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75 big brokers to refuse adding listings to MLS, forming alternative MLS?

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Data remains a contentious topic

Recently, the invitation-only Realty Alliance bi-annual conference took place with no members of the press in sight. The Realty Alliance network of elite real estate firms is comprised of top brokers across America and Canada and accounts for a large share of the real estate industry. Although press was not invited, various sources have told AGBeat that the destination of Realty Alliance member data continues to be highly contentious. This spring, Realty Alliance was influential in the shaping of IDX rules and sources tell AGBeat that the group came together on the topic of data use at the most recent conference, with roughly 75 top brokers allegedly discussing seceding from their MLS, and banding together to build a national MLS run by brokers to exclude Zillow, Trulia and other media companies like Realtor-backed Realtor.com.

“There was no banding together,” The Realty Alliance President and CEO, Craig Cheatham told AGBeat. “Our members are fiercely independent and make independent business decisions based upon their business model and local/regional market factors. There certainly was no decision to band together and no effort even to try to encourage collective action of any kind. Our member firms make decisions with their MLSs and various vendors that fall all across the spectrum and they reevaluate those periodically based on local factors. If you see any trend among real estate brokerages in the coming months it should be traced to predictable industry reaction to overall trends in the offerings and business rules of MLSs and outside vendors.”

Seceding from the Union?

Cheatham may be right that there is no public or official move to band together, but our sources note that there is certainly a strong conversation about seceding from the union, if you will, which makes one wonder what would happen if this actually came to fruition. It is an admirable thought, but it might be a decade too late and could create massive backlash against brokers that pull out of the MLS. Our sources note that some brokers in the group are sedate on the topic while others have strong intentions to move forward with the conversation, and it brings up the age old subjective question – who does real estate data belong to? Does it belong to the MLS, the association, the brokers, the agents, the aggregators or the consumers?

Advantages and disadvantages

Unfortunately, the cat (data) is already out of the bag and seceding now may be too little too late. Consumers wouldn’t even know that listings are missing from Zillow/Realtor.com/Trulia despite broker secession and the true value of data is only when it is in full, so the Realty Alliance national MLS site would be at the biggest disadvantage. All aggregators (like Zillow or HotPads) would have to do is run a campaign in those local markets inviting consumers to add or tweak their own listings if their broker won’t.

It would give aggregators something to rally against and playing the victim card would tap into the existing generic distrust of the traditional real estate industry. Also, consumers and agents alike could buck a broker-centric system altogether, which is what gave birth to the aggregators in the first place as the industry moved away from broker power toward empowering local agents and consumers.

Another problem with any group of brokers thinking about restricting their listings to only being featured on their own national site is that the Trulias of the world have a massive head start on recruiting the best and brightest technology talent in the business. They recruit from Google and Apple which are in their back yards. With The Realty Alliance based in Dallas, is it really possible to hire hundreds of highly expensive experts to create this national MLS that could even come close to comparing to Trulia? There is much more to running a listings site than following IDX rules, there is a culture of search and a fine science to it that is still barely understood, even by those specializing in it for the last ten years.

The takeaway:

Whether it’s true that the discussion happened or will come to fruition or not, the idea of real estate data being owned and operated by the very practitioners that brought them to market makes sense and is admirable, but seceding from the union is probably a decade too late and could not only end up boosting aggregators and giving them a platform to rally against, it could come across as greedy and uninformed as consumers believe it is their data, not the broker’s, and no matter how well-meaning the conversation is, it might be too late and could ultimately further harm the industry and consumer sentiment toward the industry.

The Realty Alliance has been fairly tight lipped as no one wants to go on the record, which makes sense, however, meaningful discussion cannot happen behind closed doors because the bigger picture cannot be seen without a diversity of entities being part of the discussion.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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86 Comments

86 Comments

  1. Jody Cowdrey

    October 26, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Regardless of their goals or intentions, I'd love to see them honestly explain to a client how, in the vast majority of situations, limiting their listing data to anything less than the maximum amount of exposure possible is somehow more helpful to them.

