Listing syndicator Point2 Technologies says it's giving real estate brokerages and multiple listing services more control over how their listings data is used by publishers like Zillow, Trulia and HomeFinder.com.
A new listings distribution policy from the industry's second-largest real estate listings syndication platform strictly limits what publishers can do with data they get, and challenges the business models of some.
The new policy, set to go into effect Jan. 1, states that Point2-fed listings may not be re-syndicated, must prominently display the listing broker and agent's name and contact information and must not be used to sell leads to other agents or brokers, among other terms.
Saskatoon, Canada-based Point2 Technologies, which distributes about 1.3 million listings to more than 50 publishers, will shift publishers who don't agree to the new policy's tighter data-use provisions (or negotiate exceptions) to an "opt-in" system.
Brokerages who are members of the 300-plus MLSs and Realtor associations that Point2 receives listings from will have to indicate, on a case-by-case basis, whether they wish to send listings to publishers who don't agree to the tighter data-use provisions.
Point2's current "opt-out" policy works the other way around -- listings that brokerages provide to Point2 through MLSs and Realtor associations are distributed to publishers automatically, except when a broker specifically designates that they don't want to send listings to a particular publisher.
Point2 is currently renegotiating the contracts it has with its publishers to reflect the new policy, said Saul Klein, senior vice president of Point2. So far, the company has met with 27 (over half) of the publishers it works with, he said.
"Brokers and MLSs should have a say in how their data is used," Klein said of the move to the new policy.
The tighter data-use position is a big shift for Point2, which until now had advocated a "distribution trumps destination" syndication policy, championing the idea that more listings in more places does brokers the most good.
Balance of power
This new policy, which Klein says was borne from discussions with brokers and MLSs and modeled, in part, off of a real estate syndication bill of rights developed by real estate consulting firm Clareity Consulting last year, is a significant philosophical shift for the company concerning listing distribution.
And it's one that could sway the long-running real estate syndication debate back in favor of brokers and multiple listing services, say industry watchers.
"The (Point2) policy puts a lot of pressure on publishers on behalf of Point2's listings providers," said Victor Lund, partner at real estate consulting firm WAV Group.
"This is a serious shot across the bow," said Gregg Larson, president and CEO of Clareity Consulting and one of the authors of the syndication bill of rights. The move will challenge Point2 competitor ListHub to raise the bar on the listing data protections it offers brokers and MLSs, he said.
"It seems to me that Point2's stricter rules provide ListHub a green light to tighten up their usage and display rules and send Zillow and Trulia in a scramble for data," Larson said.
ListHub is a larger syndication platform than Point2 -- the company says it currently gets more than 2.3 million listings from 47,000 brokers and 400-plus MLSs.
Owned by Realtor.com operator Move Inc., ListHub began tightening up its data-use policies when the company was acquired by Move a couple of years ago, said Luke Glass, ListHub's general manager.
ListHub's listing distribution system is opt-in -- brokers and MLSs choose where to send their listings -- and also features a dashboard with publisher reviews and a five-star rating system based on feedback by brokers and MLSs that supply listings.
"We wanted to give MLSs more flexibility," Glass said of ListHub's syndication policies.
For example, a new syndication agreement Move signed with Trulia in July prohibits ListHub-sourced listings from appearing on Trulia's agent-productivity mobile apps because the apps aren't consumer-focused. That use would fall outside of what listing providers told ListHub would be acceptable, Glass said.
Other than ListHub's blanket opt-in policy, the data-use restrictions for ListHub and Point2 are similar, Glass said. ListHub allows brokers to opt-out of sending listings to publishers at any time -- there are no long-term commitments -- and publishers may not re-syndicate listings without a specific amendment in the syndication agreement with ListHub.
Ads around listings
Larson, however, thinks Point2's new policy is stricter. One of the key differences, he said, is Point2's restriction on publishers selling advertising around listings sourced from the platform.
Some brokers are not happy that sites like Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com sell ads for competing agents next to listings they provide. In response, many third-party sites have begun featuring the contact information of the listing agent and brokerage more prominently on listing detail pages.
Zillow and Trulia, for example, both present listing broker and agent contact and name info at the bottom of listing detail pages. Zillow includes the information near the top of the listing detail page for agents who have created a free Zillow profile. Trulia presents the info "above the fold" on its listing pages when it's present in the data feed, regardless of whether the agent is a registered site user.
In January, San Diego-area brokerage ARG Realty pulled its listings from the three sites citing these concerns. In May, Edina Realty, the largest brokerage in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, stopped sending listings to Realtor.com for some of the same reasons.
