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Why a National MLS MAY Help Consumers

Show me ALL the listings

I loved Mariana’s article the other day and hear many of the same comments from the Realtors in my area I work with.  Having attended several conferences, this is definitely a hot-button topic.

I’m not a Realtor.  I am an Internet Buyer.  I want to utilize my time and yours as efficiently as possible.  So I use online resources to look at homes and neighborhoods.

I did a comparison across Zillow, Trulia, Roost, Cyberhomes, GoogleBase and the local MLS.  Here was my criteria:

  • Portland, OR
  • 4+ Bedrooms
  • 3+ Bathrooms
  • $250,000 – $500,000

And the number of matches:

  • RMLS – 179
  • Zillow – 112
  • Trulia – 98
  • Cyberhomes – 1
  • GoogleBase – about 240
  • Roost – 400

Wow.  Quite the spread.  The parts I’ve found most interesting are Roost and Cyberhomes.  Roost is supposed to have an IDX feed of the MLS so that seems significantly off, even if you take into account listings that may have been taken off the market.  Cyberhomes only has 1, even with their new agreement and their existing Keller Williams agreement.

Let consumers do some work

When 84% of buyers are using the Internet during their buying process, 29% of buyers first learned of their house from the Internet and 82% of buyers who searched via the Internet purchased through a Realtor the real estate industry can no longer ignore the fact that consumers, buyers especially, need excellent Internet resources.

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My local MLS has a decent search.  It’s fast.  It’s simple.  But there’s no mapping capabilities and as a consumer, I don’t want to have to decipher what all of your little shorthand abbreviation means because your comment section is too small.

In my personal informal polling of people not in, or related to someone in, the real estate industry, only about a third of people know about the local MLS.  For Realtors, that’s great, you remain the gatekeeper of all information.  But if I were a Realtor and I knew 82% of people who went online were going to use me anyway, I’d rather save my time and let consumers do some searching on their own.

How a National MLS may help consumers

A National MLS may help consumers because it would allow sites like Zillow, Trulia, Cyberhomes and Roost to have the complete picture of available listings.  Then, those sites would compete on interface and features (Zestimates, heat maps, community Q&A, value refinement, fast search tools, etc).

As someone who knows I will be moving sooner or later, I want a tool that I know will have ALL of the listings.  And if I need to move to Eugene, Austin or St. Paul, I would like to be able to search all the listings from one place.

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Written By

Nick runs a new media marketing consulting company helping real estate professionals learn how to implement new media tools into their marketing arsenal. He frequently gives presentations on generational marketing, green marketing and advanced online promotion. Nick is active on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.



  1. Jim

    March 4, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    There have been some changes to the document, but this is the preliminary report by the NAR PAG working to devise the vaunted “one place” to search.

    I hope to be able to openly advocate for it soon.

  2. Mariana

    March 4, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Nick – I think (after multiple conversations both with other people and within my head) that there is a difference between a national MLS and a comprehensive MLS info aggregate. What I see you looking for is the latter of the 2 – the consumer side. You want to find info on ALL homes for sale in whatever area you are thinking of moving to, or are just curious about. Right?

    I agree that there SHOULD be a vehicle that allows consumers the ability to see all of these homes. I have no interest in being a gatekeeper of information. I am too busy, and never subscribed to that line of thought/reasoning, anyway. (Albeit, I will not be happy if MY listings are not attached to me somehow or if I have to pay out the nose to participate. Neither scenario will benefit me, nor the home buying public.)

    What I do not agree with is a national MLS – the agent side – that homogenizes the Realtor-end of things to a point where local accountability is lost and local needs cannot be met.

  3. Benn Rosales

    March 4, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Consumers see all listings available- if you want to use a Realtor, then is for you, or how about your local MLS. However, if you want to see everything else, then go where everything else is listed- this is not an mls or an agent problem. With over 30 different sites to list on, it will be up to a tech company to establish itself as the leader and provide that venue- otherwise, it is fruitless to search weak tech sites rather than just hitting up the source of the most product- your local MLS.

  4. Teresa Boardman

    March 4, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    I have written a couple of posts about this on St. paul re and on the realestateweenie, all these companies that want to have listings are doing the consumer a diservice and consumers are confused by it all.

  5. Nick Bostic

    March 4, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Sorry, I forgot about (oops). The same search gives me 305 listings.

