MLS & Associations

MLSs feud over direct feed to Zillow

South Florida MLS says syndicating brokers' listings without permission violates NAR policy

Two South Florida Realtor associations with a contentious history are once again battling, this time over a direct listing feed to top real estate portal Zillow.

When the Jupiter-Tequesta-Hobe Sound Association of Realtors announced last month that it would be sending its more than 52,000 active residential listings directly to Zillow, that caught the attention of Carol Van Gorp, CEO of the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches.

The two associations share a listing database. And JTHS’ broker members have nowhere near 52,000 listings.

For that matter, neither do RAPB’s. According to figures provided by RAPB, as of Feb. 12, RAPB had 12,500 members and nearly 22,000 listings. JTHS had 1,450 members and just over 3,000 listings.

The Palm Beach association has sent the Jupiter association a cease-and-desist letter, saying that the latter does not have the right to license the former’s data to any third party, including Zillow.

The letter, authored by prominent industry attorney Brian Larson of Larson Skinner, also noted that licensing RAPB’s data to third parties without the permission of its brokers is a violation of National Association of Realtors policy, which says that “[u]se of listings and listing information by MLSs for purposes other than the defined purposes of MLS requires participants’ consent.”

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“There is no agreement in place that allows JTHS to license [our MLS data] to any third parties, so where they come up with the 52,000 listings, first of all, does not add up, and, secondly, we maintain that they do not have the right to send our listings anywhere,” Van Gorp told Inman.

JTHS MLS CEO Wes Wiggins disagreed.

“JTHS and RAPB both have full and equal rights to the shared listing database through 2017” as part of a settlement agreement reached in a lawsuit between the two associations in 2013, he said.

In its cease-and-desist letter, RAPB said it reserved the right to take legal action and to support any of its brokers in taking action against JTHS for violating their rights under NAR policy.

The Palm Beach association also warned that it could pursue, under federal and state laws, any third-party, including Zillow, that displays its brokers’ listing data without having a signed agreement with RAPB.

When asked whether Zillow planned to display RAPB broker listings, Zillow declined to comment.

Zillow has been scrambling to obtain listings directly from brokers and MLSs before the expiration of its agreement with Move Inc.-owned listing syndicator ListHub on April 7.

“They [Zillow] told Brian [Larson] that they didn’t want to get in the middle of a local conflict,” Van Gorp said.

“I doubt if Zillow wants to display information that they have questionable legal authority to do. Brian has indicated that they have a positive, professional attitude.”

The direct feed from JTHS is slated to go live sometime before April 7, Wiggins said. Brokers will have an “opt out” option, he added.

In a notice sent to RAPB’s BeachesMLS members Friday, RAPB said the Jupiter association had responded to the cease-and-desist letter by announcing its intention to sue RAPB. The Jupiter association accused RAPB of violating the settlement agreement and interfering with its contract with Zillow, Van Gorp said.

“All hell’s about to break loose again and we don’t want it to,” she said. “We don’t want to be sued again. It’s a stupid use of members’ money.”

The notice urged BeachesMLS members to tell JTHS not to sue and not to sell data that it doesn’t own.

“JTHS has no business relationship with most of our brokers. Listings belong to the broker. Why do they feel that they can receive money from the vendors who, in turn, charge YOU a fee?” the notice said.

Wiggins said JTHS does not intend to sue RAPB and is seeking any solution that avoids filing suit. JTHS is also not selling data to Zillow, he said.

“We are not ‘selling the data’ to Zillow. Any third party that receives data from JTHS pays an annual fee to cover setup and maintenance,” he said. He declined to disclose the fee amount.

Van Gorp stressed that “this is not a Zillow referendum” and JTHS has set up other feeds sending RAPB brokers’ listings without permission, including to Move Inc.’s Find search tool, real estate appraisal software firm Datamaster, the Palm Beach Post, and agent scheduling app Hello Show.

BeachesMLS shares MLS data with four other associations who altogether have over 55,000 listings: the Miami Association of Realtors, the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Lauderdale Inc., the Realtor Association of Martin County Inc., and South Broward Board of Realtors.

RAPB said it has no evidence that JTHS is licensing the data of RAPB’s MLS partners to Zillow, and Wiggins said the Jupiter association is syndicating only JTHS and RAPB listings. He did not respond to requests to clarify the previously asserted 52,000 listing count.

JTHS, RAPB and the Realtors Association of St. Lucie used to make up the Jupiter, Florida-based Regional MLS, founded in 1987. In 2013, Regional MLS was dissolved following the settlement of a lawsuit filed by JTHS against the MLS, RAPB and the St. Lucie association alleging false and deceptive advertising, unfair competition, and interference with business relationships.

Shortly after the dissolution, the Palm Beach and St. Lucie associations merged, becoming the second-largest Realtor association in Florida and one of the largest in the country. The newly combined trade group then formed BeachesMLS, but continued to pool listings in a shared database with the Jupiter association as part of the settlement.

The associations agreed to pool their listings until 2017 and “it’s not looking real good for renewing that,” Van Gorp said.

Still, she hopes the two associations can work something out.

“I hope that we’ll be able to continue for our members’ sake some kind of data sharing because everything is such a blur down here that there aren’t distinct lines. People are doing business all over the place,” she said.

“But on the other hand they’re hurting our business by trying to make these decisions. And if our other data-share members get mad at us and try to pull out of our data share, then we’re in real trouble.”

Questions or comments? Email Andrea Brambila.