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How listings will flow to Zillow, other portals

By February 4, 2015 One Comment

Industry players representing listing portals, MLSs and brokerages have finalized a model content licensing agreement that could help Zillow obtain more direct listing feeds before its contract with syndicator ListHub expires this spring.

The model agreement seeks to standardize the ground rules under which real estate brokerages and MLSs provide information on homes for sale directly to big search sites like Zillow, Trulia and — and what the portals would be allowed to do with those listings.

Intended as a compromise, the model agreement addresses some of the grievances that listing brokers have voiced about the way portals display information about their sellers’ homes.

While brokerages sometimes complain about the accuracy of listing data displayed on the portals, what rankles many the most are ads for competing companies’ buyers agents that portals run next to their listings.

Portals obtaining listings under the terms of the model agreement would be required to display the listing agent and brokerage, share website traffic information, and provide “unbiased display” of listings, among other things.

But the model agreement also recognizes that the portals depend agent ads around listings for revenue, and that the search sites are able to attract consumers by serving up additional information around listings such as home valuation estimates and agent reviews.

The model agreement, drafted by Clareity Consulting with industry input, can be used as published. Or brokerages and MLSs are free to take parts they like and modify other aspects. Members of a non-profit real estate intellectual property protection group, REDPLAN, can use the model agreement at no cost. Non-REDPLAN members can license all or part of the agreement for $500.

“Whether you use this [model agreement] as a starting point or not, you’re welcome to negotiate any of these points, or others,” REDPLAN said in announcing its publication.

But when it comes to sore spots like paid placement for listings, automated valuations, agent reviews, and co-mingling of “for-sale-by-owner” (FSBO) listings, REDPLAN said, “we don’t see MLSs or brokers winning on these points with most major publishers, especially where their business model is already predicated on those points.”

Small brokerages and MLSs may be at a particular disadvantage in negotiating with portals.

In issuing a previous draft of the model agreement for comment, Clareity said a review it conducted of content licensing agreements signed in recent years revealed that terms varied.

“Some of the agreements offered a fair exchange of value, while others did not,” Clareity CEO and REDPLAN Chairman Gregg Larson said in a December email to industry colleagues. More than 20 direct feed agreements signed with portals last year “should not have been signed,” Larson said at the time.

In announcing the final version of the model agreement, REDPLAN said the industry “desperately needs” it — so that portals “don’t have to manage hundreds of locally-drafted agreements and so MLSs and brokers can get a much better value exchange than they’ve been getting in the mostly-boilerplate agreements they have signed to date.”

Publication of the model agreement comes at an opportune time for Zillow, which has been scrambling to secure direct listing feeds from brokers and MLSs before its contract with ListHub expires on April 7.

ListHub, which is owned by operator Move Inc., aggregates listing data from brokers and MLSs around the country, syndicating listings to 160 publisher sites including Zillow. ListHub says it provides about 1.75 million listings to Zillow, but the portal says it also gets most of those listings from other sources, including brokers and MLSs.

After Zillow announced on Jan. 6 that it was unable to come to terms in negotiations with ListHub and that the contract would not be renewed, ListHub published the terms it had sought.

ListHub’s stipulations included a demand that Zillow make available its agent ratings and reviews, for ListHub to provide back to brokers and agents “in a standardized format for further use.” Zillow would also be required to use ListHub data to “auto-create agent profiles and to update existing profiles” for top-level agent attribution on all listings.

ListHub also expected Zillow to provide metrics on traffic, leads and engagement, including whether a lead was exclusive and, if not, how many agents it was provided to. In addition, ListHub was calling for “SEO friendly” link backs on each listing to the broker or agent representing the seller.

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