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Op/Ed

Your MLS system is ugly and boring – how you can impact change

Many in the real estate industry complain about their MLS, but why is that the case and what can be done about it?

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When I perform surveys of real estate brokers and agents, I see the following two complaints about MLS systems all the time: “Why doesn’t the MLS have [this cool feature]?” and “Why can’t the MLS system be easier to use?”

The first question – “Why isn’t the MLS system isn’t as full featured as some would like?” – comes down to two things: money and politics.

Let’s talk about money

Some people might think that MLS software providers are making a huge amount of money, and that the providers can put more resources into adding software features. That’s just not the case. The money isn’t there. Think about it: MLS vendors have had to put resources into making their systems work cross-browser and on an expanding number of tablets and phones.

They have added increasingly more sophisticated prospecting and client collaboration features, numerous local information and mapping layers, and so much more over the past decade. All this while, the wholesale cost for MLS systems has not increased, and in many cases has trended lower due to fierce competition for strategic accounts.

The political push and pull

As for the politics, there is a constant push and pull over the future of MLS systems. For every professional that wants the MLS system to evolve and improve, there is one that doesn’t want the system to change. I often hear, “What we have now works fine.”

If MLS staff and software providers only listened to those latter voices, we’d still be using “the MLS book” instead of electronic tools. But even when an MLS is selecting a brand new system and options are being compared, committee members will often say something like, “We should choose this system because it is the most like our current one and so will be easier to learn.” What that means is that the most innovative system is penalized for being different!

Sometimes subscribers who sit on an MLS board of directors or committee don’t want the MLS to improve its functionality. Quite often, an MLS system will be deployed with some features disabled. During a recent demonstration of system features by an MLS vendor, visitors from the neighboring MLS (which used that vendor) commented, “Is this the same system as what we have?”

Even when the features are enabled, sometimes professionals don’t know what they have.

I see this in surveys all the time – an agent will ask, “Why doesn’t the system do this?” where this is a feature the system already has.

Why is the MLS so difficult to use?

Looking at the second question — “Why can’t the MLS system be easier to use?” — the answer is a lot simpler: the more features a system has and the more ways there are to customize it, the harder the system will be to use.

Since the MLS is a business system with significant complexity, and since subscribers often want it to be customizable to fit their business needs, preferences, branding, and so forth, ease of use can suffer.

For example, it’s easier to enter a listing when there are few required fields, but the fewer required fields there are, the more agents will complain about data inaccuracy and missing data. Likewise, an MLS-generated report with fewer fields on it is easier to read and more attractive.

However, without all the fields accessible, the agent can’t fine-tune the search on behalf of his or her client and must call the listing agent for the information—which is, in actuality, more difficult.

Also, it’s easier to click once to download a pre-built statistical report. Despite this, in order to make the reports more useful to many users, the reports need to be customizable based on the part of the market the user specializes in (i.e., by area, price range, and property type), and need to be styled so the chart can be downloaded and embedded in a newsletter. That means more complexity and a system that is more difficult to use.

MLS software providers try to make good choices when designing the MLS system, balancing out the need for robust features and customization with the desire for an easy-to-use system, but it’s impossible to please everybody.

What you can do about all of this

What this all comes down to is that, if you as a subscriber want to shape how full-featured and easy-to-use tomorrow’s MLS system is going to be, there’s a way for you to do it. Get involved with your local MLS leadership, including with the system evaluation, selection, and implementation processes.

I work with many local MLSs to make sure their leadership is aware of innovation going on in the MLS technology space so they can be smarter shoppers when looking at MLS software providers. When it comes to ease of use, while there sometimes are usability gaffes on the part of the software provider, it is more often the case that system complexity simply reflects the complex needs of active real estate professionals.

Expecting a professional-grade MLS system to be as clean and easy-looking as a consumer-grade real estate search site like Zillow or Trulia is simply unrealistic. Now that you know why your MLS system is so “Meh,” you don’t have to sit back and complain about it. Get involved in your local MLS organization and help take charge of your future!

This editorial was first published here in May of 2014.

Matt Cohen has been with Clareity Consulting for over 17 years, consulting for many of the real estate industry’s top Associations, MLSs, franchises, large brokerages and technology companies. Many clients look to Matt for help with system selection and negotiation. Technology providers look to Matt for assistance with product planning, software design, quality assurance, usability, and information security assessments. Matt has spoken at many industry events, has been published as an author in Stefan Swanepoel’s “Trends” report and many other publications, and has been honored by Inman News, being listed as one of the 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders.

Op/Ed

Morning rituals of highly successful people – do you have one?

(EDITORIAL) From start to finish, the daily life of each successful person is very much dictated by their family and job. But there are definitely some patterns that we can all incorporate into our own morning rituals to achieve higher success and order.

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Fleximize took a look at the morning habits of 26 of the country’s most successful individuals to include the President of the United States Barrack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steve Jobs and even Oprah Winfrey.

What was discovered? Well, each of the men and women on their chart start their day early with time blocked out for exercise and meditation, breakfast and family. In short, things that are important!

Someone, somewhere coined it best: “If it has to happen, then it has to happen first!” Everyone has an “it.” Anyone who has managed to find professional success is surely embracing this philosophy. The first hour(s) of the day are used doing whatever is one’s top-priority activity. And no sooner do you start you risk the priorities of everyone else creeping in.

Interestingly enough, exercising in the morning is one of the group’s top priorities. It’s been said many times that exercise helps keep productivity and energy levels up and better prepares us for the everyday challenge of achieving all we can.

