Canadian Real Estate Site Wants To Remain Unusable; Threatens Those Who Improve It

from the this-again? dept

In the past, we’ve written about various organizations who break out the lawyers immediately when someone else makes their own poorly designed sites work better. This has happened with sites like the Ellis Island site and a movie theater chain in the UK. In both cases, some folks who got fed up with the poorly designed official site stepped up and created a better interface to the data hidden within. That same situation appears to be happening in Canada. Joe writes in to let us know that the Multiple Listing Service in Canada (which is basically the core database listing homes for sale) has a poorly designed website. Some enterprising individuals in Toronto made a much nicer interface, creating a mashup that pulled in other data (such as Google maps info). Rather than, say, recognize how useful the better interface was and talk to the developers about how MLS could use that work themselves, it sent a cease and desist, forcing the site to shut down. The site’s creators were doing this as a hobby to improve the usefulness of MLS’s data. And now it’s gone. That’s no way to run a business.

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Companies: multiple listing service

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Comments on “Canadian Real Estate Site Wants To Remain Unusable; Threatens Those Who Improve It”

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Anonymous Coward says:

This is the trend with large organizations. Bureaucracy rules. Even though the website portion is only designed to drive customers to the realestate agents and property sellers, they for some reason believe that the website is their goods that they must defend.

Poor ignorant people. I for one would love free labor to improve my marketing attempts…

David says:

Short sited and also unnecessary

I agree, if someone demonstrates an improved interface and is interested in sharing it with the owner of the current interface in makes sense to at least talk with them about making use of that interface.

Since they apparently don’t want to do the sensible thing, I think that it should be pointed out that they didn’t need to send a cease and dissist notice to prevent the new interface from competing with their official one. They could have simply restricted access to the database to specific ip addresses, namely the ip addresses of the servers the official interface is hosted at. If more than one, make a list.

Todd Hibbs (user link) says:

Member Data

The MLS point of view is that this information is “owned” by all of the member brokers. It is really left up to the brokers to build their own sites that use the data. Frankly, most brokers don’t want the MLS themselves building a good usable site. Why not? Because that would be competing against their own sites.

The MLS in Washington also has a crappy site. Frankly, that’s good for those of us that want to build better tools like our site at Adeo Realty. Most real estate agents/brokers don’t see the value in providing good tools since they are caught up in the information gatekeeper syndrome. We don’t care if the information is freely available, but we’d still rather people come to our site to get it. 🙂

Our approach is to provide good tools with as much information as we can build with our limited resources. People still need an agent to show homes, negotiate, keep things legal, etc. (Scarce resources vs. Infinite resources)

Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) says:

Re: Member Data

You don’t really need a real estate agent. Some people are savvy enough to do it right themselves. Then they just need a lawyer to sign-off. Real estate agents are middle men and, sorry to break it to you, want to control the info available to the public so they can keep their job. Assessor information is becoming readily available on the web in our area. That was a great help when we were looking for our home. The MLS is an agreement between the big boys and is an attempt to stop stripped down, flat fee brokers or those trying to sell their house on their own since these homes won’t be listed in the MLS.

Todd Hibbs (user link) says:

Re: Re: Member Data

Of course you don’t really “need” an agent any more than you “need” a teacher to teach your children, a lawyer to represent you (in most cases) or anybody else that offers you their services.

The fact that a middle man exists isn’t really any different than how most markets work in practice. Most of us don’t have the desire/skill to do everything on our own. In fact the chances are that you too are some type of middle man. Your customers/clients/audience could build/create/perform your service on their own if they had enough desire and skill.

The MLS may be old school about protecting content but even if the information was completely available to anyone for whatever purpose, there would still be a market for agents. Most buyers and sellers have no desire to work directly with each other.


