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A Follow Up On the Syndication Site Issue From Jim Abbott

May 6th, 2012

John Sembrot pointed out recently a post on agbeat.com about the continuing debate on syndication. Jim Abbott has a follow up statement on the issue of listing syndication that he raised in late January of this year.

John raised the questions:

As photographers I would think that as a group we would support non-syndication? I think it would increase the value of the photos by making them more scarce. I wonder if there has been an industry discussion regarding this debate. Am I doing my clients a service or disservice when I syndicate their virtual tour? What if a Realtor client selects do not syndicate, but uninformed the photographer syndicates the listing?

I believe as real estate photographers it is important to support the point of view of  all of your clients. Sure, you probably have a personal opinion on this issue but it’s essentially irrelevant. You are a professional providing a service to a client. You have a professional obligation to support the needs of your client. Very likely you are going to have clients on both sides of this issue and some that don’t care or don’t even know about it. But because of this issue, if you are providing a tour with your shoot that has the ability to syndicate (like tourbuzz or pfretour) you need to be asking “do you want your tour syndicated?”. Agents have the ability to check or not check the syndication box when the create the MLS listing but the photographer frequently also has the ability to syndicate a tour if they provide one. You can no longer assume that all agents want their tours syndicated… ask them to be sure what they want.

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15 Responses to “A Follow Up On the Syndication Site Issue From Jim Abbott”

  • Thanks you, thank you, thank you Larry. As a realtor, work keeps me busy. It’s all I can do to keep up with my business while continuing to keep up with technology, techniques and changes within the real estate industry. Posting such topics like this is pinnacle in keeping up with current national trends.

    Jim Abbott is a maverick and I say that with utmost respect for his direction.

    This is such a great video. As a realtor, I see this and live this reality he talks about. These syndicators are there for one reason – to make money. Their information is often inaccurate and misleads the public.

    Thanks again Larry.

  • Jim Abbott seems well-spoken, and he’s addressing an issue that should be very familiar to photographers — intellectual property rights!

  • Thanks Larry, and so true. Jim Abbott brought up some great points, particurally in the historical perspective. I agree with perhaps 95% of what he says, differing on going without syndication. It may work with high end houses, but in the bread-n-butter range ($150k-350k) you will never get the listing becauuse your competitor will be pushing it in their presentation s the homeowner just doesn’t know the issues and sees it as a benefit. With me, I say I do that (MLS + syndication) but then minimize it like everything else, then concentrate on how I go beyond it.

    While Jim did bring up some good examples, one I like to use that is current and people can identify with is local broadcast TV. It is free over the airways just putting up an antenna to reveive the digital signal. However, when Direct TV and cable receive the same signal and build it into their commercial package that they sell, they have to pay the local stations/affiliates. The syndicators are very similar as they receive the material at virtually no cost, re-package into a different commercial product, and try to sell it back to the people who submitted it for generally over $1000/yr. It gets expensive with multiple syndicators “claiming” their superiority over their competitor and each trying to sell the same thing. And if the listing agents don’t participate, then they sell it to whomever will buy the zip code. Last week I had a call from Trulia trying to sell me a zip code – she was putty in my hands, being sales trained I could read her like a book. got her off script on the defensive, away from all her counters and so frustrated she finally hung up on me! YES!

    Unfortunately, Realtors don’t even know that they are being taken with the commercialization of their work. Basiclly, the syndicators are stealing from them and misleading the public by placing other zip code buyers on the listing.The public thinks they know something about the house, and the Realtor doesn’t receive a fair return on their marketing effort as the clients are re-directed away to the zip code buyer. It is not that the Realtor handles both sides – which is rare, about 5% of the time. Rather, it is a qualified buyer who looks at the house and doesn’t like it for any reason – pet/smoke odors, floorplan, neighborhood, etc. You then find that qualified buyer a house that best meets their needs. The Realtor doesn’t need the typical 3% + 3% from handling both sides of that house, but get 3% from that house when it sells and 3% elsewhere for the same value house is the same. Not only do you have the potential of repeating that senario several times until the original house sells, but if the original house doesn’t sell, you have recouped your marketing costs with the single sale. Additionally, both the buyer and seller are happy, speaking positively of you, providing future referral business which creates a disencentive to cram a buyer into a house “for both sides.”

