A panel of experts did battle over some key issues regarding real estate data syndication Thursday morning at Inman’s Real Estate event in San Francisco. The debate was focused more on how to approach syndication rather than whether to do it at all, as the latter question has apparently been settled, according to Errol Samuelson, president of Realtor.com and chief revenue officer of Move Inc.
“Brokers are looking to make decisions,” he said. “It’s not, ‘Do we want to have syndication, or do we not want to have syndication?’ They want to figure out what forms of syndication make sense.”
The panel focused on the main questions driving the controversy in the syndication arena, which are:
1. Who “owns” a listing, and the data around that listing?
2. What are the obligations of online data syndication companies to listing agents? To real estate brokers? To consumers?
3. How can these companies ensure the accuracy and timeliness of the information on their sites?
Mark McLaughlin, CEO of Pacific Union International, was a vocal critic of data syndicators on the panel. Yet he also called them a “great asset” for the Web traffic they generate for his sites. His main issue with them is that they’ve often suppressed agent data while taking info on houses for sale.
“But that’s changing,” he added. “These companies are listening. It won’t happen in a single event, but we’re getting there.”
Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff agreed.
“It’s an ongoing dialogue,” he said. “We’ve moved on [from the practice of suppressing agent data] to a large extent. ”
But McLaughlin also pushed Rascoff hard on the issue of control. In an ideal situation, agents would have control over the source of the data for these sites, and also would have their names prominently displayed next to their listings, McLaughlin said. He added that data syndicators should not be monetizing that content with ads that promote services of other people and companies.
That debate may be important for the industry, but it’s one that consumers ultimately don’t care about, said Saul Klein, senior vice president of Point2. “The public wants their listings on Zillow and those kinds of sites,” said Klein, and added that agents and brokers’ concerns over the way data is developed and distributed are similar to their initial worries about listings in newspaper classified ads decades ago.
Rascoff also had to handle pointed comments about the accuracy of the data on syndication sites. He was asked why they often have outdated information, which results in agents being contacted about listings well after they’ve been sold.
“We hate it,” he said in response. “How do you think that makes us look? The issue arises not because Zillow puts it up there, but because a broker or MLS has decided to stop syndicating.”
One thing the entire panel did agree on was the potential of mobile technology to impact the way consumers search for homes and real estate practitioners. In fact, Rascoff pointed out that visitors who access Zillow’s Web site through a mobile device are three times more likely to contact an agent than those who were using a desktop.
“We can’t lose sight of mobile,” he added.