SAN FRANCISCO — Bill Chee, who delivered the famous "Lions Over the Hill" speech in 1993 as president of the National Association of Realtors, said Thursday that hindsight now makes it clear that some past fear about new entrants in the industry was "unwarranted."

After clips from his oft-quoted speech aired for attendees on large projector screens at the Real Estate Connect conference, Chee said that some of the fear in the early 1990s was directed at the industry’s own multiple listing services, as well as Microsoft Corp.’s efforts in real estate and the possible diversification plans of the regional "Baby Bell" communications companies.

"I was afraid of the MLSs themselves. There were too many MLSs," Chee said. "We had so many MLSs that they couldn’t innovate on their own, and I thought that was a problem."

He added, "Microsoft — they had just killed off half of the travel agents with Expedia" and the company was dabbling in the real estate space.

"I think the fear was somewhat unwarranted. What happened — the chaos of the real estate business saved the real estate business," Chee said.

Companies tried to mold real estate brokerage into a uniform type of business, but it didn’t work, he said, because of the extreme local nature of the industry.

"To unify it and make it into a ‘national sport’ was very difficult to do, and I don’t think we recognized that until time went on," he said.

People used to ask why the real estate process couldn’t be simplified so that it resembled the car-buying process, he said.

"’Why couldn’t I walk into a showroom and buy a car … walk out with my financing in 45 minutes, and take (home) a $50,000 Mercedes? Why couldn’t that happen?’ " Chee said.

He said he has long advocated for consolidating MLSs to better serve Realtors. "Why would you need 10 MLSs in the same city? ‘There are 10 MLS executives who need the job.’ That was the answer. There is no real technical reason or economic reason to have these small MLSs."

But Chee is not an advocate of a single, national MLS.

"I happen to believe in a totally different model than the national model for MLSs. I believe they should be regionalized under a model for the country." He said there should be "somebody on the ground in each of those local marketplaces."


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