    Mariana – yes, a comprehensive MLS info aggregate is the perfect term. From a technology vendor standpoint (I bounce this question off a lot of techies who work with IDX), most of them complain about a lack of standards. I ask about IDX & RETS and they still complain about the different methods the different MLS’s use to actually access the information. Plus, several MLS’s charge the vendor’s big bucks to get the data out each month. Last I heard there were 800+ MLS’s across the country and if they each charge to get the data out, that’s a pretty decent barrier to entry.

    If I am considering job offers (or just a lifestyle change) and have picked out my 3 potential cities, I don’t really want to find a Realtor x3 just to find out roughly what area I want to (and can afford to) live in. I will call you once I’ve determined if your city is even affordable for me because I need you to show me around, let me in and close the transaction. But I’d personally rather not waste your time if I’m not even sure I’m going to move.

  6. Gabe Sumner

    March 4, 2008 at 5:21 pm is currently the only web site allowed to interface directly with ALL MLS’s and aggregate all of this listing information. Trulia, Zillow and others are relying on brokers and agents to feed them information (2nd-hand). (This is why you are seeing incomplete listing counts.) Despite the limited listing inventory, start-ups like Trulia & Zillow are the companies actually pioneering most of the forward-thinking consumer-oriented innovation.

    It would be in the consumer’s interest to open MLS access to other companies, aside from We would likely see unprecedented competition and innovation in the industry. Hopefully that day is coming.

  7. Kathy Drewien

    March 4, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    Aggregate sites are just what they say they are – aggregates of data with duplication of listings. To get a real picture of what is affordable in an area of any size (Atlanta, for example) you need some guidance and perspective. That is my role as a real estate professional. An agent with 2-days experience can perform this task: “I need you to show me around, let me in and close the transaction.” Well, maybe 2 out of 3.

    Sending me a quick email with the desired number of beds/baths and price range is not an inefficient use of my time. In just a few minutes I would respond with some questions that would help you refine the broad search criteria for a metro area of 5-million plus.

    It’s a waste of your time to use an aggregate site with a $250,000 spread in price range if you ever think of moving to Atlanta.

    The best results come from a combination approach. Kevin and Kristin are moving to Atlanta from St. Louis. They receive local mls listings matching their criteria by email from me daily. Then, they go to Zillow and see if the yard will work for their young children. This dual method saves us both a great deal of time.

  8. Jim

    March 4, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    Gabe –

    I’d argue that the Realogy feed could be considered first-hand, as the brokers are the ones who earn the listings and the ultimate owners of the listings. If enough brokers chose to send their listings to Zillow (for example) rather than their local MLS or, that would seriously damage the local MLS and RDC.

    The best results come from a combination approach. Kevin and Kristin are moving to Atlanta from St. Louis. They receive local mls listings matching their criteria by email from me daily. Then, they go to Zillow and see if the yard will work for their young children. This dual method saves us both a great deal of time.

    Why not put everything in one place, especially if you were able to get (nearly) all of the listings versus only a great majority from the MLS?

  9. Gabe Sumner

    March 4, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Hi Jim, I suppose you are correct that the Realogy feed is a good example of a first-hand data feed. However, it is also true that RDC is given a monopoly on direct access to all the various MLS’s. By the way, I would never suggest that a broker should ONLY send their listings to Zillow (and ignore the MLS). I agree that a combination of approaches is the most effective. Ultimately what matters to the seller, is that their home receives maximum exposure.

    In the end, the only thing I would like to see is for Zillow, Trulia and others to get the same level of access that RDC has been given. is currently using their monopoly to overcharge the entire real estate community for “enhancements”. Opening this entire “space” to compeition would see a large number of innovations and competition in this arena.

  10. Greg Cremia

    March 5, 2008 at 8:18 am

    The problem with sites that compile listings is there is no oversight. If you dig deeper you will find that a lot of those listings are expired or sold. I did some research a while back and 40% of the listings on these sites were no longer on the market. When you get serious about shopping you will waste time investigating properties that aren’t for sale. You will also have your expectations bashed. I don’t see the benefit here.

    MLS controlled sites have control over the data so you can be reasonably assured that what you are seeing is actually for sale.

    Looking in three different areas does not mean contacting three different agents. If you do an internet search for those areas you will find numerous agent/brokerage sites that have IDX search which provides all of the MLS properties for sale in that area. Properties that you can be sure are for sale. Most will let you search without registering and more and more have mapping features. I know mine does.

