Roost, a new startup in the increasingly crowded real estate search space, launched last week to a cacophony of commentary from the re.net. Joel Burslem covered its feature set, its performance, and noted that Roost has the complete MLS inventory because it gets its listings from MLS’s, albeit indirectly. Greg Swann fawned over its business model and complete inventory.
If I understand Roost’s business model correctly, it intends to make money in a way that’s clever, unique, and possibly
illegal non-MLS-compliant. [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.]
The unique aspect of its business plan: it offers brokerages the opportunity to sponsor search results and get the resulting click-throughs to their own site. A search in Sacramento, for instance, reveals that the current sponsor is Sacramento heavyweight Lyon Real Estate.
The first three listings I see are from VM Group, Gold Financial Services, and Prudential CA Realty, all clearly identified in compliance with Sacramento’s Metrolist MLS services.
Here’s the tricky bit…if you want more information, you click on “View Details on Featured Broker’s Site.” When you do that for, say, the Prudential listing, you get information about the Prudential listing on the Lyon Real Estate site:
This sleight-of-hand is accomplished through a too-clever-by-half url manipulation, much to subtle to be noticed by the average consumer, but apparently kosher enough to pass muster from the Sacramento MLS — at least for now. What if Prudential gets upset that the click-through on one of their listings on a public MLS-ish site goes through to one of its competitors?
Here’s how (I believe) Roost and Lyon defend themselves: Look at the url. When you search in Sacramento, you’re not actually using the Roost site at all; you’re actually using the Lyon site (GoLyon.com). For as long as Lyon is the sponsoring broker, the search is being conducted at golyon.roost.com — a (sub)domain under the control of Lyon Real Estate — and hence in compliance with those silly old arcane MLS rules.
Watch what happens when you go back to the site. In my case, I ran another search, and this one was sponsored by Intero. Same results, same look and feel, but the search is now running at InteroRealEstateIDX.com…and sure enough, the click-through goes to Intero’s own site.
Very, very clever. I really like this part of their business model, for reasons I’ve explained before: The current real estate business model heavily favors the listing side of the equation, and I’ve been clamoring to the likes of Zillow and Trulia to think about buy-side advertising offerings. If I’m a small brokerage in Sacramento, and I currently only have, say, 5 listings, I could decide to spend, say, $5000 sponsoring X number of real estate searches in that market. The number one bait that still seems to draw eyeballs in real estate is listings, listings, listings, and if I don’t have many of my own, why not leverage those of my competitors?
Now for the questions of MLS
legality compliance …without going into all the details, I tried something like this trick about 2 years ago. It involved subtle manipulation of a url so that searches on a heavily-trafficked site were done — technically — using a url that was under my control. A good lawyer could easily have argued that this was in strict compliance with all the MLS rules. No dice. Within hours I got slapped down — not just by the MLS, but by my own broker!
I certainly wish Roost all the best, but I’m afraid they’d better put a sign on their front door that says, “Couriers please deliver cease and desist letters here.” Any business model that requires MLS compliance involves by definition an order of magnitude more headache. Why do you think Trulia and Zillow decided to get their listing feeds straight from the brokers?
- TechCrunch, predictably, gets a few facts wrong. It’s not clear they understand the difference between a broker (e.g. Redfin) and a listings site (e.g. Roost.) Also, if I understand this bit of fine print on Roost’s site, they don’t get their data directly from the MLS, but by piggybacking on broker IDX sites. Subtle but important difference.
- Dustin notes that piggybacking off IDX feeds is a great way to scale your listings database quickly, but it puts some pretty onerous restrictions on what you can do with the data.
- Michael Price explains the url sleight-of-hand.
- Jay Thompson notes that, once again, the business model is about brokers providing listings, then paying for traffic.
- Sellsius praises Roost’s comprehensive and accurate results.
And still more commentary:
- Brian Boero* notes the irony that Roost is built on fairly antiquated technology — IDX — but provides a pretty rich user experience.
* At the last Inman, Brian and I finally answered that great conundrum: Did his ancestors add on “o” or did mine drop an “o” at Ellis Island? The answer: neither. His ancestors are Italian, and mine Dutch. So no, we’re not related — except of course, through Lucy.
Tags: Alternative business models, Industry, MLS, Real estate, Roost, Trulia, Zillow