The nation’s first national public-facing MLS website is now a reality, though real estate consumers and agents won’t notice — at first.
Broker Public Portal LLC, a company formed by a large group of brokers and multiple listing services, and real estate technology firm Homesnap Inc. have signed final agreements forming the National Broker Portal LLC, a joint venture owned 50-50 by the two companies, according to a press release.
Homesnap is contributing its technology and brand to the joint venture, while BPP has brought “a group of brokerage and MLS leaders that are committed to driving adoption of the BPP initiative among MLSs across the country,” Homesnap co-founder Steve Barnes told Inman via email.
“This joint venture agreement formalizes our alignment with brokers and MLSs, making us equal partners in delivering a successful service to consumers,” Barnes said in a statement.
More than 4 million consumers use the Homesnap mobile app. The National Broker Portal intends to compete with third-party portals such as Zillow and realtor.com, which currently capture millions in advertising dollars from agents and brokers.
At the same time, the broker portal will follow industry-devised “fair display guidelines.” This means the portal will not include ads for other brokers or agents next to a brokerage’s listing and will send free leads to listing agents and brokers.
Homesnap had already been following the guidelines before partnering with BPP, which is one of the reasons Homesnap was chosen as BPP’s technology partner, Barnes said.
The National Broker Portal’s philosophy is “Run by people that sell real estate, not advertising,” Victor Lund of WAV Group told Inman. Lund is a consultant for BPP.
“With the agreement being finalized, Homesnap will be working with their new partners to drive the product development roadmap to introduce new and exciting search experiences for consumers, powered by MLS data, and attributed to brokers and agents through branding and business rules,” Lund said via email.
“For example, if a consumer is not working with a broker or an agent, the site will adhere to the fair display guidelines. If they are working with an agent, they will get a branded version of the search experience that will keep the agent and the consumer connected like MLS consumer portals.”
What the difference between Homesnap and the broker portal?
None. Homesnap is the broker portal, both companies told Inman. That includes homesnap.com, Homesnap’s mobile app for consumers, and Homesnap’s agent-only app Homesnap Pro.
“When Broker Public Portal, LLC evaluated their options, they realized that partnering with an established brand that had already invested the millions necessary to create leading real estate applications, was the best path to pursue,” Homesnap’s Barnes said.
Currently, 400,000-plus agents in 45 multiple listing services have access to Homesnap Pro.
Going forward, the only way agents from MLSs that aren’t current customers of Homesnap Pro will be able to access the app is if their MLS signs up for the broker portal, according to Barnes.
“However, existing clients of Homesnap do not need to convert to the BPP in order to get Homesnap Pro,” the company said.
“While we expect that many of them will convert, they do not need to in order to remain a Homesnap client.”
The company will provide dashboards for MLSs and their brokers to be able to see how Homesnap is performing for them.
Consumers will continue to use the same Homesnap mobile app and website that they currently use, Barnes said.
“[T]he joint venture has committed to making continual improvements to the Homesnap consumer experience,” he said.
“In particular, the web experience [homesnap.com] will undergo a significant upgrade in the next couple months.”
The National Broker Portal plans to further enhance both the mobile and desktop versions of Homesnap in the second quarter and beyond, Lund said.
How much will the new broker portal cost?
Participating MLSs will pay the National Broker Portal $1 per member each month.
Homesnap and BPP will agree to a budget and decide whether to spend or split any profits, Lund said.
“In reality, the business plan and budget expects to absorb the entire revenue dollar into product operations, [research and development], and developing advertising programs,” he said.
Last month, MLS vendor Black Knight agreed to give its MLS customers who join the broker portal a 30-percent credit back on the portal’s subscription cost.
Who will lead the new broker portal?
The National Broker Portal has a seven-member board of directors. Under the terms of the joint venture agreement, BPP and Homesnap will each contribute three directors to the board. BPP nominates the seventh “independent” director, who must also meet Homesnap’s approval, according to Lund.
Here’s the lineup from BPP:
- Alon Chaver of HomeServices of America
- Craig McClelland of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Metro Brokers
- Rebecca Jensen of Chicagoland MLS Midwest Real Estate Data (MRED)
- Guy Wolcott, co-founder
- Steve Barnes, co-founder
- Jason Mathias, COO
The seventh, independent director will be David Charron of the newly-formed Bright MLS, Inc.
The board will “dictate the look and feel, the features and functionality” of Homesnap’s consumer app and site, Barnes said.
Homesnap and BPP incorporated National Broker Portal as a limited liability company in Delaware on Dec. 20, 2016, according to the Delaware Department of State.
Now that the company exists, MLSs can begin to sign up to feed listings to the broker portal. MLSs that currently send listings to Homesnap who want to continue will have to re-up with National Broker Portal.
Six MLSs so far have committed to join the portal, subject to the final formation of the company and a review of the portal’s MLS licensing agreement, Lund said.
The six MLSs are:
- Northstar MLS in Minneapolis
- Connecticut MLS
- NORMLS in Cleveland
- CRIS in Akron, Ohio
- the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors and Rochester Genesee Region Real Estate Service
“We anticipate that MLSs totaling over 150,000 subscribers will sign the new BPP MLS agreement immediately,” Barnes said.
Homesnap declined to disclose the number of MLSs those subscribers represent, beyond the six MLSs mentioned.
Now that Homesnap and BPP have formed the joint venture, additional MLSs representing more than 200,000 subscribers have requested the new National Broker Portal MLS agreement to review and present to their boards of directors, the companies said.
Homesnap declined to say how many MLSs had requested the agreement to review.
Some already subscribe to Homesnap Pro and others do not, according to Lund.
“We have reached a great milestone,” said Merle Whitehead, BPP’s chairman, in a statement.
“Now it’s time for MLSs to show their support for the initiative by collaborating with other MLSs to create a national MLS consumer-facing website.”
National or regional?
In the two years since the broker portal project was first announced, some large MLSs have doubled down on their own regional MLS consumer sites.
My Florida Regional MLS, a BPP backer, relaunched its own site last month, aiming to deliver a “portal-like” consumer experience.
“Having a national portal like the BPP is going to have some advantages, but I‘m not sure it’s going to replace any time soon any of the other portals,” MFRMLS CEO Merri Jo Cowen said at the time.
“We still see that a regional site can capture traffic that some of the larger portals didn’t capture. BPP is new and it could be something that is hugely successful, and it’s something we’ll have to look at.”
MFRMLS’s board of directors had not yet decided whether to participate in BPP.
“We will be looking at it as part of [our] strategic plan. We’ll be giving it serious consideration,” Cowen said at the time, adding that the MLS didn’t feel informed enough to make the decision at that point.
In a statement today, MRED’s Jensen noted that the Houston Association of Realtors’ website, HAR.com, and other MLSs have been able to capture “a reasonable share of voice” in online consumer real estate search.
“But we believe that the best opportunity for success will be paved by MLSs who focus on a single, national strategy,” she said.
Seven months later
Inman publisher Brad Inman first announced that Homesnap and BPP had signed a letter of intent to create the portal in May 2016.
It took seven months to sign the final deal, but “there were no major sticking points,” Barnes said.
“In fact, on many levels, the parties pushed the goals of the partnership forward during this period,” he said.
“For example, several MLSs that are committed to the BPP were onboarded and launched during this time.
“In addition, Homesnap significantly increased its staff in anticipation of significant MLS participation after the formal announcement in January.”
The company has increased its staff by 20 percent in the last six months to 34 employees and will be hiring more as the portal ramps up, he added.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to note that existing clients of Homesnap do not need to convert to the broker portal in order to get Homesnap Pro.