    You will also find that by looking locally, on the web, you will be exposed to area information that might help you decide where you want to locate. Information that is best known by the locals.

  11. Gabe Sumner

    March 5, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Greg, the problem with oversight and expired listings is because Zillow, Trulia and other web sites aren’t allowed access to the MLS’s IDX. This problem could be corrected tomorrow if the MLS’s would open their IDX to these web sites. Once IDX access is allowed make these web sites subject to the same IDX rules as brokers. Problem solved! The listing inventory would be current & accurate.

    As I indicated above, Trulia, Zillow and others are currently reliant on brokers and agents to feed them them listing information. This is something they are required to do because of the “closed” nature of the MLS’s.

    You are correct that many agent & broker web sites do offer full IDX property searches. You are incorrect that these company’s have web sites that rival what Trulia, Zillow & others have created. Just because a web site has “map based searching” doesn’t mean it’s just as good as Trulia. The devil is in the details.

    Building cutting-edge web sites is difficult work. It takes a team of programmers, graphic designers, database administrators and system administrators. Most companies can’t even afford a team of these people. Even if they can; the best & brightest of these people want to work in an environment that allows them to be innovative. When you work for a broker, the goal is not always to “deliver the best user experience”. Instead the goal is often to “capture the lead”. This means that you start making decisions to handicap the user so they are forced to contact you. This can be a soul-sucking ordeal for a web application designer who thrives on delivering the best solutions.

    The thing that I love about the non-broker real estate web sites is that they are purely consumer focused. They are focused on delivering the best consumer-oriented property search. This is their bread & butter; not selling houses. If customers choose not to interact with their web site, then they fail. Their motivation is not to “get the lead”, but rather to entice users to interact with their web site.

    Real estate agents seem to fear this, but they shouldn’t. There are still a myriad of other details related to the real estate transaction. It’s fine to empower customers to search online in whatever way they choose. A real estate agent will continue to demonstrate their value by helping the customer apply this knowledge in a dynamic market.

  12. Kathy Drewien

    March 5, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Gabe, the “non-broker” sites certainly appear to be “purely consumer focused”, but I wonder… how do they pay their bills?

    They are certainly selling something to someone.

  13. Gabe Sumner

    March 5, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Of course Kathy, it would be naive to think otherwise. Just as Google sells ads to pay their bills. Do you trust your Google search results? What about newspapers?

    This model is nothing new! There are countless business models we can examine to see where information & ads co-exist. For a company with integrity this balance can be maintained.

    As a consumer, I’m fine with this. As long as I know where the information is and where the ad is, all is well. If a company loses its integrity and mingles these 2, then I (as a consumer) lose confidence and I do my searching somewhere else.

    This is nothing new. That doesn’t change the fact that these non-broker web sites are “purely consumer focused”. As I said; this is their bread & butter. If they screw this up then they will lose their web traffic and will not be able to sell ads. This equation self balances itself.

  14. Nick

    March 5, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Kathy – I do appreciate that you are willing to help people with basic inquiries even if they aren’t 100% sure they’re going to be moving. I think you’re not the only one, I hope.

    Greg – you are definitely correct about the lack of oversight. My concern is that Zillow has become a household name, so many consumers I deal with think they have complete information when in fact, they don’t.

  15. Kathy Drewien

    March 5, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Whoa, Gabe, that blockquote in my earlier post certainly didn’t come out quite right….

    One of the struggles I have with the large search sites is that they are dependent on the local level to supply the data. It is the local real estate agent that has incurred the costs of obtaining this data. And, I’m expected to feed the business models of the search sites. I am one of the folks encouraged to spend money to promote the data that feeds the site that Zillow built.

    So, what’s in it for me?

  16. Gabe Sumner

    March 5, 2008 at 11:25 am

    Hi Kathy. It’s not about you, it’s about your sellers. But putting the listing EVERYWHERE you are providing additional exposure for your sellers’ house. You are there to help them get the best offer on their house. Making the listing available on a wide-array of web sites helps that happen.

    As a home seller, I can’t imagine any argument that would convince me that limited exposure is a good thing. It might be “your listing” but it is “my house” and ultimately “my money”. If my agent is limiting the exposure of my home because they perceive that the listing “belongs” to them, then I am going to be pissed.

  17. Kathy Drewien

    March 5, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    You are absolutely right on that point. It’s about seller’s perceptions, which is not always based in reality.

    What a great post, Nick! I’d like to see more from a consumer’s perspective.

