MLSs, with their consumer-facing websites, long to find ways to make their sites more engaging, attracting more visitors and ultimately more exposure to their member’s listings. The Houston Association of REALTORS®, arguably one of the most progressive and gutsy Associations in America today, has done it again. They have become the first MLS consumer site in America to allow listings from brokers around the state of Texas via Listhub.
Listing syndicator ListHub will feed listings to public-facing websites operated by multiple listing services, and the Houston Association of Realtors is the first to sign up for the new program, which will expand HAR.com’s coverage area to the entire state of Texas.
ListHub is the leading provider of listing syndication services to MLSs today, syndicating listings for more than 450 MLSs around the country.
What inspired the idea?
In 2013, WAV Group conducted research for HAR, revealing that 98% of their membership valued HAR.com as the organization’s most valuable tool. Understanding the importance of this offering, HAR set out to find new ways to make the site more powerful and profitable for its members.
The highly competitive online marketing environment had a large impact, as well. In February 2013, HAR.com was #1 real estate website in Texas with 9% market share. Just 12 months later, in February 2014, HAR.com had a 9% market share and Zillow had a 12% market share, becoming the number one real estate site in the state of Texas.
HAR.com quickly figured out that they needed to have as much data as other third party sites have, allowing brokers throughout the state of Texas to add their listings to HAR.com. Last year, they met with Corpus Christi, Midland, Tyler and others, asking HAR.com how they could work together. Together they came up with the answer – let’s pool our resources and create one powerful site for the entire state.
Interest in a statewide portal came also from brokers who would regularly contact HAR.com asking if they could add their listings to the site. Listening to the needs of brokers and their fellow Texas associations, HAR.com worked with Listhub to develop an easy way for brokers and MLSs to add their listings to HAR.com.
What did it take to transition from local to statewide?
HAR.com was already a robust site but there were several adjustments that were needed to make the site appropriate for statewide listing exposure. The Houston Association added to contract for statewide tax and statewide schools data. The organization also had to learn how to map data from several disparate sets of data fields. The company learned first hand why it is so important for the industry to adopt the RESO Data Dictionary throughout the country. Listhub also provides the ability for brokers to send their listings directly if they choose not to participate in syndication through their local MLS.
Importantly, the HAR.com relationship with Listhub has a few important rules designed to protect the interests of listing agents and brokers. MLSs that participate in ListHub’s “MLS REN” will have to follow a particular set of rules including two key principles. According to ListHub: 1) all leads will be provided directly to the listing agent and only to the listing agent (or another lead recipient indicated by the listing broker), and 2) properties are only authorized for consumer display on the public-facing site and cannot be included in the receiving MLS’s member listings database.
Agent Ratings for All
Those that participate their listings from around the state of Texas are also eligible to participate in HAR’s Client Experience Rating – a highly successful program that allows agents to share feedback from their past clients with potential new customers. This program can become a viable alternative to the ever-growing agent ratings program available on Zillow.com and others. Zillow’s program now has nearly 675,000 ratings nationwide, and nearly 40,000 in the state of Texas alone.
The new HAR.com
HAR.com is being completely redesigned to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers, revealed by insights gathered from HAR.com’s highly successful Consumer Research Panel as well as REALTOR® input. Today, HAR has nearly 7,000 consumers that actively contribute perspectives to the organization to help make Houston REALTORS® more consumer-centric.
All leads received through the site will go back to the listing agent and broker and their contact information will be displayed as they do today on HAR.com and other MLS sites. The site will not allow for-sale-by-owner properties (FSBOs) or property valuation estimates on active listings. HAR says the new site will comply with The Realty Alliance’s “Fair Display Guidelines” for public-facing MLS sites.
I would love to see other regions in the country pool their resources like this and create strong statewide sites. In my view, It makes sense to leverage the URL of the strongest site in the state, regardless of who owns and controls it. With one look at Hitwise statistics, it will become clear as to which site should take the lead. It’s not about who controls the site, it’s about which site is going to deliver the most listing exposure and leads to all of the REALTORS® in the state. Instead of worrying about statewide MLS consolidation, it can make sense to start with the consumer-facing portions of the MLS. Proving that a broader collaboration can be effective may ultimately lead to even more productive statewide MLS relationships, data shares or even statewide MLS organizations.