OpinionTechnology

Zillow’s MLS agreements are the portal’s problem — not yours

It's April 7; do you know where your listings are?

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Would you ask a client to sign a contract that he or she does not understand?

Would you buy an investment without first conducting some degree of your due diligence?

Would you sit on a board of directors of an MLS (multiple listing service) or association and vote on major issues that you do not fully understand?

Of course not. So why the rush to accept the listings agreement that Zillow has been pushing? Some MLSs have been asking the right questions.

I have recently attended several informational forums at my MLS in San Diego. I was also just asked to serve as the chair of the newly formed MLS Committee of the San Diego Association of Realtors. What I have seen thus far is Zillow attempting to use the urgency of their problem, to convince MLSs to make hasty decisions. Volunteers are being asked to make decisions that require study, even for those well-versed in the subject.

MLS CEOs are in the middle. The price of not accepting Zillow’s terms now, according to Zillow, is that your MLS will be relegated to “back of the line” status. I say, good. Let’s all go to the back of the line.

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Zillow’s bluster and press about the number of new MLS contracts signed is just that — bluster. It is deceptive and obfuscates the important issue of listings. Contracts signed do not mean listings for Zillow, if the contract is opt-in.

Zillow press releases and articles fail to mention this key fact, the significance of which Zillow fully understands. The result is that a lot of hype and deception is saturating everyone’s bandwidth.

What Zillow has created in the marketplace is an artificial urgency. There should not be any panic by brokers, agents and MLSs as today’s deadline looms. This panic is Zillow’s problem — not yours. Don’t let Zillow’s problems force you into making uninformed decisions.

Participants and subscribers of an MLS can have their listings displayed on Zillow, should they desire — in some cases through broker and franchise feeds to Zillow — and also through direct self-load as a last resort.

Using these mechanisms for now makes more sense than rushing to sign a contract, at this point, in the current Zillow-manufactured “crisis,” which could prove to be to your disadvantage. Not to mention the lost opportunity to test the market as to the true impact of Zillow and consumer sentiment.

A truer picture of the potential negative impact of no Zillow contract on individual subscribers and participants of an MLS might be available in your data by answering a few questions.

  • How many agents currently have active listings?
  • How many of the agents with active listings do not work for a franchise or a brokerage firm that provides listings to Zillow?
  • Of the remaining, how many listings does each have?

The number of subscribers and participants impacted, if it is as small as I suspect in many markets, does not warrant taking a risk on an improperly vetted data license agreement. This issue is complex, and if you err, do you have the resources to battle Zillow over contract interpretation? For most MLSs, the answer is no.

The consequence of not having a signed contract with Zillow by April 7 probably puts your MLS in an even better negotiating position moving forward, as Zillow will be desperate for MLS data.

Once again, this is no big deal — unless you are Zillow.

The way you hear small, vocal groups online talk about Zillow, you’d think that there is nowhere else on the Internet to find properties for sale. Rest assured: Consumers will not panic today if your MLSs listings are not on Zillow, and neither will your sellers (and you can always load them yourself). There is no need to panic. Trulia and realtor.com, many broker and agent, IDX and VOW sites offer the public plenty of opportunity to browse for houses.

Never forget, if Zillow were to go dark tomorrow, consumers would not skip a beat. The number of listings totaled at the end of the year would be the same. The number of sales would be the same, and other portals might gain some traffic.

The consumer hue and cry that Zillownians are preaching and predicting if agents, brokers and MLSs do not move expeditiously and sign direct-feed contracts with Zillow will not materialize. It is hype and fear being used to try and influence decision makers today.

Leadership often requires taking people in a direction they are not sure they want to go.

Don’t be fooled by the all the noise.  “In uncertain times … listen to the voice of reason and benefit from the wisdom of experience.”

Writer, publisher, consultant, entrepreneur, real estate broker — Saul Klein has done it all. He was the CEO of Point2 Tehnologies from  2008- 2010. Saul built the second largest real estate syndication network in North America in 19 months and became a major player in the real estate syndication space. Find Saul on LinkedIn or at The Data Advocate.

Email Saul Klein.