Remember some of the early plays on the Internet? The big ones in real estate were made by media giants, the print folks who were looking for a way to hedge their bets that classified revenues would tank.
Few of these efforts could be considered resounding successes. Our industry play (Homestore, now Move Inc.) used a combination of cash, warrants and an "all in the family" pitch to keep us engaged.
Alas, those were days filled with fantastic promises. Too few were kept.
Today’s crop of online real estate sites leverage broker listings to sell advertising. Brokers have "funded" these sites with their content. This innocent surrender of listings — coaxed by new promises of free distribution and leads — has, in my opinion, produced mixed results. More importantly, it has ceded the field of innovation to companies whose interests are not always aligned with that of their broker and agent partners.
And consumers? They are promised more access to real estate information. And they get it. But the problem, when it comes to listings, is comprehensiveness and quality. Buyers and sellers can access tons of listings on tons of sites, but they often find incomplete or out-of-date data amid blinking banners, "featured" listings and other diversions.
Both brokers and consumers would be better served with sites featuring complete, up-to-the-minute multiple listing service data in a context built to serve brokers first, not advertisers — a site created to put money in brokers’ pockets, not extract it.
At MRIS, we thought hard about this, talked extensively to our broker subscribers, and concluded that we, the MLS, were uniquely positioned to make this happen. After all, we exist to serve brokers; we are the keepers of all the MLS listings; and we have little need for advertising revenue.
So we went for it. Carefully. The project to recreate our public listings Web site was under way. The promise to brokers: free traffic, and lots of it, from a Web site engineered for their benefit down to the last pixel.
We started with an investment in consumer research. This wasn’t undertaken to support a planned action. We really wanted to understand what consumers considered valuable and useful before a single line of code was written. What we learned guided the product in important ways.
We are set to launch the new site later this month in beta. My hope is that it will not only help our subscribers in a challenging market, but inspire other MLS organizations to flex their muscles and reclaim the mantle of innovation.
To really justify itself, a public MLS site needs to be as good as (or better than) any other real estate site in the market. Not many MLSs have pulled that off. Yet. The public portal has to be a well-executed entry point that is as much about pulling the force of innovation back to the practitioner as it is about creating an edgy, memorable, efficient, satisfying experience for the visitor.
No question, there is a place for many consumer alternatives in this market. But you have to admit, the idea of a site without any of those pesky ads and fewer offramps leading visitors farther away from the people who provide the listings is pretty appealing. And, for consumers, getting all the MLS listings, direct from the source, is a big win.
It is my hope, almost 14 years into the era of online real estate, that we as an industry can start delivering on the promises of the past. MLS organizations have a big role to play in making that happen.
David Charron is the CEO of MRIS, the nation’s largest MLS. Learn more at http://mris.com.
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