Real estate portal Zillow has appealed to multiple listing services to provide Internet Data Exchange (IDX) listings data directly to the site, originally claiming that it can "sometimes be days" before syndicators like ListHub provide new or revised listings to the site.
Zillow has since backed down from that claim, acknowledging that ListHub — which is owned by Zillow competitor Move Inc. — provides Zillow with updates every 12 hours, and has offered to increase the frequency to four times a day.
Bob Bemis — a former MLS CEO who joined Zillow in February as vice president of partner relations — recently emailed about 50 of the nearly 200 MLSs that provide listings to Zillow through ListHub, requesting a direct data feed.
"While this channel is convenient, it is not always the speediest and many of the complaints we receive about listing freshness can be traced to the speed with which new or updated listing information reaches Zillow," Bemis said in the June 29 email. "Because of the multiple hands through which the data passes, it can sometimes be days before a revised listing reaches us for posting."
The MLSs that received the email also provide IDX listing data to a Diverse Solutions, a company that powers websites for agents that Zillow acquired in November for $7.8 million.
"One of the solutions we are pursuing is to contract for that same data feed directly from the MLS," Bemis said. "This would allow Zillow to refresh our database multiple times each day, rather than on the much slower schedule we must follow now."
But in a follow-up email three days later, Bemis acknowledged that he had "made a misstatement" in implying that updates to listings could take days to reach Zillow through ListHub.
In addition to providing updates every 12 hours, Bemis said in a July 2 email, "ListHub has offered to increase that frequency to four times per day, and we are currently working to implement that accelerated schedule."
If the request for MLSs to provide IDX listing data to Zillow directly is about more than just the freshness or accuracy of listings, industry observers are wondering what other motives the company might have.
Bemis was unavailable for comment at press time. But his memo reflected Zillow’s act of "opening ourselves up to receiving feeds in different ways," said Katie Curnutte, Zillow’s director of communications.
Zillow’s desire to bypass syndicators could stem at least in part from the fact that ListHub is owned by Realtor.com operator Move, which acquired the syndicator’s parent company in September, 2010.
Last year, Zillow secured its ability to continue to access listings syndicated by ListHub, entering into a long-term agreement that called for Zillow to provide page view and lead generation metrics to ListHub in return. At the time, ListHub was providing 2 million listings to Zillow.
ListHub declined to comment on Zillow’s appeal to MLSs for direct listing feeds.
But Saul Klein, vice president of another big listing syndicator, Point2, told Inman News that if "the industry suddenly became aware of the derivative value around data," he could see how it "would be advantageous to have the middleman out."
Listing syndicators like ListHub and Point2 gather listing data from MLSs and brokers, and then send those listings to third-party real estate search sites like Zillow, Trulia and RealEstate.com.
ListHub and Point2 make money — and provide value to their listings contributors — by tracking listing activity and selling lead generation reports and website tools to brokers.
Brokers contributing listings to ListHub and Point2 can manage their listings from a centralized dashboard, opting in or out of having listings sent to specific sites. This functionality makes it convenient for contributors to manage where their listings appear.
ListHub gets listing data from more than 400 MLSs and associations and syndicates them to over 100 real estate search portals. Point2 gets listing data from 164 MLSs and associations and sends them to about 70 real estate sites.
Thanks to its relationship with the National Association of Realtors, Realtor.com operator Move Inc. gets listings from nearly all of the nation’s more than 900 MLSs.
But third-party listing portals like Zillow, Trulia, and Homes.com "have to step up their offers if they want some kind of direct feed," said Gregg Larson of Clareity Consulting in an email to Inman News.
Homes.com, for example, has launched an MLS partner program "that delivers a number of valuable software tools and reports to participating MLS’s agents and brokers," Larson said. "They’ve had some success with that program, because they offered something of real value."
Zllow launched its own Partnership Platform in May, with the goal of improving listing accuracy by securing direct feeds from MLSs and brokerages. Addressing a sore point with some brokerages, Zillow pledged to display the listing agent and listing brokerage adjacent to listings, including contact information and links to broker, agent or MLS websites, free of charge.
In June, Zillow launched zPro (currently in Beta), a free program for brokers which prominently displays listing agent info and provides detailed weekly metrics reports, among other incentives.
Since acquiring Diverse Solutions, Zillow has also rolled out free IDX websites for paying "Premier Agent," advertisers, who totaled 18,616 at the end of March. The service costs $10 a month for agents who don’t subscribe to Zillow’s Premier Agent program.
But given the lack of incentives for MLSs, "I think they’ll have very limited success," in obtaining direct feeds, Larson said. If an MLS agrees to provide IDX listings directly to Zillow, every other portal will request that data too, he said.
There are legitimate accuracy issues on third-party sites, which has created some heat in the syndication world, Larson said. Third-party sites can receive listings from up to 1,800 to 2,000 sources, he said. Sometimes there are duplicate listings. If there are duplicates, is there a clear order where one sourced listing will trump another?
The answer is often no, Larson said.
"You [third-party portals] want credible info, but you won’t pay for it," said John Mosey, president of NorthStarMLS. They’re asking for data, but not giving up anything in return, Mosey said. He says he did not receive a memo from Bemis, because Bemis already knew where Mosey stood on the issue.