MLS & Associations

Portals seek national standards for listing syndication

Clareity's 'permission gateway' lets brokers manage direct feeds to publishers

More and more multiple listing services are signing direct agreements with third-party listing portals such as Zillow and Trulia, but the terms of these agreements — and the technology behind them — are often less than ideal.

That’s according to Clareity Consulting, a real estate consulting firm that along with its sister tech company, Clareity Security, is working on both technological and policy solutions to help MLSs grapple with what it sees as an accelerating trend.

After reviewing all of the direct data feed incentives from the major portals and the content licensing agreements its broker and MLS clients have signed with the publishers, Clareity determined that the deals were far from ideal and lacked standardization, founder and CEO Gregg Larson wrote in an email to industry colleagues last month.

“The terms could and should be much better. Some of the agreements offered a fair exchange of value, while others did not. Frankly, it’s like the wild, wild west with no law and order in real estate online,” he said.

More than 20 direct feed agreements signed with portals last year “should not have been signed,” Larson added.

Clareity declined to name the brokers and MLSs involved in these agreements, but said it is working with Zillow, Trulia, and Homes.com’s legal departments to allow its clients to replace those agreements with a model content license agreement and fair display policy newly drafted by Clareity and real estate intellectual property protection group REDPLAN.

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“Four of the five major portals reached out to Clareity over the last 120 days and asked us to help the online real estate industry establish national standards for a simpler, cleaner, and better win-win agreement,” Larson said.

“Brokers and listing agents will get better fair display terms and prominent attribution than anyone has negotiated thus far. The portals also win since they can now streamline the content licensing process and don’t have to renegotiate different agreements in several hundred markets.

“Think of all the Realtor volunteer and staff time this will save, too. And legal fee reductions? Priceless.”

New ‘permission gateway’

After soliciting industry feedback, Clareity will update the drafted model agreement to be released sometime this year. In the meantime, Clareity Security has launched a tool for MLSs that have already signed direct agreements with publishers.

Dubbed Clareity Direct Connections, the tool is a “permission gateway” that allows brokers to opt into and manage listings that go to third-party portals and connect with the portals’ data management platforms. The tool can be incorporated into Clareity’s single-sign-on portal, but does not have to be.

Zillow is currently the only publisher on board. Clareity is in talks with Trulia, Homes.com and RealtyTrac as well as a few others, said Amy Geddes, Clareity Security’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Boise, Idaho-based Intermountain MLS is the first MLS to roll out Clareity Direct Connections to its 4,300 members in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. Clareity has also signed deals with several other MLSs, Geddes said. She declined to name them.

Intermountain MLS announced in August that it would send direct listing feeds to Zillow and Trulia. Until the launch of Clareity’s new tool, brokers had to contact the MLS in order to opt-in to send their listings to Zillow, said Intermountain MLS CEO Greg Manship.

“They don’t have to contact us going forward. We’ll just have this screen saying they opt out or opt in. It gives control to the broker,” he said.

Clareity’s single-sign on interface also makes it very easy to sign into Zillow’s new Data Dashboard, Manship said.

“They log in once and they’ll be able to log into our MLS system and all the other services we provide,” he said.

IMLS is currently beta-testing the free dashboard, which is set to launch in mid-January. The Zillow Data Dashboard allows brokers to set lead routing rules; include links to individual listing pages on their website; and get free daily reports of listing performance metrics such as search result impressions, total listing views, and total leads delivered.

Advantages to a direct feed include the ability to automatically brand the listing agent on top of every listing without agents having to claim their listings and having the MLS feed trump other sources of listing data when it comes to price and status, “which is 95 percent of the [accuracy] problems that we have,” Manship said.

He estimated that close to 90 percent of brokers had opted in to send listings to Zillow since August. IMLS also offers listing syndication to Zillow and dozens of other sites through ListHub, a company owned by Move Inc., operator of Zillow rival realtor.com.

IMLS brokers currently have the option to syndicate their listings through ListHub instead of through a direct feed and three or four of them have chosen this route because they pay for ListHub’s analytics reports, Manship said. But it looks like brokers will not have that option after April 7, when an agreement between Zillow and ListHub expires.

Listings sent to Zillow via a direct feed rather than through ListHub are updated more quickly, Manship said.

ListHub sends IMLS data to Zillow every 4 to 6 hours compared to 10-15 minutes with a direct feed, he said.

There is some debate about how long it takes listings to show up on listing portals after ListHub provides them with MLS data. Geddes said listings can take 36 hours to be updated due to the large size of the data file ListHub sends to portals. ListHub general manager Celeste Starchild said this is inaccurate and that more technically sophisticated publishers take a couple of hours to process the feed.

Regardless, with a direct feed listings appear on Zillow about 15 minutes after they are entered into the MLS, according to Zillow Chief Revenue Officer Greg Schwartz.

ListHub will begin updating major publishers every 15 minutes or less this summer, Starchild said.

She noted that most MLS software products already have a button in their software to distribute listings, “so it is too early to tell where the innovation or ‘value add’ component [of Clareity Direct Connections] lies.”

“We believe the industry is best served by moving toward a unified platform for data management, rather than the addition of yet another offering that further increases fragmentation,” she said.

ListHub’s platform supports regional and national real estate companies who rely on the ease of a single platform to power their back-office software, their franchise websites, their relationships with asset management companies, and their advertising deals with major portals, Starchild said.

“ListHub puts the brokers in control with a single place to manage their leads, the links back to their broker or agent website, their support requests, their consolidated third-party/agent/broker/MLS/franchise website traffic reports, their automatic branded seller updates, and much more, all in one platform with as many as 70 publishers for brokers to choose from,” she said.

Moreover, ListHub’s agreements with the publishers in its network include the “most comprehensive and broker-friendly terms” in the industry today, she added.

Larson emphasized that Clareity is not competing with ListHub or any other syndicator.

“Our MLS and broker clients feel that’s an outdated model,” he said.

Clareity does not aggregate listings, syndicate data, re-license data or insert itself in the contractual relationship between a content owner and publishers, Larson said.

“Clareity simply facilitates connections between the rightful content owners and online portals and brings a new level of transparency to the existing listing syndication process that has lived for years somewhere between the shadows of dusk and complete darkness,” he said.

“In 2015, Clareity will help thousands of brokers make informed and responsible listing distribution decisions based upon transparent facts, in broad daylight, in order receive a fair exchange of value for their fresh content and finally have the control they’ve been asking for since 2006.”