A group of multiple listing services, franchisors and brokers is on the hunt for seed money to build the first national MLS consumer-facing listing portal.
The initiative is being called the “National Broker Portal Project,” although it has no official name as of yet. The amorphous group behind it has raised half of the $250,000 it needs in startup capital and has about a third of the money in hand.
To cover the other half, the project’s facilitator, Victor Lund of real estate consulting firm WAV Group, is reaching out to brokers and MLSs and asking for contributions of $5,000 each — no more, no less.
As a reward, contributors will determine the final governance of the site and participate in guiding the budget and design, WAV Group said in a Q&A about the project.
Contributors will not necessarily be shareholders, however. Ownership will be decided after the startup funds have been raised and governance is hashed out, but current thinking is that shareholders will be MLSs and the governance will be by brokers for a “nice check and balance,” Lund said in a webinar about the project.
Brokers will hold 10 of 15 board of directors seats, MLS executives will hold three, and two will be reserved for other industry players, according to Lund’s presentation. The company will likely be incorporated as a for-profit limited liability company.
The project’s goal, Lund said, is to create a portal funded by MLS dues and data, governed by brokers and MLS, to present listings to consumers with a display that adheres to “fair display guidelines” devised by a group of MLSs and brokers.
The guidelines include not forcing brokers to display their listings on the site; no featured listings or ads for other brokers or agents next to a brokerage’s listing; and free leads sent to listing agents or brokers, among other stipulations.
Those fair display rules will differentiate the broker portal from third-party sites, including realtor.com, Lund said.
Consumers will decide which experience is “more pleasurable,” he added.
Like realtor.com, the broker portal will have timely, high-quality listing data sourced from MLSs, though it may also accept listings directly from brokers.
“[T]hat has not been determined. I believe that brokers wishing to participate will encourage their MLS to join,” Lund said in an email.
There do not seem to be any barriers to national coverage for the site, he added.
“Like all things, it may take some time for everyone to go through their process of determination, but we have seen nothing but green lights,” he said.
A committee for the project estimates that it will need $15 million minimum to launch with an estimated cost of $1 to $3 per subscriber per month to MLSs. The portal is currently slated to launch in 2016.
Organizers plan to leverage the 200 million monthly MLS customer portal emails currently sent by MLSs to drive traffic to the portal.
Brokers and MLSs will be able to choose whether or not to promote the site and whether to keep their own public-facing sites, Lund said.
He emphasized that this broker portal initiative is different from another initiative, Project Upstream, which is rumored to be a national broker database.
Two events set the stage for a national MLS public-facing site, according to Lund: One was the creation of the fair display guidelines. The other was that the National Association of Realtors adopted a policy in May 2013 that included the operation and promotion of public-facing websites among the “basic” services that MLSs can charge all members for, regardless of whether they opt to display their listings there.
So far, the initiative’s organizers have met twice in November and December, Lund said. At the first meeting, 25 brokers representing about 325,000 agents and 25 MLSs representing about 300,000 agents attended.
He declined to provide participants’ names other than to say there is “widespread support” from franchise organizations, brokerage network The Realty Alliance, independent brokerage network Leading Real Estate Companies of the World (LeadingRE), Council of Multiple Listing Services (CMLS) members, and MLS group COVE.
Inman has previously reported the names of some participants, including Cameron Paine, CEO of the Connecticut MLS Inc.; Merle Whitehead, CEO of Realty USA; John Mosey, president of NorthstarMLS; San Francisco broker Mark McLaughlin; Coldwell Banker broker Don Watson; and Erin Koops of LeadingRE.
Other MLS executives who are playing an active role include Tim Dain of Southwestern Illinois Regional MLS, Chris Carrillo of Metro MLS (Wisconsin), and Joseph Cullom, Charleston MLS.
Lund is the only person authorized to speak for the group, according to CTMLS’s Paine.
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