As most of you know, I’ve been on the road for the past month or so — three weeks of that in Asia touring Korea and visiting Tokyo, Japan. The image above is from the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, billed as “Robot Burlesque”. Except there were no robots, and no burlesque, so….
In any event, I’m back and more or less recovered from jet lag. Which means I can get back to enlightening some of you, annoying some of you, and sometimes even educating a few of you on a whole lot of topics.
Given all of the changes from NAR, there are quite a few topics to tackle, but let’s start with the world of the MLS. As most of you know, there were some changes made at NAR about the whole MLS of Choice deal. Since I don’t think that’s a huge thing, although events could prove me wrong, I’ll skip it and move on to this: NAR MLS Consolidation Resources.
There’s so much here to discuss, but for this post, let’s keep it to one thing from the Challenges and Obstacles page. Towards the bottom, under Take Away, the authors of the… study? documents? consolidation resources? list a number of things that they say that the members of the MLS want.
I’d like to ask some questions about that. Because the list makes me wonder, most of all about an obvious solution that is sitting right in front of us.
Let’s get into it.
What Do Members Want?
The authors of the study? report? (BTW, I have a business relationship with T3 Sixty, who are the authors hired by NAR, but I did not work on the report) begin by observing:
The primary goal of MLS consolidation is to deliver high-value products and services to brokers and subscribers and make it easier for them to conduct business, remain relevant and be successful. As your customers, they are interested in having ALL the information that is available in the markets in which they choose to work, along with professional-grade tools that are better than what consumers have as well as relief from paying multiple fees and using different systems. They are looking for efficiency in the marketplace and that starts with efficiency in the delivery of MLS.
That sounds really great. It’s not true, but it really does sound great, doesn’t it?
How is it not true?
First, members are not interested in having ALL the information available in the markets in which they choose to work. Because if that were true, MLS would have FSBO information in it already. It would have all of the rental information in a given market. It would have demographics, customer purchase info, phone data, etc. etc. MLS has REALTOR-listed listings, sold data, and tax data. That’s about it.
Second, I seriously doubt that members are looking for efficiency in the marketplace. If they were, the MLS would be the last place they would look for it. Why?
It isn’t the MLS, or multiple MLSs, that create inefficiency in the marketplace. It is the presence of huge numbers of licensees who suck that create inefficiency in the marketplace. That isn’t me being an asshole; that’s the conclusion of the same folks who wrote up the Consolidation Resource in the DANGER Report.
The existing MLS — even hundreds of them — would be far more efficient if every single person carrying the REALTOR badge were living up to the standards of the Code of Ethics which he is supposedly sworn to uphold. Super clean data in the MLS doesn’t matter one goddamn bit if the listing agent simply refuses to return a phone call.
Consolidation doesn’t solve that problem. Go talk to brokers and agents on the ground in ginormous mega-regional MLSs, like CRMLS or BrightMLS. They have one MLS, one set of rules, one fee, etc. etc. — and they still deal with the inefficiency that arises from the headcount-driven model of our industry. That’s an unfortunate fact not subject to handwaving or wishful thinking.
What Do Members Want, Redux?
Having said that, let’s move onto the list of things that NAR/T3Sixty says that members want. Here’s the list:
- Brokers and agents – REALTORS® and non-REALTORS® want at least as much information as consumers have, to enable them to do their job and make a living.
- Complete, accurate, and timely data and the best software and tools available from any sources.
- Significant value and low-costs for the most part.
- MLS services which are without borders with unrestricted information access for the professionals.
- No longer necessary to join and pay multiple MLS providers.
- One standard set of MLS rules, policies, data compliance, and enforcement.
- Single source listing feeds for IDX, websites, and back-office that follow uniform formats and rules.
- Single point of entry available for those who need it.
- On-demand access to the information they need to conduct business at a competitive cost.
- Accurate and consistent statistical information and reporting.
- MLS software which does not require extensive training to learn how to use it.
- Listing brokers control the distribution of their listings from a single source of their choice.
- Every market area is served by at least one high-quality MLS provider with multiple choices where possible.
I assume some of this list is in response to some sort of question about “Hey, what do you want from MLS consolidation?” Because most brokers and agents do not work in multiple MLS situations. They subscribe to one MLS, and that’s about it. (See, e.g., CRMLS, BrightMLS, SmartMLS, HAR, NWMLS, MyFloridaRegional, ARMLS, etc. etc.)
But when someone says “significant value and low-costs for the most part”, are we supposed to just twist our logic to think that makes sense? REALTORS are the very first people loudly proclaiming that they have significant value, even at huge commission amounts, and say things like, “You get what you pay for” when consumers are involved. They ought to know better than most that value is just that: VALUE. Cost has very little to do with value.
Do members really want these things?
Single source of listing feeds for IDX, websites and back-office? The IDX feed is limited by policy; presumably, IDX is not going to be enough for back-office operations that requires more detail? And since we’re separating “IDX” and “websites”, does that mean that members want the IDX and VOW feeds to be identical? I’m not sure how to understand this.
MLS services which are without borders with unrestricted information access for the professionals? Does that mean what it sounds like? That any licensee from anywhere can get access to the MLS by paying the fee? Because if that’s what it means, I can tell you without doubt that that is definitely not what quite a few members want. A little bit above the list, NAR/T3Sixty admits as much when it lists “Desire to Keep Others out of the Market” as #4 of the Primary Obstacles.
It seems to me that one cannot have both a MLS Without Borders and Keep Them Out of My Market as desires in a coherent fashion.
