- The "national MLS" might address the problems of cost and deployment of an app that people want to use, but most observers agree that competing with Zillow in search is going to be very, very difficult.
- Nothing changes about how brokers display each other's listings and use them for lead generation.
- Zillow will probably continue to dominate search and lead generation for many years. BPP/Homesnap will take traffic and leads from brokerage websites that do not offer a compelling user experience and valuable content.
- Despite claims in the promotions, BPP/Homesnap is not a "national MLS." One of the primary functions of an MLS is the offer of cooperation and compensation, which BPP/Homesnap does not provide.
Last week, Broker Public Portal became Homesnap.
By way of background, the Broker Public Portal was created in 2014 to compete with third-party portals such as Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com.
It describes itself as a “collaborative venture between real estate brokerages and MLSs to create a national consumer home search website.”
Last year, BPP adopted Homesnap as the technology for the mobile app. Now BPP and Homesnap have incorporated as one company.
The app has both agent and consumer versions that directly access MLS data. BPP/Homesnap also provides a database from Black Knight that combines MLS data, property tax records, census data and geographic boundaries on virtually every property in the United States.
“The parties agreed that the best path to success would be served by forming a mutual partnership with Homesnap providing technology, brand and operational expertise to the new company, rather than composing a vendor agreement,” stated a press release about the partnership last week.
If that feels like a lot to take in — it is.
I’ve spent a few days pondering what this means. I have questions and some answers, and I’d like to learn more.
1. What does the BPP/Homesnap app do?
Homesnap is a mobile app for real estate agents that has all of the data from the agent’s MLS. The company has positioned it as a replacement for any mobile app previously provided by the MLS, or as an alternative to using the MLS through a browser from a mobile device.
There is also a consumer version of the Homesnap app, which the company says has 4 million users.
The BPP/Homesnap app allows agents to send a link to a consumer or client to to download the app. If an agent has been sending MLS listings to a consumer’s email, the agent can instead send a link to an app that provides a better viewing experience.
2. Do agents and consumers need a national MLS? Is this the ‘Zillow killer’?
Most agents and consumers don’t need to see homes in all 50 states. But the problem for any brokerage is the high cost of building a website that people will use and consumers can find.
Creating a beautiful, functional real estate search site for agents and consumers is expensive. Zillow has spent many, many hundreds of millions building the most successful real estate site. Trulia, realtor.com and other portal sites have also expended vast sums in development.
All portal sites have funded their development with agent-paid advertising. One of the goals of BPP is to eliminate agents advertising on other agents’ listings to generate leads. (BPP does not change how IDX and broker reciprocity work — more below).
Perhaps the biggest challenge is getting a new site to rank. Zillow has dominated the SERPs (search engine results placement) for years, and it’s very hard to undo years of authority in Google.
Trulia, realtor.com and homes.com also rank high in search. It’s not unusual to see six, seven or eight of the links on the first page of a Google search showing the portal sites.
3. Will BPP/Homesnap compete with brokerage sites?
There is simply a finite number of users for real estate websites. BPP/Homesnap will have to compete with the national brokerage sites like coldwellbanker.com, remax.com, century21.com, kw.com and redfin.com — all of which have millions of users.
There are also strong regional sites with hundreds of thousands of users; brokers like William Raveis, Howard Hanna, Edina Realty, Windermere and Baird & Warner all have invested huge sums of money into building sites that their agents and consumers will use.
Brokerages have been working hard for more than a decade to build sites that capture the consumer to the brand. It’s simple competitive advantage.
Broker Public Portal grew out of the Connecticut MLS’s desire to provide a platform that adheres to “Fair Display Guidelines.” What that means is that listing brokers and agents are displayed next to their listings — but only when the listing isn’t sent to the consumer by another agent.
4. More on beating Zillow: Maybe it’s worth some cost and effort so that agents and brokers get ‘my listing, my lead’?
The BPP/Homesnap will display the listing broker if the consumer is using an unbranded version.
However, if the consumer is using a version of BPP/Homesnap that was sent by an agent, then only that agent appears next to listings.
The rules of Broker Reciprocity and IDX don’t go away, which means that all brokers in an MLS will still display each other’s listings.
From a broker perspective, the goal of BPP/Homesnap is to provide a good enough user experience that a consumer will use the app sent by an agent.
But remember: Agents can send links to their branded version of the BPP app to anyone and everyone.
In my area, agents are already including a link to Homesnap in their email signature and in lead response. I imagine that some consumers have been sent links to download the app by a dozen or more agents.
5. Will BPP/Homesnap offer a national database of data on properties, like RPR or CoreLogic?
This is really interesting — but I don’t quite understand it yet.
As far as I can make out, Black Knight, an MLS provider, signed an arrangement with Homesnap to access its database of all homes in the U.S.
If an MLS is based on Black Knight’s Paragon platform, then the access to the data is easily provided to BPP/Homesnap users. But it seems that access to the database is not limited to MLSs that use Paragon.
In my primary MLS, MRED (northern Illinois), when I open Homesnap it offers me access to a database of 90 million properties. MRED does not run on Paragon, so it seems that access to the national database might be provided to all BPP/Homesnap users.
This national database of properties competes with CoreLogic and RPR, websites that have been accumulating data for years and years. CoreLogic says it has 99.8 percent of all data on properties in the U.S.
Both organizations charge MLSs for use of the data by their agent members. RPR has been competing for five or six years to win MLS subscriptions from CoreLogic. Most MLSs have one or both systems, but BPP/Homesnap is tied into Black Knight’s database.
It remains to be seen whether the MLS will offer access to multiple data sources, with their associated costs, over time.
6. RPR is owned by NAR, and realtor.com is the official website of the National Association of Realtors. How is NAR involved?
“The National Association of Realtors modified their model MLS policy to designate an MLS consumer facing website as a basic benefit of the MLS. In turn, more than 50 leading brokers and 50 leading MLSs developed the case for a national consumer site rather than 700 independent local MLS sites.”
I’m not going to comment any more than this on NAR — other than noting that NAR has endorsed the creation of a national, MLS-based consumer-facing website, which will compete with all other sites, not just Zillow.
If BPP/Homesnap is successful, it will have taken traffic from other real estate websites — from brokerage sites to IDX-based lead generation sites to, of course, the portal sites like Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com and homes.com.
Which sites, and which brokers and agents, will win and grow their businesses — and which will lose?
Leslie Ebersole built the BRIXGroup, a successful real estate team at Baird & Warner Real Estate in Chicago, and is the Chief Marketing Officer at BRIX Twin Cities. The BRIX Group also provides marketing and consulting services to the real estate industry.