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New Conversations About Your MLS

The possibilities are endless

The MLS Track at Inman Real Estate Connect left my mind spinning with the possibilities that are ahead for our industry and, more specifically, the MLS. I ended up with a few opinions and a bunch of questions to take back to my local Board for discussion. This is where this conversation rightly belongs, after all…with the agents and members who pay for and use the service, and create the data.

Points were made by the various experts about the political implications of the choices we now have and I can’t help but think that if there ever was a time for changes to come to this model, it is now. The changing market, demands for transparency by consumers and the proliferation of social media are all meeting and creating an environment of unprecedented possibility. Never before have we had an opportunity such as this – one which can be directed by member demand rather than leadership whim or control.

Read over the questions and ideas I came away with (thanks to the panelists) and then go back to your Board and start or continue some conversations.

Devilishly Simple, Common Sense Ideas

Will MLS’s find a way to create Univeral Property I.D.’s allowing the cross-referencing of data between tax records and sites like flickr, youtube, etc? (love this one from Michael Wurzer!)

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When will the ‘natural language search’ we use everywhere else online become part of the MLS interface? Shouldn’t this interface look and feel different than the actual database?

Easy-peasy? Cool. Now some tougher ones…

Local MLS’s With Public Facing Portals?

Will more local MLS’s offer a public facing website allowing consumers to search for listings, research sold data and more? There are some that are doing this already. Is this creating unfair competition with Broker and Agent sites?

Would these sites, if created, render national portals like Trulia, Zillow and the big R unnecessary or redundant? Can’t a locally focused portal offer better hyper-local data and information that consumers like?

How will Brokers and Agents provide a value proposition to Consumers? Isn’t giving away the data, giving away the farm so to speak? How will MLSs create value for non-listing members like exclusive buyer’s agents? What other information could a local Association site offer that would fairly serve these members too?

Hard questions, right? Well, put on your big girl panties and keep reading – this party is just getting started!

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Is Regionalization or Nationalization Inevitable?

Will local MLS’s change their focus from being the gate-keepers of information to being service providers to their customers aka Brokers and Agent members? How are MLS borders justified in the eyes of these customers? And how about to their customers? Shouldn’t we start to respect the blurring of the lines of Broker market area vs. Association market area?

Wouldn’t consolidation allow MLS’s to become large enough to create scale and ability to provide tools that consumers now get elsewhere (T, Z, R)? Should we prepare for the idea that the consumer will determine where we go?

Also, could they then be able to provide more services to Brokers and Agents, thereby lessening the burden on these dues-paying members? Would this allow Brokers and Agents to focus better on professionalism and service rather than all the peripheral ‘stuff’ (forms programs, showing services, etc)? Should MLS’s redefine ‘core services’ and really empower Brokers? Should we be creating, as Saul Klein said, ‘an ecosystem of innovation’ by supporting our members’ businesses?

But then again, wouldn’t consolidation also reduce competition between MLS providers and therefore service? Or is there a way to separate the database from the user-interface preserving choice by members?

Is it all about exposure of listings and economies of scale, or would we be merely creating monopolies?

Is Your MLS Changing With Your Business?

Are you satisfied with your MLS system? Are your clients? How much value do you think you are getting for your dues dollar? Is there a nearby MLS that might be able to do it better? Or are you thinking about creating your own? Talk to your local Association about how you feel!

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Written By

Lisa sells residential real estate in the Pocono Mountains of Northeastern PA, and authors The Poconos Real Estate Blog. Being a strong believer in community participation, she currently serves as President of a 1700 home Property Owners' Association and Secretary of the Board of the local REALTOR Association for 2009. Her most challenging and fulfilling role, though, is that of Mom to two teenage girls, and her main hope for them is that they learn to appreciate the abundant joys of a life lived with a positive attitude. You can connect with Lisa on Twitter, Facebook and/or LinkedIn.



  1. Thomas Johnson

    January 13, 2009 at 9:41 am

    In Houston we have a big public facing MLS. (a Billion hits a month, 25,000 agents) Our HAR leader is the Inman Man of the Year. HAR feeds Zillow and The Realogy(Coldwell Banker, C-21,ERA,Sotheby’s and B,H&G) sites feed Zillow and Trulia already, so 30% of the listings are already in the cloud available to the public, so I guess would love to compete with an agent that hides his clients listings as long as I had an IDX feed.

