“Let’s modernize IDX by linking to the listing broker!”

IDX or Internet Data Exchange is a thesis that was developed by the collaboration between Brokers and MLSs that outlines a set of display rules for listings on broker websites. The idea behind IDX is that of cooperation among brokers. Fundamentally, the IDX policy states that a broker allows all other brokers participating in an MLS to display their listings on any broker (and usually Agent) website.

Over the years, the IDX policy has evolved. And today, Redfin CEO, Glenn Kelman suggests a radical new change. Kelman would like the IDX policy to require that every display of IDX listings provide a link to the listing broker’s website.

Listing 2 Sue Kim

As the screenshot illustrates, the National Association of REALTORS® MLS Policy on IDX requires the Broker to be identified as shown here. Displaying the listing agent is a local election and sometimes required. In the illustration below, everything is static. The big idea is to add a requirement to include a hyperlink to the broker/agent website (canonical source of information).

Listing Sue Kim

Kelman goes further in the development of his concept to suggest that the broker name and link be prominently displayed above the fold (top of the page before you scroll).

WAV Group joins Redfin in the belief that this would massively increase the traffic to listing brokers’ websites form search engines. Having hundreds of real estate websites link to the listing brokerage for each listing should completely re-orient search rankings. Search Engines are always looking for the most authoritative source of information – including real estate information.

Kelman has strong beliefs and enormous respect for the listing firm. “The listing broker is the one who pays for, reviews and uploads all the photos. The listing broker updates and validates all the data about the property, and writes the marketing description. The home-buying consumer should be able to find her way to the full listing on the listing broker’s site, where she may also be able to see virtual tours, three-dimensional scans, and additional marketing materials about the listing, not to mention details on how to ask a question about the home or even arrange a tour with another agent at the listing brokerage if that’s what she prefers.”

WAV Group’s research and analytics team finds that Redfin is, by a factor of two or three, the most popular brokerage website today. The leading portal has seven time the traffic of Redfin, eight times the engineers, and nearly 10 times the marketing budget. By Kelman’s own admission, Redfin.com would likely be impacted by this rule change. They would lose some ground in local markets to brokers that have more listings. Redfin may become one of the top referring sites to listing brokers.

However, Kelman prefers to do the right thing for the industry and save IDX. Redfin isn’t just being altruistic here. Sending millions of redfin.com users off to other brokerage sites will hurt the company a lot in the short tun, but in the long run Redfin and every other broker depends on IDX to be the system of record for every listing in America. We need IDX to benefit the listing broker, or the listing broker will post listings elsewhere. More importantly, we need to make the eco system we’ve built for working together on deals also let us work together on websites. When consumers can connect directly with a brokerage’s agents though its site, less money from a home sale will go to a few online toll-booth websites, and more will be left for the consumer selling the house and the agent doing the work.

This proposed rule to link to the listing on the broker’s website would apply first and foremost to the portals, but also to every other broker that displays your IDX listings. The portals would also have to provide a plain HTML link to the listing broker at the top of each listing’s web page. Anyone with a browser can see with a simple Google search that the links the portals do provide are not easily found by consumers, and, most important, are not indexed at all by search engines. This is an area where MLSs and the NAR can work harder to be the technical eyes and ears for enforcing the terms of syndication agreements. Whatever we require of the IDX members who contribute listings to the MLS, we should also require of the advertising sites who get listing data from the MLS without sharing the listings on their own site in return. MLS membership should have its privileges. The brokers who play by the rules, with a share-and-share-alike approach to listing data, should always have the best listing data, on the most favorable terms.

There is no doubt that Kelman’s concept for reimagining IDX would disrupt search engines. It is more likely that search engines will direct consumers to the listing broker for address search. It’s great for the listing broker.

As much as any other company, Redfin sees where real estate search has gone. The overwhelming majorities of consumers visit advertising websites rather than broker websites. In his opinion, this is a challenge for real estate brokerages and a tax on consumers who ultimately pay for the advertising costs agents bear to appear on other websites, and it is getting worse.

Redfin is eager to collaborate with other brokers and the nation’s MLSs to figure this out. The MLSs are the body that carries the burden of managing cooperation among brokerage firms. They set the rules. They enforce the rules. If IDX finds a path to work for the listing broker, it will continue to be remarkably durable.