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Building the dream MLS

By January 30, 2015 One Comment

NEW YORK — It’s time for the multiple listing service to go back to its roots and remember its main reason for being: to foster cooperation between agents.

That’s according to several real estate leaders asked to imagine their “dream” MLS at today’s Real Estate Connect conference.

The MLS was the “first social network before we had social networks,” said Rebecca Jensen, newly appointed CEO of Midwest Real Estate Data LLC (MRED).

“The MLS is about people and cooperation and compensation, but it’s also about data. Analysis, statistics, market conditions. With that data you have to have technology to offer it. So you have to understand what technology is needed for that marketplace to run.”

MLSs should beware of trying to be all things to all people, Jensen said.

“I think you need to pick and choose. You need to know the demographics of your market … and decide who you’re going to listen to over the others. Sometimes tough choices have to be made,” Jensen said.

The ones worth listening to are the agents and brokers actually doing most of the business, execs said.

“I think the best and brightest, the ones who are truly doing the business are the ones that should be making the rules,” not “association junkies” that do one or two deals per year, Todd said.

“You cannot base your tools on the least common denominator,” said Heather Elias, vice president of industry engagement at Century 21 Redwood Realty.

Cary Sylvester, vice president of technology innovation at franchisor Keller Williams, agreed.

“When you’re developing tools for the lowest common denominator, all that does is pull everyone down to the lowest common denominator,” Sylvester said.

Building for the best, by contrast, pulls everyone else up, she said.

Once identified, it is incumbent on the MLS to reach out to those key constituents, Jensen said.

“Just pick up the phone and say, ‘My board of directors is debating this particular policy change. How would this impact the agents in your office?’ ” she said.

Avoid fighting with big brokers

That communication is vital to keeping good relations with the big brokerages in an MLS’s market, said Tom Phillips, president and CEO of TREND MLS, in a separate panel.

“We seek input and advise brokers on where we’re heading. We share all of our road map,” he said.

“We don’t assume that a piece of information that we send out gets to every part of an organization. There are different people that reach out to different parts of the organization.”

“Doesn’t mean we always agree,” he added.

Rajeev Sajja, vice president of digital innovation at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, said that his brokerage consistently reaches out to all seven of the MLSs it belongs to to share some of its own “road map,” but only TREND responds.

“As an MLS you’ve got to really ask yourself who are you in the market to support. With TREND, it’s more of a partnership. They’re always focusing on building a bridge rather than trying to burn it,” he said.

“Some MLSs are just not responsive at a basic, core level. We’re frustrated with quite a few of them,” he added.

For instance, TREND and BHHS Fox & Roach have collaborated to create a customized single-sign on integration that allows Fox & Roach agents to connect to the MLS from the firm’s back-office system without the need for an additional login.

“That was us as a broker wanting to provide seamless user experience for our agents. We’re tired of passwords. I have a spreadsheet for my passwords and a password for my spreadsheet,” Sajja said.

“We reached out to TREND and they were open.”

 A national MLS

The ideal MLS would be a national one, according to Sylvester.

“The mechanism of actually storing information should not be so fragmented. We should be able to collect this in one place and use it for the entire industry,” she said.

“We can push it to all systems so you can have local governance … but we should have a central repository.”

Given that there are currently 850-plus MLSs across the country, having a national database would mean less duplication of work and investment that could be put toward new tools or plowed back into brokerages, said Christine Todd, CEO of the Northern Virgina Association of Realtors.

Jensen imagined a platform in which all apps could be plugged in and were all interoperable — a dream the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO), which Jensen formerly chaired, could help make a reality.

A national database does not necessarily mean a national listing site. But there are several initiatives underway that large brokers and franchisors have expressed support for, including a national broker portal.

While there has been resistance to MLS public-facing sites in the past, brokers are recognizing the need to compete with Zillow, Trulia and at the national level, Jensen said.

“Fragmentation makes us weak,” she said.

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