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All of the details you don’t know about Broker Public Portal (BPP) teaming up with Homesnap

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The Broker Public Portal (BPP), which was designed to create a national MLS consumer-facing property search website, announced today that they will be partnering with Homesnap by executing a binding letter of intent.

Rather than rebrand, BPP will push listings from 115 MLS and broker partners (accounting for roughly 500k agents), will be funded through a $1.00 per MLS member monthly fee rather than advertisements or paid agent placement, and will adhere to Fair Display Guidelines (no one but the listing agent is displayed on a property listing).

Not a reinvention of the wheel

When the BPP idea was initially proposed, it was just that – an idea. Kind of a “for the people, by the people” idea. Nevertheless, many people had heartburn over what was not even a plan, but an idea. Fast forward to a group of brokers and MLSs that pitched in $5k each to cover a fundraising goal of $250K for startup expenses. A year ago, the executive committee was formed, and today, their first big move is to unveil the plan (to partner with Homesnap to move forward).

So how will this work? They’ll roll out first with MLSs (already revealed: Midwest Real Estate Data (MRED) with ~40k members, Connecticut Multiple Listing Service (CTMLS) with ~11k members, Northstar MLS with ~16k members, and Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors®, (BNAR) with ~3k members) and eventually brokers directly.

You probably remember Homesnap from their 2012 launch at South by Southwest as an augmented reality app allowing you to “snap” a house and instantly get details from the MLS. It was originally a product of Sawbuck, formerly a Washington D.C. based brokerage which raised $2M in 2008 and $2M in 2012.

Partnering with Homesnap instead of reinventing the wheel could put BPP at an advantage since Homesnap already has consumer traffic and a slick mobile app. The project is not without challenges, however, as we all know that getting all brokers and MLSs on board is like herding feral cats – not impossible, just tough.

Competing with traditional portals?

BPP has said all along that they’re not seeking to become a Zillow or Realtor.com competitor and all Board members we interviewed say the same, but let’s face it, today’s announcement solidifies that the goal is exactly that. What else would a national consumer-facing MLS be?

Further, it certainly appears that a group of powerful brokers and MLS execs got together to pursue a dream scenario that they wish had happened with the industry’s operating agreement with Realtor.com. They’re pursuing the dream scenario where they’re in charge instead of stock shareholders and an ad salesforce.

Currently, Z/T/R are increasingly the first point of contact for consumers, so they own that relationship (not practitioners), an issue that has been contentious for many years. BPP’s structure indicates that they want that power back, they seek to own that relationship, they want to feature only the listing agent on a listing, and that they intend on getting one step closer to the consumer.

But is that a realistic possibility with such a small operating budget compared to Z/T/R’s mega millions? If the feral cats are all herded properly, then yes, but that’s the uphill challenge BPP has taken.

How will they compete in the market?

Homesnap CEO Guy Wolcott tells us that they intend to compete not with “Super Bowl ads,” but with their “secret weapon — participation by thousands of brokers and hundreds of thousands of agents,” noting that in the past year, agents using Homesnap Pro have invited over 4 million consumers to join them and scaling that to the number of agents that will use Homesnap through the BPP partnership will handily reach the market. “Agents won’t [invite users] because we pay them, but because it will be the best way to work with their clients and prospects.”

Cary Sylvester, VP of Industry Development at Keller Williams, who also serves on BPP’s Technology Workgroup and is a Board liaison, echoed Wolcott’s sentiments, noting, “By incorporating easy to use agent/consumer collaboration tools, BPP won’t need to drive growth primarily through direct-to-consumer advertising or app store and search engine optimization, but through agents themselves.”

“Our strategy is not to get out ahead of agents, brokers and MLSs – though we will undoubtedly generate plenty of free leads – but to support them by offering a great home search experience they can use not only to acquire clients, but to serve them and keep them for life,” says Sylvester. “Accomplishing that goal will make our greatest advertiser the agent themselves.”

What about the pre-nup?

The operating agreement is not public, and since it’s a private entity and there’s no National Association of Realtors (NAR) involvement, the agreement may remain veiled. As a news organization, of course, we want to sink our teeth into it, but three sources close to the matter tell us that despite not seeing the contract, they trust the “genius” of the executive committee at BPP, which is not the normal response we would hear, so it is certainly thought provoking.

There are some unresolved issues with this BPP/Homesnap partnership, though. The most pressing is – what is the pre-nup? What happens when the partnership agreement is up for renewal, or is the agreement in perpetuity? Couldn’t Homesnap just be built up by BPP (thus brokers and MLSs) and become a legitimate player to compete with Z/T/R, and say “no thanks, we’re big enough that we don’t need you” and take all of the work BPP put into it and build relationships on the back end and go public to make it a Z/T/R/H situation?