What about this one: Listing brokers control the distribution of their listings from a single source of their choice. Did they ask listing agents about that? Because I know quite a few listing agents who would definitely be a No on giving their brokers that kind of power over the listings they sat at the kitchen table and got. Keep in mind that most listing agents think of the seller as their client, not the broker’s client, no matter what the license law says.
And finally, do members really want every market area served by at least one high-quality MLS provider with multiple choices where possible? Because there’s exactly one market I know of with more than one choice for an MLS: Atlanta, GA. Everywhere else, the MLS is an organic monopoly, and members have shown zero appetite in setting up a competitor.
But hey, maybe all of those are things that members really want. If so…
The Obvious Solution: Realtor.com
If we accept the list above as what brokers and agents in 2017 want from an MLS, let’s not waste time on all this rigamarole about consolidation. Because if that’s really what members want, there’s a very simple solution that’s right in front of us: make Realtor.com the MLS.
I suppose the simplest way of doing that is to sell RPR to Move, wrapped in adequate licensing/contractual provisions (similar to what exists for Realtor.com itself), since RPR has all kinds of MLS-related technology. For example, RPR has Add/Edit, thanks to its work with Upstream, and all kinds of reports using MLS data.
But technology really isn’t the issue. We all know this.
Go through the list of what members supposedly really want:
- At least as much information as consumers have, to enable them to do their job and make a living. (CHECK!)
- Complete, accurate, and timely data and the best software and tools available from any sources. (CHECK!)
- Significant value and low-costs for the most part. (CHECK! Putting listings on Realtor.com is FREE!)
- MLS services which are without borders with unrestricted information access for the professionals. (CHECK!)
- No longer necessary to join and pay multiple MLS providers. (CHECK!)
- One standard set of MLS rules, policies, data compliance, and enforcement. (CHECK!)
- Single source listing feeds for IDX, websites, and back-office that follow uniform formats and rules. (CHECK! Move still owns ListHub, after all, which can be repurposed easily, especially with RPR tacked on.)
- Single point of entry available for those who need it. (CHECK!)
- On-demand access to the information they need to conduct business at a competitive cost. (CHECK! Realtor.com’s mobile app is really quite good.)
- Accurate and consistent statistical information and reporting. (CHECK!)
- MLS software which does not require extensive training to learn how to use it. (CHECK! I have yet to see a 2-day class on How to Use Realtor.com….)
- Listing brokers control the distribution of their listings from a single source of their choice. (CHECK! ListHub, once again.)
- Every market area is served by at least one high-quality MLS provider with multiple choices where possible. (CHECK!)
All you have to do is have Realtor.com offer Cooperation & Compensation, make some tweaks to ListHub, have NAR’s MLS Policy Committee hand down one set of MLS Rules, and spin up a Compliance department (hardly difficult for a company of Move’s size and budget). Voila! There’s the MLS of the members’ dreams.
Sure, you can have Zillow or Homes.com or any of the real tech companies do the same thing, but picking Zillow would certainly result in a mutiny since some people blame Zillow for global warming and North Korean nukes. And there’s that whole ‘Special Relationship’ between Realtor.com and NAR, so….
Yeah, Zillow and Homes.com and Redfin and everybody else who competes against Realtor.com would freak the F out, obviously. But that just requires the DOJ or the FTC keeping an eye on Realtor.MLS to make sure it’s not doing anti-competitive shit. Which the DOJ and/or the FTC would be more than glad to do.
The cost would be relatively low, since Realtor.com has other significant revenue streams. The value would be high like Denver on 420 Day. All that “control” people are anxious about can be exercised by NAR’s MLS Policy Committee — just expand it a bunch, with all kinds of regional subcommittees and such, to incorporate a whole variety of MLS board members and such.
If members really want what they say they want, then Realtor.MLS is a no-brainer solution.
But of course, REALTOR.MLS is not going to happen. You know this, while reading it. I know this while writing it.
We might ask ourselves why not. That is the most interesting question of all, and that way lies both madness and truth. We’ll walk down that way in future posts.
9 thoughts on “Thinking About the MLS: What Do You Really Want?”
OK, fine, I’ll get you the full answer sooner than promised. You didn’t give me a deadline. ?
Referred to your May professional vs businessperson post last weekend while moderator of roundtable discussion in chitown.
That’s an interesting read and thought provoking perspective Rob, thanks!
Couldn’t stop laughing after this line: It is the presence of huge numbers of licensees who suck that create inefficiency in the marketplace.
Almost makes you wonder if Redfin is onto something, forcing efficiency due to their employee/w2 agent model.
You know where I stand on the ‘masses of marginal agents’ issue, and how to fix it. Brokers need REAL oversight, not merely the ability to make suggestions without being able to enforce anything due to the IC rules.
It all comes down to consumer protection, and we’re failing at it. Changes need to be made soon, so the government doesn’t come in and burn it down to rebuild it better and more efficiently.
I agree with you, but I don’t think the industry is at risk of government takeover, but rather at risk of takeover by new and innovative companies who do it the way you allude to (with real, enforceable oversight/sans ICs).
How do we get rid of the marginal agents? Change the realtor monthly dues to $1,000 per month.
Love the analysis Rob Hahn. Totally agree with a formulation of a Realtor.com MLS. RPR already has it and we all knew where this was going when RPR was first formed….despite the bantering to the contrary. On the disagreement side, agents do believe that the listings they take at the kitchen table do belong to them! I have always said that…unless something goes wrong then all of a sudden that listing becomes mine too!!! Good job.
You’re right that this will never happen. Brokers and MLSs can barely get Broker Public Portal off the ground. Although, BPP is making some headway. I have thought that adding a public facing version of RPR would be a good idea if modeled after HAR’s public facing portal – your listing, your lead.
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