Broker's concerns about how listings data is used contributed to Point2's move to a tighter data-use policy, Klein said.
MLS, broker reaction
Some MLS execs and brokers are applauding the move, which could persuade more of them to supply Point2 with listings.
John Mosey, president of Northstar MLS, says his MLS does not send listings to Point2 now because of its widespread opt-out policy. But the tighter data-use restrictions in the new policy make the platform a more attractive destination for its listings. The organization will re-consider its decision not to send listings to them, he said.
"I like seeing that syndication providers are becoming more focused on terms that benefit brokers than terms that benefit the publishers," said Merri Jo Cowan, CEO of My Florida Regional Multiple Listing Service (MFRMLS), of Point2's new policy.
"The lever of switching to opt-in if the terms are not accepted will certainly cause publishers to stop and think about how valuable the broker listing content is to their success," Cowan said.
Greg Manship, president of the Council of MLSs, a membership group representing MLSs across the U.S., and president of the Intermountain MLS, appreciates Point2's stricter policy. "With the opt-out system, brokers didn't know where their listings were going," he said.
"They're going in the right direction," said Alexis Eldorrado, broker-owner of Eldorrado Chicago Real Estate LLC in Chicago, of both Point2 and ListHub's moves to tighten data-use provisions.
If brokers and MLSs are applauding the increased control that listing syndicators have given them over how their data is used by third parties, the changes could prove challenging for companies that have made money off of listings.
"(Point2's new policy) blows up the business models of Zillow and Trulia," Larson said.
It could also ratchet up competition in the syndication business, he said.
Implications for publishers
Currently, ListHub handles more than 2.3 million listings, and Point2 about 1.3 million listings, according to the companies. Zillow and Trulia are wary about being too reliant on ListHub, Larson said, because it's owned by Move, the parent company of one of their primary competitors, Realtor.com.
It would be in these publishers' best interests, Larson said, to take more listings from Point2, helping it become a bigger player in the syndication business.
Realtor.com, thanks to its relationship with the National Association of Realtors, gets listings directly from 900-plus MLSs around the country, and doesn't rely on syndication platforms like ListHub and Point2.
Point2 makes 650,000 listings available to Zillow and 750,000 to Trulia, but the portals also get duplicate information on about half of those listings from other sources.
The new policy also attempts to address the issue of publishers "cherry-picking" listings from Point2, by giving the syndicator the right to terminate listing agreements with five days' notice if a publisher displays less than half of the listings made available to them.
Larson thinks Point2's new policy explicitly challenges Zillow and Trulia's business models -- selling ads to brokers and agents.
Unless modified by specific amendments, the new policy requires that publishers agree they "will not capture prospects or leads from the display of specific real estate listings derived from licensed content and sell them back to Point2 members or divert any such captured prospects and leads to third parties."
Another issue facing publishers in the new policy is the prohibition on redistributing listings to third parties. This new term could pose a challenge Zillow's partnership with Yahoo, in which it powers Yahoo Homes' for-sale and for-rent real estate listings. Trulia has similar relationships with more than 100 websites and newspapers that it provides listings to.
"We're not concerned about (the policy)," said Ginger Wilcox, head of industry marketing at Trulia. She says the company's data pledge in January makes the listing agent and broker contact information more prominent and that the company is open to working with brokers to address issues.
In May, Trulia revamped its listing policy, prominently displaying listing agent and broker contact information.
Zillow had no comment on Point2's new policy. In May, the portal released a pledge to more clearly display listing agent and broker information on listings.
Both Trulia and Zillow have made a move to get listings directly from brokers and MLSs. In July, Zillow emailed MLS execs asking them to set their organizations up to feed listings directly to Zillow, bypassing syndication platforms like Point2 and ListHub.
In exchange for direct feeds from brokers, Zillow and Trulia offer them prominent listing placement and other perks. The portals both launched broker-direct feed programs in July; Zillow's program now includes 48 brokers.
Other brokerages choose to pay for enhanced placement on the portals. Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Re/Max Results, one of the largest brokerages in the U.S., is paying to enhance its agents' listings and contact information on Trulia.
Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, the U.S.'s fourth-largest brokerage, signed a similar deal with Zillow in February.
Despite ListHub and Point2's more restrictive data-use policies, portals like Zillow and Trulia can still negotiate specific amendments.
Point2 will negotiate each contract to fit the needs and wants of publishers and listing providers as long as they come to agreement, Klein said.
ListHub negotiates contracts with each publisher, so there's some leeway regarding the platform's core data policies. "It gets very nuanced," Glass said.
|Contact Paul Hagey:|
|Letter to the Editor|