3 Oceans Real Estate, A Boutique Real Estate Brokerage Serving the San Francisco Bay Area header image 2

Do We Really Need Yet Another Real Estate Search Site?

Kevin Boer, Broker Owner, 3 Oceans Real Estate, Inc. ()

January 28th, 2008 · 15 Comments

Dothomes LogoInsomniac Dustin Luther couldn’t quite stay up late enough last night to witness the launch of the US version of Dothomes.com. But here it is, yet another real estate search site: dothomes.com, already live in South Africa and the UK.

I commented yesterday that recent property search entrant Roost.com’s business model is clever, unique, and possibly illegal non-MLS-complaint.  [1/30/08 update:  I’ve been thinking about my choice of words, and “illegal” is definitely not the word I should have used.  “Illegal” is mugging somebody, or stealing something.  What Roost is doing is 100% legal and above-board.  It may — and I emphasize may — be viewed by some as being non-MLS-compliant.]

A first glance at Dothomes suggests a similar, though unfortunately more damning verdict: extremely clever, very unique, and definitely illegal non-MLS complaint.  [1/30/08 update:  What Dothomes is doing is absolutely 100% legal, but again may be interpreted by some as being non-MLS compliant.]

The clever and unique part is easy to see: they’ve managed to pull off what Google Base real estate could have been, and may well still become: a Google-ish type search experience — with a whimsical “I’m feeling wealthy” instead of “I’m feeling lucky” button — where instead of choosing your criteria from input boxes or sliders, you simply type in what you’re looking for.

Right-oh then, let’s give it a try, shall we?


And, as the Brits would say, “Bob’s your uncle!”


A quick glance at the 99 results confirmed that they all had 3 bedrooms and were under $850K. Pretty slick! (As a sidenote, many of the results were in South San Francisco, an entirely different city. But I’ll cut them some slack on what is, after all, a pretty new product.)

So that’s the clever and unique part. Here’s the (tragically) illegal non-compliant part: per their own FAQ/blog, they get their data from either a feed that a broker sets up or by crawling the broker’s site.

From a feed the broker sets up: So far, so good…as long as it’s only that broker’s listings.

By crawling that broker’s site: At most MLS’s this is strictly verboten.

Most of the first few pages contained only listings from Realogy brands Coldwell Banker and Century 21. Since Realogy has been fairly open of late with distributing their inventory online — e.g. with Trulia — it is possible that Dothomes has an agreement with Realogy, though I have not heard such news.

A few pages later I see a few listings from my ex-Broker Alain Pinel Realtors. Now the warning bells sound. Unless things have changed dramatically since I left a few months ago, Alain Pinel would never ever distribute its listings to a non-IDX site — Trulia being the exception (probably because Sami is such a sweet talker!)

My prediction: tragically, Dothomes will be forced fairly quickly to adopt an alternate and legal listings acquisition strategy: either MLS-by-MLS, or broker-by-broker.

Further commentary:

Tags: , , , , ,
Possibly related posts

Tags: * Export · Business models · Industry · MLS

15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dave Blockhus // Jan 28, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Aaaaaaah. Can’t you just hear the sounds of attorney’s agatherin’

  • 2 Jessie B // Jan 28, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    When Trulia originally launched, I think they had done the same, http://www.raincityguide.com/2005/09/28/trulia-better-real-estate-search/

    Based on that, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

    Kevin, of the two models roost & dothomes, which do you think has the better opportunity to adapt it business model?

  • 3 Kevin Boer, Broker Owner, 3 Oceans Real Estate, Inc. () // Jan 28, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Jessie — At least for now, I’d put my money on Roost. They’re (at least arguably) in compliance with MLS regulations whereas Dothomes is (inarguably) not.

  • 4 Jessie B // Jan 28, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    I think the angle dothomes is trying to play is the “fair use” of traditional search engines under DMCA’s 512(b) “safe harbor”. What I’m not sure is if displaying photo, address, price, description still falls within that rule.

    Also don’t you think that roost is more susceptible assuming an MLS receives pressure from it’s other members to stop the practice of allowing the feed in the current roost format - they have no other listing data to fall back on?

  • 5 Kevin Boer, Broker Owner, 3 Oceans Real Estate, Inc. () // Jan 28, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Jessie — I’d love to see dothomes try that one. They may be venture-backed, but unless 50% of their budget is for attorneys, NAR and the MLS’s will outgun them.

    You may be right about Roost, come to think of it.

  • 6 Todd Carpenter // Jan 29, 2008 at 12:23 am

    Hi Kevin, just to clarify, the comment you quoted from my post is my opinion. When I spoke with de Jager, he explained to me that is search engine was indexing web pages, not pulling from IDX, or MLS feeds.

    I won’t argue that this may or may not be allowed by an MLS. I’m saying they are not in a position to tell DotHomes what they can, or can’t do. I’m no lawyer, but it looks like fair use to me. No different than a Google image/web search. de Jager told me they would institute an opt out policy, so I doubt they will fight any objections, but if they did, I think they would win.