From start to finish, the daily life of each successful person is very much dictated by their family and job. But there are definitely some patterns that we can all incorporate into our own lives to achieve higher success and order.

An Insider article found that “the most productive people understand how important the first meal of the day is in determining their energy levels for the rest of the day. Most stick to the same light, daily breakfast because it works, it’s healthy for them and they know how the meal will make their mind and body feel.”

The Fleximize chart demonstrates that successful people consider the quiet hours of the morning an ideal time to focus on any number of things: important work projects, checking email, meditation. And what’s more, spending time on it at the beginning of the day ensures that it gets complete attention before others chime in.

So check the chart and find someone you can relate to.

BI points out that planning the day, week, or month ahead is a crucial time management tool designed to keep you on track when you’re in the thick of it. Using the mornings to do big-picture thinking helps you prioritize and set the trajectory of the day!

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Op/Ed

Security of client information is important, so change the process

(EDITORIAL) Too many companies have had security breaches, which is bad enough, but is the process for insuring client information safety too old to secure?

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security too old to function

While it’s clear companies seem to get hacked regularly, the steps taken to keep users safe are a joke. Companies still rely on asking personal questions in an effort to make users feel safe, but those attempts are laughable.

I wasn’t laughing earlier this week as I was setting up a few new accounts.

As anyone knows, creating accounts can be a real pain in the buttocks. But, since I’m kind of a geek, I would sometimes find the humor in choosing and answering my three security questions. (Wondering if I’d remember the answers.)

What band was your first concert?
What was your favorite dog’s name?
Where were your parents married?
What model was your first car?
Who was your childhood bff?

Cool.

I never thought much about the security questions until the last few times when I encountered a few like this:

In which city were you married?

What is the name of your eldest child?

At what time of day was your oldest child born?

How old was your father when you were born?

What?

I felt I had taken a step back in time.

Sure, these questions might be ok, if there were a lot of options, but these were four of the seven provided.

I’m not a super touchy person who gets triggered easily or angered at the drop of a hat. But, these questions made me question this process and its security.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, in this day and age, it’s quite possible you’ve never been married or had a kid. It’s also possible for some folks, they didn’t know their dad. Or, if they do, maybe they don’t want their security question asking how old he was when they were born.

But, the bigger question: Why so very personal? And, from a woman’s perspective, why so presumptive. It made me wonder: are the questions the same for a man or a woman of any age?

I can’t imagine a 22-year-old being asked about the birth of their eldest child. Or, where they were married.

These questions had to be options based on my age and gender.

I chose the questions I could answer like, where was my elementary school located.

But, I didn’t feel safer for answering. Somehow I felt like the company asking them was 1) Prying to gather personal data 2) Not concerned about safety 3) Was sexist.

As many others have argued, it’s time to shut this process down, if only for the fact that it doesn’t make us safer online. This is a practice that should be relegated to the past, just like the presumptive questions being asked.

Seems no matter where you look online, banks, retailers and even medical providers are hacked. Our information is floating in space on the interwebs.

Obviously, security is a top concern. Who wants to sign up for a service only to find out later, “OOPS, our bad, your information was hacked. Here, we will give you free credit monitoring for a month.”

Doesn’t cut it.

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Op/Ed

How we can prepare to slowly start going back into our offices

(EDITORIAL) At some point a supervisor, or manager may tell you to come back into the office. Are you dreading that call? If so, what can you do to prepare for it?

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Office return

Returning to the office is an inevitability for most of us. So how can we prepare to go back to work in a not-yet post-pandemic world?

Harvard Business Review (HBR) has some great feel good ideas about how you can return to the office. According to their article, you should “be a source of joy,” and “stock up on patience.” I’d love to live in a world where our situations allowed endless accommodations, but this is real life and as independent contractors, any broker can cut any agent at any time, so we have to seriously keep up and serve clients despite this chaos.

1. Assess your own risk.

Managers will have to work with every team member to assess their own risk and vulnerability. There’s a lot of unknowns at this point, including how schools will work and whether childcare is available. People who feel more vulnerable because of other health risks may need accommodations. I would like to think that workplaces should help to make accommodations as much as possible, but I realize that for some businesses, that may not be possible. Everyone will have to consider their own situation and advocate for their own needs.

2. Prepare for change.

Humans don’t always adapt to change very well. It’s time to start thinking about how the office will change when you return. You may be more isolated due to distancing protocols. There may be schedule changes to prevent too many people in the building at one time. The office may feel unfamiliar for quite some time, which is understandable. You may also find yourself responsible for cleaning your space more often. Expect to have many different emotions as you go through the next few months.

3. Realize that there are things out of your control

Returning to the office is going to be a transition. Focus on what you can control. Manage your stress. In an ideal world, your work would be proactive and provide honest responses to your concerns, but we all know those jobs are few and far between. Don’t expect the problems you had in your job pre-COVID to change. You’re just going to have to adapt to a post-COVID work environment. Only you can measure whether the benefits of your job outweigh the problems. Realize that there are many forces that you can’t change. Your broker or manager may not even be in control of some of those forces and has to adapt the same as you.

4. It’s not your place to change your company’s culture (unless you’re the broker)

HBR asks, “What part will you play in making (the transition back to the office) mean something extraordinary?” I’d like to posit that the transition back to the office doesn’t need to be anything special. It’s just part of the normal routine. Instead, I’d ask, “how can you deal with change while protecting your health and your family?” If your company is putting profits ahead of people, maybe it’s time to polish off that resume and look for a place with some decency.

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