Forget about IDX, VOW, ILD and even MLS for a moment. An online system created by a Canadian real estate technology company allows individual agents and brokers to decide how to share property listings information with other real estate professionals online.
This “Agent Handshake” system, created by Point2 Realty Solutions of Saskatoon, Canada, can function as a sort of “internal MLS” by putting property information online even before the information is available to the entire community of agents and brokers served by a multiple listing service, company officials say. Agent Handshake does not use listing information imported from an MLS database, but rather allows members to add their own listing data and gives them control over the online advertising of this information.
In some jurisdictions, it can take several days for listings to appear in an MLS system, said company spokesman Roger Noujeim. In Canada, it “can take up to a week” for a listing to appear at MLS.ca, Nojeim said. In that time, he added, “the listing could have been sold, disappointing customers who see it posted and are interested in it. This can also be an issue to the property owner, since a more widely marketed listing can bring in more parties to the table.”
Jeff Tomlin, manager of market research at Point2, said, “Whether logistical or systematic, delays can occur between the time a listing is added to the MLS and the time it is displayed on a Realtor’s Web site via IDX or other structured feed. Common delays can be experienced in the transmission of listing data to national listings sites such as MLS.ca and Realtor.com.” IDX (Internet Data Exchange), VOW (Virtual Office Web site) and ILD (Internet Listings Display) are standards for the sharing and display of online property listings, and IDX is the most widely adopted system. Meanwhile, pending Justice Department litigation relates to VOW and ILD rules.
In the United States, MLS rules typically set a deadline for brokers to submit property listings information to an MLS after they have secured a listing, and this time period generally ranges from 24 hours to 72 hours. Also, it can take time for individual brokers to download the latest MLS information and post this information online through agreements with other brokers. By quickly getting property listings online, participants in the Agent Handshake system can get a jump on other brokers by seeing listings even before they reach the MLS, company officials say.
While controversy is brewing over the online sharing of property information between brokers – the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division is suing the National Association of Realtors over the trade group’s rules relating to the display and sharing of online property listings – Point2 officials say their system sidesteps this controversy by allowing individual agents and brokers to make individual business decisions. This, they say, should steer users clear of potential antitrust problems.
“They literally have complete control,” said Brendan King, chief operating officer at Point2 Realty Solutions. “It is helping agents to maintain control of listings data. An MLS, by its very nature – if you join it, you have to provide the same service to all participants. We have made it an individual business decision, an individual choice.
“We’re not trying to displace the MLS as a governing body. All we’re trying to do is allow brokers to control data that they already own.”
A RE/MAX office in Saskatoon has established an Agent Handshake system for all of the company’s agents, and the company’s agents are “double-ending,” or working both sides of the same real estate transaction – more often now than they did before implementing the system, King also said.
The Agent Handshake system allows agents to choose which other agents to form agreements with to share property listings, and which agents to block from such sharing. The system requires brokers to grant permission for their agents to establish these relationships, he said.
When blocking handshake agreements with particular agents or for particular listings, agents have the option to select a reason for this decision from a pull-down menu, or they can decline to state a reason. The goal was to make the system as transparent as possible, King added.
According to a Web site description, “Unlike other online listing programs such as the IDX and VOW, you choose which other real estate professionals you would like to create advertising arrangements with through Handshake, allowing you to screen potential advertising partners for the appropriateness or quality of their listings, or any other criteria.”
Ted Young, senior vice president at Rapattoni Corp., a real estate technology company that offers MLS systems and hosting services, said that MLS software typically has the capability to instantly publish property listings information to an MLS, though in some cases MLS bylaws require some delays in order to verify listings information. He also said that MLS bylaws typically require that a listing “be made available to all agents on the official MLS site before it is distributed on the Internet.”
Mary Jo Powell, a spokeswoman for Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, a regional MLS surrounding Washington, D.C., said that there aren’t any technical hurdles to placing property listings in the MLS once brokers submit them, and MRIS requires brokers to submit listings to the MLS within 48 hours. She said that some small MLSs may use slower technology, though. And Russ Bergeron, CEO for SoCal MLS in California, said most MLSs have “real-time systems” that immediately publish property information online.
Brokers, he said, can choose to update their display of MLS-based property listings several times a day or less frequently. “We refresh the entire active database for them everyday,” he said.
Agents who participate in Point2’s Agent Handshake system can see how many “handshake agreements” are pending their approval or others’ approval, how many agreements have been completed, how many agreements they have blocked, and how many agreements have been blocked by others.
All approved listings from other agents and brokers will appear on a participant’s Web site with the participant’s photo and contact information, and no contact information for other listing brokers, advertisers or builders are displayed in this Agent Handshake system. “This means that all traffic and activity occurring on your Web site translates into your own leads,” according to the program description. Agents cannot change any listing information that is supplied by another agent.
There are about 33,600 Point2 users’ Web sites with active Agent Handshake agreements in place, the company reported, and users have formed a total of about 3.7 million individual relationships using the tool. The system launched in January 2004 and the company has applied for a patent on the peer-to-peer technology that powers the system. Point2 has about 67,500 customers, with more than 50,000 in the United States.
King said MLS data can be somewhat limited compared to the rich multi-media content that is available for property listings these days, and Point2 has plans to expand the features of the listings displayed through Agent Handshake. The MLS will not go away, he added, but “we’ve already made the MLS less relevant for the brokers who are using our product.”
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