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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

Ways to socialize safely during quarantine

(EDITORIAL) Months of isolation due to quarantine is causing loneliness for many, but joining virtual social groups from home may help fill the need for interaction.

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quarantine

Quarantining, sheltering in place, staying home. We’re tired of hearing it; we’re tired of doing it. Yet, it’s what we still need to be doing to stay safe for a while longer. All of this can be lonesome. As the days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the alone time is getting to even the most introverted among us.

Solitary confinement is considered one of the most psychologically damaging punishments a human can endure. The New Yorker reported on this in a 1992 study of prisoners in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Vietnam veterans who experienced isolation. These studies showed that prisoners who had experienced solitary confinement demonstrated similar brain activity to those who’d suffered a severe head injury, noting that “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.”

We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. Your “pandemic brain” is real. That fogginess, the lack of productivity, can be attributed to many things, including anxiety, but being kept apart from other humans is a big part of it too. Be kind to yourself, give yourself grace, and join others virtually. Be it an app, a class, a Facebook group, a chat room, or a livestream, someone somewhere is out there waiting to connect with you too.

The good news? We are lucky enough to live in an era of near limitless ways to interact socially online. Sure, it is different, but it is something. It’s important. The best thing about this type of social interaction is being able to hone in on your specific interests, though I’d caution you against getting caught in an online echo chamber. Diversity of interests, personality, and opinion make for a richer experience, with opportunities for connecting and expanding your worldview.

Here are a few suggestions on ways to socialize while staying home and staying safe. Communicating with other humans is good for you, physically and mentally.

Interactive Livestreams on Twitch:

Twitch is best known as a streaming service for video game fans, but it offers multiple streams appealing to different interests. This is more than passive watching (although that is an option, too) as Twitch livestream channels also have chat rooms. Twitch is fun for people who like multi-tasking because the chat rooms for popular livestream channels can get busy with chatter.

While people watch the Twitch hosts play a video game, film a live podcast, make music or art, mix cocktails, or dance, they can comment on what they’re watching, make suggestions, ask questions, crack jokes, and get to know each other (by Twitch handle, so it is still as anonymous as you want it to be) in the chat room. The best hosts take time every so often to interact directly with the chat room questions and comments.

Many Twitch channels develop loyal followers who get to know each other, thus forming communities. I have participated in the Alamo Drafthouse Master Pancake movie mocks a few times because they are fun and local to Austin, where I live. Plus, in my non-quarantine life, I would go to Master Pancake shows live sometimes. The chat room feels familiar in a nice way. While watching online is free, you can (and totally should) tip them.

Online trivia in real time:

There are some good options for real-time online trivia, but I’m impressed with the NYC Trivia League’s model. They have trivia games online on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The NYC Trivia League seems to have figured out a good way to run the game live while keeping answers private from the other teams. They run games on Instagram Live with a live video of the host, and participants answer via the question feature. Clever!

Online book club:

First I have to shout out my Austin local independent bookstore, BookPeople, because they are fantastic. They run book clubs throughout the year, along with readings, book signings, and all things book-related. BookPeople hosts several online book clubs during these lockdown days, and most people will find something that appeals to them.

I’m also impressed with this list from Hugo House, a writer’s resource based out of Seattle. This list includes Instagram and Goodread book clubs, book clubs for Black women, rebels, and poetry lovers. The Financial Diet recommends the Reddit book club, if you are comfortable with the Reddit format. Please note that it’s a busy place, but if you like Reddit, you already know this.

Cooking class or virtual tasting:

This is doubly satisfying because you can follow these chefs in real time, and you end up with a meal. There are a couple on Instagram Live, such as The Culinistas or Chef Massimo Bottura.

You can also participate in virtual tastings for wine, whiskey, or chocolate, though you will have to buy the product to participate in the classes (usually held over Zoom or Facebook Live). If you are in Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I recommend BeenThere Locals. The cost of the course includes the wine, spirits, or cooking kit in most cases, and all of the money goes to the business and expert hosting the class.