Wolcott assured us that their model was inherently “pro-industry” so it can’t go off the rails, and that because they already operate on the BPP model of “your listing, your lead” scenario that is on an “MLS-by-MLS basis,” the goal is to never relive past experiences of other portals. “The BPP didn’t have to ask us to change our stripes. We already had the right stripes.”

John Mosey, NorthstarMLS President & CEO, elected to the BPP Board of Managers tells us, “We entered into this agreement with our eyes wide open and antenna fully raised to the risks of getting engaged, then married to the wrong partner. Months of due diligence and what if scenarios were endured to find the ground on which we felt most secure that we are both in it for the long term.”

“During the process,” Mosey adds, “one of our negotiating team commented that the experience of building the terms of this agreement was also an exercise in building trust, mutually. That trust is the foundation for a future together that neither side believes will come undone. Nonetheless, we have a mutually acceptable pre-nup in place that protects the interests of the real estate community in the eventualities that you ask about and others.”

Show me the money

Another potential concern is the flow of money. How is it split between Homesnap and BPP? Wolcott tells us all money MLSs pay them for the BPP goes toward the suite of projects, but will BPP executives not see compensation? If a broker sends listings directly, can they opt out of the per-member fee at the MLS level? Are there plans for Homesnap to acquire BPP or BPP to acquire Homesnap, or will it remain a partnership?

In an internal document (but not the “pre-nup”) obtained by The Real Daily, some answers regarding the private agreement are made clear, thus explaining the aforementioned unresolved issues. The two companies will create a new company, and the Board will be comprised of 3 Homesnap representatives, 3 BPP representatives, and 1 third party rep (chosen by BPP). Each brand will own 50 percent of the company, revenue will be split 50/50, and under the direction of the Board, Homesnap will be responsible for maintenance of the site and apps, innovations, and marketing.

All that said, will people even care about the money flow if it means a nimble national MLS that is powered by industry insiders on the cheap (for a dollar per member per month)?

The tone of all appears to be hopeful

Overall, Wolcott tells us he is most excited just “thinking about what is possible when the entire industry is all rowing in one direction – and what awesome stuff we can build at the scale this will enable.”

Of the inevitable critics, Sylvester says they’ll handle it by delivering results.

The bottom line is that the overall tone of industry insiders we spoke to is hopeful, the verdict seems to be that competition is good, and that this is a reasonable plan for the BPP project. Now that the Homesnap partnership has been unveiled, we anticipate the secrecy is over and BPP/Homesnap is about to get aggressive. Stay tuned.

#HomesnapBPP

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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Real Estate Corporate

Watch out: Zillow’s terms of service have some sinister notes

(REAL ESTATE CORPORATE) Zillow’s updated terms of service allow them to make a lot of decisions with your data—none of which need your approval.

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Computer searching online open to terms of service page.

Zillow has a bit of a shady record. Between their excessive patent-hoarding and the aggressive nature with which they tend to squash competing services, you wouldn’t be remiss in treating them with caution—especially now that the real estate service is revamping their terms of service with some seemingly sinister changes in mind.

The actual terms of service prove for a lengthy—but recommended—read. However, WAV Group, a real estate consulting service, highlighted a few specific stipulations in the terms of service. If you’re here for the short version, it’s this: Have a lawyer look over the updated terms before agreeing to them if you’re a Zillow user. Otherwise, keep reading for a deep-dive on some of the more concerning aspects of these changes.

Data, regardless of the form in which it appears, should be considered an asset; if you aren’t worried about how Zillow (or other companies in their wake) will use the terms of service to legitimize sending away your information at a moment’s notice, you absolutely should be. To wit, WAV Group also recommends having a lawyer look over Zillow’s privacy policy which, while not on par with the terms of service, also underwent a bit of a redesign.

In a nutshell, Zillow’s updates allow them to use and distribute your data—including information associated with your listings—at their discretion. That sounds pretty standard, but Zillow makes it clear that they aren’t just using your data: They own it. What that means is you can’t repurpose or reuse that data again without specific parameters in place if you want to avoid breaking Zillow’s terms of service.

Zillow is also kind enough to alert you that they will take no responsibility for anything negative that happens as a result of your data use on their behalf, a process which can include unauthorized credit checks, the appropriation and use of your data by third-party services, and all of the downsides that accompany these actions.

So, for example, if Zillow passes along your data to a third-party service that has shaky web security, you can’t hold Zillow accountable for the hand-off regardless of negative repercussions on your end.

Now, you wouldn’t be wrong to want to delete your listing and clear out of Zillow after all of this, but you would be wrong in thinking it’s that simple. According to the new terms of service, you may delete your account, listing, and preferences; you just can’t delete any listing data from Zillow since, upon accepting those terms, your data is their data.

Finally—and, as WAV Group mentions, extremely importantly—Zillow’s new terms of service allow them to claim referral fees on your behalf without accepting any responsibility for potential harm to you, your property, your company, or—you guessed it—your data. This basically means that Zillow can act as a referring agency on your behalf without asking for your consent, which runs the risk of everything from raising your bottom line to risking your privacy.