    Maybe part of Houston’s ability to weather this market storm has been our accessible MLS data.

  2. Jonathan Dalton

    January 13, 2009 at 9:50 am

    ARMLS, the Phoenix-area version, doesn’t have a public-facing site. The first thought from most agents is they wouldn’t want to have the competition, but few have viable websites that would be competed with. And a public facing ARMLS isn’t going to impact the niche markets where I already have the traction.

    Skipping to other parts … our MLS provides forms services already. I’d just as soon not have it select a showing provider or other vendors as I’d rather choose whether to utilize these services instead of having to pay whether I do or not.

    Regionalization/nationalization is highly overrated. It doesn’t matter to me what’s for sale in Tucson because I’m not going to be selling there. Same goes for New Mexico, for that matter.

  3. Michael Wurzer

    January 13, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Lisa, this is a great list of questions! I’ll undoubtedly have more to say at the FBS Blog later, but two quick things spring to mind:

    1. Natural language search — if this really is the ticket, why didn’t Google do it when they know more about natural language search than anyone? Because the easiest way to search by price, beds and baths is not natural language.

    2. National vs. Local — I found it interesting that in my first panel on consumer-facing MLS web sites, everyone seemed to agree that the local MLS had an opportunity to provide a more tailored (i.e., better) experience with richer data than could a national portal, simply because they are local and understand the local market better. In contrast, the second panel, on MLS consolidation or collaboration, several were saying bigger is better and maybe even national is best. I think what’s good for the consumer is good for the agent, and that local MLSs remain very important.

    3. If I were responsible for developing strategy for MLSs, I’d consider how to cooperate enough that they can compete with each other. This is the same model MLSs employ on behalf of members (cooperating competition) and it makes sense at the MLS level, too.

    Lastly, thanks for keeping the conversation going, especially about universal property IDs!

  4. Monica McNamara

    January 13, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    For those of us not attending Inman last week, thank you for capsulizing info for our review (Agents/Brokers).

    As a past President of our local board and, at the time then, our local WMLS (Worcester Multiple Listing Service, now pulled back under Association umbrella), these questions have been on the horizon for a while.

    I don’t see the rationale for a national MLS. Real estate is local. There are so many different niche markets in the country, I do not see how one provider could possibly do justice to them all.

    Lastly, information is king. Keeping information so carefully guarded from the consumer will have a long term negative by- product. Buyers and sellers should hire real estate professionals for the bundle of services that we offer, not just for the source of data.

  5. Ruthmarie Hicks

    January 13, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    I don’t know how practical a national MLS would be. I live in NY…am I going to try and sell property in San Francisco or even Albany? No way. The other problem I have with it is that you could wind up with a very monopolistic system where there are few options for MLS providers. Wouldn’t many fewer MLS’s limit the number of providers and create a natural monopoly?

    Heck, we have issues like that right now. We use Rappatoni and everyone says its the “most popular.” WHY? I think it stinks and I’m far from alone. Slow, cumbersome, only runs on IE, can’t use the Mac OS – PLEASE we pay for this! Point is just because its one of the few games in town and is the MOST USED – doesn’t make it popular. Yet it could become the Microsoft of the real estate business. If your options are limited, where do you go?

    Public facing portals…? OUCH! That would definitely hurt me. People read my blogs without IDX, but IDX is how I generally (not always) obtain their information. I’m all for transparency, but the MLS is a proprietary database. Agents pay for it and it should benefit them. This could easily benefit big box brokerage – is that what we really want? We’ve given away so much already. There needs to be a point where we say “No!”

  6. Lisa Sanderson

    January 13, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    If you missed the MLS Track at Inman RE Connect #icny, read this handy-dandy summary of discussion points:

  7. Matthew Hardy

    January 13, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    > “is there a way to separate the database from the user-interface”

    Perhaps the smartest question asked by any real estate blogger anywhere.

  8. Lisa Sanderson

    January 13, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Thomas: Thanks for stopping by. Bob Hale was a panelist and shared some of the things HAR is doing. Very interesting stuff and so far away from the mindset I’m used to.

