Hacker Connect January 16 in New York
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Multiple listing services are not dead or irrelevant, real estate technology industry guru Saul Klein says in a paper released this week, though they must evolve to embrace Web 2.0 ideals and expand beyond for-sale listing information to encompass parcel-based information.

It’s not an entirely new concept for the real estate industry. Third-party sites such as Zillow and Cyberhomes, among others, already provide a range of information on tens of millions of U.S. homes at free public Web sites.

And leaders of the National Association of Realtors trade group have announced a plan to create a national property database that will compile information for industry professionals about all types of property across the country. As proposed, this database would not replace MLSs, and MLSs could be participants in sharing data with the database and channeling database information to their members. While there had been discussions early on about offering limited public access to this database, more recent discussions have focused on a password-protected database that is not accessible by consumers.

But Klein’s concept, which he dubs "MLS 5.0," does introduce a new way of thinking for MLSs.

The paper, "MLS Today and MLS Tomorrow," attempts to answer, "What will be required to build on the current solid foundation of today’s MLS?"

Klein, a licensed broker since 1977 who serves as CEO for real estate technology companies InternetCrusade and Point2 Technologies, proposes that a key element to this futuristic MLS is that it includes all parcels of real property and leverages information from a variety of sources over time "to bring consumers and real estate professionals together on the Web to participate in an ongoing conversation with real estate at its center."

He envisions that this next-generation MLS will have a public-facing side for consumers to interact with real estate professionals, and a private side accessible only by real estate professionals.

The MLS should feature online communities for real estate professionals and consumers alike, should have multilingual capabilities, agent-rating and referral systems, agent profiles, and updated neighborhood information that accepts user-generated content, as examples.

The MLS should encourage innovation and allow for a variety of front-end software to access the data. "Openness should allow for more applications and solutions and lower prices for Realtors," the paper states.

Why call it 5.0? Klein explains in the paper that he considers the first generation of the MLS to be the three-ring binders with printed weekly updates and daily errata that were commonplace in the days before the Web. The second generation was the bound MLS book, and computer access to real estate data through simple terminals is defined as the third generation.

The fourth generation, according to the paper, was the Web-based MLS, and the fifth generation incorporates components of Web 2.0.

Klein proposes that MLS 5.0 is "open, collaborative, self-organizing and self-policed," and it serves as a property "wiki" that allows users to enter and update information, a social networking site, and incorporates "single sign-on" technology that allows users to log in once to gain access to multiple systems, among other attributes.

While industry discussions have traditionally centered on keeping real estate professionals at the center of the home-sale transaction, Klein suggests that real estate professionals "must now be at the ‘center of the conversation’ about real property, and this is essential to the mission of MLS 5.0."

His proposed mission statement for MLS 5.0: "Keep the Realtor in the center of the real estate conversation, realizing that conversation extends from far in advance of a purchase and continues after a purchase of real property. Real estate is a lifetime conversation."

There are many ways to generate exposure for property listings information these days, the paper states. In addition to placing property listings information in MLSs, real estate professionals and individual sellers can post information on sites ranging from Yahoo and Google to Craigslist, Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow, among others.

The MLS "must reflect the new realities," Klein states.

In addition to for-sale information, the MLS should carry historic sold data, public data, and consumer-generated content from "online communities, groups, blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies and applications," Klein proposes.

While MLS systems have traditionally served as broker-to-broker networks, the MLS can take on more of a role in marketing, the paper states.

"MLS needs to redefine itself from a purely business-to-business network tool to a marketing facilitator for its participants and subscribers. It needs to take advantage of its assets and shift its paradigm from information about what is for sale to information on all property whether for sale or not."

While Klein acknowledges it will take time for MLS systems to get on board with such changes, he notes that rapid and sweeping changes are common in this era of technological innovation.

"How many people knew of Google five years ago and how many know of it today? In a short span of time, unknown Web sites have become household words.

"The world of MLS as we know it is approaching a cliff, and many riding the MLS train do not see the cliff as it gets closer with each passing day."

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