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Austin Board of Realtors flips the switch on ListHub

October 9, 2013
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listhub abor Austin Board of Realtors flips the switch on ListHub

ABoR making a slight but powerful tweak

After a one year deliberation, the Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR) will be adopting a measure that changes how listings are syndicated, terminating its agreement with listings syndication provider ListHub as of April 30, 2014 and “intends to cease syndicating members’ listings to non-REALTOR® consumer websites at that time.” Broker members will still be able to upload listings directly to ListHub through their ListHub account.

In a statement, ABoR said, “This decision was made to protect the integrity of Austin-area property information, address concerns about the business practices of non-REALTOR® consumer websites and to mitigate issues caused by inaccurate listing data in the home buying and selling process.”

The current process will change

Currently, when an agent uploads a listing, they see the following:

2013 10 07 1107 Austin Board of Realtors flips the switch on ListHub

While each option has a grey question mark, offering more information on each option an agent has when uploading, some members told us they just assumed that all options were in the best interest of their clients and of their data, taking it as a type of endorsement by ABoR.



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Sources tell us that behind the scenes, ABoR says they are not making a statement for or against syndication, rather putting the specific decisions into the hands of brokers who, through ListHub, have more granular control. The option to syndicate directly to Realtor.com will remain in tact, according to a member of the committee that ultimately made this decision.

Unique approach to protecting data accuracy

Cathy Coneway, President of ABoR, explained: “Unlike REALTOR® organizations, third-party websites that receive syndicated data are not regulated to provide reliable property information or to protect consumers through the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. This lack of regulation has resulted in outdated, inaccurate property information being displayed online that disappoints homebuyers and frustrates sellers.”

Although Zillow and Trulia have adjusted their strategy to address data accuracy, smaller real estate search sites have largely ignored the issue. Additionally, ownership issues have surfaced in recent years, as some real estate sites take ownership of listing photos. For example, when a listing is syndicated to them, through ListHub or otherwise, their terms of service sometimes allow them to keep images listed on the site long after a home has sold.

The tired argument against real estate search companies using an agent’s listing data to sell leads back to them is not at play with this decision in Austin, rather an attempt to put the decision to syndicate into the agents’ hands, particularly important when agents are concerned with display rules being followed (like the rule that days on market cannot be shown, or third party comments, and automatic home valuations.) While agents must follow IDX display rules, syndication sites do not, so are free to display any information they choose, regardless of whether or not an agent or seller wants that data displayed.

Putting the onus on the agent

Through the ListHub backend, the company actually offers a scorecard on each listing company and gives users detailed filters, allowing them to become more educated on the ecosystem, and only syndicating data to sites that they believe are treating data fairly.

Austin Realtor, Les Sherman tells AGBeat he supports moves of this nature, noting that it is “the responsibility of the agent” to oversee where their client’s data goes, and giving better controls up front curbs the traditional calls from buyers on listings that sold months or even years ago that leave them dejected and disillusioned with the industry.

“The onus is on the agent, not Zillow or Trulia,” Sherman added, asserting that ABoR’s measure could lead to more agents paying attention to the data, a positive outcome of this change.

Others will likely follow suit

ABoR is regarded by many as a leader in the industry and this could very well lead to additional Boards considering their own syndication strategy and what role they play (or do not play), but the true end result of this will be a national discussion on the topic.

The announcement was delayed, with one source telling us some members involved were nervous about how this move would be perceived, but the many people we spoke with indicated they supported the move, and it is going over very well in the Austin market so far, but members have the next several months to contact the Board to air their concerns or ask questions.

About ListHub:

In September 2010, Move, Inc. (operator of Realtor.com, Top Producer, and dozens of other websites) acquired property syndication tool ListHub for $13 million in an effort to give brokers more control over their listings through transparency, pushing listings out to third party real estate search sites. In April 2011, Zillow was brought into the fold and later Trulia.

In January of 2012, ListHub launched the “Real Estate Network” designed to allow MLSs and brokers to syndicate to franchisors and large broker networks, an unparalleled move in the syndication world. Months later, the company added detailed filters for brokers, helping brokers to understand the rules of each listing site, helping them to make better decisions, and in July 2012, they adopted the Real Estate Transaction Standard (RETS) Syndication Standard.

