Real estate search sites hit data control sore spot

Inman news had an interesting article today about how some of the innovative real estate search sites are causing headaches across the country. Considering all the conversations on Rain City Guide recently about the future of “data” this seems quite relevant and is a very interesting read. However, Inman will make the article subscriber-only after today, so catch it fast if you’re not a subscriber (or just read below for some of the more interesting quotes):

Out of companies that have released real estate search tools, the two most interesting (to me) are definitely Trulia and PropSmart. (The Inman article also features some background on Oodle, but they don’t seem to have the laser-like focus on real estate like the other two)

Here is Ron Hornbaker of PropSmart view of the situation:

While (Ron) said the response to Propsmart has been mostly positive from agents and brokers, he has received a bit of pushback from a few people in the multiple listing service community. “First of all, they’re using the word ‘illegal’ and … ‘copyright infringement.’ I’ve just been polite and talked to them. We don’t want to do anything people don’t want us to do.” Hornbaker said he has complied with the wishes of industry professionals who wish to remove their listings from being included at the site.

“My concern is they are speaking for way more interest than they should be. I do not believe we are a Napster-like model, and that’s what we’re being equated to,” he said, referring to Napster’s past problems in offering up a service that allowed users to illegally download music. “I would ask the people who say we’re doing illegal things to point out where the harm is — who are we damaging?”

That last quote would be sure to get a few comments from concerned agents should Ron have posted it on a blog… πŸ™‚

The property listings displayed at Propsmart, he said, “are being used simply for display to consumers to point them to a home for sale. I would think that the opposite side of this could be argued more effectively: By restricting consumer access to the listings, that has more (potential) for being illegal.

“I believe it’s the seller who’s being forgotten in this situation. It is the seller we’re trying to stand up for and do the right thing for,” Hornbaker said, adding that sellers may not be aware — and may not approve — of efforts by brokers to block the listing from being viewed on some Web sites.

“I don’t buy the ‘copyright infringement’ for a second. They see their old model slipping away and they’re grasping at what they can,” he added. “We’re not trying to make money from the brokers. We’re not a middleman. We’re just trying to be a useful tool for consumers. I think this is going to backfire on the (opponents) in time.”

The gang at Trulia also gave some background on their view of where Trulia fits into the big picture:

Sami Inkinen, COO and co-founder at Trulia, said the site’s development team made a concerted effort to bring brokers to the table. “Most importantly, even before we launched we talked to all of the key brokers in advance to make sure the product was acceptable to what they want.” Inkinen said that Trulia is also careful not to access IDX, or Internet Data Exchange property listings information that is protected through broker agreements with MLSs.

While brokers seem to get it, Trulia CEO and co-founder Pete Flint said MLS’s are “frankly a mixed bag. Some of them have yet to understand … that this is in the best interest of their members. Some of them are not friends of innovation. Really what we’re focused on for now … (is) communicating how search is really positive to the real estate industry.”

Inkinen said, “We understand who we’re serving and we’re serving the brokers. We don’t want to own content. Our motto has always been the search-engine approach, the search-engine model — help brokers to place the digital yard sign on the Internet and then point to the actual source.”

Flint added, “We’re very aware that listings are a very delicate matter. We’re not looking to reinvent the industry in any way. We’re trying to improve things a little bit for consumers, and … a little bit for brokers.”

(Thanks to Jim of Central Virginia Real Estate News for tipping me off about this interesting article)

18 thoughts on “Real estate search sites hit data control sore spot

  1. From the “any press is good press” department, my phone’s been ringing off the hook today, and 9 out of 10 calls have been of the “please add our listings to your Propsmart site” variety. The negative calls, as usual, come from MLS orgs, a couple of which have gone so far as to claim exclusive marketing rights on all their brokers’ listings. For example, this dialog:

    Me: “Okay, we’d be happy to take down your MLS’s IDX listings we . crawled. Just to clarify, you understand that they came from a public website that wasn’t blocking crawlers?”

    MLS Guy: “Yes, but that’s irrelevant.”

    Me: “What if one or more of your brokers contacts us and wants their own listings displayed at Propsmart?”

    MLS Guy: “You’ll have to go through us, first. They don’t have that right.”

    Me: “Where does the home seller fit in with all this?”

    MLS Guy: “I know what you’re saying, but that’s irrelevant.”

    Me:”You realize I’m sure that all these listings are crawled, cached and indexed at Google, too, who likewise didn’t ask permission first. Are you threatening them with copyright infringement and insisting they delete your listings?”

    MLS Guy: “No, Google is a search engine. You’re a scraper.”

    Me: “Mmmm, riiight. Tell me again what a home seller would think about all this?”

    And so on. Their eventual Achille’s Heel? A more informed public, particularly hungry agents and web-savvy consumers. When informed home sellers inquire of their broker why their listings are NOT showing up on Trulia, Propsmart, Oodle, and dozens of other cool search sites springing up, this tide will turn.

    Who ultimately owns the listings? Ultimately, imho, the home seller. I know this isn’t the currently-accepted “legal” answer, but it’s the “right” answer. This hyper-protection of MLS listings will not help their system survive the internet age. Given time, market forces will beat bureaucratic forces every time: listings will be de-fragmented and freely available to everyone, consumers can pick and choose their favorite search tool, and brokers and agents who add value will (surprise!) continue to thrive and prosper.

  2. Ron,

    Thanks for the follow up!

    I can’t say I’m too surprised to hear about these reactions, although it paints an interesting picture of the industry!

  3. The industry is certainly evolving. With so many sites popping up, will they all cull from the same information sources (the MLS), will MLS’s ultimately disappear and, might there be market for one that will aggregate all of the aggregators?

    From a consumer’s point of view, do they want one place to search, or will one or two (or three) rise above the rest in quality, service, features, etc?

  4. Ron,

    After our lunch the other day at the Inman connect conference I can’t say i am surprised by the article or your follow up post here at rain city. I couldn’t agree more with your stance, the real people being left out of this discussion is the seller. If they knew about all this back and forth banter they would simply say “Duh, it’s a no brainer… share my listing with everyone in the galaxy if you have to … just get me the best price you can!!!”

  5. >Inkinen said, “We understand who we’re serving and we’re serving the brokers. We don’t want to own content. Our motto has always been the search-engine approach, the search-engine model — help brokers to place the digital yard sign on the Internet and then point to the actual source.”

  6. For many years, buyers were unrepresented and had no choice but to purchase property through an agent who represented only the seller. All agents represented only the seller. By encouraging buyers to access information that will β€œthen point to the actual source

  7. Here in Australia , we find the MLS in America quite amusing, considering the concept, is of sharing listings is nearly dead. Why? profitability, control of the listing, better informed buyers ( especially with inclusions), plus the majority of salespeople here are on salary with bonuses. You list you sell it. Sharing with office collegues is ok, but at the end of the day the you must be a good lister to survive. Buyers agents are just coming into their own, only in capital cities though. Also our commissions are way lower, on an average of 3%.

    On the data issue, well who are we really considering, if the listing is controlled by one agent or agency, I can’t see an issue. Isn’t that what google is doing with all other content on the web?

  8. It looks to me like the role of the broker and agent are changing thanks to technology. It is no longer our responsibility to provide our clients with a list of homes for sale. Those days are over whether we like it or not. Our new job is to help our clients use technology to sell their properties as quickly as possible, or help them weed through the information clutter as efficiently as possible to help them find their dream home. Let’s face it. Clients go online to find a home. They contact an agent to act as an adviser and guide through the process.


    Randy J.

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