    • Bill Rovillo

      October 26, 2011 at 3:22 pm

      Jody, I think the point Realty Alliance is making is that with syndication, Brokers make less money and receive less leads.
      As a husband of a Broker/Owner, I agree. I've seen it with my own eyes over the past 17 years. Please see my post on Listing Sin-dication to see where you may be leaving money on the table..
      https://imapp.com/blog/2011/04/listing-sin-dication/

  2. Rachel LaMar, J.D.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I second what Jody says above…this is just going to make our industry look ridiculous and seem less trustworthy – not a good thing.

    • Jake

      October 27, 2011 at 8:51 am

      I'm baffled at how this makes our industry look any MORE ridiculous and LESS trustworthy than it does now. We feed them erroneous data to millions and millions of websites and mislead them into thinking folks that paid top dollar for advertising are actually the listing agent or actually top buyer agents in the area. They don't know what an MLS is, they don't know what VOW is, they don't know what an IDX is they don't understand syndication, they don't even know what the word Realtor even means. The consumer couldn't distrust us anymore and they have every reason not to.

  3. Robert Drummer

    October 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Joe Horning from Shorewest REALTORS® (WI) gave an interesting presentation at MLS Cloud in Houston:

    "MLSs are guilty as an accomplice to the Syndication Crime"

    https://www.slideshare.net/secret/Enclqx9WdIHylH

    It gives insight into the mind of the large broker, or at least Shorewest.

  4. Bill Rovillo

    October 26, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    The author mentions twice that Realty Alliance is "too late" with their ideas.
    I couldn't disagree more with this and many other points she makes.
    And if someone wants to turn a "wrong" into a "right", what difference does it make when it happens? a year, 5 or 10 years down the road?
    Doing nothing is what is wrong.

  5. Ken Brand

    October 26, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Compelling Arguments both ways are possible.

    To me the take away is that everything about the real estate business is warping, shifting and morphing, at a speed we've never seen before. Adventurous times, unless you're standing still, then it's a steamroller.

    Great article Lani, thanks.

  6. Demetri Koutsokostas

    October 26, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    As a broker whose office does both commercial and residential transactions, I see both sides of the spectrum. Most commercial real estate never makes it to an MLS and somehow that part of our business is the strongest and provides a more loyal and satisfied client base. On the residential side, we pay fees to put our listings on the mls, other companies make money off our listings, and if that's not enough, they turn around and charge us for services which they couldn't provide if it weren't for our listings. Residential real estate took a wrong turn a long time ago and I don't see it making a u-turn.

  7. Rosy at ComFree

    October 27, 2011 at 7:58 am

    This is not going to be an easy battle to take on. The MLS is one of the most well-known real estate websites in North America, however, the way real estate is sold nowadays is ever-changing and perhaps it's time to revisit the way business is being conducted.

  8. Jacob Clayton

    October 27, 2011 at 8:37 am

    This is by far some of the most encouraging news I've read about this industry since I entered it 6 years ago. I always thought I was alone in feeling this way but it's incredibly wonderful to see that others are interested in righting this incredible wrong. It hasn't been an easy fight for me the last few years but nothing worth having is easily attained and fighting the tide against years of brainwashing and bad behavior is always difficult but if it weren't for those willing to step out and make a difference….what a sad and pathetic world we would live in.

  9. Russ Bergeron

    October 27, 2011 at 8:57 am

    At MRED we don't send data to Zillow, Trulia, ListHub, etc. – the brokers do, including the Realty Alliance members. In markets where a firm, or a couple firms have more than 50-60% market share they can probably take a stand and refrain from syndication. But until that happens it is hard to turn your back on 90 plus percent of the real estate internet traffic.

    Russ Bergeron
    MRED

  10. Joe Zekas

    October 28, 2011 at 1:05 am

    Curious that no one has mentioned the very serious antitrust issues involved in brokers discussing anything of this sort at a forum like the Realty Alliance.

    In my long-ago days as an attorney representing trade associations I would have put an immediate and forceful end to the discussion within seconds of its having begun.

    • Robert Drummer

      October 28, 2011 at 5:01 am

      The headline ends with a question mark and the CEO stated "There certainly was no decision to band together and no effort even to try to encourage collective action of any kind."

      The rest of the article is speculation and "what if".