AGBeat Chief Operating Officer: Lani, named 100 Most Influential, as well as 12 Most Influential Women in Blogging, Bashh Founder, Out and about in Austin A Lister, is a business and tech writer and startup consultant hailing from the great state of Texas in the city of Austin. As a digital native, Lani is immersed not only in advanced technologies and new media, but is also a stats nerd often buried in piles of reports. Lani is a proven leader, thoughtful speaker, and vested partner at AGBeat.


  • Aaron Dickinson

    I think this is a good idea in spirit but the wrong way to go. While I’m not a huge fan of syndication, I think the MLS can make it easy on its membership by facilitating the data sharing for those that want it. For those agents/brokers that choose to OPT IN, why not allow it?

    • Russ Bergeron

      Right on Aaron. In the Chicagoland area we have had Opt-In the default forever and it works great, and that’s the way the brokers want it. If you are using Opt-In why shouldn’t the MLS facilitate syndication via an entity like ListHub. Some brokerages don’t want to have to figure out how to get their listings to every site or to ListHub, and those sites don’t want to have to take feeds from thousands of brokers. The end result is that the sites may be forced to get their data in back alleys and and cigar smoke filled backrooms. Who suffers then?

      Also need a clarification in this story. It is not the agent who should be deciding where the listings go, but the broker. Agents do not have access to ListHub.

      • RyanWard

        Russ, most brokers only want it because they don’t understand the larger implications.

        Your quote:

        “The end result is that the sites may be forced to get their data in back alleys and and cigar smoke filled backrooms. Who suffers then?”

        If you are implying that consumers would suffer under this new scenario, you must understand that they already do. They unknowingly believe the integrity of the data they see on syndication sites is accurate – mostly because they see them as third parties and therefore unbiased. While I appreciate their sentiment here, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

        As an industry, we have let these syndication sites become more and more authoritative at the expense of the agents and brokers who have done all of the work obtaining the accurate data. This diminishes the value of everyone in our industry.

        There is no service being offered by these sites that isn’t already being offered more accurately by those of us in the industry. If this is a way to make them go away, then all the better.

        Aaron, you imply that there is a need to syndicate to these sites. I would argue that the more MLS’s and Brokers that take away the auto-feed to the syndicators, the less and less relevant they become. At that point, they would no longer be able to extort money from our industry that could better be used by those of us in the industry.

        I will be sharing this with my MLS tomorrow as well as all those who make decisions within our brokerage.

        I could not be more happy with this decision and would like to do my part to help other boards be able to stand up and take a stand for the integrity of our data and not be afraid of pulling the syndication – which I do not believe would be necessary if we as an industry stop feeding them our hard earned work.

        • Todd Carpenter

          Ryan,

          While the MLS may be shutting off their feed to the large syndicators, they will still receive the lion share of listings through broker direct feeds that they’ve been establishing in parallel to their MLS efforts. Most of the medium and big brokers will still besending listing feeds. Many small brokers and agents will feel the pressure to compete and will add their listings manually. Those manual listings will be the source of even more accuracy problems. Those problems aren’t just bad for consumers, they are bad for the agents too. Everyone is sick of telling their customers that the house they saw on Zillow is not for sale anymore. That’s about to happen more, not less.

          • RyanWard

            Hi Todd,

            It is true that most brokers will still be feeding their listings to Listhub or other ways to continue feeding syndication sites. However, if more MLS’s stop, it will make more brokers aware that it is not necessary. That would be great because the more inaccurate syndication sites become, the better as far as I am concerned. I believe that’s what it will take for them to become less relevant to consumers and hopefully sites like Google will eventually see them for what they are – extortionists.

            Where we disagree is on what is good or bad for consumers. I believe these sites are actually very bad for the consumer. ABoR does a great job of articulating this position.

    • Eric Bramlett

      Including easy access to Listhub is an inherent endorsement of Listhub. ABOR is just saying they no longer endorse syndicating, but that brokers/agents should decide.

      • Aaron Dickinson

        Making a bunch of brokers work harder to distribute their listings as they see fit because the MLS has taken a policy position seems like a puric victory for the MLS. Allowing easy access for brokers to distribute their listings as they see fit is customer friendly to the brokers that these MLSs serve. Plus, there is the capability of syncing current status with ListHub, so data accuracy is likely better than broker-initiated syndication.

