IDX, Listings Syndication and How the Consumer is Being Disadvantaged

I’m going to carry the current internecine real estate debate about the syndication of listings to third-party sites such as Zillow and Trulia home to your door step. If you ever have used one of these sites to search for homes, or if you know anyone who ever has done so, you absolutely must make sure you read this.

That there are data errors throughout sites such as Zillow is evident – when there are two to three times as many homes listed for sale by agent as are showing for sale in the MLS, there’s a problem. But sometimes it’s hard to get a handle on the issue from 35,000 feet, as it were. So let’s drill down to one subdivision in the Phoenix area and see what we find.

Sonoran Mountain Ranch is a 1,476-home neighborhood located in northeastern Peoria, straight up 67th Avenue from the heart of Glendale itself. Like many subdivisions conceived and created in the early 2000s, values have taken a considerable hit there from the high point of 2005. And, like most of the rest of the Valley, there’s fairly little inventory available right now.

According to the Arizona Regional MLS, there are 26 homes for sale in Sonoran Mountain Ranch.

According to my own website’s listing feed for Sonoran Mountain Ranch via IDX (Internet Data eXchange), there are 27 – the discrepancy is the IDX hasn’t synced to ARMLS yet to see the one listing that was switched to “Temporarily Off Market” about four hours ago.

According to Zillow, filtering only by subdivision name and searching For Sale by Agent, there are 20 homes for sale in Sonoran Mountain Ranch.

Except …

6838 W Nadine, the first home listed, already is under contract.

So is 29576 N 68th.

30034 N 71st isn’t under contract; escrow closed on this property June 30, 2011 – seven months ago.

In fact, not a single one of the first 10 homes listed on Zillow’s search for Sonoran Mountain Ranch are active listings in the Arizona Regional MLS.

Not. A. Single. One.

Of the 20 homes Zillow lists for sale in Sonoran Mountain Ranch, exactly four – FOUR – of the 20 are active listings at this point in time.

I could tell you which four but that would defeat the point, because …

3rd Party Syndicators Hinder Buyers’ Ability to Find Homes

Anyone who has searched online for homes can understand the disappointment of sifting through listings, choosing the home that best fits your needs, the home that calls out to you when you look at the pictures, and then either find out it’s under contract or, if you have the chance to write an offer, to lose out to another bidder.

In my seven-plus years in the business, rare has been the buyer who doesn’t have one eye focused squarely on the rear-view mirror to see the home that got away.

When there only are four active listings out of 20 on a site such as Zillow, buyers are being subjected to the ultimate bait and switch. They are looking at homes long since under contract, in six of the cases long since closed escrow, only to learn later that the homes with which they fell in love are long gone.

Truzilia (Trulia and Zillow combined) can argue all they want about the front- and back-end checks that are in place to assure data quality – when there is a 15 percent accuracy rate as there is in Sonoran Mountain Ranch, the phrase “data quality” is little more than a punch line.

But it’s not just buyers who mistakenly use these sites who are getting a raw deal. It’s sellers as well. And it’s here where Jim Abbott’s decision to pull his brokerage’s listings from Zillow and Trulia makes sense.

Poor Syndicated Data Disadvantages Sellers

Did you ever watch the game show Deal or No Deal? Each case had a different dollar amount and the goal for the contestant was to choose the case with the $1,000,000 in it – a 1-in-20 shot.

There are 25 models holding cases in the photograph to the left. Taking this argument to its most basic state, lets say each of those cases is a home listing.

Using the data for Sonoran Mountain Ranch as a baseline – 15 percent accuracy – 4 of those cases contain an active listing for a home for sale; the other 21 are empty (I even rounded up to give Truzilia the benefit of the doubt.)

Pick a case.

Is that home really for sale? No?

Pick another case. Empty again?

How many cases is a buyer going to open before he or she surrenders and either goes to another web site or, if he’s smart, finds a local real estate agent with access to the real list of homes for sale and gets some help.

You have your home for sale. Your agent tells you that it’s being marketed on Trulia and Zillow – the same thing that I tell my sellers, in the interest of disclosure. But really, how is your listing going to stand out from the bogus listings …

(Some real estate agents will interject now that they pay to have their homes featured on Truzilia – this isn’t so much solving the problem of miserable data quality as it is ignoring it and throwing money at it in the hopes that it goes away, though it won’t because Truzilia has won. It collected your cash.)

IDX and Listings Syndication Are NOT the Same

Abbott has been criticized in many corners, including the well-intentioned “Raise the Bar in Real Estate” Facebook group, for not syndicating his listings but continuing to use IDX on his brokerage’s site. He opened himself up for his by saying buyers should go to the source, presumably the listing agent, even though the point of an IDX feed is to help a buyers’ agent attract a buyer.

Taking the liberty of not interpreting Abbott’s message quite as literally, perhaps we ought to consider “the source” in this case to not be only listing agents but real estate professionals in general, those people who have access to the most accurate, most up-to-date information about homes for sale on the market.

IDX isn’t perfect; agents can opt-out of supplying their listings on an IDX feed and, as I showed above, there can be a lag between an update in the MLS and on IDX. As someone whose site features IDX prominently, I can live with a four-hour delay far easier than I can a seven-month lag in tagging a “home for sale” into a sold listing online.

Maybe refusing to send listings to Trulia and Zillow isn’t the answer. Given the data issues, it’s difficult for me to believe not sending listings there disadvantages the client a great deal more than not holding an open house or putting a sign on some random street corner; a lot of eyes will see the sign, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to distinguish the sign from the rest of the visual white noise and act.

We all talk about doing what’s right for the consumer – if we don’t demand better accountability of these third party syndication sites when it comes to data, if we blindly send our listings data there without any consideration of how it will be viewed and the quality of data which will surround it, we’re failing the very public who we claim to be so interested in protecting.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Dalton is a 30-plus-year resident of the Valley and has been helping folks buy and sell homes since 2004. He can be reached at 602-502-9693 or info at allphoenixrealestate.com.

  • Thanks for writing this. 3rd party syndicators are not consumer advocates they are just trying to make money which is fine.  My listings don’t sell any faster if they are on all the third party sites.  They are easily found on a zillion sites already.  Eventually the real estate  industry will mature and embrace the idea of direct contact with consumers and as the science of web based marketing is better understood agents will realize that they do not need the third party sites to market their clients properties. Consumers are hurt when some of the listings are missing from sites. That is not the agents fault it is the third party sites fault.

  • I put them there myself, T, largely for the reason Kris Berg mentioned – it’s kinda expected and it sounds cool at a listing presentation. But, if I’m honest, I have next to zero real expectation that a listing on one of these sites will result in a sale.

    I’m guilty of keeping up with the so-called Joneses, but I’m honest about why I do it – the consumer doesn’t want to be educated about how pointless it really is.

  • Malcolm Waring

    I just posted on Jay’s blog where I found this link. I just checked half of 200 Zillow listings in a zip code and did not find one problem like that with the Listhub and Point2 feeds from our MLS.

  • I just responded … are you only looking at those two feeds or any source for agent-listed homes?

    I pulled a random ZIP code here – 85202, in Mesa where I grew up. Our MLS shows 35 properties for sale, Zillow shows four times that many as active, agent-offered listings.

    If you don’t have the discrepancies there, that’s a good thing. Here, however, the timeliness of the data is terrible. It took until I was a dozen listings deep before I found an active home for sale in our MLS.

  • Malcolm Waring

    Our listings are all added and updated automatically every 24 hours.