Earlier this year, Upstream board member Cary Sylvester started a presentation on the broker data platform with these words: “It is not an evil plot.” It’s no secret that some in the industry believe the project — backed by powerhouses such as Keller Williams, Coldwell Banker and HomesServices of America — is an attempt to concentrate housing information to broker-controlled locations on the internet and collectively cut out third-party sites such as Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com.

  • Leaders of industry initiatives Upstream and the Broker Public Portal say they will not influence whether agents or brokers list on websites such as Zillow, Trulia or realtor.com.
  • A regulatory agency in the UK has published an open letter to agents warning them not to collude with competing agents about which portals they will use.
  • Real estate agencies in the UK have gotten together to create an industry-run portal, OnTheMarket.com, that requires agents to only list on one of the other two major portals in the country, Rightmove and Zoopla.

Earlier this year, Upstream board member Cary Sylvester started a presentation on the broker data platform with these words: “It is not an evil plot.”

It’s no secret that some in the industry believe the project — backed by powerhouses such as Keller Williams, Coldwell Banker and HomesServices of America — is an attempt to concentrate housing information to broker-controlled locations on the internet and collectively cut out third-party sites such as Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com.

But both Upstream and another real estate industry initiative with some of the same backers, the Broker Public Portal, say they have no intention of encouraging agents or brokers to avoid the use of such sites.

“That would be an anti-trust issue and would not serve the Upstream members,” Sylvester, also a vice president at Keller Williams, told Inman via email.

“[W]e are a data management company that enables individual brokers and agents the ability to choose with whom they would like to share information. Upstream will not decide or dictate (or influence) where data will be distributed — we are the mechanism for distribution.”

Victor Lund of WAV Group, facilitator for the Broker Public Portal, said in an email, “There are no encouragements or discouragements related to any other website” from BPP.

Does UK warning portend trouble here?

Last week, the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority — similar to the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. — published an open letter to real estate agents warning them that “when an estate agent makes a commercial decision about its choice of online property portals, the law requires that it makes that decision without colluding with estate agents that are its competitors.”

The CMA was referring to reports that agents in some local areas may have made a collective decision to join the industry-backed OnTheMarket portal and simultaneously remove their listings from portals that compete with OnTheMarket.

“Jointly agreeing with your competitors to restrict which suppliers you will deal with is likely in many cases to be unlawful,” CMA’s letter said.

“The decision as to whether an estate agent will or will not use the services of a particular property portal must be determined by that estate agent alone (or by its parent company), and not by, or as a result of, collusion or discussions with competing estate agents.”

OnTheMarket.com was set up by UK real estate agencies such as Knight Frank and Savills as an industry-run portal to compete with the major UK portals Rightmove and Zoopla. OnTheMarket requires agents who list on the site to only advertise on one of the other two major portals.

On launch, OnTheMarket also required agents to put their listings exclusively on the site for two days before putting them on other portals, according to The Telegraph. Both moves fueled concerns that the requirements would make it harder for consumers to sell their homes, the paper said.

“Effective competition benefits consumers and businesses through downward pressures on price and through spurs to increased quality, innovation and efficiency,” the CMA wrote in its open letter.

“Where estate agents enter into agreements or arrangements that restrict competition between them, this can lead to artificially inflated prices, reduced service quality and innovation and limited consumer choice.”

Upstream and BPP

Upstream has always said that individual brokers will decide where their listings go. But will Upstream institute rules such as those put in place by OnTheMarket as a requirement of participation in Upstream?

“No. OTM is a web portal and has enacted rules that limit competition from other portals by requiring preferential treatment,” Sylvester said.

“Upstream, in comparison, is a data management company that enables individual brokers and agents the ability to choose with whom they would like to share information. Upstream will not decide or dictate where data will be distributed — we are the mechanism for distribution.”

That extends to data agreements as well. Upstream will not collectively negotiate data agreements for member brokers with portals such as Zillow, Trulia or realtor.com, Sylvester said.

“We are creating standard license agreements that may be used by our members; however, it is a member’s choice to use the standard agreement, or create their own,” she said.

“Either way, the agreement is between the Member and any data recipient they authorize.”

Victor Lund

Victor Lund

Upstream will also not incentivize brokers or agents to exclusively or semi-exclusively list on the Broker Public Portal or any other site, according to Sylvester.

As for the Broker Public Portal, which some have compared to OnTheMarket, Lund said, “The only rules for the BPP are that the listings are represented by a licensed broker. There are no incentives to participate beyond free will.”

“BPP is a completely different type of website than other consumer-facing websites. It has been reimagined by those who sell homes and not advertising,” he added.

Both BPP and Upstream plan to announce their progress toward launch at the National Association of Realtors’ midyear conference in mid-May. Sylvester specified that Upstream anticipates announcing its initial pilot markets at the event.

Email Andrea V. Brambila

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