- Brokerages representing the vast majority of New York City listings have opted in to exclusively syndicate through a feed from their trade group's listing service. Zillow Group is refusing to accept that feed to populate its websites.
It appears the power struggle over real estate listings — and how they’re displayed — is as inflamed as ever in the Big Apple.
The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is gearing up to launch a single, centralized syndication feed to distribute listings from its own version of an MLS, the REBNY Residential Listing Service (RLS), to third-party websites starting August 1. But there’s an elephant — or some might say target — named Zillow Group in the room that’s not onboard with the new system.
Citing reduced costs and increased efficiencies as their motivation, firms that intend to participate in the syndication feed include several big names in the city: Bond New York, Brown Harris Stevens, Citi Habitats, Compass, The Corcoran Group, Core Real Estate, Fox Residential Group, Halstead Property, Leslie J. Garfield & Co., Stribling & Associates, Town Residential, and Warburg Realty, among others, according to REBNY.
Listing syndication continues to be a controversial topic in the real estate industry, decades after listings first went online, and New York brokers are attempting to leverage their power to syndicate on their own terms — though the trade group representing them refuses to say what those terms are.
In March, Zillow Group’s rollout of its Premier Agent program for the first time on StreetEasy, its New York listings site, prompted objections from some New York City brokers who opposed lead forms next to their listings that went to paid agent advertisers — an experience listing agents and brokers in the rest of the country have mostly gotten used to, if sometimes grudgingly.
StreetEasy and Zillow Group have said this type of advertising benefits consumers by encouraging buyers to use agents who exclusively represent their interests, rather than working directly with a listing agent.
The participating REBNY syndication firms combined account for about 70 percent of listing inventory in New York City, according to Brown Harris Stevens. Yet Zillow Group says it will not take the RLS feed, citing content licensing terms the company says would “degrade and limit the consumer experience.”
“StreetEasy has great relationships with many of the brokerages on this list and they send their listings directly to StreetEasy or through third party vendors, and in turn, Zillow Group,” said Zillow Group spokeswoman Amanda Woolley in an emailed statement.
“We believe in helping brokerages and agents build their businesses and connect with the largest and most engaged audience of NYC home shoppers.”
She declined to say when those brokerage agreements run out and whether the agreements allow the firms to send their listings via the RLS syndication feed instead of individually. “We don’t discuss the specifics of our listing agreements,” she said.
In the meantime, Zillow Group needs listings to populate its websites and agents want to satisfy their sellers. Who will blink first?
REBNY’s case for the syndication feed
REBNY, which is not Realtor-affiliated, has more than 17,000 agent and broker members.
REBNY member brokerages that choose to participate agree to syndicate their listings exclusively through the RLS feed, rather than through the hundreds of individual feeds through which residential sales and rental listings currently flow.
“With this process, the RLS will improve data quality for residential real estate agents and the public who will have access to accurate and consistent listing content, drive listing visibility and transparency, and streamline the process of sharing listings for all REBNY firms that choose to opt-in,” said Michael Bisordi, co-chair of REBNY’s Residential Brokerage Board of Directors, in a statement.
The syndication feed will also “reduce costs and increase efficiency for agents,” the trade group added.
REBNY declined to comment on exactly how the RLS syndication feed would improve data quality, drive listing visibility and transparency, streamline the process of sharing listings for REBNY firms, and reduce costs and increase efficiency for agents.
In an emailed statement, REBNY President John Banks said, “Providing one source of standardized data, syndication will create an efficient and transparent method for all portals, local and national, to receive RLS listing content.”
Why Zillow Group won’t accept the RLS feed
In a statement to the The Real Deal last week, StreetEasy’s general manager Susan Daimler said: “We have had this conversation with REBNY and we clearly stated at that time that we will not be taking a feed from the RLS because we would characterize this as a clear move to restrict our efforts to provide consumers with the most robust real estate marketplace in New York City.”
According to Woolley, this continues to be StreetEasy’s stance, and the same applies to all Zillow Group websites in Manhattan, including Zillow, Trulia, RealEstate.com, HotPads and Naked Apartments.
“We’re always open to working with new partners and feed providers with unique and desirable content. However, we do not see any benefit in accepting a listing feed where the accompanying terms degrade and limit the consumer experience,” she said.
“Building and maintaining a robust real estate marketplace is about full transparency. It means presenting consumers with all the listing information that is available — past and current, as well as a curated data set that is pertinent for the market. We won’t accept a listing feed with terms that restrict our ability to share any of this fully transparent information or limit how listings are displayed,” she added.
When asked which specific terms she was referring to, Woolley did not respond. When asked whether Zillow Group had seen the RLS content licensing agreement, Woolley said, “A number of months ago the RLS sent us a content licensing agreement. We do not know if that is the current license agreement, but nevertheless, we decided not to pursue this agreement.”
Zillow Group noted differences between the Manhattan real estate market and other U.S. markets that contributed to its decision not to accept RLS’s feed.
“Zillow’s goal is to get listing data as close to the original source as possible. Around the nation, MLSs are often the first point of listing entry, but REBNY’s RLS has no point of direct entry; instead, the listings are first entered either directly at the brokerage or through one of a handful of listing input third parties,” Woolley said.
“StreetEasy gets its feeds directly from those same brokerages and the listing input third parties. By attempting to insert themselves as the syndication hub, the RLS is adding another layer in which data can lose quality, integrity and timeliness.”