Look for your favorite wine, spirits, cheese, chocolate makers, and chefs that are local to you to find a similar experience. Most either prepare the class kit for pickup or delivery within a local area.

Quarantine chat:

To interact with another quarantined person seeking social interaction, there’s Quarantine Chat. Quarantine chat is one of the ways to connect through the Dialup app, available on iOS and Android devices. Sign up to make and receive calls when you want to speak with someone. The Dialup app pairs you randomly with another person for a phone conversation, at a scheduled time, either with anyone or with someone with shared interests.

Quarantine chat takes it a step further with calls at random times. When your quarantine chat caller calls, you will not see their number (or they yours), only the “Quarantine Chat” caller ID. If you are unable to pick up when they call, they will be connected with someone else, so there is no pressure to answer. It’s nice to hear someone else’s voice, merely to talk about what you’ve been cooking or what hilarious thing your pet is doing.

Play Uno:

Uno Freak lets people set up games and play Uno online with friends or strangers. Players do not need to register or download anything to play. Uno Freak is web-based.

Talk to mental health professionals:

If your state of loneliness starts sliding toward depression, call someone you can speak to right away to talk over your concerns. When in doubt, call a trained professional! Here are a few resources:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET, 800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to this text line 24/7 for someone to text with who will also be able to refer you to other resources: U.S. and Canada: 74174, U.K. 85258, Ireland: 50808.
  • Psych Central has put together this comprehensive list of crisis intervention specialists and ways to contact them immediately.

There are many ways to connect even though we are physically apart. These are just a few real time ways to interact with others online. If you want something a little more flesh and blood, take a walk around the block or even sit in a chair in front of where you live.

Wave at people from afar, and remember that we have lots of brilliant doctors and scientists working on a way out of this. Hang in there, buddy. I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for all of us.

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Opinion Editorials

Working remotely: Will we ever go back? (Probably not)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Now that the pandemic has opened the door on working remotely, there’s no way we’ll put the genie back in the bottle. But, here’s some ways you can adapt.

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Woman working remotely on her couch with a laptop on her lap.

When it comes to working remotely, will the toothpaste ever go back in the tube?

Mark Zuckerberg recently said, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale…” By 2030, Zuckerberg anticipates that over half of Facebook’s workforce will be remote. Many other companies are jumping on the work from home bandwagon. Working remotely has helped many businesses manage the pandemic crisis, but it’s unsure what form remote working will take over the next 10 years.

We know that employees are responding positively to WFH, as reported in this article – Employers: Lacking remote work options may cause you to lose employees. As offices transition to a post-COVID normal, here are some things to consider about your office and remote work.

What does your business gain from allowing workers to WFH?
The future of remote work depends on a conscious application of WFH. It’s not just as easy as moving employees out of the office to home. You have to set up a system to manage workers, wherever they are working. The companies with good WFH cultures have set up rules and metrics to know whether it’s working for their business. You’ll need to have technology and resources that let your teams work remotely.

Can your business achieve its goals through remote work?
The pandemic may have proved the WFH model, but is this model sustainable? There are dozens of benefits to remote work. You can hire a more diverse workforce. You may save money on office space. Employees respond well to remote work. You reduce your carbon emissions.

But that can’t be your only measure of whether remote work fits into your vision for your organization. You should be looking at how employees will work remotely, but you need to consider why employees work remotely.

The work paradigm is shifting – how will you adapt?
The work environment has shifted over the past century. Remote work is here to stay, but how it fits into your company should be based on more than what employees want. You will have to work closely with managers and HR to build the WFH infrastructure that grows with your organization to support your teams.

We don’t know exactly how remote work will change over the next decade, but we do know that the workplace is being reinvented. Don’t just jump in because everyone is doing it. Make an investment in developing your WFH plan.

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Opinion Editorials

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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unemployment

Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out. And even as we enter 2021, there is still more to be aware of – we’re not out of the woods yet.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note… So let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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