Inbox: How much is too much around your client’s listing?

I recently received this long, but interesting email from an MLS committee member on the role of consumer content around listings that I found interesting enough to share with my readers:

“I have been catching up to the “ClueTrain Manifest” dialogue as a result of your reposting of Rob’s comments. I find it very timely. Without going into too much disclosure or detail I am serving on a recently formed MLS committee to examine the MLS roles and policy regarding online/web display of the MLS data. This week we spent considerable time discussing the topic of “social interaction” of the listings we display and redisplay on brokers websites through IDX policy.

So as you can imagine, the unspoken desires of some of the group is to create social discussion (without regard to the content) about listings. The motivation is more about driving traffic to their web site and therefore gaining market share in the R.E. business arena. The spoken fear as legally responsible brokers should we open up our own client’s property to potentially damaging comments by others within the rules of the MLS? Now the understanding by the group is that we cannot control what anyone who is a non-member of our MLS does or says about these properties and outside interests probably will make comment. However, members of the MLS can control comment through membership to the MLS what is said by the members themselves. (I don’t know if this is legally true and a whole other line of thought).

This conversation issue is not driven by the word “control” but rather by the “agency relationship” created to the client to “market” their property for highest and best sales price. The conversation is also with consideration that at the MLS it is a cooperative membership to assist the process of buying and selling property. It could be devastating to the industry to get caught up in a war of words about the value of any one property. Why would I list my home with an agency if when the listing is posted online It gets poor (or worse –slanderous) reviews by MLS members or public on the very same site that is suppose to market the property for sale?

So back to the idea that broker members of the MLS recognize the value of an open, interactive dialogue with the consumers to grow their web presence at their individual web sites. However they are reluctant to allow this dialogue with opinion of the competing brokers/agents (which may be an opinion rooted in competition and not fact) or the potential “sensationalism” that can be created through “negative news” allowed to be expressed by the public or within the MLS membership.

So in context of the ClueTrain and with the legal regard for agency relationship in mind my questions to you are; 1) what would your opinion of the MLS discussion be and how would you advise the MLS to proceed with this line of thought. And 2) If you were an individual owner of a real estate company, how far would you go (or allow to go) on your company/agent’s websites to allow what may be disparaging comment on a competitor’s listing or your own company listings?”

I let this reader know that I honestly didn’t have a good answer, but he raises some interesting points…  It’s really a tricky issue because if brokers don’t allow a conversation around their listings, it bodes well for sites that will allow a relatively uncontrolled conversations around listings (Zillow, for example, seems more than happy to fulfill this role…).

I haven’t read the ClueTrain manifesto in a while, and I don’t think this analogy will speak to the theory behind that book, but one could think of any given MLS organization like a big tent.   I think at some point the savvy MLS powers-that-be will realize that they would rather have the consumers inside of the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.

7 responses

  1. I think this is the Catch 22 of the real estate world. They created a cartel that keeps real estate agent complaints in house with onerous restrictions in a tough marketplace.

    Before the internet it was very difficult for information to be put out without going through the cartel (MLS) or one of it’s members without the cartel rules being invoked.

    Add to that the pressure of the government adding another layer of restrictions and compliance factors, almost all homes are forced to be discussed in a very narrow way.

    But with the internet and non cartel members there are ways to take this data and avoid the legal and industry barriers to the truth.

    It will be tough when I as a non Realtor or agent can say things about a home that you can not when it comes to marketing or getting eye share for the information on real estate in a particular area.

  2. […] letter he received about a MLS that is looking into opening up their listings to comments. Go give it a read and then come […]

  3. It’s fantastic to hear of progress on this issue.

    My primary advice is; don’t create a different set of rules for what an agent can and cannot do “on the internet.” The rules that govern how agents compete should apply equally whether the agent is online or offline. Be consistent. If existing MLS rules limit how agents can use MLS information for competing purposes then merely clarify how those rules would be interpreted using an online example. And if there are no existing rules for limiting what an agent can say about another agent’s listing offline, then you probably don’t need rules to control how that happens online.

    Secondly, don’t over-think this problem. I guarantee you it’s less likely to happen online than offline. You can thank the cluetrain for that – public transparency is a fantastic control system. Surely an agent is more likely to slander another agent’s listing offline where there is little record of what they’ve said and where the offended agent has no opportunity to correct the comment.

    Lastly, I can give you some feedback from my experience with Home Q&A on listings at Zillow. So far, 55K people have used the feature and we are yet to have a single complaint related to this concern that agents would abuse each others listings.

    I hope that helps.

  4. That last fact (no agent complaining about other agent’s remarks) is quite interesting and definitely compelling.

  5. […] 26, 2008 A reader of Dustin’s sent him an email that both were kind enough to allow to be published at 4realz. The reader, a member of a MLS committee, raises some very interesting and very important questions […]

  6. […] Dustin and The Notorious R.O.B. are discussing the pros and cons of on-line comments about specific listings.  This is a good extension of my posts from a week or so ago about how consumers choose agents.  The basic question I was asking in those posts (how do consumers choose agents today?) is the question I think is most important here: How do consumers discuss listings today? […]

  7. I think it is a great idea. It’s all about knowledge right? There will have to be some checks and balances, but the concept is sound ala ebay.

    Houston, Katy, Sugar Land

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