Editorial: Internet killed the MLS

Public listings sites essential to MLS relevancy

MLSs around the country are missing out on an amazing opportunity to maintain relevance as online companies continue to build up a marketplace without them.

Public-facing Web sites are what could’ve saved the MLS — and have in some markets — but many either can’t build them because of broker pressure or simply don’t have the resources to do it.

Bob Hale, CEO of the Houston Association of Realtors, which stands as the poster child for an MLS Web site done right, provides a reminder of this. HAR.com delivers 600,000 leads every year to its members. That’s a benefit no agent or broker can afford to ignore.

HAR’s surveys show that the more consumers use the Internet to conduct their own research, the more they will use a Realtor. The more information consumers get on their own, the more they turn to agents to help wade through it.

While the debate elsewhere over the value of public real estate search sites continues to drag on, brokers and MLSs are missing a grand opportunity to work together toward a common goal.

It makes no sense.

In the past year, brokers have feverishly moved to form listings partnerships with online companies, sending millions of listings to consumer portals and search engines to gain exposure in a troubled market. Many argue the MLS was never meant to be a consumer tool, but if the same efforts were put into creating a killer MLS experience and marketing that to consumers in local markets, brokers would get the same end result — greater exposure, more educated consumers, and, with any luck, more sales.

Rather than prop up the MLS the industry worked so hard to build, it has slowly caused its own demise by building up other online properties that now threaten the relevance of this walled garden.

Brokers built this amazing marketplace known as MLS about 100 years ago as a system of cooperation. But when it came to the Internet, this cooperative system suddenly was viewed as the enemy if leaked to the public in a venue outside brokers’ own Web sandboxes.

MLSs need to take a seat and study public sites like HAR.com and make a move before it’s too late. As Hale himself has said, if not for this grip on MLS information from within, sites like Zillow might never have been born. Consumers wouldn’t crave this information if the industry gave it to them first.

A public site does not compete with broker sites as long as the MLS is not in the business of brokering real estate. A public site is the key to improving the Realtor image. Consumers want reliable, transparent information in an environment where they don’t feel they are simply part of an agenda.

In the age of Google and Wikipedia, when nearly any bit of information can be surfaced within a few clicks, MLSs that keep listings and market data under lock and key have it backwards.

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