  • 7 Douglas de Jager // Jan 29, 2008 at 3:54 am

    Dear Kevin,

    Thanks very much for your review.

    If you don’t mind, please let me attempt here to cover some of what I just covered on Todd’s site. And, please do offer your thoughts. We’re eager to receive as much feedback as possible, and to learn. It’s still early days for us, and we’ll be continuously looking to improve.

    Right, so what service does DotHomes provide?

    DotHomes offers brokers free and effortless leads directly to their own listings on their own sites. We do not include the MLS listings which are to be found on any broker’s site for which that broker is not specifically the listing broker. And, we do not host any listings. We link directly, and without any charge, to the original listing on the listing broker’s site.

    Given this, as Todd mentions on his site, it seems more than a little peculiar to think that any broker might want to opt out. We drive leads to listing brokers. We do not charge. And, we certainly do not drive traffic to any broker’s site to view listings for which the particular broker is not specifically the listing broker. To our thinking, and please forgive any ignorance, it seems that DotHomes provides only upside for listing brokers. There’s no cost, no effort, and non-listing brokers cannot usurp leads from listing brokers - as other services permit.

    So, from our end, this doesn’t really seem to be a legal matter (though, having taken legal council, we confess: we do believe that, in this particular instance, the law is on our side*). The service we provide is supposed to be pro broker, and we’ll be looking to work with the brokers ad infinitum with a view to continually improving our service - to help them improve their business.

    Thanks again. And, very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

    Hope all’s well.

    Best wishes,


    * Copyright concerns need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. The questions to be asked:
    (1) In what specifically is copyright supposed to vest?
    (2) Who precisely is the copyright holder?
    (3) How, specifically, is some service supposed to be infringing on said copyright?
    (4) What specifically are the damages which are supposed to be associated with the service provision?

  • 8 Kevin Boer, Broker Owner, 3 Oceans Real Estate, Inc. () // Jan 29, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    Douglas, thanks for dropping by.

    Your comments and feedback are appreciated.

    Trust me, we’ve been down this road before in this industry. Fair use or not, copyright or not…I’m afraid a lot of folks will be hot and bothered under the collar. Listing brokers are very particular about the use of what they consider their data. You may or may not have a good legal ground to stand on in terms of fair use, but that won’t stop folks from coming after you. :(

  • 9 Douglas de Jager // Jan 29, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    Kevin, hi.

    A very good evening to you.

    OK, I’m going to put my hands up and confess that I’m at a bit of a loss. I don’t quite understand. Why, as a broker, would you be concerned about any third party leading potential buyers directly and entirely freely to your own listings on your own Website? If there are no intermediary landing pages - as on, say, Trulia - and there is no way for other parties to intercept buyers by outbidding you - as on, say, Roost - then what exactly would be ruffling your feathers? More potential buyers would be finding your own listings on your own Website, and no-one else would be gaining at your expense.

    If I walked into your office with several folk looking to buy some of the properties for which you’re the listing broker, and I assured you that I would ask for absolutely no recompense ever, would you ask that I leave?

    To me, I must confess, it does seem just a trifle confusing.

    Hope you’re well.

    Kind regards,


  • 10 Kevin Boer, Broker Owner, 3 Oceans Real Estate, Inc. () // Jan 29, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    Hi Douglas,

    I completely agree with you. I personally would love it, and many other brokers would too. Your analogy makes sense.

    Here are two reasons why people’s feathers will get ruffled:

    1) As I understand it, your technology crawls the Internet and “scrapes” listing data off of broker web sites, similar to how Google crawls the Internet and “scrapes” content off web sites. Legal doctrines of fair use may or may not apply — I have no idea, I’m not an attorney — but the issue is simpler than that: Most MLS’s have clauses in their contracts with brokerages that explicitly prohibit them from allowing their sites to be scraped. In other words, I could jeopardize my access to the MLS — my very lifeblood — by allowing you to crawl my site to get listings.

    (Don’t worry — I have absolutely no intention of “reporting” you or anybody else, and having this discussion in a public blog forum is pretty safe because most of the folks running MLS’s wouldn’t know what a blog is even if it introduced itself at a party and was wearing a bright pink bow that said, “Blog”).

    2) Brokers are very finicky about maintaining “control” over their listings in the sense that they want to know where these listings end up on the Internet, how they get displayed, etc. For instance, I know of a brokerage that, at least until recently, allowed its listings to be on Yahoo and on Trulia, but NOT on Google Base because “having our listings on Google is not compatible with our brand.”

    I know, I don’t follow the logic either.

    But therein lies your fundamental problem: You’re using logic to discuss issues of real estate data, whereas the industry uses mostly emotion to discuss the same.

  • 11 Kevin Boer // Jan 29, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    Hi again Douglas,

    A follow up on my previous comments…wanted to continue with your earlier analogy of walking into my office, with prospective clients for me in hand, and asking for no money in return.

    That bit I would like, and so would most.

