Syndicating your listings (Part 1): Things to lose sleep over

It should go without saying: advertising is a good thing; loss of broker control is a bad thing. Listing syndication – the process whereby a brokerage chooses to post its active listing inventory on one or more consumer portals hosted by third parties – is a good-news, bad-news scenario. The good news is that your listing is displayed on multiple sites. The bad news is that your listing is displayed on multiple sites.

In the summer of 2012, we developed the Data Distribution Facility (DDF®) for our members. With it, REALTORS® have been able to easily disseminate MLS® listing content to multiple websites and ensure the content displayed on these sites is accurate and up-to-date. Without it, syndication may prove to be a bit more problematic.

If you’re thinking of getting into listing syndication without using DDF®, be sure you do so with your eyes wide open, aware of all the things that can go wrong. In this two-part series, we’ll feature some of these potential problems and the steps you can take to protect yourself.

Problem: Duplication of listings

In many cases, multiple copies of the same listing will show up on one of these third party websites because these sites get content from wherever they can. They may get a listing from a broker, and then get it again from the salesperson or the franchisor or from a multitude of sites they are scraping or have other agreements with. You may think this is a good thing to have your listing duplicated 20 times on the same site, but you would be wrong. This is a very bad thing. Multiple displays of a listing erodes consumer confidence in the quality of the listing. Consumers see it on one page, and then see it again on another page – either slightly different or even very different. They have a pool of listings to choose from and they ask themselves the obvious question – which one is correct? And, even if every one of them is the same, they won’t know they are getting accurate information unless they check out every posting. This causes the consumer to be skeptical and confused. And a skeptical consumer is not interested in your listing.

What can you do? Reduce duplication as much as possible

Note I didn’t say “Eliminate”! The more sites that contain your listing, the greater the danger of confusing duplication.

Who is syndicating your listings? Your franchisor or Broker? Maybe it’s no one, in which case, you are the master of your domain.

So pay attention. Are you using more than one tool? Are you using one third party that has defined sites it sends your listings to, or are you using many that do not tell you where they are sending the listings or how many sites they show up on? If the latter, you have created an environment for countless duplicated listings.

Problem: Bad data

Accuracy of information is a top consumer concern. If a REALTOR® can’t offer guarantees of accuracy, he or she is doomed. And syndication sites often create inaccurate listings. You will find properties listed for sale that may have been for sale at some point in the distant past, but have since been sold. You will find properties that actually are for sale, but at sale prices that are no longer accurate because of price changes not reflected on the site. You will find properties that show the wrong listing agent or are missing a lot of the standard property information because it got lost somewhere in cyber-space.

Many of these listings may have started out accurate, but their integrity was compromised in the syndication process. Data oversight is eroded as the listing is in so many places at the same time. Many, if not most, of these sites do not automatically update the listings. Listing brokers must do it themselves, and most simply don’t.

What can you do? Read the contract

You will always be required to sign a contract. Depending on who the third party is, you may sign a “traditional” contract or you may be required to agree to Terms of Use on a website. In either case, read everything before you sign anything! If the contract simply says they can do whatever they want with the content and they own everything forever and ever, do not sign it. If the contract says the content can be re-syndicated to endless sites without your knowledge and approval, do not sign it.

As an alternative, extend your reach and help build your brand with the Data Distribution Facility (DDF®).

Stay tuned for part 2 in this series, coming soon!

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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