It’s undeniable that Zillow has a motive here: Recuse themselves of responsibility for reckless and irresponsible behavior. Don’t trust the terms of service like you most likely do with other products here—make sure you have a lawyer (or at least a particularly shrewd second pair of eyes) to look over these terms before you sign any kind of deal with this real estate devil.

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Real Estate Corporate

Are rental companies taking too much advantage of apartment evictions?

(REAL ESTATE CORPORATE) With the convulsing housing market forcing people out of their apartment, massive rental companies are partnering with AirBNB to make up lost profit, and then some.

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As national lockdowns have left Americans feeling confined, the demand for short term rentals remains strong—despite the rampant rental crisis. It’s mighty convenient for corporate landlords and rental companies dealing with a backload of vacancies from recent waves of evictions.

ABC reports that the largest apartment landlord in the country, Greystar Real Estate, is gaining infamy for subletting their vacant apartments online. They manage over 500,000 rental units in the US.

One tenant, interviewed by Eyewitness News, stated they had found their apartment complex on the site, as well as 570 other Greystar properties across the country under the same host. Their landlord hadn’t disclosed these postings to them, either.

Most standard statewide rental contracts strictly forbid tenants from subletting to others through websites like AirBNB. But they don’t necessarily keep landlords from doing the same thing.

And in the absence of rent control laws, nothing stops them from rent gouging to drive their permanent tenants out.

Short term renters who apply for an apartment through AirBNB don’t agree to the same terms as long term renters. The actual residents of these buildings are ultimately held to a stricter standard, and potentially have to put up with more grief.

For example, if the property manager doesn’t intervene when disruptive behavior occurs in an STR, permanent residents are forced to put up with whatever trouble these guests might bring, from noise violations to dangerous activities. Anyone unfortunate enough to be stuck in a lease there is effectively trapped in a would-be hotel with no oversight. Over time, it creates a living environment that drives regular tenants out (meaning more space for overpriced Airbnb units.)

The practice puts disproportionate pressure on tenants that share complexes with temporary renters. And it’s not just unfair—this creates a potential health hazard, too.

Tenants in these buildings are rightfully concerned with the potential health risks of people constantly moving in and out of their building during a pandemic. Each new person passing through could potentially expose the rest of the building to the coronavirus (which is currently raging harder than ever, pushing hospitals to capacity across the country.)

All this stinks suspiciously like a potential violation of the Fair Housing Act to us. Renting an apartment through AirBNB or other rental companies would allow someone to potentially skirt the criteria that a regular applicant would otherwise be held to, and possibly rejected for.

In fairness, there are hosts doing their best to use their resources to help people, too.

Still, taking advantage of people’s desperation in the middle of an unprecedented economic depression is shameful—and AirBNB must take accountability for their role, too.

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Real Estate Corporate

Really, Zillow, ANOTHER patent? This time, a presentation quibble

(REAL ESTATE CORPORATE) We’d like to say we’re surprised, but we also just are not as Zillow grabs another patent, further limiting small business innovation.

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Open moving boxes affected by Zillow patents

Alright, Zillow, I guess we’re doing this again.

Zillow, an acclaimed real estate website and patent hoarder of the first degree, has claimed yet another patent to add to their ever-growing list. We’d feign outrage, but at this point, it’s just redundant.

The patent in question relates to the presentation of information regarding a house or property. More specifically, the patent addresses the way that information is formatted. Should the image contain “a primary pane and at least two secondary panes to simultaneously display at least three types of information about the interior of the house in a coordinated manner”—you know, like every site ever—Zillow technically holds the patent for that style of presentation.

The way in which a user navigates through the aforementioned information is also mentioned in the patent. According to the patent information, if one must use “multiple user-selectable controls that modify information shown in the displayed GUI” to move through the photos or videos listed in the patented panes, that technically falls under the domain of the patent itself.

In theory, this doesn’t sound terrible; however, so many sites present information using the “pane” layout, and virtually every site that does so also uses arrows or other visual indicators—or, to use the patent language, “multiple user-selectable controls”—to navigate through that information.

We’ve spoken at length about how Zillow’s patent behavior is ruthless and, at times, bordering on maniacal. The sheer number of patents Zillow has accrued even in the last few years is astounding, and they all share one crucial commonality: Their application to competitors.

The implications of a company being able to scoop up patents left and right like this are frightening. Real estate isn’t exactly an easy enterprise to break into, and Zillow appears to be doing their damnedest to ensure that it stays that way by preventing smaller businesses from using objectively intuitive ways to show properties.

Worse still, these patent grabs are occurring during a period of time in which safe, remote presentation of information has never been more critical. To say that this is a flagrant abuse of patent law would be an understatement. Simply put, this kind of behavior is unethical, unwarranted, and—apparently—unpunished.

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