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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.

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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

Sadly, the tiny home movement has morphed into an elitist badge of honor

(EDITORIAL) Prepare to roll your eyes all the way back into your head, because the latest tiny home project in Cali puts the movement even more out of reach of the average American.

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Though they probably didn’t intend the correlation at the time, whomever first said “Less is more” could have easily been referring to the tiny home movement in America.

We’ve cultivated a strange fascination with small things in grandiose settings, and the latest gimmick to grace the “tiny home” movement is no exception – it’s a 3D printed tiny home in California that’s merely 300 square feet in size and sells for $250,000 on land valued at over $5M.

The land in question serves as a refuge for tech giants who just want to get back to nature, albeit inside of a tiny air-conditioned property. They’re marketing the “Sleeping Pod” as an efficient place that runs exclusively on Tesla batteries (ooh), and it’s a final nail in the coffin of a movement that started as a means of efficiency and sustainability, now morphing into catering to the mega wealthy.

Bucking the city in favor of no light pollution and agricultural-themed living is understandable, and no one needs that kind of respite like the people this site attracts.

But, like… y’all know that tents are a thing, right?

We’re past the point of being wildly confused that someone would ever pay a premium to live in a significantly smaller house; in fact, millennials and their parents alike seem to idolize the notion — one that, absent its public allure, might still be viable as an affordable, sustainable, comfortable alternative to traditional living.

Unfortunately, it seems like you’ll need to own a social media service or three if you want a shot at America’s latest frugal fascination.

It’s worth pointing out that sustainable, cheap tiny housing does exist — just not here. In other areas of the world, 3D-printed homes made from recycled materials can be built for under $10,000 in less than a week, and sustainable sources of energy such as solar- and wind-based power (while not initially cheap to implement) are investments which easily pay for themselves once they’ve been installed.

In an ironic twist, the ability to afford significantly less room for the opportunity to experience minimalism at its dumbest is now one reserved only for the rich.

While the technology powering Monterey Peninsula’s Galini Sleeping Pod, dubbed the “sustainable airstream of our time” is inspiring, the elitist price tag attached to it is not.

The bottom line resides in common sense: sustainability shouldn’t be a privilege, and it shouldn’t be marketed as a luxury.

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Op/Ed

Instead of ‘leaning in,’ women leaders are opting to ‘lean out’

(EDITORIAL) Many women have tried to “lean in,” but as that sets many back, they’re opting to “lean out” and forge their own path.

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We’ve been reporting on how many of “truisms” about women in the workplace are actually myths. Women do ask for raises and try to negotiate – they just aren’t heard. Women do possess the qualities that our culture looks for in leaders – they simply aren’t seen as being “feminine” characteristics, and so are coded negatively.

One of the most pervasive of these gendered myths is the concept of “leaning in.” As famously defined by Sheryl Sandberg, the advice to “lean in” and volunteer for additional responsibilities at work implies that women aren’t already doing so. That’s false (and a harmful stereotype to perpetuate).

No matter the industry, women do lean in. The truth is they often aren’t given credit for it when they do.

It should come as no shock then that after “leaning in” and not receiving additional credit, better compensation, or increased recognition in their companies — many women and minorities are getting frustrated with trying to change a status quo that isn’t interested in changing. Instead they are opting to “lean out.”

They are simply leaving and creating opportunities elsewhere.

One example of someone opting to lean out is Allison Baum, recently profiled by Quartz. A VC professional, Baum tried leaning in at her company only to receive minimal appreciation. She attributes this lack of progress to the way that her corporation wasn’t set up to help women succeed.

The Guardian ran a shocking report last year about the negligence of many of society’s safety systems (like seat belts!) that failed. Literally. They failed to incorporate women’s bodies as part of their designs.

Eventually, Baum left and founded her own VC firm. Leaning out allowed her to not only create an opportunity for herself, but to in turn create more opportunities for women and other minorities in the tech field.

If you’re in a position of authority, or are in a position where you are thinking of how you can best build your company so that all your employees can succeed, let Baum’s story illustrate the restrictions of only thinking about business in a “traditional” fashion.

In order to encourage the diversity that you need to grow and thrive, the very fabric of your team or organization must be built with more than one image of success in mind.

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Op/Ed

A hugely dangerous challenge of the Internet of Things

(EDITORIAL) The Internet of Things is here, with all manner of soft AI voices and shiny Bluetooth bits. But how long can we count on it staying?

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LG Alexa internet of things

So, robot apocalypse. The Internet of Things machines have their cold metal fingers all up in our data, our houses, our sand dunes and/or porn.

And for what? What do they offer in exchange for this unprecedented invasion of our day to day lives?

Seamless, user-friendly automation to help with a thousand daily tasks, demonstrably improving our quality of life.

That’s… that’s actually a pretty good offer! Nice work, robots.

It comes with catches, and we’ve covered those, but Day One bumps and blunders are part of owning tech. They generally get engineered out.

What I want to talk about is Day 100, or 1000. Because the important word in “Internet of Things” isn’t “Internet.” We have the Internet. We can confidently expect the Internet to continue being a big deal.

But “things” is an important word. Things are distinct from tech. With tech, buying the thing and futzing with the thing are part of the fun, especially for practicing nerds like your narrator. Tech is new, and the excitement of a new game or a new phone can take the edge off, say, a server crash or a quick trip to tech support and back.

What about things? No early adopter aura in history will get a customer to ignore a fridge full of rotten food. Fridges need to work, period. So does your thermostat and your car. All those things are charter candidates for the full IoT overhaul, and they’re all capital T Things, not tech. They aren’t shiny toys people can live without for a week or four. They’re expected parts of daily life, things that need to work on Day 1, 100, and 1000.

Are companies preparing for that? Are the startups rising out of the blue-light-white-plastic Stuff Renaissance prepared to rebrand as global service providers, doing the hard, unglamorous, absolutely necessary work of digital maintenance?

Bigger question: are they prepared to guarantee security while they do so? Because anything with digitized bits needs patches and updates to function, and if it can download patches and updates, it can download things that are not patches and updates. No one wants to chase a botnet out of their microwave. Are the companies invested in always-on Things standing up and saying they’ll take responsibility for indefinitely securing and maintaining the infrastructure they intend to profit from?

Short answer, no. They’re not. Operations departments tend to be vanishingly small, painfully understaffed, spectacularly underpaid. Let’s be real,: we don’t prioritize stuff like that. We’re talking the digital equivalent of the guy who chases the raccoons out of your HVAC, and that sounds entirely too much like work.

Maintenance is not sexy.

But it’s absolutely necessary. It’s generally just the beginning of a thing. It gets the wheel rolling, and that’s not to be undersold.

But the IoT wheel is most definitely rolling. The issue is keeping it in motion, making it a wifi-level universal usage standard, not a 3DTV fad.

That won’t get done in a meeting. That gets done through long term adoption, and long term adoption will be about attracting, training, and retaining people willing to do the hard work of maintenance and customer support.

The Internet of Things wants to be a major step forward in the infrastructure of daily life. I am incredibly in favor of that. But daily life works because it’s the full time job of a whole lot of people to make sure it does so. So to Internet of Things companies, I say – pay them, treat them well, make your organization the best place in the industry for them, or be left behind by the people who do.

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