RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. — Zillow Group’s listing syndication deal with the nation’s largest multiple listing service, California Regional MLS, stipulates that Zillow will not compete with the MLS as either a brokerage or a listing service.

That means Zillow Group can’t charge agents a referral fee for leads they get from its popular real estate search portals, including Zillow.com and Trulia.com.

Zillow has consistently maintained that it does not want to be in the brokerage or MLS business. But CEO Spencer Rascoff’s observation that agents might be willing to pay up to 40 percent of their commission for well-qualified leads, and last year’s launch of “coming soon” listings, have raised suspicions from some quarters that Zillow has been eager to quell.

Zillow Group’s vice president of industry development, Curt Beardsley, revealed details about the newly signed agreement with California Regional MLS at Real Estate REvive, an event hosted by Glendora, California-based Citrus Valley Association of Realtors.

Art Carter

Art Carter

During a lively panel session attended by hundreds of agents Thursday, California Regional MLS CEO Art Carter grilled Beardsley and his counterpart at realtor.com operator Move Inc., Russ Cofano, about their companies’ listing syndication policies.

The panel provided some fascinating insights into the rapidly evolving landscape of real estate syndication. The fact that Cofano was hired to fill Beardsley’s shoes at Move after Beardsley jumped ship to rival Zillow only added to the intrigue.

Zillow Group just signed the deal with California Regional MLS this month, one of many it’s lined up in advance of April 7, when Zillow and Trulia will stop getting listings from Move-owned syndication platform ListHub.

California Regional MLS had been using ListHub to send listings to Zillow and Trulia.

Curt Beardsley

Curt Beardsley

Carter said nearly all of the syndication deals California Regional MLS signs with portals are “opt-in,” meaning that member brokerages must actively choose to turn on feeds to any portal they choose to provide listings to.

The lone exception is realtor.com, which thanks to its ties to the National Association of Realtors gets listings directly from nearly all of the nation’s more than 800 MLSs. Like most of those MLSs, California Regional MLS provides all of its listings to realtor.com by default, and the MLS’ board of directors are still comfortable with that relationship, Carter said.

Russ Cofano

Russ Cofano

Although Move was acquired by media giant News Corp. in November, it’s still bound by an agreement with NAR governing the operation of realtor.com, which guarantees that Move will never get into the brokerage business, Cofano pointed out.

Going head to head 

Cofano argued that Zillow Group’s placement of automatic home valuation estimates, or Zestimates, alongside of listings makes life more difficult for listing brokers and agents.

In making a case that realtor.com is better aligned with their interests, Cofano challenged agents and brokers to calculate and compare the returns they get on their advertising investments. Those who do will find leads from realtor.com convert at a higher rate than those from Zillow and Trulia, he said.

Beardsley sold Zillow Group as offering choice and access to portals with a laser-focus on delighting and engaging consumers. Now that Zillow and Trulia are under one roof, Zillow Group “may have more page views than Satan,” he joked.

Zillow Group also gives consumers some transparency into the real estate process, Beardsley said. If Zestimates were to suddenly disappear when a home was listed for sale — as some sellers and their agents wish they would when the Zestimate suggests that a home is worth less than its asking price — consumers would think agents were hiding something from them, he said.

Cofano said policy recommendations adopted by NAR at its annual convention in November will help realtor.com provide more transparency to consumers with the addition of agent ratings and reviews to its agent profile platform.

While Zillow could be said to be leading the agent review charge — it’s offered unfiltered reviews and agent ratings since 2010 — Trulia revamped its profile pages with reviews and ratings last summer.

Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com all provide information on agents’ past transactions. But realtor.com rankled some agents when it piloted an agent-matching site, AgentMatch, that allowed users to filter agent searches based on productivity statistics.

The new version of realtor.com’s agent profiles reflects lessons learned from the AgentMatch experiment, realtor.com’s senior director of product management, Ernie Graham, has said, giving agents choice in how their transaction data shows up on their realtor.com profiles.

Email Paul Hagey.

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