Merge or Data Share? Understanding the difference

With all the hoopla going on in the real estate data industry these days, MLS boards and Associations across the country are exploring their options on what to do next with their listing data.

Before one can decide which direction to take next for their Association/MLS, we must first look at the history of real estate data. For this article, I am not going to discuss the “listing books” agents used before I was born, but more importantly listing data since 2004 until now. Let’s start with syndication.

Was syndication a big mistake?
When syndication of real estate listing data was first brought to market, the goal was to expose a Sellers home to the broadest market. Proponents of syndication thought that by syndicating your homes listing to every source possible, it would benefit the Seller and allow them to “get top dollar”. Logically, this made since. The more exposure a property gets, the better…right? Well, after years of putting this idea to the test, consistent reports have proven this to be false in terms of syndication. As of today, syndication websites are credited as the source of the sale for an extremely small fraction of all sales in the US. Although syndication portals may provide vast amounts of information to a consumer, the information is often inaccurate and a real estate expert is needed in order to assist a consumer in deciphering information and ultimately purchasing a property. So, what are syndication websites used for? DATA

  1. Client Lead Generation
    • Consumer data is collected by syndication portals and usually resold to advertisers of the network (ex. Purchasing leads, etc.)
  2. Consumer Data/Information
    • Tracking systems are often installed in order to understand the real estate consumers and agents actions while searching or using this type of portal. Information is often resold to other data providers.
  3. Agent Data/Information
  4. Property Listing Data
  5. Making the syndication websites a ton of advertising dollars

This has been a big topic in recent weeks due to the rants about Zillow group, listhub, etc. Syndication has been pulled (or is trying to be) from these massive 3rd party advertising portals for the very facts stated above and this very reason: Real Estate syndication sites don’t even closely benefit the majority of property owners or users/subscribers who provide the actual listing data.

Now that I’ve cleared my throat on syndication, let’s circle back to the title of this article: Merge or Data Share.

When exploring this option it is important to know the difference between these two concepts.

  • A Merger involves combining two corporations into one.
  • A Data Share involves merging two or more data feeds into one.

This is a very important distinction and why the decision to merge should not be taken lightly. A merger involves loss of jobs, standardizing of local rules and a movement toward a more politically influenced environment. Control over the technology of an MLS will be expanded which often causes issues with deployment of new software, resources, etc. Once a merger is completed, the operational costs of the MLS may be reduced for some (not all) associations, which could contribute to a reduction in product costs. However, the pricing for services is a hypothetical topic and could only be addressed with an in-depth report on this topic for each individual MLS who is considering a merger. Even though some jobs titles may be lost, additional employees would still be required in each individual marketplace for customer service, lockbox sales, local research, etc.

A data share produces a similar outcome of a merger, however, it doesn’t dissolve any corporation or lay off any employees. A data share combines multiple sources of data into one central line of code (feed). The current issue with this is the actually work load involved at matching data input fields in order to make sure the information matches with each platform.

So why the heck did I start out with the syndication issue?

Well a Merger is a business decision and what would be created out of the merger or data share is a compilation of listing data into one feed (similar to syndication). At the end of the day no matter which of these directions you choose, you’re essentially just merging data, creating controls over that data and then repurposing the data through various sources through a license agreement.

You may be asking yourself this: If the merging of a data feed from 2 mls’s is so difficult to do, then how are syndicators able to display that same information on their portals from feeds across the nation?

Well, not all data points are provided and since MLS systems core importance is to maintain accurate data with all data points, they fear than in order to merge with another association, they need to have hundreds of fields mapped. Although 100% complete accurate cross-mls information would be awesome, don’t you think at least having a portal for licensees to search active/pending/sold, bedrooms, baths, sq ft, stories, showing information, commission % etc. would at least suffice in the interim?

Final Words of Advice to all you beautiful Association Volunteers and Staff.
If the true desire for considering the two options of a Merger or Data Share is to create a centralized data system to access information for multiple locations, either option can produce your desired outcome. Data is Data. A line of code; A string of information. Sometimes what one person calls BED another calls BD (that was for all you coding geeks). It can be transferred, re-engineered and manipulated to match systems across any portals who seek to work together. Don’t let politics get in the way of producing the desired outcome that licensed real estate persons seek. If your MLS is financially stable to run on its own, if your software is not out of data (aka. your not using rapattoni) and your board is willing to work together, I highly recommend doing everything possible to work towards a data share.

Know that you’re not alone. It’s only a matter of time until the standardization of real estate listing data fields is complete and an easy API is created to allow for these cross platform integrations you may be seeking.

PatrickHale-PearlsWritten and Published by Patrick Hale

Patrick Hale is the CEO & Broker of Record for The Local Realty & Founder of Lo In 2012 Patrick became the youngest elected Director in history for the Greater San Diego Association of REALTORS and was shortly after appointed as the youngest Director in history for SANDICOR, the San Diego Regional Multiple Listing Service; one of the largest Real Estate MLS systems in the country with over 19,000 subscribers.