Zillow Group launches legal fight to keep ListHub listings on Trulia

Seeking restraining order to prevent listing data from disappearing Feb. 26

[Update 1: Updated with a statement from Move]

A mere two days after Zillow Group (Z) CEO Spencer Rascoff suggested that he was happy ListHub, which is owned by Zillow’s primary competitor, Move, will no longer be providing real estate listing data to Zillow because he believed the listings were "inferior," the Zillow Group is going to court to try to keep those very listings on Trulia.

Zillow’s legal maneuvering comes one day after HousingWire exclusively reported that ListHub, which is owned by Move, which is owned by News Corp (NWS) and operates for the National Association of Realtors, informed Trulia that it is immediately terminating its listing agreement with Trulia, effective in five business days, meaning that any ListHub-provided listing on will disappear on Feb. 26.

But the Zillow Group apparently isn’t going to accept ListHub’s decision without a fight.

According to Trulia’s new president, Paul Levine, Zillow Group is “taking the necessary steps to obtain a temporary restraining order to ensure News Corp honors their contract with Trulia.”

The decision is a bit ironic, considering what Rascoff said on Wednesday. “When we announced we were parting ways with News Corp, we were constrained on being reliant on a competitor for listings,” Rascoff said Wednesday morning. He said ListHub sent inferior listings to emphasize that Move’s had “higher quality listings.”

Zillow’s decision to cancel the listing agreement with ListHub was a surprise to Move, which expected the listing agreement to continue. As it stands now, ListHub listings will disappear from Zillow on April 7.

“There is no dispute between the parties with respect to the agreement, and Zillow will not incur any early termination penalties as a result of the agreement’s expiration,” Zillow said in January, when it announced it was canceling its agreement.

But in a statement provided to HousingWire at the time, Move said that it hoped to continue its listing agreement with Zillow.

“ListHub has been negotiating in good faith a new listing distribution and reporting agreement with Zillow on terms that reflect the best interests of the brokerage industry,” Move said in a statement. “As communicated in public announcements, Zillow decided to end those negotiations and announced the launch of their own platform. Zillow chose their own route for their business model and interests.”

But now Levine said that Move and News Corp are not honoring their contract.

“Brokers and agents – and the home sellers they represent – deserve the right to market their listings broadly, as they see fit,” Levine said in a statement. “Through this sudden and unilateral decision to cut off the ListHub feed to Trulia, News Corp is creating an incredible hardship for agents and consumers, and is demonstrating a lack of understanding of our industry.”

Unsurprisingly, the irony of the situation was not lost on Move, either.

"What a difference two days make! On Wednesday, Spencer Rascoff was celebrating the ‘liberating moment’ when ‘we announced we were parting ways with News Corp,’ and how they ‘were really freed from the constraint of being reliant on a competitor for listings,’ listings he (inaccurately) described as ‘inferior,.’" Move said in a statement. 

"Today, they say that the ‘sudden’ loss of those listings is ‘an incredible hardship for agents and consumers,'" Move continued. "What hasn't changed is that remains the best place for agents to find leads and consumers to find homes."

In a statement to HousingWire, ListHub’s general manager, Celeste Starchild, said that the cancellation is a direct result of Zillow’s $2.5 billion acquisition of Truila.

“Today, ListHub notified its customers about the end of its direct syndication relationship with Trulia effective February 26,” Starchild said. “This action is a result of the completion of Zillow’s acquisition of Trulia this week, and the upcoming dissolution of ListHub’s syndication relationship with Zillow this April.”

Since Zillow announced it was canceling its own listing agreement with ListHub, the company’s consistent message to the real estate industry has been that directly sending their listing data to Zillow (and now Trulia) is the best way for them to help this business.

"News Corp’s decision to terminate their contract with Trulia underscores what we’ve been saying all along – it’s critical for Multiple Listings Services and Realtor Association Boards to work directly with the largest real estate websites, like Zillow and Trulia, to ensure their seller’s listings can be seen by the largest audience of home buyers," Zillow Group spokesperson Katie Curnutte said in a statement Thursday to HousingWire.

“MLSs should not outsource something as important as the online marketing of their members’ listings (and the millions of sellers they represent) to third-party intermediaries like News Corp," Curnutte said.

Curnutte’s sentiments are shared by Levine, who said that directly providing listing data is the “best” course of action for the industry.

“Direct data feeds are best for everyone, and we are committed to helping brokers, agents and MLSs transition to a direct feed to Trulia, but they deserve the opportunity to do so in an orderly way, without disruption to their business,” Levine said. “A third party should not determine where and how sellers, agents and brokers are allowed to market their listings.”

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