        • Jim Olenbush

          Aaron, brokers can still easily distribute their listings to third party sites if they choose to do so. The Austin MLS is merely turning off the Auto-Pilot distribution to 60+ websites through ListHub. This is a chance for brokers to revisit syndication and decide if there is any real benefit.

          • Aaron Dickinson

            Wouldn’t the broker either need to spend money to develop a data feed that could be provided to ListHub or manually upload each listing? This is a choice by the MLS to make it harder for some of their customers to do their business. Turning off the auto-pilot distribution seems perfectly logical, turning off the capability completely seems like a step backward.

            I’m not a fan of syndication, but the idea of making brokers lives harder seems so counter-intuitive for a system that relies on its member customers for its existence.

          • Eric Bramlett

            There are many good reasons not to syndicate, just are there are reasons to syndicate. By facilitating syndication through easy opt in syndication, ABOR was implicitly endorsing syndication. Beyond that, Listhub was a fee service to ABOR. They’ve decided those funds are better spent serving brokers/agents elsewhere. While you might disagree with that stance, the board & the member advisors on its committee disagree with your position.

          • Jim Olenbush

            Aaron, the data feed would be a RETS feed with only the broker’s own listings. If they wanted to provide it to companies like Zillow and Trulia it would be as simple as sending them the link. If they only wanted to syndicate individual listings on a case by case basis they can use a free service such as Postlets.

            When you say it would make it harder for brokers to do business that would assume that syndicating listings to dozens of sites actually helps them do business. Does it? Will Austin’s housing market slow down if some homes are not listed on eLookyLoo or PropertySharks? What about Zillow and Trulia? The Austin association isn’t deciding for brokers, it is asking them to decide for themselves. Some agents always hold Open Houses and some never do, but if the MLS offered a free Open House sitter for every listing I assume more agents would try it “just in case”

  • Ben Caballero

    Bravo, ABoR, for defending the ethics that are at the core of the REALTOR® brand. ABoR explains the fundamental basis for its policy change quite clearly: “The organization has made this decision because non-REALTOR® consumer websites are not bound by the REALTOR® Code of Ethics, which has led some to enact business practices that are not consistent with that code, and we believe the inaccurate data provided by these sites sets false expectations for consumers that inhibit their ability to make sound real estate decisions.”

    I strongly support ABoR’s decision to defend the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. Publishing our real estate listings on sites that are not subject to the REALTOR® Code of Ethics and that are not accountable to any authority governing real estate activity has no legitimate place in our industry. It is a circumvention of our Code of Ethics. All real estate sales activity, including the advertising of our listings, must occur within the bounds of our Code of Ethics. We cannot and must not compromise on these principles, or we jeopardize not only the REALTOR® brand, but also the public’s trust and confidence.

    To that end, I respectfully disagree with the dissenters of ABoR’s decision, and I encourage brokers, MLSs, and local boards to consider following ABoR’s lead.

    If non-REALTOR® consumer websites want to continue to receive our listings, then they should commit themselves contractually to upholding and complying with the basic principles contained within the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. The National Association of Real Estate Professionals (NAREP) has authored and published the Real Estate Professional’s Bill of Rights precisely for this purpose.

  • Jolenta Averill

    I’d like to Congratulate Austin & ABoR on having the foresight to take this action! If more Boards and Brokers had the courage to do this we could rid the real estate industry of Non-REALTOR® listing aggregators like Trulia & Zillow once and for all. Listing aggregators like Trulia & Zillow damage the reputation of REALTORS® by posting inaccurate information, mislead consumers about property availability and valuations, and cause distrust between consumers and REALTORS®. For example, buyers often get the impression they lost out on a property they saw on a non-REALTOR® website (when they don’t see it on a broker’s website), when the property in question is not even for sale. And Sellers are frequently misled about their property valuations because they see guestimates on aggregator sites (such as Zillow’s so-called “zestimates”) that are based on incomplete or inaccurate data. Unrealistic expectations on the part of sellers then make the job of listing agents even harder, leading to overpriced listings, lost listings, and ultimately lost sales. And don’t even get me started on the number of people who have complained to me about the slow drive-bys by folks who think the house they’re gawking at (which sold months or years prior) is currently on the market. Never mind that there’s no yard sign.