    Jonathan: I’m not convinced about Nationalization but Regionalization is something being talked about in my area. We have a bunch of small boards here that have begun a data-sharing arrangement, but I can see how something more solidified could have benefits. It’s not for everyone, which is why I said the conversations have to take place at the local level.

  9. Lisa Sanderson

    January 13, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Michael: Thanks for stopping by and commenting! You *are* the expert and I feel fortunate to hear what you have to say. Your observation about the conflicting messages at the conference is right on. I think regionalization can help balance those dichotomies.

    Monica: I agree with all of your points. Yes, some of these ideas have been around for awhile but the taste for change has finally taken hold, I think. I am excited by the possibilities!

    Ruthmarie: I am fortunate to not have issues like you do with my local MLS but I have heard complaints like yours before. There are great MLS vendors out there, your Board just needs to find them.

    Matthew: Thanks for the compliment but I cannot take credit for the idea. This post is a summary of discussions by the panels at Inman Real Estate Connect. I just took notes and made big stars on the page when something sounded brilliant! I should have recorded it so I could give credit where it is due.

  10. Paula Henry

    January 14, 2009 at 4:01 am

    I love all the ideas and thoughts coming from the Inman Conference. Our MLS does have a public-facing site and their site usually ranks high, only for one particular key phrase. With all the data available to them, they actally give out very little information to the public.

    Like Jonathan said, they can’t compete with a good agent/broker website for data and views.

    A National MLS – the idea has been tossed about for a while and still, I don’t see the value. It may help the consumer compare areas or agents who are licensed in two or more states, but the local knowledge is found at a local level.

  11. Teresa Boardman

    January 14, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Giving away data is not giving away the farm. At least not for me. I am not a gate keeper. I sell real estate and help consumers make decisions. Our MLS has a nice public portal and consumers can get data including data on sold homes. I think it is wonderful.

  12. Ruthmarie Hicks

    January 14, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    This might be NY thing. But to get contracts signed and to get the public on board, you can NOT give away the store. I require sign-in. Otherwise no one would ever give up their information. In my neck of the woods its “give them a taste and make them beg for more.” You have little choice because pumping agents in order to do things without them and evade commissions is a favorite indoor sport.

    I used to give it ALL away. The result was no listings and many a successful FSBO accomplished through my good offices. The FSBO wouldn’t have worked without me but I came away with nothing. Been there, done that.

    I give away market reports, neighborhood information and the like. Since our area is very diverse and a half a block can be world apart, this information is of significant value. Anything more – you show me yours and I’ll show you mine. Want listings? SIGN UP! Want to know EVERYTHING about how I will go about selling your home? Here’s a contract!

    Its most unfortunate that I feel I have to operate this way. But I’ve had some pretty bad experiences over the past couple of years. Heck I’ve even had people pump me so their cousin who just got a license could list their house. I know one agent friend who staged the whole home, brought in repair people, city officials to legalize a deck, you name it she did it. Then the seller told her “Thank you so much, but Sally Jones is my usual REALTOR. She doesn’t do that much, so thank you for your help – but she can take over now and list the house.”

    Happens all too often….

  13. Malcolm Waring

    January 16, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Excellent article Lisa.

    The “natural language” buzzwords have been resurfacing regularly for at least the last 20 years or more in the database community. I’m with Michael on that issue.

    As a database architect, I’m a big proponent of consistent data, as well as a single source.

    I just checked and we have access to 8 different MLS systems that all use FlexMLS in our region in northeastern PA. This gives us a unique ability to work on making data more consistent and maybe eventually using the same property ID to identify the same property even when it’s listed in different MLS systems.

    I just joined the MLS Committee with Lisa and I know that these matters are getting addressed and are not trivial. I’m going to work as hard as I can on this issue where it makes business sense.

    For example, there are some communities where we overlap with an adjoining MLS yet we have to enter the information in both systems separately. As a database person, that makes no sense at all. However, I’m not sure how we could merge into a single MLS because their rules are SO different from ours.

    All bets are off with our neighbors to the south who use the other system mentioned above. I too thought it was a cool MLS system until I looked closely and found that it was based on a way out of date version of the software, which is why it only works in IE, not even Firefox.

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