    It is going to be the smart (rich) lawyer that puts this issue togther in a class action. Essentially every Realtor who wrote their original descriptive copy and took their own pics with their P&S would technically have standing.For those who hired a photographer it gets even more interesting, particurally, if like me, they register all their photos with the US Copyright office – which ironically I just mailed the CD today for the 3 months I registered online last week. I actually have an issue with one of the photos in that group being used by another Realtor who copied it and my client’s verbage, posting on their website.

  • If the agent would read the Listing Agreement, you would find that you and your broker are responsible for the security and care of your client’s property. How can you syndicate, and give up DRM (Digital Rights Management) of your clients published data. What if the data changes via the owners request, how do you change what is on syndication. You cant, therefore you are not representing your client legally. If your MLS is clearly trying to look out for there benefit, not yours, you and others can always create your own MLS that can cover your state, with the advent of technology today. Why pay for a local MLS that is only trying to survive on your dollar?
    This is why, if you have any business provide you with service you must also get a copyright release and that the payment covers full ownership of any and all images, photos, or model releases. Unless you do not want to own them, then let the Photographer pay for the shoot. But remember that listing contract, You need to control the data for your client at all times.

  • @Cal – “What if the data changes via the owners request, how do you change what is on syndication. You can’t”

    This is not true: In my experience most syndicated listings pickup changes from the MLS when the listing is changed or from the origination site. That is if you make changes to the listing on the MLS the MLS will send the update into to the syndicated sites. Granted this may not always work perfectly but there’s a second an much better method is to logon the syndicated site claim your listing and make changes to the listing. I used this feature on Zillow and have used it on Realtor.com… I’ve not used on truila.com and others but I’m sure they have similar feature.

  • @ Larry @ Cal “This is not true: In my experience most syndicated listings pickup changes from the MLS when the listing is changed or from the origination site.”

    I don’t think that statement is accurate either. I see listings in syndicated sites that are 2 years old, been withdrawn and re-listed by a new agent (one year ago) and still the old listing appears.

    There’s little accountability with these site for accuracy. Unless it’s accounting for all the money realtors spend to play their game.

  • @Charlie – Specifically the NWMLS in King County (Seattle area) sends out listing changes to syndicated sites like johnlscott.com and windermere.com that have photos changes price, status (including PENDing CANCELed and SOLD… Zillow gets the same syndication stream as broker sites. And processes the SOLD status change. Here is a specific example… the property I sold this Jan in Snoqualmie, WA (http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/7318-Fairway-Ave-SE-Snoqualmie-WA-98065/49061540_zpid/). I know for a fact that this listing was marked sold via the status change from NWMLS because I was tracking all the marketing for this listing. We also made listing changes that zillow picked up for the month this property was on the market.

    This is not to say there aren’t other problems. I don’t know what Zillow does when it gets a CANCEL. getting sites to sync up and stay synced up it pretty complicated stuff.

  • Yes Larry, being in synch and having accurate information is what it’s all about. I can tell you in my small market and MLS, there’s a significant amount of inaccurate information on these syndicated sites.

  • I brought this up with a client of mine today – asked her what her opinion was about Trulia, Zillow, etc. She basically shrugged and said, “What about them?”
    I asked her if she was upset that they might be profiting from her intellectual property. She had no idea what I was talking about. She agreed that they can have out-of-date information, but her attitude was, so what? Just makes her brokerage site look that much better.

    Larry G wrote: “…they receive the material at virtually no cost, re-package into a different commercial product, and try to sell it back to the people who submitted it for generally over $1000/yr….”

    My client had no idea what that meant. She’s not sending money to any syndication sites, and doesn’t know anyone who does. She said she was once contacted by Zillow, who told her that they’d noticed she was doing a lot of transactions in a particular zip code, and offered to make her some sort of “featured agent” (for a fee). She laughed them off.
    So now I’m not really sure what the issue is. From a photographer’s standpoint, you could say that they’re monetizing free content — but since it’s specific to marketing a property, it falls well within the terms I offer my clients, so I have no real issue with it.

  • I’m concerned about agent and broker liability as Jim Abbott describes in the back 1/2 of the video. I sent the video to my broker and am curious about what he thinks. It’s going to take an awful big lawsuit, or a class action lawsuit to force the MLS systems to reconsider. I’m sure there is a lot of profit for the MLS providing the listing feeds to these various places, including my own website.