  18. Greg Cremia

    March 5, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    Consumers already can go to one convenient place to find all of the listings for sale. It is called the World Wide Web. If it is too much trouble for them to click around on the web to find what they are missing then I suppose they are not serious buyers. In 10 minutes I can find everything for sale in any city USA without any more effort than would be required if I were looking on one site with all the listings.

    The plus for consumers in shopping the net rather than one site is the variety of local information and agents they come across. If one or two companies dominate the internet then consumers will lose that variety. In a market dominated by a few websites, consumers will have to deal with whatever form of monetization those providers are using. Agents sites can remain free of the ads and referrals because they get paid from the resulting transaction. Look at To view one house for sale a consumer is assaulted with between 31 and 43 ads. The rest of the big guys are free for now. That will have to change at some point when investors begin to ask for some returns.

    The sites that want to be the only site on the web that people need to go to to see all of the listings will have to accomplish this achievement on their own. The guilt trip that it is in the sellers best interest to have their listing on as many sites as possible just doesn’t cut it anymore because all of the listings are already all over the internet. IDX is everywhere.

    My listings have been sent to more than 10 different websites for years now and I can track the results very easily. I don’t even need to use a spread sheet to compile the results. I don’t even need to use both hands. Having my listings on all the big websites has done absolutely nothing to help sell a single listing.

    I have been working internet buyers since 1997 and they all have one thing in common. They always walk through houses which means they make a trip to their destination and explore the neighborhoods with an agent. Even if they spent 2 years searching houses on the internet and show up with a list of prospects they always end up walking through houses.

  19. David G

    March 5, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Hi Nick, it’s David from Zillow,

    You seem to be muddling the issues here. You’ve made a great argument for why all MLS’s should openly syndicate their members’ listings; it is the consumer-friendly strategy and if you’re truly trying to sell homes it makes no sense for your listings not to be where the consumer is. But you haven’t articulated why a national MLS is required to get there. A single national MLS could technically simplify listings distribution a bit but the more important question is; would it syndicate its members listings?

    The innovation that would make a tangible difference to consumers is access to all listings everywhere.

  20. Gabe Sumner

    March 5, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    Hey Greg, I’m not asking for “single web site”. In fact, by supporting an “open MLS IDX system” I’m actually helping ensure that there are multiple web sites. Currently we have a single web site system. That single web site is is the only web site that is allowed a monopoly on access to all MLS systems.

    Regarding whether any of this helps sell houses or not, there are sufficient statistics that demonstrate that most home buyers begin their search online. You are correct that eventually they will interact with a REALTOR & walk the house. That does not diminish the role these web sites play in this process though. Just as the web sites do not diminish the value you (as the agent) play in this process.

  21. Greg Cremia

    March 5, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    There already are multiple websites that have all the listings on them. There are hundreds of them just in my little hometown. These websites are located where the listings are and are accessible to anyone anywhere via the net. These websites belong to the same people who own the listing data and this is why they have it on IDX to display. You make it sound like consumers have to come into my office to see listings.

    And from the seller point of view, all of my listings are already on hundreds of websites that display all of the listings. There is limited advantage to having them on a couple of more sites.

    There was a time when these aggregator sites dominated the internet searches and advertising my listings there had value but we agents are gaining ground. Agent/ brokerage sites dominate the real estate searches now and these sites are losing value.

  22. David G

    March 5, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    Greg –

    Here are a few insights that may help understand the importance of listings syndication:

    1) When buyers are on a broker’s site they do sometimes feel as though they are actually in your office. The broker’s branding is often the most prominent content on a local MLS search site. I’m not making this up; I’ve heard it from consumers in usability studies – one actually said “I feel like I’m in the brokers office.” In the early stages of browsing homes for sale, buyers often feel more at home searching for listings on a broker-neutral site.

    2) There are no MLS’s with 100% of the for sale inventory. I recently read about a NAR study that showed that even 10% of agent-sold properties never make it on to the MLS. FSBO statistics vary but it’s around another 10% – so, at best, an MLS has 80% of for sale inventory. That’s excluding other unique inventory like Zillow’s Make Me Move homes.

    3) It’s a big internet. “These websites are located where the listings are” is not the optimal approach to web marketing. Consider that every agent and broker is competing to make the same consumer come to them and you’ll realize that the biggest opportunity for selling listings online is to take the listings to where the consumers are.

    I hope that that helps to explain the importance of the listings syndication strategy.

