Where Real Estate Gets Its Dirt

Who can you trust?

In my previous post I mentioned a lot of discussion is going on about the issue of listing syndication.  Two efforts I heard about last week came from Trulia and eNeighborhoods/Homes.com.

Trulia Direct Reference.

You can read about this effort on Trulia’s blog.  The idea came from their “Innovative MLS Advisory Board”.  Here’s the explanation from that blog post:

How does Trulia Direct Reference work?

Regardless of whether an MLS is syndicating for sale listing data to Trulia, the MLS provides a reference file that shows the status, price and other details on all properties listed in its area.  Trulia then tries to match this data against the listings data syndicated from various sources, including real estate agents, brokers, franchisors and other third party syndicators. We then compare elements, such as price, agent, brokerage and current status.  If there are discrepancies as compared to the MLS system of record, we’ll notify the agent and/or the MLS of the errant data sources to help clean up the data that is out there.  We will also present the correct data from the MLS on Trulia.com.”

One of the guys I work with, Mike Banhagel, has great analogy that I think works for this, he calls it “pulling a Tom Sawyer”.  If you remember one of the stories in the book Tom had to paint a fence.  He wasn’t thrilled at the prospect but came up with the idea to convince other neighborhood kids that painting a fence was one of the most exciting and fun things you could do on a Sunday afternoon.  Soon he was charging all the neighborhood kids to paint HIS fence! Right or wrong it seems like Trulia’s trying to pull a Tom Sawyer on the MLS industry.

MLS Trusted (eNeighborhoods/Homes.com)

I think this idea has a lot of legs.  You can read about it MLSTrusted.com.  Here’s a brief rundown of the benefits:

“The MLS Trusted partnership program was founded to reinforce and promote the value of the partnership between MLSs and participating brokers.

MLSTrusted.comWe are partnering with MLS organizations to replace Homes.com listings sourced from services less reliable than the MLS. Through this partnership, all listings sourced from a local MLS are displayed on Homes.com with the new MLS Trusted badge.

This badge tells consumers they can trust the property details they see, and brands the local MLS as the trusted source for truly accurate property data. All listings also contain clear and direct attribution and contact information for listing brokers….”

I love this idea.  Think about it as a Better Business Bureau badge. Plus I think the team behind it has all the right intentions.  eNeighborhoods has long been a true champion for the integrity of MLS data and good partners that operate within the industry.  Of course it will all depend on the implementation but, I’d like to see this effort get some momentum.

  1. What a beautiful strategy. I know my data is messed up but if you ‘give’ me your GOOD data, I will bounce it against my bad data and tell one of your customers (and you) where my data is bad. It isn’t a very big step to “hey, why don’t I just use your GOOD data and then we can eliminate the ‘man with two watches inefficiencies”. BRILLIANT!!

  2. Disclosure: I am on the Trulia Advisor Board and Realtor.com Advisory Board and not an ex-employee of eN like our host. 🙂

    My view: If we can make the consumer’s experience on ANY web site better than it is today then I say we should do it. I agree that if Trulia had acquired their content directly from MLSs similar to other vendors they would never have been in the “bad data” business in the first place. They are willing to do that today but to date have been unwilling to license the data as other vendors have. This is not just a Trulia issue but can be laid on any number of sites – Zillow and any of the hundreds of sites to which listings have been syndicated without the listing broker’s knowledge.

    It should also be noted that the vast number of erroneous listings on Trulia, and any number of other sites, come directly from the brokers and agents who submit listings to untold numbers of sites (either directly or via syndicators like ListHub and Point2) and forget about them or can’t even remember where they sent their listings. The result is erroneous (price changes) or stale (off market) listings that remain available to consumers who then feel they are being baited and switched. Who do they blame? Trulia and Zillow? No, they blame the Realtors.

    If you want to see the differences in sites I suggest you perform the following exercise. Go to two sites. Pick one that gets feeds from everywhere (like Zillow or Trulia) and one that gets only feeds from MLSs (like Realtor.com), do a search within a zip code, and compare the results. Then do the same search on your MLS. Your first reaction will be that Zillow is superior because they have more listings. But further analysis will show that a huge number of the listings on Zillow have incorrect prices, incorrect statuses (active versus off market), duplication, etc. Realtor.com will be more accurate. The MLS hopefully will be the most accurate (which opens up a whole other argument we’ll save for another day).

    So if we can make the consumer experience better then we should. Obviously people are going to these sites since they are always in the top 5 of the Hitwise statistics and our MLS customers continue to feed them with content, with or without the MLS’s assistance.

