Brokerage, Industry News, News Brief

MLS is more than technology

Perspective: A new look for MLS

Editor’s note: This guest piece, originally published at the FBS Blog (view here), is republished here with permission of the author. As a part of an essay competition, Inman News is seeking contributions from our readers about change, trends and important issues for multiple listing services. Click here for details.


Inman News recently issued a call for essays on "A new look for MLS," asking:

  • What changes do you believe are necessary and imminent for MLSs, and what types of changes do you believe will require the toughest battles?
  • Will VOWs (Virtual Office Web sites) catch on? Will they ever replace IDX (Internet Data Exchange) as the dominant model for sharing property information with consumers?
  • What MLS rules and policies, if any, need tweaking? Are any new rules needed?
  • How will the debate over MLS-operated public-facing property-search sites be settled?
  • Should MLSs send property listings information on their participants’ behalf to third-party Web sites?
  • Is the regionalization and nationalization of MLS data a given? What is the perfect number of MLSs required to serve real estate professionals?
  • Are we inevitably heading toward a single, national MLS? Would that be a good thing or a bad thing for agents, brokers and consumers?

I’m going to respond to all these questions in one fell swoop by using multiple listing service regionalization as an example. There are two distinct approaches to the regionalization challenge that have been advocated: (1) a standards-based approach (sort of like CARETS and WIREX); and (2) a proprietary approach, like calREDD. (Side note: A big question for me right now is where NAR’s Real Property Resource intends to go: standards or proprietary?)

A good analogy to explain the differences between these two approaches is the Web itself. Let’s pretend the Web didn’t exist but you wanted to create it. Two distinct approaches would be: (1) start by creating an open platform on which others can create; or (2) build one system and try to get everyone else to buy it or use it. The Web’s ridiculous success is because it’s built on open standards and not a proprietary solution.

This basic distinction — between the open Web and proprietary solutions — goes to the heart of what I believe is the purpose of MLSs and Realtor associations (local, state and national), namely: creating a cooperative platform on which competitors can compete. I wrote some time ago that MLS is more than technology. This isn’t new or radical — it’s what MLSs and associations have been doing since inception.

What is new and radical, however, is that the Web is creating new opportunities for competing and cooperating, and that presents many opportunities for MLSs and associations to help their members. Here are just some of the opportunities:

Listing-data standards. This is the beginning of nearly everything. Data standards are the base of the platform. Without standardized data, the Web as a platform for MLS is very messy, as we’re seeing right now. Data-sharing among MLSs, between brokers, with franchises, search engines and others is all hampered by data disparities.

More positively, standardizing data opens many opportunities that are not possible or practical today, such as reliable cross-MLS statistical analysis. One of the most important pieces of data to be standardized is a universal property ID, which I’m hopeful will be a core focus for NAR’s Real Property Resource. A universal property ID could form a basis for linking listing data together, which is what the Web is all about.

Who is a member of the MLS? (Or: It’s time to develop some terms of use.) I’ve mentioned this before, but today I think consumers are, for all practical purposes, members of the MLS. Ridiculous, you say? Not really. If access to the listing data is the definition of membership, then consumers are "members" in many respects. …CONTINUED