Listing syndication: What it is and why it matters
Originally appeared in Bay Area News Group publications on December 3, 2010
Sellers want the broadest exposure for their homes. Buyers want the fastest, easiest way to locate houses for sale. Brokers want their phones to ring. The answer to all this is the Internet.
In recent years, the number of sites with listing information has grown exponentially. With many hundreds of web sites showcasing real estate listings along with other factoids, systems have evolved to automatically place these properties online.
“Syndicating” means receiving listings from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), or the listing broker, then transmitting them to a myriad of accessible sites. The problem is not in finding real estate data, but in locating accurate, reliable sites.
A 2008 study of third-party real estate sites found a range of incomplete and/or inaccurate data from 20 to 92 per cent. This includes the largest and most well known ones and is creating some negative consequences for consumers and real estate practitioners.
For years, brokers and agents have input each listing one by one, a time-consuming process. This led to the creation of companies that, for a fee, will broadcast the listings.
Contracts between the broker and firms distributing the listings range from very general to extremely specific. For some, there is the mistaken notion that having their listings “everywhere” on the ‘net can’t be bad. In many cases, busy brokers pay little attention to where and how the listings will be disseminated. They may not even know how the information they are providing is being used.
If a broker has signed up with a less-than-reputable company, his listings may be sold to other aggregators in a possibly unbroken chain of technically authorized, but practically unacceptable, downstreaming of his sellers’ information.
In fact, having listings on sites that are difficult to find or are an amalgam of all products from ace bandages to umbrellas may be actually annoying and not useful for consumers. Further, being associated with some web addresses could be embarrassing.
Lack of updating
A major problem with listings found in places other than the MLS is that they are often not current and accurate. Every week, I speak with agents who received a call or email from a buyer about a particular property that seemed appealing. After not finding it on the MLS active list, and many hours of research later, it typically turns out to be one that was sold or withdrawn six months to several years ago.
Confidential remarks and unauthorized photos
Another issue with listing syndication is the possibility of confidential remarks being published. This section is meant only for participating MLS subscribers and is not intended for public viewing. It could compromise safety or cause problems for the seller and/or listing agent. In addition, copyrighted photos are sometimes used without permission.
Sites with valuation applications
If everyone was a real estate expert, sellers could bring their house photos to the supermarket, get price opinions from store customers, take the average and come up with an asking price. Although the process is different, the accuracy of sites that provide pricing “estimates” is just as suspect.
Once I explain the pitfalls of these computer programs, my sellers do not want their home advertised on a site that will also spit out a price that is typically substantially less than its true value. Despite this, brokers who hire others to syndicate their listings may be allowing them to be placed where their client, the seller, objects.
Sites with comments/ratings
Some sites allow potential buyers to review/rate the listings. Folks can write things like, “That house is a dog,” or, “The neighborhood is the pits.”
Anyone can write anything, even if they have never seen the house. Without broker attention to detail, your house could be on a site with someone’s venomous rant next to it.
Sites that require sign-in
Among the plethora of web pages where your listing might be found are ones that ask consumers questions in order to allow access. Some sell this data about those who have visited the site. Few sellers would choose to be represented on these.
Incorrect contact information
MLSs require accurate contact information, e.g., listing agent’s name, company, phone numbers and email address. When syndication is not handled properly, however, the MLS has no way to know about or deal with violations.
Unscrupulous individuals may omit or change this contact information so that requests for particulars about the property go to them, not to the listing agent. These potential “client lists” can then be packaged and sold to legitimate agents as “hot leads.”
In one of the worst scenarios, listings can be sent to sites that seem legitimate, but whose only purpose is to infiltrate computers and create havoc.
The quickening pace of technology combined with a challenging real estate market has sellers and their agents scrambling to maximize the exposure of listings and create activity for the broker’s office/company. Without careful examination, listing syndication seems like the perfect solution.
Syndication itself is not the problem; handling it inappropriately is. Multiple Listing Services across the country are wrestling with this issue of supporting their brokers’ desire to sell property while protecting the integrity of MLS data.