    As to the “MLS Trusted” I agree that it is a good idea but I am not sure why we would allow homes.com (another public site) to be the purveyors of the MLS seal of approval. At MRED we are putting together our own “certification” process whereby any listing obtained directly from the MLS and displayed on the Internet will be eligible for our approval (assuming they meet certain criteria for updating, etc.). Maybe the homes.com initiative will be enough to push the MLS dinosaurs to the other side of the tar pit.

    Russ B.

  3. @Russ I’m shocked and appalled you would even hint to question my journalistic integrity! ; )

  4. Good post Greg. Our MLS Trusted program is very simple. We want to provide our Homes.com audience of 6 million monthly visitors with reliable up-to-date property information. MLSs go to great lengths to maintain the highest quality content and deserve to be recognized as the trusted authority for local property data.

    Of the 3 million plus listings currently displayed on Homes.com, many originate from an MLS system, but are distributed to us through intermediaries. This process can result in delays and less than optimal data quality. Worse, it diminishes our ability to provide direct attribution to the MLS and the listing broker.

    MLS Trusted is an opportunity to provide consumers with reliable property information, while reinforcing each local MLS as the trusted authority for truly accurate property data. We’re helping our MLS partners with their branding efforts, even providing direct deep links to MLS consumer websites, for those MLSs who desire such. At the same time, we’re providing clear and direct attribution to the listing broker, so that consumers and brokers can connect directly without interference.

    The MLS is recognized as the trusted authority for the content, the listing broker is highlighted as the professional point of contact, and we’re able to provide our visitors with reliable up-to-date property information. Back to the fundamentals, nothing fancy. Everybody wins.

    This is a new initiative for us. So far we have received great feedback and we’re working with our MLS partners to adapt the value to meet their needs. We expect to begin posting the first MLS Trusted listings within the next 60 days. We’ll keep you posted on our progress!

    Andy Woolley
    VP, Dominion Homes Media

  5. Thanks for covering an important topic Greg! I also appreciate the critical view point, although as a Finn, a Tom Sawyer analogy takes a moment to sink in. I know Kalevala (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalevala) much better.

    After 6 years of hard work with and within the real estate industry, I’m used to the “there must be some hidden motives” argumentation after we launch a new initiative, such as the Trulia Direct Reference — even if it is an idea that has been recommended to us by the industry power players themselves, such as in this case by the MLS CEOs advising us through our advisory board.

    Given our pretty large scale in audience and data today at Trulia, we are in a good position to do something about things that we see are broken, rather than just sit and wait. This is what Trulia Direct Reference is all about. We can help MLSes, agents, brokers and the other third party vendors by exposing and correcting “bad quality” listing data in the market place. This is an opportunity to bring leadership to the entire industry and we are proud that we are now able to do this.

    Delighting consumers and connecting them with real estate professionals across the country in massive volume is our key company goal. Small, but important part of the puzzle is to make sure agents’ listings are properly represented to consumers and Trulia Direct Reference helps with that. Unfortunately we don’t have a grand plan or any other hidden motive to kick anyone’s butt with this initiative.
    Sounds too good to be true?

    Sami from Trulia

  6. @Sami Perhaps I should have referenced Mr. Twain’s other famous work, Huckleberry FINN. : )

    I don’t have any conspiracy theories here and congratulate you on your current success. I agree Trulia, Zillow and others have led the field in many ways. But, for me there still seems to be a disconnect. I can’t imagine anyone on an MLS advisory board would ever agree with your viewpoint that making “sure agent’s listings are properly represented to consumers” is a “Small, but important part”. “Small”? My experience is that accuracy and timeless of data is the most important thing to an MLS, although I can appreciate it might not effect your ability to generate revenue.

  7. If you put the MLS Badge on the listing…..what if it’s wrong due to the part of the web site operator? Is the MLS encountering any liability? Does the source of data now transfer to the MLS? Just my two cents. I need to marinate on this one for a bit.

    John Holley, CEO
    NTREIS, Inc.

  8. Isn’t that kinda the same as MLSs requiring their logo on IDX listings? RMLS (FL) has done that for years. I think lots of other MLSs do as well. If the source is the MLS, a thumbnail of the logo (for RMLS we created a tiny on of just the letter part of the RMLS logo) should display. Yes, originally the idea was copyright stuff but it kind of fits in what you’re saying here and is already in place in most MLS markets now.

    After working closely (geographically as well as in business) with eN for many years I can say their current and *former* employees did do a bang up job doing their best to stay within our rules and (sometimes crazy) requirements. And they could plan a mean lunch…

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