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Homesnap + Broker Public Portal: The Unofficial Why and How (and the case for more PR)

Homesnap and Broker Public PortalI’ve been seeing a lot of questions about the direction and makeup of the Broker Public Portal and its relationship with Homesnap. I have no direct influence or investment in either group, but plenty of interest.

Let’s clear the table first—some of these questions come from a great post/discussion earlier here on GeekEstate, others I’ve heard out in the field.

Unofficial answers about the Broker Public Portal and Homesnap (caveat emptor):

Why?
Brokers want a national search experience for consumers in which the brokers control the display rules. Partnering with their MLSs, they hope to create a clean, easy-to-use search and display that delivers leads back to the listing brokerage and is free of other commercial shenanigans. It doesn’t need to be the biggest, it just needs to return more traffic to brokers.

Does NAR run BPP?
The National Association of Realtors does not run or own the Broker Public Portal. Brokers developed the organization, and they run it in partnership with Homesnap. The MLS partners, in some cases, are owned by local Realtor associations, but NAR isn’t directly involved in BPP directly.

Who pays for Broker Public Portal?
MLSs who sign up with BPP pay $1 per member per month.

Why would agents want their dues dollars to pay for another portal?
The agent benefit is getting access to Homesnap Pro tools. By joining BPP, the MLS’s members get one of the best MLS apps available. Its integration of agent-only information, mapping, rapid CMAs, and direct client interaction will make most agents who see it open up their pocketbooks happily—for a buck.

As for dues: if your MLS passes the cost on to the agent, these would be MLS dues dollars (not NAR). Depending on your MLS, those dues may go to your association, a separate for-profit company, or a broker-owned conglomerate. So the BPP portal is the primary broker benefit, and Homesnap Pro is the primary agent benefit.

Is BPP a “for profit” initiative?
*Update: Via Victor Lund, it is a “for profit” corporation, but all profits are rolled back into the corporation.* I think the more appropriate label is a “for profitability” initiative. The BPP members and Homesnap could directly profit from 1.5 million $1 monthly fees from the entire nation of Realtors. But snaring a greater percentage of internet traffic and leads on a cost-controlled platform is the real goal for brokers. This is about greater leverage in online real estate. Commissions dwarf subscriptions. Brokers, and agents, want more closings with lower acquisition costs.

What if Homesnap wants to break away after BPP becomes popular?
We’re told that the operating agreement has fail-safes, or a pre-nuptial, built in. It’s a private venture. Everyone on this board knows about the NAR/realtor.com/Move deal 20 years ago–they don’t need another reminder.

Why would a consumer use BPP/Homesnap (vs Zillow et al)?
Consumer-driven traffic is just one part of the equation. Agent-driven traffic is a very different animal with a much higher correlation to closings. Don’t ignore the potential of MLS-wide adoption of an agent-to-consumer mobile search tool.

In 2012 I thought Realtor.com might nail this strategy with its app, but the adoption just didn’t take. It made even more sense to me in 2014 when Homesnap came on the scene. (Maybe that just means I’m repetitively wrong.)

Won’t this, effectively, be a “consumer facing MLS website” on a national scale?
If it gets national adoption, it would be in a way. Importantly, though, brokers initiated this project, not the MLS itself. The likelihood of all 700+ MLSs signing on anytime soon is low. But let’s be honest, there are already a handful of consumer facing MLS websites on a national scale. They’re just run by “media companies.” Almost all MLSs, brands, franchisors, and brokerages are feeding them MLS listings somehow.

If my MLS joins, does this mean my MLS will be competing with my local website for traffic?
There’s some nuance in this answer. A local MLS with a public facing website creates a clear competitor to a broker in local search. A national portal also competes, but on a bit of a different playing field. Brokers/agents with quality websites can still compete for local traffic because of their unique local status.

Truth be told, though, everyone’s competing with everyone. Once in a while a large portion of the brokerage sphere is in agreement, and it’s worthwhile to seize that momentum if that’s the “big picture” side you’re on.

So how does Broker Public Portal + Homesnap succeed?
Gradually: MLSs join, brokers push adoption of the tools for their utility and cost savings, and agents start using the app as their primary interaction with their MLSs. In turn, they share listings and the search experience with their clients. 1.5 million real estate professionals become the boots on the ground “selling” the product to actual real estate consumers.

Ideally, more consumers stay inside this sphere. Agents and brokers take home the same commission splits, with lower acquisition costs because advertising fees are lower/cut out.

Think of it this way: Homesnap getting into an MLS is like a software company becoming the only music app provider in Apple’s app store. Other companies can buy all of the Android and Microsoft user traffic they’d like, but everyone on Homesnap’s platform is protected in the walled MLS garden.

