Zillow is putting lipstick on a pig

Rupert Murdoch is, in essence, chopping Zillow off at the knees by ending its ability to receive listings through ListHub, forcing Zillow to pen separate agreements with brokers and MLSs. When Zillow’s current contract with ListHub expires in 90 days, brokers will be handed their listings back on a silver platter. So now what?

I have heard agents across the country complain about Zillow “taking our listings and then selling them back to us.” Well, Zillow didn’t take the listings. Brokers gave them to Zillow … and now brokers have the opportunity to take them back, but will they? To do that, brokers will have to work together, and Zillow is betting that they won’t with its new Data Dashboard.

Zillow says it’s not a big deal. The company has direct agreements that will allow it to continue to display most of its current listing information. Eventually, Zillow will have agreements in place that will enable it to host a similar amount of listing data in the future. Greg Schwartz, Zillow’s chief revenue officer, said that Zillow has commitments or agreements with “double-digit numbers” of the top 50 MLSs in the country and is also negotiating agreements with hundreds more.

Managing all these agreements is going to be a nightmare (ask any real estate vendor). Zillow is putting lipstick on a pig. And on top of that, the current agreements were entered into when brokers thought they had no other option but to work with Zillow. Brokers and MLSs were trying to get more accurate information to consumers through a direct agreement that gave them more control over what was displayed. The game has now changed.

Even without the end of the Zillow-ListHub relationship, the real estate industry is reshaping.

Larger brokers have already begun to create broker portals. “Project Upstream,” spearheaded by The Realty Alliance, is thought to be a national property database that may launch sometime this year. Another group of executives with MLSs, franchisors and brokers led by real estate consultant Victor Lund and Cameron Paine, CEO of Connecticut MLS Inc., appears to be building its own “new national listing portal to serve as a broker-centric alternative” to the current syndicators.

And then there are the National Association of Realtors’ “core standards.” My guess is they are not simply all about improving services provided to members; there is much more method to that madness, so stay tuned.

With the industry landscape changing almost daily, I don’t think I am going out on a limb saying that Zillow isn’t feeling as comfortable as company executives would have us believe. Zillow has done great things for the consumer by providing awesome apps and tools to access property data. Although the data is not always totally accurate, it is still useful. Clearly the consumer and Google have been wooed by the amount of data that Zillow displays regardless of the accuracy. (More data equals more traffic … if you ever wondered why Zillow keeps expired listings around so long, well, size matters.)

Can more accurate data win the Web traffic war? If brokers took away a significant amount of listing data from Zillow but continued to feed the data to, say, realtor.com, would that change things? Consumers likely don’t care where they get the information as long as they can get it. And Google will eventually figure out who has the most data, and search results will adjust.

If consumers’ best interest is the concern, then is more data better, or is accurate data better?

This new move by Murdoch (pun intended) is going to force some critical decisions by brokers over the next few months. Can brokers pull together to take back control of their listing data, or will they give the listing data to Zillow … again.

And will it really matter in the grand scheme of things?

Laurie Weston Davis is a licensed Realtor in North Carolina and co-owner of Live Love Realty.