A new report by real estate consulting firm WAV Group suggests that real estate brokers, agents and multiple listing services are embracing technologies that can help them provide consumers with the kind of market information that makes third-party sites like Zillow a hit.
The WAV Group offers a big-picture roundup of new technologies and trends among real estate brokers, agents and the vendors who serve them in its 2008 mid-year technology review.
The consulting firm, which counts among its clients the National Association of Realtors, real estate technology vendors and some of the largest MLSs in the country, also provides company profiles and contact information in the 170-page report.
WAV Group consultants based the report on information gathered from meetings and surveys at the NAR mid-year conference in Washington, D.C., along with the company’s ongoing technology reviews.
The report looks at new developments in areas including AVM technology, CRM, broker back-office management, broker/agent marketing, data sharing, lockboxes, mapping solutions, MLS system software, and mobile solutions.
Some major findings of the report included:
With Zillow providing automated valuations and sold data to the general public, MLSs are reconsidering rules that prohibit the display of sold listings data and days on market, the report said.
Automated valuation models (AVMs) once available only to appraisers are "being transformed into consumer applications to enable brokers to compete with Zestimates," the report said, citing First American CoreLogic’s RealistValue Map as an example of a product that’s taking data, mapping and valuation "to the next level." A newcomer to the field, Valet Data Systems Inc., offers a product with AVM capabilities, MLStimate, in northern Nevada.
Spurred by Zillow’s Zestimates, the real estate industry "is headed directly toward automated valuation modeling as a new competency," the report said.
Zillow’s claim that its model can predict a home’s value within 5 percent on one of four homes is "not great," WAV Group consultants said, leaving room for brokers and MLSs with access to better data to move into the field. Unpublished research by First American suggests that "MLSs are in the best possible position to provide the most accurate AVM, should they wish to do so," WAV Group consultants said.
Customer portals — like MarketLinx Inc.’s MLXchange Pro, which helps agents pull MLS data and assemble it into reports for clients — are becoming the norm, the report said. WAV Group says FBS Data Systems — which is in the process of helping the Arizona Regional MLS move from MarketLinx’s Tempo to its flexmls Web application — offers "a very strong customer portal," the report said.
Reporting had been a weak area for most MLS systems for years, the report said, but many are now offering new flexibility, including the ability to combine multiple reports together into a presentation, and incorporate broker and agent branding into reports.
Microsoft’s Silverlight technology — which allows rich media applications to be delivered through a Web browser — enables agents to view user-generated content, video tours and podcasts, and integrate other dot-net applications. Vendors who have adopted Silverlight include Promatch and Rapattoni.
Another incremental improvement: Many MLS systems can now pass search parameters and data sets between different modules such as tax or market data so agents don’t have to conduct a new search in each module.
With innovations like mapping "well adopted in nearly every system" there have been no "huge revelations" in the MLS vendor world, the report said. "What we are seeing now is a move toward refinement and enhanced usability combined with interoperability between MLS data and component data."
When it comes to mapping, Microsoft’s mapping platform seems to be the industry favorite, the report said, followed by MapQuest and Google. Although mapping can be costly — $1 will buy only about 300 maps — top vendors now offer site licenses for unlimited access at lower costs.
Talk of a national MLS database — which would allow agents and brokers to access all property data without belonging to multiple MLSs — has largely shifted to the regional level. In areas where old MLS boundaries overlap and traditional marketing areas need to be redefined, regional MLSs and data sharing are often the solution.
With regional MLSs and data sharing catching on in California and high-density markets covered by MRIS and TREND, NAR has scaled back its concept of a national MLS and is now looking at creating a library of archived MLS and tax data, the report said.
Data sharing may be the easiest first step, but can also be "a deterrent to the more logical solution of regionalization," WAV Group said. The consulting firm recommends that MLSs review their market needs before "jumping into a short-term decision" to share data that could "inhibit a better long-term solution."
WAV Group sees customer relationship management (CRM) software vendors "well positioned" to help agents and brokers combine MLS data from multiple MLSs for client reporting — a solution similar to data sharing. MLSs are supporting the integration of CRM solutions and MLS software, recognizing that the information they provide is not just for agents, but the clients they serve. It’s becoming more common for CRM vendors to offer a baseline solution to an MLS for free, and charging "power users" for upgrades, the report noted.
Offerings in the CRM field include eNeighborhoods’ ProSuite with Wyldfyre and Fidelity National Real Estate Solutions’ rDesk Contact Manager.
Data syndication continues to be a complex issue. Depending on how rules are drawn up, MLSs, brokers and agents are all potential syndicators of listing data to third-party Web sites. But data syndication also creates potential problems such as old and inaccurate listings — a potential legal liability for brokers.
Third-party listing portals are already getting data from broker feeds, franchises, agents, magazines, newspapers or by scraping other third-party sites.
"The online listings at many of these sites are a disorganized mess" the report notes. Common problems include duplicate listings, expired listings and agents advertising other agents’ listings. Some portals are working with the NAR RETS committee to build a standard set of data fields for syndication, the report notes.
In surveying consumers about their use of these sites, WAV Group found the number one reason consumers visit them is to avoid sales pressure when they are still in the process of researching and educating themselves about a market.
While companies the provide back-office solutions to brokers continue to integrate broker financials with performance reporting, none has yet succeeded in the goal of providing brokers with a "360 degree view" of their agents, offices and franchise that includes income, expense, commissions, lead generation, marketing, mortgage, transaction management, customer management, document management, title, relocation, showings, floor time, MLS data feeds, forecasting and budgeting.
Offerings in the field include MarketLinx’s Statistics Professional and MLStatsPac, and Terradatum’s BrokerMetrics and AgentMetrics.
Agent and broker Web sites
While developers are helping Realtor tie listings with community and tax and data using multimedia and mapping, blogs continue to grow in popularity. Some agents are even using blog technology to power their sites, integrating a property search tool. WAV Group sees Wikis replacing static buyer and seller resource pages. Static agent pages are being displaced by social networks.
"These trends are allowing individual agents and brokers of all sizes to offer the consumer a dynamic perspective about local real estate market offerings, the report said.
Nevertheless, WAV Group "strongly encourages" brokers and agents to choose Web site vendors with a long history of working with MLS data feeds, rules and regulations. Managing hundreds of MLS data feeds is not a simple task, and only a few of the largest brokers manage their own data feeds across multiple MLSs, the report said.
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