What’s next?
There’s no guarantee that any of this comes to fruition. But this is a very pragmatic approach at leveraging brokers’ greatest strengths—the MLS and their agents—and focusing them on building media exposure that they couldn’t otherwise achieve by simply trying to buy it.

Brokers don’t have to build their own mobile search–Homesnap has already done it. There’s already a significant base of traffic using their systems, so there’s no starting from scratch.

Finally, a respectful suggestion: The folks at Homesnap have always done a great job of getting media exposure as a lean startup. Now it’s time for brokers to give the joint venture some more financial horsepower to proactively answer these kinds of questions on a broader scale.

In the absence of immediate answers, wild conspiracies spring up. I can’t overstate how difficult PR and industry relations are in real estate for a new initiative. Just ask the folks at Upstream. Let’s get the story straight for our industry, and then let the chips fall where they may.

Comments? Fire away.

About Sam DeBord

Sam DeBord is a former management consultant and web developer who writes for for Inman News and REALTOR® Magazine. He is Managing Broker for Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and 2016 President-Elect of Seattle King County REALTORS®. His team sells Seattle homes, condos, and Bellevue homes.

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  • “Is BPP a “for profit” initiative?”
    I was fairly certainly BPP was a non profit, owned by its members. Is that not the case?

    My question was is the new joint venture between BPP and Homesnap a for profit venture? I would guess the answer on that part is yes, but not certain.

    • You’ll have to go to the top for that–I couldn’t find the answer quickly, either.

    • VictorLund

      It is a for profit LLC, but unit holders may not redeem their shares or receive dividends – so effectively all profits are rolled back into the company.

      • Thanks for the clarification, Victor.

  • rolandestrada

    I mostly agree. Good post. HAR is probably the best regional example of success for this model – by agents/brokers for agents/brokers. HAR wasn’t an overnight success, which is fine. Agents just want a shot at garnering more of their leads directly. Can you blame us. It’s worth a shot. Internet leads are not a zero sum game. So let’s have at it and see where it goes.

    • The local public-facing MLS really crystallizes the “competing with me” argument. I’m not surprised so many brokers are against it. The complexity of these multi-tiered arrangements make it difficult to have a distinct, clear position sometimes.

      • rolandestrada

        Here is the reality though, and it’s the one time I think Drew and I have agreed. The “competing with me” scenario is a false argument. For the vast majority of agents, websites are just an electronic business card. The agents that are getting actual leads from their websites is minimal. Those agents are putting lots of money and or effort into SEO. I had to dig, but I found an actual study that bore this out for another post.

        I continue to make this argument – If an agent is getting leads from BPP and they work those leads toward transactions, the agent wins and so does the broker. It’s just icing on the cake to whatever marketing the agent or broker happen to be doing.

        That’s the way it works for HAR agents. I’ve called some HAR agents from their portal listings and they like the way it works. Why wouldn’t they. Granted HAR has be doing it for a while.

        I guess if you look at leads as a zero sum game, you will never see BPP as anything other than taking business away whatever effort you are putting forth. I just don’t that is reality.

        • “Leads” may not be a zero sum game. But closed deals — and commission dollars — absolutely is. A new portal/website/app isn’t going to increase the number of yearly transactions.

          • rolandestrada

            Correct but a different lead distribution can change who gets those closed deals and commissions. That’s all.

          • Yes. Correct. My strong hunch though is that those leads/commissions will come from broker/agent websites — not from Zillow/Trulia. It’ll be years and years before BPP beats them on organic buyer seo traffic. Maybe I’m wrong.

          • rolandestrada

            It’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds for sure.

          • Correct–closings are not quite a zero sum game, but close. Websites aren’t shifting the volumes significantly. Legislation might.

            I agree that the vast majority of agents don’t generate significant leads, but the vast majority of agents don’t sell much real estate, either. I won’t negate the successful online broker/agent’s competition argument.

  • Sam, if I read between the lines on your Why answer, it sounds like they want to drive traffic away from the 3 big portals to BPP.

    Roland is for this as he stated, and I agree with him.

    Drew will question if BPP can really take traffic from Zillow. After all, they have a huge head start, spend a ton of money on R & D and marketing, so as Drew has pointed out, it is not going to be easy to beat the portals at their own game.

    Assuming I am correct on your why, I don’t think BPP is the easy way. In my market the solution is simple.

    There are a ton of great Broker websites consumers can already use. If my MLS voted to stop feeding their listings to the portals, in my market that would really take them down quickly.

    I realize some agents would still post to them, but do consumers really want to view a site that shows 50% of the listings and is out of date, or use a Broker’s IDX/VOW website that is up to date and shows 100% of the listing.

    Sam, in your market you have a great website, and I am sure you know of a lot of other great websites. I assume in your market the same thing would happen if the portals stopped getting your listing. Consumers would use your website more because they know you have 100% of the listings and it is up to date. That does not sound like such a bad thing to me.