      It's a great topic but people are drawing conclusions about this group based on speculation.

  11. Jimmy welch

    October 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Because the MLS has such a recognized name, I think it would be highly difficult to spin off and have a different site. Neither sites would be fully reliable because they would be incomplete. Interesting though…

  12. Joe Rivera

    November 2, 2011 at 10:11 am

    "What matters most" to consumers? It certainly is not one more MLS Website. What matters most to consumers is receiving real (no pun intended) professional "fiduciary" counseling, in regards to all the "data" that consumers are reading on the Internet everyday. The "data" can not provide fiduciary counseling, only a professional real estate agent can provide it. Take a minute and read what Mollie Wasserman, of "ACRE" (Accredited Consultant in Real Estate) has to say about this. The "ACRE" Agent is going to be the future of real estate bokerage. It's about fiduciary counseling not "selling".

  13. Venita Peyton

    November 2, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    As a smaller business, I'm weary from paying higher and higher MLS fees – for little value. I now mostly represent Buyers who don't mind the lesser drama of working with FSBOs. When the big youngins' play, it's US little youngins' who pay.

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Opinion Editorials

How Gen X is nailing the COVID-19 social distancing order

(EDITORIAL) Of course, someone found a way to bring up generational stereotyping during COVID-19 and claim who is best, but are they onto something?

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Demographics and categorizing people helps us to process groups. A huge part of demographics and how we market ourselves in a job search, for example, is sharing our level of experiences and skill sets related to our profession – thus alluding to our age. Millennials (b. 1981-1996) received a lot of generational shame for being elitist and growing up in a time where they all received participation trophies – therefore being judged for not always winning a fair competition.

Gen X (roughly b. 1961-1981) has often commented that they feel like the forgotten generation which so much attention being play to the Baby Boomers (b. 1946-1964) who seemed to be born in to a great time of prosperity for “The American Dream” and then the Millennials who overtook Gen X and some of their jobs while they weren’t enough Gen Xers to fill them.

In this article “It Took a Global Pandemic, But Generation X is Finally Getting Love”, it is discussed how great Gen X is at this social distancing thing and maybe this will be helpful to anyone who feels like they are losing their mind. This is by no means an intent to shame any generation nor claim no one else knows how to handle it but this article does a great job about why Gen X might be primed to be handling the global pandemic well with the times they were raised in.

Right now, it’s a waiting game for many people who’s professions and lives have changed in what seemed like overnight. The patience required. The uncertainty of it all. The global pandemic forced (without any forgiveness), a swift move to new ways of life. The busy-ness of our days came to a crashing halt when we were no longer allowed to be out and about in places with large groups and possibly sent home to work remotely.

Many non-essential businesses were forced to close which meant people could not only not work at the office, but also had to cease their extra-curricular activities like working out at the gym, shopping, eating brunch with friends or taking their kids to their sporting events, a playground and/or coordinating a play date or sleepover. The directive from our local and federal government was for “social distancing” before the shelter in place orders came.

Gen X may agree that there were some pretty great things about their childhood – the types of things you do with your time because you don’t have a smartphone or tablet addiction and the fact that there was no way for your work to get a hold of you 24/7. Gen X did have TV and video games and sure, Mom and Dad didn’t really want you spending all of your time behind a screen but it also seemed that there wasn’t as much of a guilt trip if you did spend some of your “summer vacation” from school playing Nintendo or Sega with your neighborhood friends.

It seems like the article alludes to the idea that COVID might be helping people to get back to some of those basics before smartphones became as important to us as one of our limbs.

Gen X has had no problem adapting to technology and in their careers, they have had to adapt to many new ways of doing things (remember when caller ID came out and it was no longer a surprise who was calling?! Whaaaat?! And you can’t prank call anyone any more with your teenage friends at a sleepover! Gasp! You also wouldn’t dare TP an ex-boyfriend’s house right now).

Regardless of the need to learn new hard skills and technologies, everyone has been forced to adjust their soft skills like how technology and still being a human can play well together (since it is really nice to be able to FaceTime with loved ones far away). It seems those slightly unquantifiable adaptable and flexible skills are even more required now. It also seems that as you grow in your career, Emotional Intelligence might be your best skill in these uncertain times.

