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Op/Ed

From the field: how Project Upstream will change the industry

Change is upon us in the form of Project Upstream, but many do not yet grasp the importance of this massive shift and how it will impact different types of agents differently.

project upstream

My brain hurts. I’ve just returned from NAR’s 2015 Legislative Meetings and Trade Expo (formerly called Mid-Year) in Washington, D.C. and my head is filled with new ideas to implement at my brokerage and meaningful conversations enjoyed with colleagues from around the country. The talk about Project Upstream, RPR, and a National Broker Public Portal were buzzwords I heard repeatedly throughout the meetings, and it’s enough to make even a real estate tech geek’s head spin.

I believe only a small fraction of real estate brokers and agents truly understand what’s going on with syndication and how things work on the back end of our MLS systems with data distribution. How many agents still believe Realtor.com is “our” portal? When Zillow and ListHub parted ways in February, how many agents understood why their listings may have disappeared from Zillow and how to get them back on the platform? What’s happening right now, with the announcement of Project Upstream / RPR potential alliance and the National Broker Public Portal are groundbreaking issues all brokers and agents need to understand.

Two large initiatives you must understand

These are two different initiatives that are moving the industry in a similar path: they are national projects intended to (1) take back control of the data and (2) consolidate the listings under one big umbrella.

As quoted from their website, the Broker Public Portal (BPP) “seeks the creation of a national MLS consumer facing property search website.” Think Zillow – created and run by Realtors. No, Realtor.com is NOT already our public portal. Realtor.com is owned by MOVE Inc., and the name is licensed to MOVE, but it is not run by brokers or owned by us. While agents bash and rail against Zillow and Trulia for “selling us back our listings” by making us pay money for zip codes and prominent featured status (note – not my argument or belief, but that is a widespread opinion of agents) agents rarely seem to understand that Realtor.com does the same thing! Z, T and R are all advertising sites. The listings feed to them, and the listing agent is identified, but other agents can advertise and feature prominently on other agents’ listings for a fee.

How BPP plans to be different

To differentiate from the other consumer-facing search portals, the BPP’s model states that ONLY the listing broker and agent will be displayed for a listing. No competing (paid) agents will show up on a listing’s information page. This is called the Fair Display Guidelines. Since buyer’s agents won’t be able to appear alongside the listing agent, the consumer will only see listing broker/agent information, giving a distinct advantage to strong listing agents.

The elephant in the room: Fairness

A bone of contention arises since the BPP will be funded by MLS dues. Therefore buyer’s agents, who essentially are left out of the site, will be paying for a portal they may receive little if no benefit from. Does that matter?

The brokers that control the listings in any given market will obviously dominate the portal. The listing agents and sellers will benefit – as who knows the listing better than the listing agent? As a strong listing agent, I frequently have sellers question why “all these other agents” are bringing buyers to their house. They don’t understand that buyer’s agents have value and are there to represent the buyer – and his/her best interest. They want me – the listing agent – to be there to explain the nuances of the property and to “sell” the house to the buyer.

Buyers and buyer’s agents certainly will get the short end of the stick, as buyer’s agents are marginalized or left out of the site. Whether the seller likes it or not, we need buyer’s agents. A good buyer’s agent is invaluable to his or her client – and we need to respect that relationship. Pushing a “listing agent as the only point of contact” does not mean the house will sell quicker or for more money than if the buyer is exposed to multiple agents.

Maybe it’s not too late to regain control of our data

The Project Upstream broker initiative is an attempt to gather real estate data under one umbrella, again trying to wrestle back control of our listings and data. At Saturday’s NAR board meetings, directors voted to pursue an alliance between NAR subsidiary Realtors Property Resource (RPR) and Upstream.

Upstream will be a repository of data, a single entry point where property records will be stored to make distribution of that data easier. Rob Hahn states on his blog, “The stated goals of Project Upstream are for brokerages (particularly the larger ones who belong to The Realty Alliance and LeadingRE) to have more control over the flow of data to the MLS and to the portal.” If you want to dive into the exact specifics of how this model works, read his extremely detailed description.

The model that makes sense in modern times

Hahn’s description of “MLS Mashups” and the modular MLS model makes sense in today’s app-driven world. My own MLS uses a vendor whose portal looks like we’re working back in the 1990s. It hasn’t evolved with how we practice real estate today. I won’t even rant here about having to belong to multiple MLS systems, pay duplicate dues to market my listings on multiple platforms, and enter/re-enter the same data again and again (and again). Our fragmented MLS system needs to evolve and change with the times.

The solution is a plug and play, where we pay only for the tools we want and use. A network where data is pulled in without having to re-enter it on multiple platforms is efficient, so I look forward to seeing what Project Upstream and RPR put together.

#ProjectUpstream

Written By

Erica Ramus is the Broker/Owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, PA. She also teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill and is extremely active in her community, especially the Rotary Club of Pottsville and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce. Her background is writing, marketing and publishing, and she is the founder of Schuylkill Living Magazine, the area's regional publication. She lives near Pottsville with her husband and two teenage sons, and an occasional exchange student passing thru who needs a place to stay.

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