Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote that we have in love to learn only this: letting go. Everything else comes naturally. In starting Sweet Digs, a blog that provided independent, eyewitness reviews of houses for sale, we had forgotten this advice.
(Bahn Lee, Sweet Digs mastermind)
After almost a year of negotiations came to a head with the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS), Redfin announced yesterday morning that it would no longer publish in-person reviews on our blog. NWMLS rules forbid Redfin from advertising another broker’s listing, and the NWMLS deemed our reviews (particularly the harsh ones) as an advertisement. The NWMLS fined Redfin and has explained that our compliance with the rules is a prerequisite for continuing to access its database of listings. It is Redfin’s first major setback with an MLS, and everyone here is a little blue about it.
For all the well-reasoned jeremiads against this decision, few seem to have noticed just how good the reviews themselves were. Thanks are in order to our writers and editors: Amy Johnson, Anna Hibble, Anna McClain, Bahn Lee, Brenda Keener, Cynthia Pang, Jessi Princiotto, Kris Newby, Laura Reiter, Marie Hagman, Marilyn Krichko, Marina Andriola, Polly Meyer, Sue Herz, Susan Brady and Tracey Taylor. We chose you out of hundreds of applicants because you write so well, on a topic you care so much about.
And you were often very funny, comparing houses to $1,200 jeans, wondering about satanic addresses, or surveying garages that changed the world. You could be brutally candid, but most of all you wrote with heart, for the abandoned houses you walked through and the quirky neighborhoods in which they were found. As the great William Shawn once said in a farewell to the magazine he ran for most of his life: “the operative word is, I think, love.” You gave Sweet Digs more love than we could have hoped or asked for — certainly more than we paid for — and it showed.
Lest you think we are too idealistic, we should also add that from a crass commercial perspective, you were wildly successful: you published a staggering 1,481 posts with 561 comments. Starting with a few hundred readers at the beginning of 2007, you roped in 3,959 e-mail subscribers and nearly the same number of RSS addicts; 42% indicated in a survey that Sweet Digs increased the likelihood they would buy a home from Redfin.We will try to cook up an alternative format, in which we sort through the detritus of past sales, but it won’t be the same as reviewing live listings on the open market.
The Seattle and Bay Area real estate markets have now lost a voice that on the whole was not only good for everyday people, but for the real estate industry itself. Consumers want candor about homes they can buy, and if as brokers we refuse to provide it, we will lose the authoritative, trusted position we’ve cherished for decades. As MLS rules force our sites to act as listing brochures, other websites will develop a monopoly on the truth, and we will pay those websites for traffic we should have had in the first place. We are not only giving away our brain and our heart, but our wallets too.
The MLSs don’t seem to realize that outdated rules against commingling MLS listings with data from other sources will preclude any brokerage site from accepting the basic premise of the Web 2.0 paradigm for building sites: mashing up data from many different sources to give consumers a comprehensive portrait of a market. These rules are dooming us to obsolescence. (By the same logic that ended Sweet Digs, we have been told we may have to stop publishing Zestimates alongside listings.)
It should thus come as no surprise that the commingling of listing data with other perspectives seems to be the next major front in the Department of Justice’s dispute with the National Association of Realtors. The question at the center of almost every skirmish in the modernization of real estate is who controls the information.
Who killed Sweet Digs? Everyone, including many of the brokers in Seattle, has pointed to the NWMLS, a mostly faceless, seemingly bureaucratic institution that struggled to respond to press inquiries about the decision. But the inconvenient truth is that the NWMLS is broker-owned, and that the people who run it are reasonable people who are simply trying to keep their owners happy. The big brokers in Seattle killed Sweet Digs. If you are working with one of these firms, be sure your broker hears what you think of the decision. And even if you’re not, you can sign our petition to the NAR, which demands free speech rights around listings.
The whole situation of brokers blaming the MLS reminds us a little of Pablo Picasso’s response when Spanish soldiers saw his painting of the bombing of Guernica, and demanded to know: “Who did this?” Picasso immediately replied, “You did.”