MLS RETS servers are designed to deliver IDX, VOW, and Full Data feeds to brokers and their vendors. With few exceptions, they were not purpose built for sending listing syndication feeds to publishers. Syndication feeds are the domain of Listhub. With Listhub’s support of Zillow Group’s websites going away, you must act now to determine what your plans are. MLS RETS Servers are emerging with new features that blend in Syndication support for Direct Feeds to Publishers like the Zillow Group.
The defining difference between Listhub and direct feeds may be complex or simple. The complex path is considered by most legal strategists to be the best practice.
Give brokers a dashboard that puts them in control of their data being transmitted to the Zillow Group. To imagine such a dashboard, log into Listhub. It was purpose built for this. As I write this, my understanding is that only Bridge Interactive, Corelogic, RE DataVault, FlexMLS and Listhub have such a dashboard for your RETS server. RE Data Vault and Bridge are complete. Corelogic is being rolled out. Be mindful that this Zillow Group issue is new, and has sent everyone scrambling except for FlexMLS, Bridge Interactive, and RE DataVault who have been providing this solution for years.
To be clear, systems like FlexMLS, RE DataVault, Corelogic, and Bridge Interactive have a different set of features. MLSs can configure the RETS server with fields specific to that publisher. The broker can turn it on or off. Only the data authorized will be sent. There are lots of reporting tools for servicing both the broker and the publisher when things go wrong.
The simple solution is to provide Zillow Group with a RETS feed with all data. Broker opt-in may be handled by solutions like Clareity CDC. You may also make a modification to your listing input page in your MLS system for Syndication Yes or No. I consider this a simple solution because it allows a flag to be distributed with the RETS data indicating the preference of the agent. At least for now, the MLS would be sending all of the data, but telling the Zillow Group not to use some of it. This may not be the best strategy because you are sending data to a third party and telling them not to use it. Clareity supports broker choice, but the MLS system probably puts the decision in the hands of the agent. The agent is not authorized to make syndication decisions unless the broker grants that responsibility. In the future, these simple solutions will evolve to allow opt-in data to communicate with the RETS server.
You may have a contract that organizes your understanding with the Zillow Group, but testing that contract may be very difficult. At the very least, you may want to insert significant penalties (Like $10,000 per day) in the event of a breach. Some MLSs believe that they can turn off the feed in the event of a breach. I would suggest otherwise. If the sellers’ broker commits to advertising on Zillow Group publications, then the broker must honor that commitment. The MLS should not interfere by shutting off all of the data even if it is for cause within the agreement.
One of the key considerations is to contemplate how customer service will be handled. Will the agents call the MLS service center when there is a problem with a listing? Does the service center have help desk tools that provide them access to the RETS server? Does that service call escalate to the MLS provider or the MLS vendor? Where does the broker fit into the service equation? How often does the data feed refresh? How do you know if the data feed was successfully transmitted? How do you spot abusive data consumption practices?
I could go on, but I believe that I have made my point. Do not take this situation lightly. If you are a broker, I strongly recommend that you have a discussion with your MLS about their plan with your data. If you are an MLS, you should communicate your intentions clearly to the brokers. If you are an MLS, please do not send notices to the agents. If you need help figuring out what to do, give us a call. We are charging a flat fee of $500 to facilitate a one-hour call with your leadership. Every MLS is unique, so there is no “one size fits all” answer. You must first assess what resources you have in place; understand the strengths and weaknesses of those resources to set a strategy. Don’t panic.