    The worry that many brokers have — and this definitely has some legitimacy — is the following. Let’s say that to get to the point of walking into my office with these prospective clients, you did the following: (let’s pretend this is before the Internet came along)

    1) Your business model was essentially to photocopy real estate ads in the local newspapers and aggregate them into a weekly magazine that you then gave out for free. To maintain a reasonable stance on “fair use” you didn’t take the whole bit of each ad, but only the very basics: list price, who the listing broker is, how many bedrooms and bathrooms, maybe one picture, and maybe 2 sentences of the description.

    2) Included with each ad was the phone number of each associated listing broker.

    3) So far so good. I love the fact that my phone is now ringing from another source — a FREE source, in fact!!! — of advertising.

    4) However, here are my concerns…what happened with my listing after I put it in the paper? I’ve lost control of the process! I have no way of knowing whether you’re distributing your magazine (with my content) at bars, strip clubs, and other places that may not be in keeping with the branding image I want to maintain. I have no way of knowing that you in fact correctly transcribed the information, that you didn’t incorrectly list a 3 bedroom home as having 4 bedrooms. I have no way of knowing that you didn’t accidentally switch the pictures of two listings.

    It’s that loss of control which would concern many brokers, and I definitely think there’s some merit to that argument.

  • 12 Douglas de Jager // Jan 31, 2008 at 8:04 am


    Hi. And, thanks for the comment. It’s a particularly good one. Let me attempt a reply - to allay the concern you outline.

    Lets revisit the analogy. When I bring potential buyers into your offices, you’re entirely right: you have no idea how I’ve gone about soliciting new custom for you. Perhaps, I’ve been showing your listings in “bars, strip clubs, and other places that may not be in keeping with the branding image [you] want to maintain.”

    In so doing, it is possible that whilst I have brought potential buyers to your door, at the same time I have also caused many other potential buyers to go elsewhere. So, it is quite possible that I’ve done your business more harm than good.

    But, I must ask: is this really analogous? One of the most profound joys (and horrors) of the Web is its transparency. Let us suppose that the listings for which you’re the listing broker appear in the DotHomes search index. When a potential buyer clicks on a summary for one of your listings, then that potential buyer is taken directly to the listing on your Website - replete with all your branding, design choices, content, etc.. There are no “one-size-fits-all” landing pages on DotHomes which lock in your listing details. Users are taken directly from the search pages to the listing pages on your Website. Also, if you’re to use Google, or any other search engine of your choice, it will quickly become clear to you that we do not send your data anywhere else. DotHomes does not send your listing data to any third parties. The only thing DotHomes does is show summary snippets on search pages and then take users directly to your listings on your Website.

    Ah, you say, but what about tomorrow? Today the DotHomes service is extremely pro listing broker. But, what if DotHomes changes tack tomorrow, and begins to act in a particularly broker unfriendly way?

    Well, as a broker, do you advertise your listings in any particular newspaper? Lets suppose you’ve been doing this for quite a while. And, lets suppose that the real estate section of this newspaper has become rather popular over time. Now, what would you say to the possibility of a media mogul buying this newspaper tomorrow, and using the real estate section to profoundly undermine brokers and agents - perhaps using the section to promote a new real estate venture of his own?

    The point of this analogy is to show that anything is possible tomorrow. Now, some might argue, that it’s not a fair comparison: that it’s far more likely that DotHomes would change its offering than a newspaper. But, I’d have to disagree. It would be more than just a little silly for us to bite the hands that feed us. Our service is extremely pro listing broker, because we know only too well that we rely on the listing broker.

    If there’s something in our offering which listing brokers don’t like, then I hope they’ll get in touch and tell us. We’ll certainly do what we can to remedy their concerns. If we can’t fix the difficulties, then, of course, we’ll be fully understanding of their wanting to opt out. But, to opt out based on fears of what tomorrow might bring, this seems a little odd. This is particularly so when one considers that there are several large companies offering online real estate search, so the odds of ever being reliant just on DotHomes is pretty small. So, it’s not even as though, as you broker, you’d be creating a monster from which you’d never be able to opt out down the road.

    What do you reckon?

    Very much looking forward to reading your reply.

    Kindest regards,


  • 13 The Odysseus Medal competition — Voting for the People’s Choice Award is open | BloodhoundBlog: Real estate marketing and technology blog | Realtors and real estate, mortgages, lending, investments // Feb 4, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    [...] Federal Reserve May Be The Proverbial “Fool In The Shower”Kevin Boer — dothomes, Do We Really Need Yet Another Real Estate Search Site?Todd Carpenter — dothomes, DotHomes, a real, real estate search engineJoel Burslem — The [...]

  • 14 Tom Townsend // Feb 19, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    Great article, I posted a reply via a blog posting over at Greater Tampa Bay Real Estate.com

    MLS Data compliance and NAR vs. DOJ


  • 15 BYTEPLAY » Blog Archive » For US listing brokers // Mar 10, 2008 at 10:32 am

    [...] thanks to the astute folk, like Kevin, who quizzed us about the details of dotHomes, and rather forthrightly encouraged us to explain our [...]

Leave a Comment