    • “If my MLS voted to stop feeding their listings to the portals, in my market that would really take them down quickly.”

      Sure, but you (or anyone else) surely can’t in good conscience say that removing listings from the portals is GOOD/BETTER/GREAT for sellers… right? How is removing their listings going to INCREASE the chance their home will sell?

      • I think it would be good for sellers because I have found a lot of inaccurate or out of date information on Zillow. Making sure sellers have access to 100% of the listings and that the listings are 100% accurate is pretty darn important.

        In my market you do not have to feed your listings to Zillow, so many are missing. However, you do have to feed your listings to IDX, so none are missing.

        At one point I brought this to Zillow’s attention, saying they should let buyers know they are missing a large number of listings and I gathered the proof.

        Of course they did not, but honestly that would be the right thing to do. I feel sorry for buyers who think they are seeing all listings that could meet their needs and they are missing some.

        • “Making sure sellers have access to 100% of the listings and that the listings are 100% accurate is pretty darn important.”

          Why would I care if I can access 100% of listings? I’m trying to sell my house, period. If it’s free and there are potential buyers looking there, why on earth would I not want my listing to show up there??

          • Sorry, I meant buyers

          • I don’t buy it. It’s not a matter of one or the other. A listing can, and should, be on both the mls and zillow/trulia/etc.

            I still have never heard a good argument as to why a seller would NOT want their listing on the portals?

          • Selling or buying is one of the biggest financial decisions someone will make, so I think they should have 100% accurate information to make the best decision possible.

          • Again, it’s not an OR. Putting your listing on zillow, in addition to the MLS, is not going to cause a seller to somehow have inaccurate information in a way they wouldn’t if they didn’t put their home on zillow.

          • I think we are talking about two different things. I am talking about using Zillow to browse properties, not putting a listing there.

            I feel that a buyer and seller when researching the market should have 100% accurate information. In the case Sam mentioned, 20% of the listings are missing from Zillow.

            To me that is not fair to consumers. They have no idea they could be missing listings that they might want to buy.

            So in my opinion getting them off Zillow and onto an IDX site that has all the listings is a big benefit for consumers. I see no downside to having accurate information when making these big decisions.

          • “To me that is not fair to consumers. They have no idea they could be missing listings that they might want to buy.”

            The “it’s not fair argument” doesn’t hold any water to me. Life isn’t fair. Agents don’t think its fair zillow makes money off their listings… that’s just the way it is. Zillow has buyers, and buyers pay the entire industry’s bills.

            “So in my opinion getting them off Zillow and onto an IDX site that has all the listings is a big benefit for consumers.”

            No need for BPP. There are thousands of agent websites in every market where they can already do that.

          • OK, well I agree with you that life is not fair. LOL

            I also agree with you that BPP is not needed. As you mentioned there are a ton of good sites they can already go to.

          • haha, yea the “it’s not fair” argument is similar to the “I/we deserve” mindset that drives me off the wall bonkers –> http://www.drewmeyersinsights.com/2012/06/22/we-deserve-it/

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people shouldn’t strive to be fair in life and business, they should — but the reality is it’s just not the case.

      • My MLS voted to stop feeding listings to all portals, many years ago. The portals still have about 80% of our listings–most brokers syndicate anyway. It could be a huge strategic disadvantage for the portals in our market, but it’s one that few consumers realize–so it has little effect.

        • OK, I stand corrected then. If the MLS stops sending listings it sounds like Brokers will anyway and the consumer has no clue they are missing 20% of the listings.

          I don’t think this is fair to consumers, but there is nothing that can be done about it.

    • Bryn, I understand your point, but I don’t even entertain the “pull all of our listings” conversation any more. Collusion is a scary proposition.

      Could another listing destination become the leader at some point in the future? It would be difficult, but possible. Natural attrition of listing distribution to other sites of lessening influence would be natural. But an orchestrated walkout would be a disaster, legally.

  • Stacie Duffy

    Thanks for the rundown and info. I was curious how the arrangement worked between the local MLS, BPP, and Homesnap. I’ve recently started using Homesnap as a tool in my business and feel it is the best mobile option for agents [that are not with a large national brokerage] to use and share with their clients, at least here in Denver. My contacts from Houston have asked me if we have something like the HAR app, as it’s a well known mobile tool there. Unfortunately, we haven’t until now.

    Keep in mind, I work for a small brokerage that offers basic IDX and gets some lead gen from that, but we have no good mobile option that I’m aware of. Our MLS does not have a very user friendly mobile platform and Homesnap fills that gap for me and my clients. Note: I’m part of that percentage that does not pay for online ads or Zillow lead gen. However, I don’t expect any leads to come directly from Homesnap, it’s just a tool for me to use and stay in contact with leads I’ve acquired elsewhere.

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