Multiple Listing Services (MLS) data is big business these days. In fact, many of the photos which Contractors take are used on MLS feeds even though the Contractors do not authorize the distribution of their photos. The reality is that the National, Regional and Otherwise Unspecified Order Mills make BIG DOLLARS on them and as usual the Contractors lay down and take it. The MLS listing syndication wars between Mortgage Listing Services and aggregators like as Zillow – Trulia; Zillow bought Trulia last month, and Realtor.com are raging across the United States as I type. It seems anymore that when you search for a home to buy or attempt to sell a house, Google funnels you to one of them. Seems is the operative word.
Virtually any real estate niche in Google you will find sites such as Zillow, et al., dominate the majority of the top positions for any real estate term. Many folks that are competing for the Holy Grail of Google SEO are unknowingly and unwillingly feeding Zilow, et al., and ironically cutting their own throats!
The reality is that what you have on your website determines Search Engine Optimization (SEO). While it is not that simple, local Real Estate Agents and Brokers are unable to match the enormous piles of cash people like Zillow and Realtor.com have. I am not making the argument that it is unfair that Zillow, et al., have more money to play with, thus making the landscape unfair. What I am saying is that Zillow, et al., do not have to abide by the same laws, rules and regulations which real estate agents and brokers do. Additionally, when you have the photographs from Contractors in the Mortgage Field Services Industry stolen from them; when these photos are around 300 – 500 per property, the reality is that there is a serious problem.
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As opposed to real estate agents and brokers whom are liable under state law for a plethora of advertising rules, Zillow, et al., are not. Additionally, time and time again we are finding that the information which Zillow, et al., streams is used by predators to commit crimes throughout the United States. Think you are indemnified from liability as Zillow, et al., use your photos? Think again!
While real estate agent, broker and Contractor intellectual property is harvested by the boat load, the reality is that you are still responsible for it. When you create descriptions and take photographs, they belong to you — period! Copyright comes into being the moment of you create the descriptions and take the photographs. Think I am joking? Give Olan Mills a call. While you bought a photo package, the photographer owns copyright to the photos of you, your family or whatever they took pictures of — forever. Whether or not those copyrights are formally registered with the Library of Congress, they are copyrighted materials. In fact, copyright begins at the moment of creation and this comes from the US Copyright Office— some believe from the moment of conception depending on how deep you want to go and how you are able to document such.
Royalty-free publishing of copyrighted material is a double edged sword. If the material is used in a not for profit setting to convey an educational purpose, I believe this should be case-by-case such as in a Creative Commons or Copyleft Setting. Zillow, et al., do not even remotely fit these examples. In fact, Zillow, et al., are the textbook example of predators profiting upon the backs of others. Realtor associations publish the MLS for their local communities and have given open license to Zillow, et al., to do capitalize, in an unrestricted setting, upon real estate agent’s, broker’s and Contractor’s copyrighted material. While the San Diego and Denver Associations of Realtors took steps in curbing this, the reality is that those steps are meaningless without a unified front.
Internet Data Exchange (IDX) and Real Estate Transaction Standard (RETS) are the two aspects of data transmission from MLS to both public and private consumers. Without getting too deep, both IDX and RETS are how Zillow, et al., actualize the information for display upon their websites. In fact, I use both IDX and RETS aggregated feeds for WordPress Websites vis-a-vis Cron Jobs, and in combination with custom plugins I created for both my girlfriend, whom is a Real Estate Agent, and other Clients.
If the story ended there; if the IDX and RETS feeds were placed on Zillow, et al., and there alone following the laws, rules and regulations which real estate agents and brokers are mandated to abide by, there wouldn’t be much room to complain. The problem is that it does not end there. Zillow, et al., stream data from all over the internet. Craigslist, Classified Ads, US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) — on and on and on. First, when you throw a bunch of data into a collective pool, there is no way to semantically (meaningfully) interpret the veracity of the information. Second, without proper oversight and a well established vetting process, you end up with a toxic soup which is being served up to the Consumer. When the Consumer gets sick from the soup — when a Consumer reaches out to ask about the home on Zillow, et al., which was bogus from a Craigslist Ad feed sans the Craigslist notification — they blame the Real Estate Industry. No fallout on Zillow, et al.; the only fallout is the belief that Zillow, et al., are Members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR); the Real Estate Community, and thus Realtors are guilty of shitty Due Diligence. So, while NAR and the plethora of Real Estate Associations rake in ungodly kickbacks, the Real Estate Agents and Brokers continue to pay both sides of the equation and get hosed as a direct result.
As if this is not problematic enough, Zillow, et al., take overt steps to make sure that the originating real estate agent is not identified in the listing. What happens is that Zillow, et al., sell placement advertising. In 99.9% of the time, the Realtor listed in the right hand colum
Let’s take a look at a classic case-in-point. So, I opened up Zillow and picked the first property that popped up on a list in the area that I presume Zillow synced from my IP Address. The address was 1911 Eastview Avenue, Jefferson City, TN. Below, you will see the three screenshots from Zillow, Realtor.com and the MLS for my area.
Same property, three different results. Zillow and Truila both properly identify the home as being for sale. Realtor.com does not list the property as for sale — there are your dollars hard at work with NAR! I confirmed this through the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors (KAAR) by running a Members Only MLS Check. KAAR runs on FlexMLS, and the FlexMLS Copyright is worth looking at as we will discuss this in the second part of my series. Now, when you go to KAAR and run the address query — in this situation it is unique that this is in KAAR as it falls within the Lakeway Area Association of Realtors (LAAR) — you are going to see information that Zillow, et al., do not display which is the listing agent!
When we look at the above, it is quite apparent that Zillow, et al., have absolutely no intentions of ever doing anything other than enriching themselves and their vulture capital real estate cronies whom pay the insane fees to be listed in conspicuous areas which should be displaying the Listing Agent’s name and contact info. This isn’t the only problem, though. Time and again Zillow, et al.,
So, how is it that Contractors, Real Estate Agents and Brokers own copyright to the material that Zillow, et al., publish without compensation? More on point, though, how is it precisely that the plethora of Real Estate Associations and the National Association of Realtors (NAR)allow this to happen? That is a good question which we will cover in the second and third part of our series. We additionally sent the question to Zillow.
At the end of the day, the reality is that Real Estate Agents and Brokers are paying their Associations and the National Association of Realtors and getting jack shit in return. Candidly, this reminds me of what we used to call the Political Machine back in my K Street days in DC. An authoritative boss or small group commands the support of a corps of supporters and businesses who receive rewards for their efforts. So, in the same way that Matt Martin Real Estate Management (MMREM) controls the US Department of Housing and Urban Development‘s (HUD) Marketing and Management (M&M) Contracts, so the NAR sends out marching orders to their well placed troops whom have sway over the masses. It isn’t just aggregation that is a problem.
Did you think your phone number had to be equal to or smaller than your Broker’s in Tennessee? Yeah, I have to love those Urban Myths.
The reality is that even the Associations do not understand real estate law. I reached out to the Tennessee Real Estate Commissioner on a different subject for clarification of internet advertising vs. printed advertising and the rules were night and day! Even the Tennessee Real Estate Schools are improperly teaching the law. We will publish that in our upcoming Article and hopefully begin to shed some light in what makes the secrecy in the Masonic Lodge look like a joke!