Data Syndication - What is All the Fuss About

Hotly-debated issues often have me feeling like a filmmaker for National Geographic or The Discovery Channel – I am the casual observer, wary of getting involved in the lives of my subjects, allowing them to go about their lives and their business without my intervention. We don’t always understand why they do what they do, but through observation without interference, we gain a greater understanding.

You may have been hearing the buzz lately (after all, it’s pretty deafening) around real estate data syndication and the hotly debated NAR franchise IDX policy. There are definitely two loudly-opinionated sides to the issue – those who heartily support syndication and those who heatedly oppose it. But then there are those in the grey area, those who don’t understand it, don’t really know what all the fuss is about. That’s me, there, waving at you from the greyest of the grey area. Let’s take a look at why.

On the surface, I understand the issue: the decision of NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee to approve a new addition to their Internet Data Exchange (IDX) policy, that would allow the listings of “real estate franchise organizations (“franchisors”) to be indexed for display on franchisors’ websites.” In short, my listings here in Atlanta, Georgia, could show up on the website of another company in Omaha, Nashville, Portland, anywhere as long as the office displaying my listing also has a franchise office here in Atlanta. To me, this sounds great – more exposure for my clients, and after all, isn’t that my job, to market and get more exposure for my listings? Someone from Omaha, Nashville, Portland, wherever, may be moving here to Atlanta, see my listing and want to purchase it…or at least it may spark their interest and spur them on to gather more information.

So it’s good for me there.

There are a few who fear the “stealing of leads” – those agents who feel that is a potential buyer views their listing, it should be their lead. Quite frankly, if any potential buyer views my listing, has real interest, and that turns into a sale, then it’s a win for all, whether or not I brought the buyer or another agent did. (That opens up another can of worms – dual agency – which has no place in this discussion, but I’ll be happy to discuss my views of that with you at another time.) So lead-stealing as an objection doesn’t really resonate with me. Your buyer found my listing because it was syndicated in Chicago, then you referred that buyer to an agent here, who showed them the home and wrote the contract? Fabulous! In my eyes, that’s also good for me. Moving on…

How else is it good for me? My affiliation with a large, national franchisor means that my listings will get lots of exposure, wherever my company has offices, which is all across the country. The more places my company has offices, the more exposure I get through syndication; the more hits my sellers’ listings get, the better I will look. It can help when broaching the subject of price adjustment – look how many hits your listing has gotten without an offer, perhaps it’s time to lower the listing price. All good for me. Right?

So why am I still in the grey area? There are a few reasons:

First or foremost, despite having a basic understanding of the concept, there are enough of my peers, many of whom I have the utmost respect, who are 100% opposed to syndication. I’ve read their blog posts and they make great points – I fail to see how a lot of them apply to me, but I respect their resistance. One post that puts a lot of things in perspective was from Rob Hahn, and again, though many of Rob’s points are no doubt valid and thought-provoking, it’s difficult for me to make the connection between issues of language and how the policy is written (i.e., “language will lead to inevitable litigation”) and my own personal business, but it is enough to keep me in the grey.

Additionally, I have the sneaking suspicion that discussion of the NAR franchise-IDX policy is a bit like a political debate – there are intricate details that are lurking beneath the surface, not being discussed. Obviously, it’s much larger than a question of, should we or should we not allow listings to be nationally syndicated. There are questions of the representation of small, independent brokerages vs. the huge national monsters, issues of legality (i.e., not requiring the initial listing preview to comply with MLS guidelines), and many, many more. There are more complex pieces to this puzzle that I am not grasping – and I get that – hence, my residence in the grey area.

Finally and most importantly, I’ve firmly planted my feet in the grey area because I feel that what my team and I do to sell our listings and give our clients’ homes exposure is effective. That is not to say that there’s no room for improvement, and we are constantly tweaking our systems and adding to our marketing. However, we sell our listings at a rate that is better than the local average days on market and for a higher percentage of list price to sales price than the local average. We put a lot of time and effort into our marketing strategies and we see results. I am not 100% convinced that exposure to that potential buyer in Omaha, Nashville, or Portland is going to result in a sale. Additional hits on our listings make us look good, but without culminating in a sale, those aren’t the results we’re looking for.

Yes, I am aware that my affiliation with a large national brand is an advantage to me in this issue, but I’m not even considering that. I’m considering what I do, personally, and what my team does to service our clients. At the end of the day, a buyer may find our listing online and it may be enough to peak their interest, but I still believe that in most cases, especially in today’s market, that buyer still needs to get into the home to get a real feel for it. Regardless of the quality of your photographs and virtual tours and descriptions, the majority buyers may start their search on the Internet, but most will still want and need to see the home in person to make the purchase. Getting hits on a franchisor’s IDX site in another city and state is a great way to gain additional exposure, but unless it guarantees more sales for my clients, I can’t say I’ll jump on board.

An informal poll of some of my very close REALTOR® friends revealed that many of them feel the same way. For good or for bad, they cited being “too busy selling houses” and not having “time to keep up on this” issue. Though a select few had major problems with it (again, these are colleagues for whom I have the greatest respect and who have helped land me here in the grey) and though their reasons make sense, they’re not enough to sway me one way or the other.

I’m interested to see how this issue continues to play out. As a casual, but interested, observer, I am interested in hearing your opinions on it – whether you are one who belongs to one of the polarized black-and-white issue camps or whether you’re more like me, sitting somewhere here in the middle, watching and waiting. And hey, if you are here in the grey area, c’mon by and say hi, neighbor. We can have a cup of coffee and watch the others fight it out.