Technology

Analyst: Trulia could lose 40 percent of listings

Sudden loss of listings could weaken Zillow's negotiating position with brokers

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Trulia, the nation’s second most popular real estate search portal, could lose 40 percent of its listings if Zillow Group is not able to get a court to step in, according to Deutsche Bank analyst Lloyd Walmsley.

Zillow announced Friday that it had filed for a temporary restraining order in a bid to keep listings flowing to Trulia from listing syndicator ListHub, which is owned by realtor.com operator Move Inc., a News Corp. subsidiary.

ListHub announced Thursday that it had terminated its syndication agreement with Trulia in the wake of its acquisition by Zillow and would stop sending listings to Trulia on Feb. 26.

While it remains unclear how many listings ListHub will be pulling from the site, Walmsley today told StreetInsider.com that Trulia could potentially lose 40 percent of its listings as a result.

“After speaking with Zillow, we understand that it cannot use its own direct deals to power Trulia listings without renegotiating. While Zillow renegotiates, News Corp. may go on the attack marketing its data supremacy,” Walmsley told the blog.

“The sudden loss of listings may also weaken Zillow’s negotiating position with brokers who seek conditions (e.g., ad blocking or preferential pricing).”

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Zillow did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Zillow announced in January that it had been unable to come to terms with News Corp. over renewing its syndication agreement with ListHub, and would be seeking to obtain more listings directly from brokers and MLSs before the agreement’s expiration on April 7.

ListHub claims that the feed it provides Zillow represents about 60 percent of listings displayed on the site. Zillow has said ListHub is not the exclusive provider of information for most of those properties — it’s also getting that information from other sources. According to Zillow, ListHub was the primary source for “a few hundred thousand listings” of the 3.6 million displayed on Zillow in early January.

Like Zillow, Trulia has long had programs in place to obtain direct listing feeds from brokers and multiple listing services, inking deals with 125 MLSs as of the end of January. Zillow will not disclose how many direct feed agreements it has signed with MLSs, beyond putting the figure at “dozens.”

Zillow and Trulia’s issues with ListHub look “problematic,” and the top portal’s legal case against the syndicator looks “flimsy,” Walmsley said.

In its lawsuit against ListHub, Zillow Group is claiming that its acquisition of Trulia was not technically a “change of control” because the acquisition was structured so that Trulia remained intact as a corporate entity, Walmsley said.

The suit also argues that the syndication agreement should remain in effect until its original June 2016 expiration or at least for the allegedly required 30-day contract termination notice, he added.

Meanwhile, some brokers have been scrambling for alternative ways to send their listings to Trulia. FBS, whose Flexmls system serves nearly 160,000 agents and brokers, noted in a blog post today that it offers free syndication options to its customers that allow them to send their listings to Trulia without ListHub.

FBS President Michael Wurzer cautioned against MLSs providing Zillow or Trulia with a data feed of all of their listings and then trusting the portals to filter out the listings of brokers who do not want to participate.

Flexmls’ syndication tool only sends the portals listings for brokers who have given their approval either by opting in or not opting out, depending on the MLS settings, he said.

“This is a better long-term strategy, as it ensures that the listings of brokers who do not approve are not accessed by the portals,” he said.

FBS is also working on providing MLSs and brokers with an easy way to compare license terms among the portals to allow the former to assess which portals provide the most value with the least risk, and also to create competition that will result in better offerings for brokers, Wurzer said.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.