The 10-year old practice of syndicating MLS listings to real estate portals was largely driven by the brokerage community. MLS operators reacted by offering to syndicate on behalf of their brokers, often letting the listing agent or broker select which sites they want their listing to be sent to. A handful of MLS operators established direct syndication feeds to the end point web sites, while over 400 MLSs partnered with companies like Point2 or ListHub to provide syndication services. Hundreds of brokers also syndicate their listings themselves, or use Point2 or ListHub directly.
Clareity Consulting and Real Trends surveyed the 900 largest real estate brokers in the country and only 53% of brokers – a slim majority – support MLSs syndicating listings to national web portals. Many of the large brokers would prefer to syndicate their listings themselves.
47% of the brokers surveyed rated MLS listing syndication capabilities as “Excellent” or “Good”. The primary areas suggested for improvement of those capabilities were to provide brokers more insight and control and to enhance MLS security and control over where the listings were syndicated, enforcing syndication integrity and ensuring the information wasn’t used to sell leads back to brokers.
Brokers are asking MLSs to give them more control of syndication. Some want to opt out completely because they are doing it themselves and don’t want to deal with the issue of duplicate listings appearing on an end point. Other brokers just want to be able to check a box to select the sites where they want the listings to go. This option is provided in the listing input/maintenance function on some MLS systems and in the Point2 and ListHub products, but the natural action or default for many agents to just select them all, since they have no way of knowing what all these sites do. Point2 and ListHub screen and monitor the syndication partner sites, but it’s not clear that the information about the pros and cons of syndication partner sites is being communicated down to the broker and agent levels effectively, and if issues regarding a site are not communicated to the consumer, there will continue to be consumer pressure to give the listings maximum exposure on all sites, including those that are not strategic for the broker. Further, in a competitive race to claim who has the most syndication partners, syndicators may continue to list non-optimal syndication partners – giving brokers and agents the option to send their listings to them – and again, brokers and agents may just choose them all by default.
Brokers of all sizes are now asking their MLS to step up and provide more security and control of the listing data, and to screen the end point web sites to evaluate whether they truly add value (are good sites with meaningful consumer traffic) or provide little or no value (because they have no traffic or just can’t be trusted). Most brokers don’t have the time or talent on staff to evaluate new syndication partners that approach them directly or are added on by their syndication service provider. They are now asking the MLS to help protect the listing data by not sending it to shady sites in the first place, monitoring the data quality on the approved sites, and policing the web to spot when their listings show up on unapproved sites and take action. Brokers need clear communication about sites with issues, and an easy way to take action on those communications. They’re also going to need communications that can be re-purposed to the consumer, to help them understand why it’s not in their best interests to syndicate to a particular site and relieve pressure on the broker to do so.
Most MLSs have a compliance function for listing data quality, but the bulk of the effort on rules compliance and quality control is focused inward on the MLS subscribers. According to the brokers, they’d like to see a little more help focused outwards. Will MLSs rise to provide enhanced security and policing functions? Will they be able to with limited budgets and resources?
Point2 and ListHub were both acquired by larger companies in the past 30 days. Move.com paid $13M for ListHub and certainly has a plan to make a return on that investment, possibly by syndicating their ad network along with the listings and having the end point site display Move.com’s advertisers for increased exposure to new traffic. Some MLSs and brokers are nervous about this and other possibilities for monetizing syndication as well as whatever other perceived loss of control may come from having Move in charge of their syndication. Will this drive more brokers and MLSs to stop using a service provider and take control of syndication by bringing the function in-house? Will MLS vendors offer on-board syndication engines for a nominal cost? Listing Syndication 2.0 will be interesting to watch – there will some action in the Syndication Arena in 2011. Stay tuned!
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