    I do have a featured listing spot on Zillow.com for a couple of zip codes. A ton of my clients reference Zillow, as inaccurate as it is, and when they see me there it further cements my branding. Zillow also offers free profiles where clients can post reviews of my work. When he mentions syndicators, I wonder if he also means the large brokerage websites like RE/MAX.com, ColdwellBanker.com, etc?

    A tough subject, and I can see both sides of it. I also believe real estate is a relationship between agent and client as Jim said. That said, I’ve made a lot of $$ over the years building my client relationships through internet advertising.

  • @Scott- The problem is that syndication sites feature agents that pay them. So rather than my listing showing up with my name and contact info on it, it shows up with whomever paid to be the featured agent. These agents know nothing about the property. That is the issue…

  • Terry has a great point. As he says, “I’ve made a lot of $$ over the years building my client relationships through internet advertising.” This is because these syndication sites are very popular. They get tons of traffic. in a 30 day period, Realtor.com is viewed for over 288 million minutes at an average of 26 minutes per visit. I can see why a real estate agent might want to have their contact information available.

    To me, syndication sites are just a wheel of capitalism. They are flashy, information packed websites that the public uses. If people use them, agents will advertise. If agents advertise, the syndication sites make money. On and on. My issue, like many, is that these sites offer misleading and incorrect information.

  • As a photographer, you are opening a big old can worms by getting involved in syndication in any way. I will submit to real***.com for clients with enhanced packages at their request, the rest of it is up to them. That is a part of marketing, which is their job. My MLS offers ListHub to submit to syndication and I use it for my listings. ListHub does a good job with keeping things straight – accurate info and status, but tour submissions can override them and are responsible for a lot of incorrect status listings.

    I agree with Charlie that the syndicators are in it for the money. I am confident Jim Abbott is as well. I know that is one of my major motiovations. The issue is how you make money legally and ethically. Syndicators exist in no small part because the real estate industry has worked extremely hard to protect traditional ways of doing business and not embracing and advancing new and better ways of providing services to consumers. Syndicators saw an opportunity and are taking advantage of that.

    I am curious if LarryG lets his listing clients know upfront that a main goal in taking the listing is to convert prospects for their house into buyers for other properties. Given that motivation, you are better off not selling your own listing and losing the lead generator.

    The guys who run vht have written several interesting papers on the role syndicators play in today’s market. They sell packages mostly to traditional brokers, so their conclusions are biased in that direction, but their analysis of buyer behavior is spot on. Go to the News and Events tab on their site if you are interested.

  • @John make no mistake, the first responsibility is to the listed client. However, once the potential buyer views the property and strikes it off their list for any of the above reasons and a litinay of others, you don’t say “that’s fine, have a nice day.” If they are not represented by another Realtor, you help them find what they are looking for – which in theory, after viewing other possibilities, may revert back to the original property. That phenomenom has been know since before the internet existed. Occasionally, but rarely, do open houses result in a buyer for that specific property but introduce people actively in the market to buy.The internet is simply an updated version of that same process. In neither case does it minimize the responsibility to the seller, but after the buyer has ruled out ruled proceeding with that property you have an equal responsibility to the buyer as you assist them with finding an a property that better meets their needs. The point I was trying to make is not some sort of lead generator, rather it is noones interest to shoehorn some buyer into a property that they don’t want just for the sake of having “both sides.” That is just stupid when you look at it from the broader perspective as there are so many other alternatives,, yet it is that broader perspective that some don’t want known as theyinsist “never work with the listing agent.” They play on uninformed fears which has no basis.

  • I am new to this forum, but I join this group because of this subject syndication. Let me introduce myself first. I have more than 25 years of residential and commercial experience, a retired design and ships engineer and as a hobby more than 30 years photography, especially in Europe. As a Realtor I have supported our board in several committees, like 6 years in the MLS Group.
    There is one major problem that I have with the syndication as it now stands. The MLS Rules and Regulations says that any syndicated company is allowed to have a listing on their web site for a maximum of 1 year after that property has been sold, expired or even taken of the market. In our next MLS meeting this subject is on the agenda. I am in a pretty large board with 5500 members and we belong to the SoCal group of about 30 boards called Carets with 115000 members.
    I can see that during the listing period a syndicated company use the listing to make money. But as soon as the property is sold, I think, the syndicated benefits should end and these properties should be removed from their sites or the syndicators should pay a fee to the owners of the images.
    The meeting is always the first wednesday of the month. If some of you have a special remark, question or subject that I should bring to the table, let me know and I will do that.

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