CRMLS Makes Like Lewis & Clark


I’m still on the road, and overly occupied, but the latest news about CRMLS (a former client) is exciting and deserves at least a couple of comments. From Andrea Brambila’s report:

Brokers who belong to the nation’s largest multiple listing service will soon get a capability they’ve long clamored for: the option to upload listing data directly from their own back-end office systems to the MLS.

“We have some very large brokers that would love to have their agents input their listing information into the broker’s system” and then upload it to the MLS, CRMLS CEO Art Carter told Inman News.

Currently, agents must log into the MLS and key in the same listing information separately. Or they can enter listing data into their MLS system first, and the MLS will feed the information back to their broker’s back-end office system.

Yep. While the technology to do this two-way flow has been around for years, CRMLS is making like Lewis & Clark and exploring the wild unknowns here. The rest of the industry will benefit from watching how things unfold. Kudos to Art, his team, and to the CRMLS Board for taking this important step.

Project Upstream & the MLS

The two words that Inman doesn’t mention, of course, is the subtext and context of this move and why it’s so important. Those two words are “Project Upstream“.

For those few who haven’t heard… Project Upstream is the practical side of the bombshell dropped at CMLS by Realty Alliance. It is a private “pre-MLS” database of listings from the largest brokerages in the country, together with the largest brands in the country. Last time I heard, the participants would be Realty Alliance, Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, Realogy (Coldwell Banker, Century 21, ERA, Sotheby’s, Better Homes & Gardens, and of course, the in-house brokerage, NRT), REMAX, and Keller Williams. Between those networks, we’re talking about pretty much all of the largest brokerages in the country, plus almost all of the top brands. There is substantial doubt as to whether those competitors would indeed partner on something like this, but the buzz is that they’re having real discussions.

The Notorious B.O.B. Bemis and I have already speculated that this makes all the sense in the world. Pre-marketing listings, or even full-on pocket listings, across firms would give significant competitive advantages in the key R&R game (Recruiting & Retention) to the participating large brokerages/franchises.

The question on many minds is whether these brokerages would then “pull out” of the MLS, since they effectively have a MLS of their own. I never thought they would. Instead, I thought they would want to use that Upstream System to distribute listings to the MLS, to portals, to wherever listings should go in their judgment. But most MLS did not accept a feed from brokerages; the MLS is setup as a one-way system: FROM the MLS TO the destination, not the other way around.

What CRMLS is opening up then is the evolution of that model, to a two-way flow of data. Project Upstream could simply feed CRMLS the listing data in its market on an as-needed basis.

I chatted briefly with Art Carter at the AE Institute this past weekend in Baltimore, and he pretty much confirmed that this new “Update” product is a response to the demands of brokerages that would be involved in a Project Upstream. As a result, while other MLS executives are worried about what Project Upstream would do, Art is not. He sincerely believes that his role and the MLS’s role are to support the brokerage; if brokerages want a Project Upstream, he won’t fight it, but would in fact accommodate it as much as he can.

I think that’s smart, and it’s probably the correct philosophy to take.

Having Said That…

There is, of course, a very interesting unknown here.

As the article makes clear, the driving force behind both Project Upstream and CRMLS/RESO’s adoption of “Update” is the “very large brokerages”. In fact, only the largest and most sophisticated brokerages could even undertake a backend system that can feed data to the MLS:

Implementing Update is “not for the faint of heart” technologically-speaking, Gottesman said, but any size firm can do it so long as they have the know-how.

“Obviously, it’s the bigger brokers that have the technical chops. But you could have a small broker that has a really sharp vendor that knows how to do it,” Gottesman said.

The bigger brokers that have the technical chops are also likely to have the really sharp vendors who can work with Update. So what is a small independent broker to do? If you’re a 10-agent boutique who hasn’t joined some national franchise for a variety of reasons, what now? Do you sit back and watch as the larger brokerages and franchises offer an Update-enabled backend system that you simply cannot match? Do you wait for some vendor to come talk to you about how you too can have something similar for $500 per month? Do you just give up and join Coldwell Banker?

Or… let me point you to this interview of Pete Flint, CEO of Trulia:

Trulia CEO Pete Flint wants to transform real estate.

And with today’s $355 million bid for Kirkland-based Market Leader, the Internet executive took his boldest step yet in making that dream a reality. In acquiring Market Leader in the cash and stock deal, Flint said they are getting one of the most comprehensive lead generation and customer relationship management products out there, essentially what he dubbed “the operating system” of real estate.

No doubt that Trulia wants to be the reOS; also no doubt that Zillow has designs on being the reOS as well.

Is it possible that neither of those companies would look at something like Update and realize you cannot be the reOS if you’re not sending listings to the MLS? And speaking of “really sharp vendors” who have technology chops….

In short, once Update and Project Upstream become reality — and they both will, given the incentives at work — we will have to answer the question of whether the portals can send listings to the MLS.

The small mom-n-pops with 10 agents might find enormous value in signing up for an affordable “backend solution” that includes CRM, marketing, hooks out to financial accounting packages, and of course, the ability for their agents to input listings into the brokerage intranet, and sent to the MLS via Update. Oh, and it’s free if you’re a Premier Agent on Zillow, or a Trulia Pro.

Unlike syndication, where there’s all sorts of angst around “advertising on my listings” and “data accuracy” and whatever else, if Trulia is sending listings to the MLS via Update, I can’t think of a valid reason why that could be disallowed. And if Trulia/Zillow/Move can serve as the pre-listing back-end solution, a “Project Upstream” for the masses… yeah, that does change the equation in the industry. It restores the competitive balance between the small and large brokerages, but fundamentally alters the relationship between brokerage and the MLS, between the subscriber and the MLS.

It’s the wild unknown, and it sure is nice to have a pioneer exploring those dark, blank parts of the map for us. But do keep an eye on this, and think about what is likely to come and what changes when it does.







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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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