Virtual office website (VOW) operator Redfin’s decision to publish agent performance data gleaned from multiple listing services has revealed issues surrounding the reporting of sold data to MLSs that could complicate the brokerage’s stated goal of providing more transparency to consumers.
The Seattle-based brokerage continues to grapple with accuracy and data licensing issues after launching its agent Scouting Reports Thursday in 14 markets and part of Atlanta.
On Friday, Redfin announced it had suspended publication of the reports in Phoenix over accuracy concerns, and in Washington D.C. over licensing issues.
Today, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman said the technology-based brokerage had also suspended the reports in the East Bay of San Francisco, Sacramento, and Atlanta.
"In Washington DC and the East Bay of San Francisco, our data partners have asked for a more careful review process," Kelman said in a blog post. "We are suspending access to the Scouting Report in these areas until we can complete that review. In neither case have we discussed a specific rules violation, so we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions yet about what this means or where it’ll end up."
In Sacramento, Kelman said, Redfin determined on its own that the reports violated data sharing rules in that market. In Atlanta, he said, the prospects for acquiring agent statistics for the entire metro area looked increasingly dim.
"We should have waited to publish the Scouting Report in Atlanta until we were ready to jump through all the hoops — from both providers, not just one," he said.
Kelman said making agent performance data available has been "a bit like opening Pandora’s Box," but said the brokerage’s staff were "working late in the night and through the weekends" to address accuracy issues.
A bug that resulted in a miscalculation of days on market was fixed on launch day, he said.
Also, about 10 percent of agents in Phoenix, Portland and Las Vegas were identified with the wrong brokerage in the reports, he said. That issue was corrected Friday for Portland and Las Vegas, and Phoenix reports were fixed today, Kelman said.
Some of the problems Redfin is grappling with may be outside of its control.
In Phoenix, for example, buyer’s agents may not be getting credited with bringing a buyer to a transaction if the listing agent doesn’t provide that information to the MLS, Kelman said. Some listing agents may not be getting credit for sales because they are withholding records of sales from Redfin’s VOW feed, he said.
Redfin is exercising greater caution about characterizing agents as having represented both the buyer and seller in the same transaction, he said, a practice known as dual agency. In some transactions Redfin had identified as involving dual agency, buyers were actually unrepresented, Kelman said.
The source data from MLSs makes it difficult to determine which is the case, so Redfin will use "a more nuanced description of dual agency, which includes the possibility of unrepresented buyers."
When it comes to tracking deals completed by members of sales teams, the Scouting Reports sometimes can’t tell when two agents have listed the same property as co-agents.
If both agents don’t list the property as co-agents, "We have no other way of knowing when two agents work together as a team," Kelman said, adding that such problems will be handled "on a case-by-case basis."
Kelman said MLSs in three markets have ruled that the Scouting Report’s do not violate their rules, "which bodes well for the many other areas that have similar data licensing contracts."
Redfin’s publication of agent performance statistics has been hotly debated by real estate brokers and agents, with some questioning the brokerage’s right to make such information public.
Redfin says its right to publish the agent Scouting Reports originates in a 2008 legal settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Association of Realtors that prohibits Realtor associations and Realtor-affiliated MLSs from discriminating against VOWs.
Although MLSs could change their rules if enough members complain in an attempt to block Redfin from publishing agent performance data, Kelman has said he believes any such rule change would be difficult to enforce.
Redfin continues to provide the reports in most of the San Francisco Bay Area; Los Angeles and Orange counties; San Diego; Denver; Chicago; Boston; Las Vegas; Long Island, N.Y.; Portland, Ore.; Dallas and Austin, Texas.
In Denver, Redfin will show only one year of agent sales data, compared to three years in most other markets. Agent sales data in San Diego and Long Island will go back two years, he said.
Consumers will now have to have a user name and password to access agent Scouting Reports in Southern California, Denver and Portland, a requirement already in place in most other markets.