MLSs, rightly or not, feel they’re under attack from the recent surge of investment capital into startup real estate technology. The Realtor organization, by extension, perceives the potential for an undermined MLS system as undercutting its role in establishing cooperation, standard governance and value to its members within the real estate industry.
While there is plenty of hand-wringing and protectionist lobbying underway, there needs to be more focus on proactive value building. It’s natural for a business to fear new competitors, but its best defense is to create even more value for its customers and constituents to prove it deserves its position as an industry leader.
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Sometimes at Connect, value drops in your lap
At Real Estate Connect in San Francisco this year, I was lucky enough to sit in on a product demo with an MLS board. Homesnap, the company whose mobile app allows consumers to simply take a picture of a home with their phone and receive all kinds of information about it, was showing off its new MLS-level app.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a product partnership opportunity that so clearly highlights the strengths of an organization, and its potential to leverage those strengths to transform its role in the real estate world. While the product itself is a beautiful integration of MLS core functions and consumer usability, it became clear that a couple of key partnerships with this product could produce a monumental impact on the MLS industry and the Realtor organization. If that sounds a bit asthmatic, follow me down this path:
Many MLSs are struggling with their roles in the current environment because:
1 – The essential industry functions that they provide are not easy to demonstrate to consumers, and are viewed as baseline services by agents who are compelled to join.
2 – They provide powerful, robust databases for listing collection and distribution, but they are often visually and functionally unappealing to members/subscribers.
3 – Brokers and agents don’t want their MLSs to compete directly with them, so public-facing portals and apps (the holy grail of public data accuracy and timeliness) are often hamstrung or denied by the members themselves.
MLSs need to provide products that improve the agent-side MLS interaction, and also demonstrably generate consumer-side lead generation. This focus on reducing negatives and increasing positives is the path to agent/broker appreciation and loyalty to the MLS organization.
Enter the Homesnap MLS app
Homesnap’s consumer app is already a top five real estate app. It doesn’t even have listings in most markets — yet. Let that sink in.
The current popularity of this practically listing-free app may be the most telling sign of its consumer attraction. Users get vast amounts of data about homes in a fast and efficient way, and judging by the thousands of positive reviews, it provides a great experience.
The Homesnap MLS product takes it to the next level. It allows agents to do the vast majority of their normal MLS functions from their phone in a user-friendly way. It combines the broad listing data, confidential agent notes and contact information, as well as MLS subscriber roster and sales history within one easy-to-use interface. Agents can browse the MLS and make changes, send CMAs or contact other agents just as they would from their traditional MLS setup.
It’s basically the app that every agent is asking their MLS to build and provide for them. Agents can connect directly with their clients to create a closed loop of interaction for home searches and correspondence while delivering them MLS-level data from a mobile device.
The road map to a truly transformative product begins to appear as you see the broad range of problems it solves. It’s a business tool for agents. It’s an outstanding consumer app. It enforces the strict data standards of the MLS, while still providing a user-friendly interface for agents and consumers. It not only saves agents time, it builds their businesses.
Avoiding MLS vs. broker competition
The way the app is delivered to the consumer is the genius of the process. The app can be downloaded directly as an MLS-branded app, and the listing agents would receive inquiries on their own listings.
It’s more effective, and would probably find more adoption, though, in the broker-branded model. A broker gets their own account through the MLS, and a link to download its own version of the app, which is branded with the broker’s contact information. All lead generation and inquiries through that broker’s app will come directly to that broker. Every broker within the MLS can have their own version, much like an IDX website agreement. They’re all tied in to the MLS and Homesnap directly, while the traffic and subscribers who download the apps are dependent upon the brokers themselves.