Zillow Group also highlighted REBNY’s relative inexperience with handling listing data.
“Most MLSs have spent decades creating a complex ecosystem of listing entry, listing updating, agent support, rule enforcement, and more. REBNY only started dealing in listing data a couple of years ago when they required brokerages to provide them with a copy of data,” Woolley said.
“They have not made the types of investments in their ecosystem, staff or technology that our other MLS partners have.”
REBNY did not directly dispute Zillow Group’s assertions. In an emailed statement, REBNY’s Banks said: “It appears that the Zillow Group’s comments and reactions to the RLS’s new syndication offering are based on terms that were under review more than a year ago.
“We welcome the opportunity to review the new syndication process with all local and national portals to work out terms that will allow the new RLS feed to be utilized for the benefit of brokers, agents and consumers.”
Woolley responded that Zillow Group was “always happy to talk” but reiterated the company’s goal to get listing data as close to the original source as possible.
REBNY declined to comment on the terms of its content licensing agreement. In a statement, Banks said its syndication terms were “similar to those offered by MLSs across the country.”
REBNY also declined to comment on whether offering the syndication feed had anything to go with gaining leverage over the way StreetEasy or other third-party listing sites display listings. The trade group also declined to say whether it will charge third-party sites for the RLS syndication feed.
Dues increase paid for new feed
REBNY said its been working on implementation of syndication for 18 months. Last November, REBNY raised its member dues to pump more than $1 million into RLS, according to The Real Deal.
“As part of REBNY’s increased investment to upgrade the RLS and broaden the scope of services provided to participating firms, this plan for syndication directly addresses a critical challenge facing New York City residential real estate brokers and salespeople,” said Diane Ramirez, co-chair of REBNY’s Residential Brokerage Board of Directors, in a statement.
Member firms that choose to opt into the syndication feed will be able to do so at no additional cost, REBNY said.
Douglas Elliman not in yet
Top New York city brokerage Douglas Elliman has not yet decided whether it will syndicate through RLS.
“As members in good standing with REBNY, with key positions on REBNY’s technology and RLS subcommittees, we are currently evaluating this new proposal as well as pre-existing, legally binding feed agreements with all vendors, including StreetEasy and Zillow, before we sign on,” said Elliman COO Scott Durkin in an emailed statement.
Elliman currently sends its listings directly to Zillow Group. Participating in the RLS syndication feed would require Elliman to syndicate to third-party websites exclusively through that feed, which is part of what the firm is evaluating.
Why brokerages opted in
When asked why they are choosing to syndicate through REBNY’s RLS, brokerages generally cited increased efficiency, data quality and control.
“Stribling hopes that by joining forces with REBNY and other brokerages to syndicate our listings en masse, we will have more control over how our listings are displayed and marketed, and that the measure will provide the absolute best data and information to our fellow real estate professionals and our clients,” said Stribling spokeswoman Ashley Murphy in an emailed statement.
Jed Garfield, president of Leslie J Garfield, said REBNY’s syndication feed alternative “represents a simple choice.”
“StreetEasy has offered to allow us to pay for the information that we have provided to them and REBNY is offering us the opportunity to, at a minimum, not pay for our shared information,” he said via email.
“The REBNY alternative allows us to control and potentially profit from our labor whereas the StreetEasy site does the inverse.
“Zillow may choose whatever it wishes to and get its information anyway it can. Zillow has not proven to be either a reliable and forthright partner for REBNY members or consumers at large.”
Halstead believes the RLS syndication feed “is an efficient way to get listing information to all parties,” said Halstead spokeswoman Maya Kriet in an emailed statement.
“We will feed our listings through the syndication but we will also continue to feed to a number of our third-party website partners such as Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, Mayfair International and other sites valued by our agents, clients and customers.”
When asked whether Halstead will continue to syndicate its listings to Zillow Group sites individually, she did not answer directly. She said, “Halstead’s primary and fiduciary responsibility has been — and always will be — to our sellers and buyers, and our decisions regarding the feeds will be based on that principle.”
Hall F. Willkie, president of Brown Harris Stevens, said a single listing feed would “improve the quality of information of all aggregators. It’s the same way that we share all of our listings with our fellow REBNY members. This is the way it is done in every MLS community in the country.”
BHS currently feeds its listings to third-party websites, including StreetEasy and Zillow, through direct individual feeds, but that will end on August 1, he said.
“All aggregators will be be fed through the RLS,” Willkie said via email.
All the brokerages that have opted into the syndication feed will exclusively feed through the RLS, according to BHS.
“If they [Zillow Group] choose not to take the RLS feed, they will not get our listings going forward or the listings of any other firm who agrees to syndication which is currently approximately 70 percent of the inventory,” Willkie said.
“Our listing and those of all firms who have agreed to syndication would no longer be updated. Aggregators can only be successful if all the current inventory is there.”
Willkie noted that BHS’s opinion of StreetEasy has changed over time. BHS was a “great supporter” of StreetEasy “prior to the recent shift in service,” he said.
“Since these changes, the consumer is no longer provided the same level of service.”
In response to BHS, Zillow Group’s Woolley said: “We have strong relationships with the brokerages and third-party vendors who send us listings directly. We put their quality listing content in front of a huge consumer audience — this benefits the sellers, buyers, agents and brokerages. The only terms we’ve been presented greatly compromised those benefits.”