Syndicating the listing (Part 2): Covering your bases

Continuing from my last blog post, Part 2 of our “Syndicating the listing” series explores a few more potential problems of tackling listing syndication on your own and what you can do to protect yourself.

Problem: Broker liability

Inaccurate information can result in litigation! If the inaccurate content is the fault of the syndicator, can the listing broker sue that company? The answer is a clear “maybe.” In all likelihood the contract between the syndicator and the listing broker completely absolves the third party from any obligations or liability for bad data. Also, as the broker has no contract with all of the extended sites, how can you sue them?

What can you do?

1. Develop formal syndication policies

Every brokerage permitting syndication should have syndication policies. Don’t just assume, verbalize it.

  • What sites are acceptable?
  • Are salespeople allowed to upload, or only the broker?
  • Is manual upload acceptable?

As a broker, you have an obligation to clearly set out for staff what your policies are. Perhaps a staff person in the office might be charged with keeping those strategies in line – regularly checking to make sure your preferences continue to be reflected in the sites you’re on. Your salespeople need to know what they can do and what they cannot do. Policies are a pain, but they are a necessary pain.

2. Create procedures for consumer calls

The first victim of unfettered, unfocused and undisciplined syndication is consumer confidence. If a seller finds his or her listing on one of these sites and complains, how does the listing broker respond? The answer should not be – “I’ll figure it out when the time comes.” If you receive an inquiry from an unknown site you weren’t aware your listing was on, what do you do? Again, the answer should not be –“I’ll figure it out when the time comes.” If you feel your listing content is being misused, what do you do? You guessed it, don’t answer, “I’ll figure it out when the time comes” – establish processes ahead of time.

3. Manual upload

Manual uploads should not be used if there is any other alternative. A manual upload is another way to ensure that the information is flawed from the beginning. If you are doing manual uploads, ensure you have a mechanism in place to ensure those listings are regularly updated. Otherwise, you are contributing to the problem and devaluing your own assets.

Problem: Uncontrolled re-syndication

Here’s a good question: if the sites to which you send your listings then distribute those listings to hundreds of other sites you know nothing about, how can you possibly protect the integrity of your listing content? If you assume that data degrades – or could degrade – with every step along the way, each re-syndication is another step towards garbage.

This is a massive concern, firstly because the business models of so many sites rely on large-scale re-syndication, and secondly because of the ease of transmission of data on the Internet. Massive amounts of content can be sent around the world to thousands of sites with the click of a button. It is false logic to think that the more sites you have listings on, the better off you are.

What can you do? Control the sites on which your listings appear

Many third party sites have dashboards that allow you to choose the sites on which you want your listings to appear. You need to do your homework, consider what sites actually give you worthwhile return on investment, and then restrict the distribution of your listings to those sites only. You should:

  • Log into the dashboard and look at where your listings are going.
  • Uncheck “select all,” which will probably be the default, and specifically select those sites you have determined will give you return on investment
  • Read the communications from the publishers about new sites being added and make intelligent and site-specific decisions about whether or not you want listings on that site, so you’re always keeping up to date.

The bottom line

While it may be impossible to keep track of every listing all of the time, you need to check regularly and use every tool available to you to keep as many in sight as possible. Attach Google Alerts to your listings by MLS® number and address. These alerts let you know where your listings are.

Alternatively, our DDF® can help expand your access to a national pool of listings, give control over where your listings go, and help drive and measure traffic to your listings whether they’re on your website or a third party site.

The article above is for information purposes and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.

Bill Harrington, former General Counsel, oversaw CREA’s legal department, which provides legal advice to boards and associations on a wide range of issues, including intellectual property, REALTOR® Code issues, interpretation of CREA’s Bylaws, Rules, and policies, and issues involving federal legislation. Our legal department also supports the Executive Office and the Board of Directors. Bill has seen it all and enjoyed the variety and unpredictability of legal issues that came up. Interesting fact: To call Bill a fan of “The Who” is a bit of an understatement – he has seen them in concert 28 times!

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