  23. Florida Vacation Rentals

    March 6, 2008 at 6:45 am

    It’s coming people and I think soon as this country tries to sell all the foreclosures and many considering relocating for a better value and job choice. I see them using this to justify the change and to be the gatekeepers. Everyone uses the internet MLS and they know this and it’s another way to expand to all. There will be many benefits as they all compet. It’s a good thing!

  24. Nick

    March 6, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Greg – “In 10 minutes I can find everything for sale in any city USA without any more effort than would be required if I were looking on one site with all the listings.” I honestly don’t see how that’s possible. Yes, I agree, with some simple searching I can get direct IDX search feeds for any city, but there’s no way that is as efficient as looking on one site.

    David G – Yes, you’re right and I apologize. I know SQL, Javascript, AJAX and other internet programming-related languages, so I understand from a technical standpoint accessing 800+ IDX/RETS feeds isn’t technically difficult. But I know the local MLS charges a fee to web sites like Roost to access that feed. Even if it’s only $100 per month, multiply that by 800+ and that’s a pretty big monthly bill. I studied finance in college, so I know how to read a balance sheet and income statement and that would be a pretty big expense. My thought is that if there were one database instead of 800+, hopefully they would allow it to be open to sites like yours and others and your costs, both direct and programming, would be lower which would allow you to continue to bring out great new features.

    I personally like ALL of the sites out there, each one offers something slightly different that I find valuable. HOWEVER, my neighbor across the street is selling with John L Scott and it only shows up on Roost. Not, Zillow, Trulia, Cyberhomes or Google Base. I would be upset if I were the sellers and I’m annoyed as a buyer that it doesn’t show up when I know it’s for sale and has been for almost a month.

  25. Gabe Sumner

    March 6, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Nick your comments are on the money.

    By the way, I too am an Internet programmer. In addition, I have personally dealt with importing multiple MLS IDX systems. Most non-broker web sites are not allowed to do this. Dealing with hundreds a small MLS’s across the nation is indeed possible. It is also a giant pain in the rear. Many of these small regional MLS systems are not very, um….advanced.

    The downside of a “national MLS” is that (depending on how it is designed) it would often fail to represent a given region. For example, “beach front” makes no sense in Missouri, but is crucial to L.A. It would be difficult to come up with a “one size fits all” solution.

    All of this is a discussion for another day. The point I keep trying to drive home is; it is not the fault of Trulia, Zillow, Google Base, etc. that their listing inventory is incomplete. These companies have been prevented from directly interacting with MLS’s. To compensate for this, these web sites must rely on brokers for their listing information.

    The ONLY web site that is allowed to interact directly with ALL MLS’s, is This is an NAR blessed monopoly that is hurting consumers and hurting the industry. If all of these other web sites had the same level of access is given, we would see unprecedented innovation in the industry.

    Thankfully many brokers are ditching in favor of these other web sites. These brokers & agents have grown tired of being overcharged by for “enhancements”. has never had a motivation to provide consumer-oriented property search innovation. Rather, their motivation is finding ways to nickle & dime everyone in the industry. Consumers & agents alike are getting fed up with their exploitation.

  26. Jessie B

    April 7, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    As David G pointed out… at best MLS has somewhere around 70% – 80% of inventory and the rest is FSBO, new homes, make me move type inventory, pocket listings, etc. Aggregating all the information on one site is also nearly impossible due to MLS rules and the daily changes in invetories. There is an estimated 6-7 million homes for sale and the R only has about 4.2 million. We think the best way to solve the issue to to make finding the results of all different sites as simple as possible. This site, early beta that aims at solving the exact issue being discussed here. Perform a single search to select location and get the localized search results from all the real estate sites, including MLS, FSBO, newspapers, etc.

  27. Heath Coker

    May 22, 2008 at 6:50 am

    Not all listings are in MLS. You have to get to the web sites of listing agents to see MLS and non-MLS listings. I am a listing broker. Of the 2.5 million real estate lisencees in the US, only 1.3 million are a member of ANY MLS. Real, Zil low, and others don’t want this known. Some MLSs are stopping their feeds to any aggregator and instead are helping their members sites get found.
    I started, The Site Engine(R) eight years ago so any listing agent site can get found – free. Not their listings – their site. They can put whatever listings they want on their own site.

    (Nick, you may be an internet buyer, but you are more of a programmer with a more than an average interest in real estate – chicago title?)

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