Lickity Split says:

Re: Re: Re: Member Data

Please, are you trying to tell me that a Realtor(R) provides a service on the same level as a teacher or lawyer? You must be a Realtor(R)!!!! Only a Realtor(R) would think so highly of themselves to compare themselves to a teacher or lawyer or put their picture on EVERY SINGLE piece of marketing that they produce…

RealEstateAgent says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Member Data

Whether you wish to use one is up to you, but very few people truly understand how complex a real estate transaction can be. I certainly did not spend 4+ years to learn the basics of the profession, but it does not make my contribution any less valuable than a lawyer or teacher, or whatever profession you wish to cite.

Rose M. Welch says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Member Data

Wow, where do you live?

Friend of mine became a realtor in a few months while keeping a day job. She even took some of her tests from a home coputer with the darn book open.

Not saying you’re not damn useful, just not going to compare you with anyone with a four-year degree because it would be simeoultaneously arrogant and insulting.

Anonymous Cowherd (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Member Data

Hey, a relative of mine was a realtor once. Realtors can and often do provide a useful service.

That said, that relative actually had cause to gripe about MLS itself herself. Something about steep access fees and other highway-robbery as I recall. More competition in access to real estate data would be a good thing, if true.

Rose M. Welch says:

Re: Member Data

Then why complain that there was a site that worked for people, where they didn’t have to go to as many as thirty different websites that all work in different ways? They have to choose a realtor eventually anyway don’t they?

My area has a great MLS system, which we used extensively to reseach homes in our area. We made a list of five, and then chose a very reputable realtor. The realtor took us to look at them, helped us make an offer, which was turned down as they accepted a better offer, and then helped us make an offer in our favorite (but more expensive, lol) home, which we then purchased.

Saved us time and frustration, saved the realtor time and frustration, better for everyone…So says me, anyway…

Jim says:

My impression of Real Estate agents

(note: I speak with limited experience).

In the US – real estate agents seem to be very close hold on MLS listings. Even sites that let you search the MLS appear to give stale data. It always appeared to me that they are trying to protect their own jobs by only allowing due paying licensed agents to have true access. I would probably never buy a house without a real estate agent (they do have a lot of insight), but it scares me that they think they have nothing without private access to a dB. If your major benefit to a customer is access to a computer system – then you’re really providing a service that a 5 year old with a good tool could provide.

Anonymous Cowherd (profile) says:

What basis?

What basis did they have for the C&D? The article implies that the site was only linking or embedding the MLS data, not actually making their own copies of it, so there was obviously no copyright infringement. Patent and trade secrecy seem inapplicable. That appears to leave trademark infringement, for which changing the marks or clarifying that they’re not endorsed by MLS seems sufficient remedy without having to shut down.

If the C&D was an essentially empty threat, but it would have been expensive for the small independent site to fight and win a subsequent lawsuit, then ought to be interested in this incident as another abuse of the legal process to get results that aren’t within what the law intends to enable.

There’s also the little matter that, if they were claiming copyright, you cannot copyright mere facts, or compilations of same that have no originality in them. Databases tend to be exactly that — any suggestion that one could copyright the fact that the house at 853 XYZ street is for sale, for instance, seems ludicrous on its face.

Tyler Durden says:

Only part of the story...

What many “doing you a favor by redesigning your content” sites are actually doing is stealing your content and wrapping it in their profit model of sponsorship, lead generation and click through ads. For example, do a search on Yahoo for a college you know by name. One of those links will be “Sponsored by Yahoo”. That means someone is paying to have that ad placed there. It will say something like “Earn a Degree” at and the name of the college you submitted. It will purport to provide you information about that college and will sometimes gather knowledge from webpages to accomplish this. It will even give you a Google Map, population stats, enrollment numbers and Wikipedia references in some cases. Anything out there freely on the web.

