appear, it’s more common these days to find "resyndication," with listings data appearing in some unintended forms and unintended places — in some cases the uses are unauthorized.

SAN FRANCISCO — FSBOs in the MLS, unauthorized resyndication of real estate listings, a duet with the music industry, analytics vs. privacy, gatekeepers vs. enablers, and copyright violations and protections were among the discussion topics during the first day of an Inman News Data Summit event Monday.

The nature of real estate listings syndication — the sharing of information — is changing, and syndication continues to be a charged subject for the industry, noted Merri Jo Cowen, CEO of My Florida Regional MLS.

Inherent in discussions about syndication are the accuracy and timeliness of the data, and how the data is being used and redistributed by other parties.

The sharing of listings information seems to have morphed from its original scope, she said. "It does definitely feel that it’s gone beyond the original definition of syndication," she said.

Rather than more "pure syndication," in which brokers individually decide where they want their listings to appear, it’s more common these days to find "resyndication," with listings data appearing in some unintended forms and unintended places — in some cases the uses are unauthorized.

Speaking during a panel titled "The State of Real Estate Data Today," Cowen said, the industry collectively "kind of turned our backs on it for awhile and it … hit us like a snowball."

It’s not uncommon for multiple copies of the same real estate listings to appear simultaneously on multiple sites — but perhaps with different and erroneous information, as the listings data was not uniformly updated on all of the sites and may be stale, she noted.

Listing brokers and agents seem to react most strongly to resyndication when they find another real estate professional’s name associated with their listings, Cowen said.

She noted that there are data products that are based on the syndication of real estate listings data, integrated with other data with the intent to sell them back to the real estate industry — Cowen has coined a word for this: "syndigration."

Gregg Larson, president and CEO of Clareity Consulting and Clareity Security, said some brokers turn a blind eye to the distribution of their listings data to other websites.

"We have a lot of brokers who could care less where the data goes, how it gets used," he said.

Mike Bowler Sr., associate broker for Coldwell Banker Hubbell Real Estate in Lansing, Mich., told panelists that agents "just want the property sold," so their priorities may differ from those of the multiple listing services.

Larson said, "We as an industry need to get more quality control through all the industry end points. Brokers and the MLS public sites have fallen behind the three major (third-party real estate search) portals," he said.

Innovation can be costly for MLSs, Cowen noted, and some MLSs "have to rely on our vendors, our business partners," to develop useful tools for members.

Some of the discussions during the Data Summit event highlighted ways that the industry can better protect its data, such as stepping up its copyright and contractual practices.

Marty Frame, president of Realtors Property Resource LLC, a National Association of Realtors platform to aggregate and share real estate data among industry participants, asked, "Can the horse be put back in the barn?" as a parallel to whether the industry can better protect its data.

"Data wants to be free," he said, and there is a question of whether industry participants are on a path to destroy the value of real estate data.

Frame and Larson noted that threats from both outside and within the real estate industry — namely the redistribution and resale of real estate data to other parties — could devalue real estate data.

The problem of erroneous listings data via syndication "is costing the industry money," said Ira Luntz, vice president of data products for LPS Real Estate Group, adding that his company receives an estimated 30-50 inquiries today related to the wrong status, wrong price, wrong agent, or other erroneous or omitted information associated with some syndicated or resyndicated listings info.

MLSs are largely looked to as the source for fixing these data-quality issues, Larson said. "If we think we’re going to get agents to care, we’re deluding ourselves. The agents look to brokers, brokers look to the MLS, and ultimately MLSs are going to be in charge of compliance and monitoring."

Larson said real estate professionals seem to care most about those who are perceived to interfere with their marketing of properties. "It’s about the fact that ‘I am spending my money to sell the thing,’ " he said.

Industry-imposed data rules can in some cases muddle matters for MLSs, brokers and agents, said Cowen.

She said that the National Association of Realtors’ approval and subsequent changes to a search policy relating to franchise companies’ display of Internet Data Exchange listings, as an example, "really needed to be vetted better. I do see it’s been kind of a nightmare to figure out what to do when NAR makes those kinds of mandates."

Frame suggested that it may be time to "reexamine IDX (rules) at a fundamental level and say, ‘Should we have a constraint at all, or a set of rules at all?’ "

Loosening the rules would perhaps level the playing field for MLS websites, franchisor websites and third-party websites, as the owners of the content would be freer to decide where they want it to be, whether syndicating listings to third-party websites or displaying them on industry sites, Frame suggested.

In a separate panel session, "The Evolution of the MLS," Russ Bergeron, CEO of the Midwest Real Estate Data MLS, suggested loosening MLS rules to allow for-sale-by-owner listings.

"I’ve thought about FSBOs on the MLS for years," Bergeron said, and "if you think about it there are already FSBOs on the MLS" in some markets, as there are some low-cost real estate brokers who offer to list properties in the MLS but provide few or no other services.

"It’s the kind of thing we need to be thinking of," he said, and is a way to "break out of a mold" of traditional MLS services.

"I’ve said for years that (the National Association of Realtors) needs to upgrade the definition of MLS," Bergeron said, noting that "consumers use our MLS system as much as paying customers do."

Jim Harrison, president and CEO of the MLSListings Inc. MLS, suggested that buyers, themselves, could be a part of MLS data, if they are willing to "list themselves" to be matched to properties of interest.

He noted that during the 1980s some lenders were given limited access to MLS systems.

"We are fundamentally a cooperative to share data and share compensation with each other. Everybody is looking to the MLS to create more business opportunities," he said.

Patricia Bybee, president and CEO of Metrolist MLS, also agreed that expanded membership in MLSs could create new business opportunities.

In another session, "Lessons from the Digital Music Industry: If You Free It, Will They Come," Mike Masnick, founder of the Techdirt blog and CEO of Floor64, detailed the data struggles of the music industry and drew parallels for other industries grappling with data distribution and control challenges.

He shared three data lessons that can be learned from the music industry:

  • Be the enabler, not the gatekeeper.
  • You can’t stop openness.
  • Allow innovation.
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