Where Real Estate Gets Its Dirt

Mark Scheel is back and will be live reporting from the Google IO conference next week!

Mark Scheel
I’d like to welcome back Mark Scheel. Mark is back for the third year reporting on the new annoucments coming from Google’s IO Conference. I’ve said this before but Mark has some serious street cred in the real estate technology world. He worked with Dan and I at eNeighborhoods helping build one of the largest, if not THE LARGEST MLS IDX data aggregation systems in the industry. He now runs a software consultancy firm in Denver called Digital Construction.

I happy to have Mark contribute and hope to continue the trend with more contributors in the future.

Take it away Mark!

Luke Glass of ListHub, shares their intentions with REN in a special guest post on Vendor Alley.

This is a guest post from Luke Glass General Manager of ListHub….


There has been a lot of productive discussion lately within the industry about the role that syndication plays in today’s real estate experience. The decision to syndicate property listings ultimately lies with the broker who is entrusted with acting in the best interests of the listing agent and the selling client.

At Move we believe managed syndication benefits both home sellers and home buyers, providing each with the widest range of options available.

I wanted to share our intentions in providing the ListHub solution, and why we recently launched The Real Estate Network.

The ListHub platform is focused on 3 principles: (a) Controlled access to listing data – the brokers have the ability to choose where they advertise their listings; (b) a Managed Marketplace – the brokers have access to information on how their listings will be used; and (c) Tools and Reports – providing brokers visibility into the effectiveness and benefits of their advertisements.
ListHub is a platform that provides brokers with a complete solution for managing the advertisement of their listings on real estate websites. ListHub does this by connecting to MLS listings and offering a point-and-click dashboard for brokers to syndicate listings. This dashboard contains the list of publisher sites, tools to help brokers make informed decisions – including a scorecard that clearly shows where publishers stand on key usage issues, and access to reports to help brokers determine the effectiveness of their advertisement activities.

Recently, ListHub launched The Real Estate Network (the REN). The Real Estate Network is an array of websites operated by real estate franchise organizations and similar broker organizations that are now available to brokers in the ListHub platform. The REN is a natural extension of our vision to support brokers’ ability to effectively market listings and connect with consumers. Brokers will have the opportunity to participate with no paperwork and no fees, using the same ListHub dashboard that they use to send their listings to an array of other real estate search websites.

Last year, we all followed the changes to the MLS IDX policy that set the stage for The Real Estate Network. For years, franchises and similar organizations have been operating their websites under strict rules that did not give them the ability to utilize IDX listings as an MLS participant is able to do. This has compromised their ability to maximize SEO value and provide a first class consumer search experience, both of which are necessary to compete and attract consumers.

The MLS Policy Committee ultimately decided that the rules would stand as they apply to franchise organizations being non-participants. As an alternative, NAR spoke out in support of syndication as an option for franchise organizations – as well as brokerage networks – to display listings, as long as brokers can opt-in and opt-out freely.

The Real Estate Network makes this vision a reality. REN participants will be able to operate their websites more effectively and with fewer restrictions. We see real estate franchises as part of our real estate family, and now we look forward to providing them with a model for acquiring listing information that gives them a stronger footing for connecting with consumers.
From the MLS perspective, the REN provides a no-cost, plug-and-play solution for offering members the NAR-recommended option to syndicate listings for display on franchise and brokerage network websites. Our MLS partners have looked to us for a solution, and we are responding to their immediate need for an engine to support syndication to franchises. More than 350 MLSs participate in ListHub today in order to provide a flexible and reliable platform for advertising member listings. MLSs who currently partner with ListHub will automatically gain access to REN.

The key to success of REN is use of a standard set of display rules [www.listhub.net/networkrules.html]. REN was created to enable brokers and franchises to better compete in the online marketplace through differentiation in the consumer experience they offer. There is no difference in the terms and rules surrounding the display of syndicated listings among the REN participants. We have accepted a vast amount of input from industry participants including MLS leadership, franchise leadership, and consultants to assemble a set of display rules that satisfy needs of the multiple parties. The Real Estate Network participant sites, franchises, brokers, and MLSs can all participate in REN with a clear-cut understanding of the exchange of value between all parties, including consumer usage metrics from all sites receiving listings from the Network.

We believe everybody is a winner here. Franchises benefit from the ability to create a better experience for consumers. MLSs benefit from having a utility that immediately supports their ability to implement the NAR IDX rules, and brokers benefit from the ability to have more choice when it comes to advertising their listings online. The ultimate goal remains the same, to produce the greatest amount of transactions so that home buyers can find a home they will love to live in and home sellers get a fair price for their home within a reasonable amount of time. The Real Estate Network is designed to serve both these purposes while leaving control with the listing brokerage. We look forward to continuing to conversation on this within our ever-evolving industry.