    In addition, non-REALTOR® websites displaying the agent photo & contact information of agents who pay for buyer leads on such sites — rather than displaying the agent information of the listing agent — causes consumers to contact someone who may not be knowledgeable about the property or the market area. This damages the reputation and business of REALTORS® who represent the seller and causes a disservice to sellers when the agent displayed prominently next to the listing is unable to provide detailed, accurate information.

    Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, as has been emphasized in several of the posts below, the display of listing data by some non-REALTOR® websites does not comply with the rules, regulations, and ethics code we MLS members are strictly required to abide by. When Non-REALTOR® aggregators don’t have to play by the same rules as everybody else, it makes for a very uneven playing field in an otherwise highly-regulated industry. This is an unfair advantage to aggregators who are already dubiously making their living off of REALTOR’S® hard-won listings.

    For these reasons and more, I applaud the decision of ABoR. I believe Brokers should not be subjected to pressures to syndicate their listings to non-REALTOR® websites (or be presented with the option to syndicate that clearly mimics an endorsement). Depriving Trulia & Zillow of listings would not be the end of syndicators, nor the end of the world. On the contrary, it would be a positive development for both consumers and the real estate industry as a whole because, at the end of the day, data integrity would prevail. Every REALTOR® should make it their business to defend and protect their most valuable asset: the REALTOR® Code of Ethics at the very core of the REALTOR® brand. Please pressure your Board & Broker to follow suit and take the same bold action ABoR has!

  • Shawn K. Rooker

    I applaud ABoR for this move. It is very important that listing data is actively and consciously monitored by the representing agent/broker. These third-party websites operate under a business model that does not serve or benefit the consumer. Using ListHub should be a choice, and not a systematic inclusion.

  • Jon Karlen

    Kudos to the Austin Board! When consumers come across information on these 3rd party intermediary sites, they believe it to be accurate. And when they speak to a local REALTOR, and get told the price/square footage/acreage, etc they saw is wrong (or the listing sold 1 year ago) – they don’t get mad at the syndicators. They get mad/frustrated at the local agent.

    In today’s age, nearly any local real estate agent website is going to provide MORE listings, BETTER listings, and MORE ACCURATE listings for local properties than the 3rd party syndicators. The syndicators simply don’t bring any added value. They bring misinformation (wrong listing data), gimmicks (Zestimate), and damage agent’s reputation with consumers. The FEW agents that view the syndicators as a positive, can still put their listings with them. But the Boards should NOT be promoting an agenda that damages the reputation of ALL AGENTS just so a FEW agents can make some money.

    Other boards should follow Austin’s lead. Congrats to Austin for leading the way!

  • http://www.FLSunTeam.com/ Kent Wolfe

    Totally agree with ABoR’s decision. It will certainly open up conversations within many boards, mine included. In fact, it already began this morning.

  • CJ Johhnson

    Accurate data is subjective. In a hot market listing agents and brokers often “forget” to update the listing status until we call to tell them we have an offer or someone from MLS calls to warn them they are about to be fined. Different MLS’s allow property to remain in active status when it is clearly under contract which lends to much consumer confusion. Yes I am considered old and have been around too long ( we used to call that experienced) but our data was much cleaner when SALE PENDING meant SALE PENDING. All contracts have contingencies and all SALE PENDINGS can have back up offers written up to the day of closing so mark them as such and end all the kindasortaundercontract stuff. While this may seem off topic on ListHUB I beg to differ since Lani’s excellent post was about accuracy and why AOR’s may drop out of third party syndication’s altogether.

    • RyanWard

      Pending or contingent is very different than sold/withdrawn/expired. Many homes come back on the market after being under contract or pending at some point so to me, those listings should appear and typically show the status if the feed comes from an MLS.

      Plenty of studies show accuracy of MLS feeds vs syndicators and it isn’t close…

  • ARGAbbottRealtyGroup

    Jim Abbott here. Congratulations and Thank You to the ABOR! You have made a courageous decision and one that is without question in the best interests of real estate clients and your members.

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