Now click the “Get more Information about this college” link. You can enter in your name and degree goals and e-mail and contact information. Will you get more information about this college when you click submit? Nope. Will that college ever receive your inquiry for more information? Nope. In fact, your contact information will be considered a lead and sold to a for profit college that pays upwards of 45.00 per lead (i.e. University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, American InterContinental University, ITT Tech, etc.) Within an hour you’ll have 2 or 3 SPAM e-mails claiming you subscribed, cause the college sending them doesn’t know you wanted info about some other college you searched for. And that lead generator who “borrowed” the content and “made it better,” really only fraudulently got paid for your information. It’s in the same arena as phishing.

Protecting content is much more important than design, and I design for a living. Trust me, if I want you to use my content, we’ll have a contract. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were taking the MLS listing, a proprietary service, and when a user clicked to get more information it took them to a very specific Real Estate Agent from which the “goodly hearted” designers were getting paid.

Anonymous Cowherd (profile) says:

Re: Only part of the story...

Ridiculous. Nobody is “stealing” anything. If a site adds value to it and ends up making a profit thereby, that’s called free enterprise. You might want to look it up.

If they dishonestly misdirect user inquiries, then that dishonest behavior is a problem, but it is the dishonest behavior that is the problem, rather than something else.

In earlier posts, it was revealed that the site you’re bashing was actually *competing against* sites more closely meeting the description you wrote — ones designed to drive traffic to “very specific real estate agents”, and that it was probably attacked at their behest.

That is more akin to an honest, value-adding college-info site getting shut down by your dishonest spammy ones, than like one of the latter getting shut down.

Tyler Durden says:

Re: Re: Only part of the story...

I admit I haven’t seen the website. You must have to claim laissez-faire applies over copyright infringement or misrepresentation of proprietary data or copyrighted branding.

The summary as Upton Sinclair might have written: “If you have a database and I have a better web designer, I connect into your database and I suck out your data. I suck it out! I suck out your data!”

Swish says:

MLS in Canada

There are no local MLS sites here, just one big monopoly, A few markets have opted out and have their own, but by and large, if you want to look up houses anywhere in Canada, it’s MLS. Or individual agent’s/RE office’s sites, which mostly just link to to look at the listings.

Just another example of a monopoly keeping an iron grip on its market.

Ben says:

RE: MLS Site

As I am currently using the MLS website as a resource for house hunting I can attest to its unfriendliness. The map section is a joke, the filtering takes too much time and too many pages, it is slow and unintuitive. I was actually going to click through to see if I could find the better site and was disappointed that they had already taken it down. So sad I still have to use that crappy site.

James SoCal says:

MLS Access

Having fled to a warmer area decades ago this chain is interesting. It seems you are going through what we went through many, many years ago. Now, in California, we are finally approaching a dream I had decades ago. One database for the State. Most of Southern CA is linked together at this time with some of Northern CA moving in the same direction. From my computer I can log into my local database & search for properties from Ventura to San Diego & East beyond Palm Springs. This covers an area with a population almost equal to all of Canada. A listing reaches over 106,000 Realtors with direct access to the information. Almost all of the information is available on the web. Clients can search, through my personal site, all active listing, REO’s, etc. as well as finding closed sales as comps. All their searching points back directly to me. When they find a property of interest I am most often the Agent they call. I don’t have to preview house after house because they have already done that. When I get the call it is from a serious Buyer who really knows what they want and where it is located.

You might want to have your Board look into the Carets system used by the Pacific West Association of Realtors along with the other Boards in the area. I might add that because we have so many Realtors on one system many of the added utilities were formerly had to pay for are now included in our annual dues at no additional fee. /, &

This is only to show you what can be done when we put aside our, I own this attitude, and work together for the betterment of our clients.

Just my spin on it so take it and run with it or drop it like a lead balloon and keep things as they are.

BTW before you say I know nothing about Canada I have lived in every Province from Western Ontario to Vancouver, BC & all point in between & have traveled back many times keeping in touch with family members all over Western Canada. Just to head of that likely comment from some.

Have a great day, a mild winter & a bright future.

James SoCal
Southern California.

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