Data remains a contentious topic
Recently, the invitation-only Realty Alliance bi-annual conference took place with no members of the press in sight. The Realty Alliance network of elite real estate firms is comprised of top brokers across America and Canada and accounts for a large share of the real estate industry. Although press was not invited, various sources have told AGBeat that the destination of Realty Alliance member data continues to be highly contentious. This spring, Realty Alliance was influential in the shaping of IDX rules and sources tell AGBeat that the group came together on the topic of data use at the most recent conference, with roughly 75 top brokers allegedly discussing seceding from their MLS, and banding together to build a national MLS run by brokers to exclude Zillow, Trulia and other media companies like Realtor-backed Realtor.com.
“There was no banding together,” The Realty Alliance President and CEO, Craig Cheatham told AGBeat. “Our members are fiercely independent and make independent business decisions based upon their business model and local/regional market factors. There certainly was no decision to band together and no effort even to try to encourage collective action of any kind. Our member firms make decisions with their MLSs and various vendors that fall all across the spectrum and they reevaluate those periodically based on local factors. If you see any trend among real estate brokerages in the coming months it should be traced to predictable industry reaction to overall trends in the offerings and business rules of MLSs and outside vendors.”
Seceding from the Union?
Cheatham may be right that there is no public or official move to band together, but our sources note that there is certainly a strong conversation about seceding from the union, if you will, which makes one wonder what would happen if this actually came to fruition. It is an admirable thought, but it might be a decade too late and could create massive backlash against brokers that pull out of the MLS. Our sources note that some brokers in the group are sedate on the topic while others have strong intentions to move forward with the conversation, and it brings up the age old subjective question – who does real estate data belong to? Does it belong to the MLS, the association, the brokers, the agents, the aggregators or the consumers?
Advantages and disadvantages
Unfortunately, the cat (data) is already out of the bag and seceding now may be too little too late. Consumers wouldn’t even know that listings are missing from Zillow/Realtor.com/Trulia despite broker secession and the true value of data is only when it is in full, so the Realty Alliance national MLS site would be at the biggest disadvantage. All aggregators (like Zillow or HotPads) would have to do is run a campaign in those local markets inviting consumers to add or tweak their own listings if their broker won’t.
It would give aggregators something to rally against and playing the victim card would tap into the existing generic distrust of the traditional real estate industry. Also, consumers and agents alike could buck a broker-centric system altogether, which is what gave birth to the aggregators in the first place as the industry moved away from broker power toward empowering local agents and consumers.
Another problem with any group of brokers thinking about restricting their listings to only being featured on their own national site is that the Trulias of the world have a massive head start on recruiting the best and brightest technology talent in the business. They recruit from Google and Apple which are in their back yards. With The Realty Alliance based in Dallas, is it really possible to hire hundreds of highly expensive experts to create this national MLS that could even come close to comparing to Trulia? There is much more to running a listings site than following IDX rules, there is a culture of search and a fine science to it that is still barely understood, even by those specializing in it for the last ten years.
Whether it’s true that the discussion happened or will come to fruition or not, the idea of real estate data being owned and operated by the very practitioners that brought them to market makes sense and is admirable, but seceding from the union is probably a decade too late and could not only end up boosting aggregators and giving them a platform to rally against, it could come across as greedy and uninformed as consumers believe it is their data, not the broker’s, and no matter how well-meaning the conversation is, it might be too late and could ultimately further harm the industry and consumer sentiment toward the industry.
The Realty Alliance has been fairly tight lipped as no one wants to go on the record, which makes sense, however, meaningful discussion cannot happen behind closed doors because the bigger picture cannot be seen without a diversity of entities being part of the discussion.