Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink appear to have a brilliant piece of real estate disintermediation on their hands. The gurus oiling the Zillow machine have just launched a new feature, "Advertise another agent's listings".
How it works:
Agents can click on a house in the Zillow database (includes all houses via tax records and satellite imaging) and after creating an account, advertise that the property is currently for sale. The benefit to the agent is that their contact information will display as a contact for that house. Joel Burslem author of FutureOfRealEstateMarketing writes: “Now anyone can now identify a home as being for sale. The idea is that buyers' agents or new agents with some time on their hands will step up to bat and start identifying properties on behalf of the busy listing agents.”
Hold a moment. Can agents randomly advertise other's listings?? If this new feature sends up red flags, you're in good company. Traditionally, advertising another's listings without specific permission is against MLS rules. For example, note Northwest MLS Rule #190:
“Advertising Another Member’s Listing Prohibited. No member shall, without first obtaining the listing member’s or subscriber’s written permission (including email), advertise a property listed by another member in any manner, including but not limited to, display, reader board, newspaper, flyer or other publication, except that a member may republish another member’s listings on the Internet in a manner consistent with NWMLS Rules and policies so long as the listing is approved by the owner for Internet publication.”
Zillow appears to be attempting a semantic maneuver around this issue. Agents are merely "reporting" homes currently for sale, as opposed to acting as the advertiser. From Zillow.com: “If you report a home is for sale you get your name, a thumbnail picture, and a link to your profile -- for free.”
You can almost hear the well-meaning Buyers' Agent's defense to the MLS Board, “I didn’t advertise another agents listing. I just told Zillow that I noticed the 4000 property’s were for sale in my city. It is not my fault that they added my name, image, and a link to my profile page on every one of the properties' pages. I did it for the community! Plus according to Zillow, 'Special space on the page is reserved for homeowners and listing agents who might subsequently enter information on that home.'”
Zillow's new development has the potential to alter the real estate industry as we know it by bypassing the agent centered MLS system. If only a handful of agents across the country pursue this as a competitive advantage, within months or even weeks Zillow may secure for themselves the position as a top listings aggregator.
“Don’t ever underestimate the competition”. Zillow's leadership is intelligent and perceptive at how to reach their aims as they move into the future. Zillow's position raises moral/ethical questions. Is it time for the MLS to open up listing data to all tech businesses, or should that data be available for publication only by licensed real estate agents/brokers? If the MLS determines that the listings should in fact remain under real estate agent control, then the MLS should not be misled by Zillow doubletalk. This new feature is all about allowing agents to advertise other agent's listings without their permission.
Is it time to open up the listings information? Realogy (previously Cendent) just made the move to syndicate all of their listings to Trulia and Googlebase. What should our role be?