NEW YORK — Cameron Paine, CEO for the Connecticut Multiple Listing Service Inc., which consolidated several smaller MLSs in the state, said that continuing fragmentation across the MLS landscape opens the door to rapid and widespread change.
Brian Boero, a partner for real estate and technology consulting group 1000Watt Consulting, posed a question during a session at the Real Estate Connect conference in New York on whether there is a very real possibility that a disruptive technology or entity could tear apart the fabric of MLSs as they exist today.
Paine’s conclusion: yes. "There’s no question in my mind that with technology — that the right model at the right cost could come in and clean our clocks in a very short period of time. There’s just no question," Paine said.
"If you think about it, we have a million Realtors in this country. They’re paying an average (monthly fee to the MLS), whatever that may be. Multiply that per month (rate) by 12 — that’s Wall Street kind of dollars. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars per year," he said, and there are more than 900 MLSs across the U.S.
"That raises a lot of eyebrows, that gets a lot of attention, and that’s something to (change) that subscription model, which is just sitting there. And we’re a fragmented industry."
Charlie Ashby, president and broker for VIP Realty Group Inc. in Naples, Fla., said he fears that "the MLS is not only in jeopardy — it’s already lost its control" because brokers have agreed to syndicate their data via companies such as Move Inc.’s ListHub, which in turn distributes that data to hundreds of other sites, which are monetizing that data.
"You are losing control and regulation of the display of your data because (Internet Data Exchange) data cannot be displayed anywhere expect on a participant’s site, but opt-in (syndicated) data can be displayed anywhere and anyhow," Ashby said.
An important point, Boero said, is that sites that take in syndicated streams of real estate listings data, such as ListHub, Zillow and Trulia, "only exist because you permit them to exist. There’s no coercion there."
In a separate MLS session during the Real Estate Connect conference, Boero noted the tensions that exist — and often over the provision of technology and services — between brokers and MLSs.
"We are seeing a tension that exists between MLSs and brokerages … escalate. We’re forced with sort of a paradox: The MLS is at once the potential source of innovation that can benefit a broker, maybe even save a broker, and at the same time it is viewed, in many cases … as a threat by brokers," Boero said.
Sam Scott, director of information services for the Houston Association of Realtors, said MLSs in some cases are stepping up their technology services in a push for membership. "Competition between associations for membership gets tracked into the MLS decision-making process," he said.
John B. Leonardi, CEO for the Western New York Real Estate Information Service, a broker-owned MLS, said that in his market area, "I think one of the keys is for the associations (to) get out of the way," and broker control allows for a very direct relationship between the MLS and brokers, he said.
Frank Barancik, a broker for Prudential One Realty in Casa Grande, Ariz., said that MLS board members should be more neutral in dealing with issues that impact all members. "The board of directors of an MLS (in some cases) will not take off the hat of the brokerage that they’re working with, or the association that they’re working with," which does not serve the common good, he said.
Kris Berg, a broker for San Diego Castles Realty and an Inman News columnist, said she is concerned about MLSs that offer "free" member benefits that have strings attached. She said in some cases she is "spammed directly" by the MLS vendor, and cited an instance in which a free product that she adopted later became a paid product. Also, she said, there are services selected by the MLS that she hasn’t found to be of value for her business.
Berg referred to a "chasm" of distrust between brokers and MLSs, "and I believe it goes both ways."
An audience member who is an MLS executive noted that getting busy brokers to buy in to a new service or technology is challenging for MLSs, and suggested that if members were asked to opt in to receive $50 in free cash, perhaps 60 percent would actually follow through.
But Berg questioned whether MLSs should be in the business of seeking out and securing free member services they believe will be helpful to members. "As noble as it is to help us help ourselves, should that really be the MLS’s role?" she asked.
What Berg does want MLSs to focus on is the data that they gather from members. She said MLSs should make it easy for members to get all of the real estate data that they need for their business, without the need to go to "three or four third-party sites."
She added, "I shouldn’t feel like an acrobat doing gymnastics when I’m just trying to do my job."
In the mobile space, particularly, the real estate industry would do well to step up its game, Berg suggested. She noted that she in some instances uses a consumer-facing mobile app provided by Redfin — another brokerage company — to find property information, and then uses the local MLS to find showing instructions for a particular property. This technology divide, she said, seems to present an opportunity for the industry.
"A lot of time (in the industry) is spent playing catch-up instead of trying to be at the forefront and being truly innovative."