The Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors briefly stunned the real estate industry this month when it announced it would no longer automatically syndicate listings to Zillow and ListHub — before abruptly reversing course two weeks later amidst intense backlash.
But on the heels of what would have been a significant move, with potential impact on the group’s 14,000 members, GLVAR merely reignited an issue that’s long been discussed in the industry, only to quiet in recent years. Now, experts say, the battle over who controls data is back in the forefront, with individual multiple listing services and agents grappling over customized syndication strategies from region to region.
The debate reignited earlier this month when GLVAR made the decision to end automatic syndication to Zillow, the nation’s most-viewed listing portal and ListHub, a syndication network owned by Move Inc.
“Clearly syndication is an important topic in today’s industry, and associations are grappling with member demands for data control and listing attribution,” said Stephanie Singer, a spokesperson for Move Inc., which operates ListHub and realtor.com. “The debate gets to the heart of how the real estate industry leverages technology for the benefit of brokers, agents and the clients they serve. It’s been said that all real estate is local, but real estate markets are increasingly global.”
The battle over listing syndication is hardly new and GLVAR isn’t the first association to end automatic syndication. In 2015, Connecticut Realtors stopped syndicating to ListHub.
In 2014, the North Alabama Association of Realtors ceased syndicating listings to realtor.com. And in 2013, Austin Realtors pulled the plug on syndicating to ListHub, although both have since walked back those decisions. GLVAR itself had previously cut off syndication to realtor.com in December 2017, citing concerns over data security. Some MLSs, like Northwest Multiple Listing Service, have never directly syndicated to Zillow.
However, in recent years suspicions over syndication appeared to have died down, with industry leaders finding a balance between controlling their own data and ensuring it receives the maximum amount of exposure from consumers, even as agents continue to publicly raise concerns over who controls their listings.
Sam DeBord, the managing broker and vice president of strategic growth for Coldwell Banker Danforth, said issues now surrounding listing syndication are neither black and white nor are there right or wrong ways to syndicate.
“Most MLSs are providing a way for brokers to syndicate their listings, and most brokers want their listings on the advertising portals,” DeBord said. “Its the gray areas in between where the power plays play out – and everyone is in this business to make a profit. If they can find a better way to serve their clients and become more profitable, brokers will continue to look at ways to do that.”
At the outset, the reason behind GLVAR’s move was to give brokers in southern Nevada more control of where their data went. A source at Zillow, however, told Inman the decision was a power play by big brokers against smaller agents. DeBord made a similar insinuation. The Zillow source also explained that those members already had control, and could easily toggle the feeds on and off themselves.
“The people who are advocates for GLVAR discontinuing their relationship with us or any portal, their argument is – basically wishing the MLS would take choice away in a sense,” the source said.
GLVAR subsequently walked the decision back after brokers voiced their disapproval.
“We believed this was the right decision, but we have since heard from some of our members who expressed concern that this change could have created a hardship for them and may have the potential to detract from the way they currently do business,” said GLVAR president Chris Bishop in a statement.
A realtor.com source told Inman that since walking back the decision on Zillow and ListHub, GLVAR has re-engaged with realtor.com to discuss syndication.
The brouhaha prompted by GLVAR interrupts a period of calm that can be traced back to Errol Samuelson and Curt Beardsley’s litigious leap to Zillow from Move Inc., in 2014. Zillow ended up settling with Move Inc. and NAR, surrendering $130 million after being sued by the latter two, who claimed Samuelson and Beardsley planned the move in advance and misappropriated trade secrets.
Both Samuelson and Beardsley, from their time with Move Inc., had developed connections within the MLS community and in 2017, Zillow stopped allowing agents to manually enter listings into Zillow. What followed was a bevy of deals with local associations, with more and more following suit. That move, in May 2017, helped usher in a detente of sorts, interrupted only now by the GLVAR decision.
But smaller brokerages aren’t the only entities that rely on the MLS to get the most eyeballs on their listings. Redfin, for example, doesn’t send listings directly to Zillow, but its agent listings end up on the site, through agreements with local MLSs.
“Almost any broker on its own does not have the listing market-share, much less the technical or legal resources, to negotiate and enforce an agreement with each real estate website,” a Redfin spokesperson said. “We pay our dues for MLSs to determine how we share listing data, ensuring that the consumer knows who the listing broker is and that every real estate website gets the same data.”
Despite a relative moment of calm between agents, multiple listing services and syndicators like Zillow, several startups are continuing the fight to keep listing data in the hands of brokers. Broker Public Portal, whose public face is HomeSnap, is a consumer-facing collection of MLS data and can be viewed as an alternative to Zillow and realtor.com by some, but also just another listing portal by others.
Meanwhile, Upstream, a platform run by NAR subsidiary Realtors Property Resource, allows brokers to enter and manage their own data. It’s received financial support from NAR and launched earlier this year.
Compass Chief Executive and Co-Founder Robert Reffkin has also been a staunch advocate for agents re-claiming inventory. In October, during an Inman Luxury Connect panel in Los Angeles, he charged that buyers are turning away from brokerage listings. Brokers and MLSs have lesser search clustering technology, which ensures the portal listing page – or Redfin, he named specifically – is at the top of any Google search, as opposed to the author of the original listing.
“Think about every one of your listings,” Reffkin said. “Who is the author of your listing? You went in there, you got the listing, you took all of the photos, you maybe went twice, you re-touched them, you re-ordered them. You wrote all of the descriptions. Who is the author for it? It’s not you.”
DeBord doesn’t believe GLVAR’s decision and subsequent walk back will lead to a ripple-effect among multiple listing services, but he does believe those agreements are something that all brokers and MLSs should reexamine periodically.
“On an annual basis, an MLS should be looking at, what are the services that they’re providing and what are the brokers asking them for, and if the brokers come to them and say we want this or we don’t want that, that’s got to be something the MLS is considering and taking out to its membership,” DeBord said.