And not that we are recommending eating like crap or too many unhealthy items, Gen X has been known to be content surviving on Pop Tarts, Spaghetti O’s, Ding-dongs and macaroni and cheese which are all pretty shelf stable items right now. Whatever way is possible for you, it might be a good time to find the balance again in work, technology, home, rest, relaxation and education if at all possible.

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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strong leaders

Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms. 
 
Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.
 
The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.
 
And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.
 
We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.
 
That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

I just got furloughed. Now what?

(EDITORIAL) Some companies are furloughing employees, betting on their company’s long-term recovery. Here’s what you can expect and should plan for in your furlough.

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furloughed woman

Are you furloughed? You are not alone! What now? What does “furlough” even mean? How will I get money? Will I still keep my insurance?

A furlough differs from a layoff in a few ways. Whereas a layoff means you are definitely unemployed, a furlough is at its core unpaid time off. Not all furloughs are created equal, though the basic concept is the same: to keep valued employees on ice without being on the hook for their pay until a financial turnaround occurs.

The good-ish news is that a furlough means the company wants to keep you available. When a company is unable to pay their employees for an extended (often indefinite, as is the case with COVID-19 closures) period, they may opt to furlough them instead of laying them off. This virus has decimated whole industries, at least temporarily.

Furloughed employees are forbidden by law to do so much as answer a work email or text while furloughed–or else the company must pay them. The first large waves of COVID-19 furloughs are in obvious sectors such as hospitality (Marriott International), airlines industries (Virgin Atlantic), though other industries are following suit with furloughs or layoffs.

Some furloughs may mean cutting employees’ hours/days to a minimum. Maybe you’re being asked to take off a couple days/week unpaid if you’re hourly, or one week/month off if you’re on salary. With the COVID-19 situation, though, many companies are furloughing bunches of employees by asking them not to work at all. This particular furlough will last ostensibly for a few months, or until business begins to bounce back, along with normal life.

So, what are your rights? Why would you wait for the company? Can you claim unemployment benefits? What about your other work benefits? I’d be lying if I said I knew all the answers, as the furlough packages differ from company to company, and the laws differ from state to state.

However, here are some broad truths about furloughs that should apply. I hope this information helps you sort through your options. I feel your pain, truly. It’s a tough time all around. I’m on your side.

The first answer people want to know is yes, if you’re furloughed and have lost all or most of your income, you may apply for unemployment benefits. You can’t be expected to live off of thin air. Apply IMMEDIATELY, as there is normally a one or two week wait period until the first check comes in. Don’t delay. Some states provide more livable unemployment benefits (I’m looking at you, Massachusetts) than others, but some income is better than none.

Also, most furloughed employees will likely continue to receive benefits. Typically, life and health insurance remain intact throughout the length of the furlough. This is one of the ways companies let their employees know they are serious about wanting them back as soon as it’s financially realistic. Yet some other benefits, like a matching 401k contribution, will go away, as without a paycheck, there are no contributions to match.

Should you look for a job in the interim? Can you really afford not to? What if the company goes belly up while you’re waiting? Nobody wants that to happen, but the reality is that it might.

If you absolutely love your job and the company you work for and feel fairly confident the furlough is truly short-lived, then look for a short-term job. Thousands upon thousands of positions have opened up to meet the needs of the COVID-19 economy, at grocery stores or Amazon, for example. You could also look for contract work. That way, when your company reopens the doors, you can return to your position while finishing off the contract work on the side.

If the company was on shaky ground to begin with, keep that in mind when applying to new jobs. A full-time, long-term position may serve you better. At the end of this global health and economic crisis, some industries will be slower to return to their former glory–if they ever do. If you’re furloughed from such an industry, you may want to shift to something else completely. Pivot, as they say. Now would be a good time.

The only exceptions are “Excepted” government workers in essential positions, including public health and safety. They would have to work while furloughed in case of a government shutdown (and did previously).

Furloughs are scary, but they offer a greater measure of security than a layoff. They mean the company plans on returning to a good financial situation, which is encouraging. Furloughs also generally offer the comfort–and necessity–of insurance, which means you can breathe a bit easier while deciding your next move.

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