Editor’s Note: If you would like to write a guest post please don’t hesitate in contacting me. – gr

Another CIVIX Lesson; guest post by Robert Drummer

Robert Drummer of iMapp is a guest posting today. I thought the subject matter timely so I hope you enjoy!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the CIVIX-DDI patent fracas. In a nutshell, CIVIX-DDI has a patent on “systems and methods for remotely accessing a selected group of items from a database” or, more simply: Internet search with geo-location.

The NAR previously settled with CIVIX-DDI which included REALTOR.com operator MOVE and now, two years later, they have negotiated a $9.06 per member license on behalf of the member MLSs that were not covered by the NAR’s previous settlement. To my non-attorney mind this begs the question: Why weren’t the NAR members considered/covered in the first settlement?

Rather than risk additional legal expense and exposure, the NAR is now offering this license. While it’s possible the patent could be defeated (more on that later), a business decision was made; pay the license and move on. This questionable strategy creates an opportunity for other patent trolls to come out of the woodwork seeking master licenses with the NAR. As Rob Hahn said “There is a reason the USA doesn’t negotiate with terrorists”.

Laurie Janik, General Counsel at National Association of REALTORS®, informed me that they have reached the first milestone payment of $2.5 million dollars. Those MLSs (along with their members, vendors and affiliates) participating in the first round will be granted a license from the NAR. If you plan to participate, it seems prudent to make sure you are in the first round and that NAR receives your payment and paperwork no later than 5pm CST on June 16th, 2011.

If an MLS chooses to wait for the second or third round, they may be at risk of being excluded from the license. CIVIX-DDI may choose to accept whatever payments are received in those rounds, but that is entirely the decision of CIVIX-DDI.

The license runs with the MLS. That means if the MLS changes vendors in the future, those vendors will be covered under the license granted to the MLS. It is my understanding that in this scenario the ousted vendor receives no protection, other than that provided to their previously licensed MLS accounts.
Part of the agreement negotiated by the NAR includes a lawsuit cease-fire until August 17, 2011. After that date, any MLS that is not sub-licensed through the NAR could become a target for litigation from CIVIX-DDI. Ask MRED and MRIS how the litigation route went (not good, as they are paying more per member along with legal fees).

Here’s where it gets interesting for the Vendor Alley reader:
Most of these MLSs have provisions in their vendor contracts for indemnification. If the MLS decides to pass on the license and gets sued by CIVIX-DDI, the vendor may be liable for some or all of the legal expenses related to defense of the lawsuit. We’ll have to wait until August 17th to see which MLSs and vendors face possible exposure to a lawsuit.

Until then, there is still a chance that the remaining claims in the patents are overturned on reexamination. There are facts relating to prior art that have not been presented in the previous reexaminations:
In the 2006 reexamination, a reference was made to the Xerox PARC Map Viewer (Page 5 – Steven Putz, Interactive Information Services Using World-Wide Web Hypertext, First International Conference on World-Wide Web ISTL-QCA-1994-03-01, 1994 (EXPO 25440-EXPO 25447)

It’s my understanding that this paper and its public presentation were too late to be considered prior art as the cut-off date was in January of 1994. However there was a June 1993 public invitation to use the Xerox PARC Map Viewer and to my knowledge this invitation was not presented in either the 2006 or 2011 requests for reexamination. There is a public description of the Map Viewer service which was used extensively by public users in the second half of 1993.

This prior art would seem to cancel the patentability of claims 20 and 26 (using the Internet) as the Xerox PARC Map Viewer is purely related to using the Internet for geographic search and map production.

The 2011 re-examination denial does not raise the specifics of this prior art. In the 2011 reexamination, the examiner appears to focus on the use of the “Internet”. While not explicitly disclosed in ARACO (as proposed by the 2011 reexamination), the “Internet” appears to be extremely clear in this Xerox PARC instance as it was being used to respond to thousands of Internet map requests in 1993.

How this was missed is still a mystery. We’ll wait to see if this makes a difference for either Yahoo or Hotels.com, both of which are currently fighting lawsuits related to CIVIX-DDI and have taken the time to investigate our discoveries and the viability of the Xerox PARC information.
If this prior art changes the situation and the patent claims are overturned, our industry will have needlessly spent between $2.5M and $7.5M, paid by a combination of MLSs, their vendors and ultimately, the members of the NAR.

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