Believe it or not, it’s that time of year. Time to dust off the crystal ball, peer deep into its hazy core, and make a few predictions.

This is always a dicey exercise. No doubt I will be wrong on some counts. And some of you may think I’m off-base from the get-go. But as a guy who runs a multiple listing service, it’s my job to try to see around the corner.

Editor’s note: David Charron, CEO for Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS), the nation’s largest multiple listing service, shares his predictions about the MLS industry in this essay, submitted as a part of the forward-looking Inman News Roadmap to Recovery editorial project. Click here for details.

By DAVID CHARRON

Believe it or not, it’s that time of year. Time to dust off the crystal ball, peer deep into its hazy core, and make a few predictions.

This is always a dicey exercise. No doubt I will be wrong on some counts. And some of you may think I’m off-base from the get-go. But as a guy who runs a multiple listing service, it’s my job to try to see around the corner.

So bear with me. Here are a few things I think are coming in 2009:

1. Predicting the death of the MLS will become less fashionable and more ridiculous.

The MLS industry is fragmented, sometimes slow to move, and subject to a host of competing political considerations. We are also facing increased competition. But the MLS is not going away.

There are not enough fingers on all the Realtor hands in America to count the times technologists, consultants and the media have foretold the demise of the MLS. Hundreds of hotel conference rooms have echoed with proclamations of its demise.

It won’t happen.

Here’s why. We — our members — have the content. The listings. And content, as the saying goes, is king. Second, we have adoption. The MLS is not an ancillary service. It is a core tool. If MLS operators can add new value to their service in the coming year, they will continue to remain a central piece of their members’ business. Lastly, we, on behalf of our members, have what consumers want: listings, (most) of them, in pristine condition.

Viva la MLS, baby.

2. ‘Overlapping market disorder’ will become more orderly.

This affliction — the condition of requiring members to join multiple MLS organizations with separate systems to practice in their own market area — has plagued us for too long. The good news is curative measures are taking hold.

I do not know of an MLS that is not considering or implementing some form of data sharing or consolidation. Technology is not the inhibitor to these efforts — politics and money, however, are. But the political tides are turning, and budgets are sure to follow. Brokers and agents will demand it because consumers want it.

The stage will thus be set for a more competitive MLS industry that is more responsive to the needs of its members.

3. The National Association of Realtors’ Property Resource Center (aka "The Library").

I actually like this idea. However, the length of time it has taken to move (no pun intended) from concept to reality coupled with the stealth communications campaign that surrounds it gives me some pause. Coming from an industry that is attempting to redefine itself as one that promotes openness and transparency, this is problematic.

I know: We are not supposed to tip our hands to the bad guys. But come on!

What information will be available, to whom, how it will be funded and who reaps the benefits are questions that have provoked loads of discussions. Not all of them have been productive. But if it makes us run faster with greater efficiencies, let’s get going! Come on in, kids. Jump in. The water is cold!

4. Broker apprehension about public MLS portals will wane in most markets.

The debate about whether or not an MLS should maintain a public search portal has sizzled for the past couple years. That sizzle will become a simmer in 2009.

While local conditions ultimately dictate whether or not this makes sense in any given market, it will be increasingly common for brokers to look to leverage their MLS in new ways in the coming year. Why? Because they have to.

The cost of advertising and the very questionable returns associated with it are causing brokers to take another look at the collective power of the MLS. An MLS entry portal is one way of doing that. If MLS organizations can manage to deliver an excellent online user experience, the consumer traffic will come. And that traffic can be fed directly to members free of charge, helping their top and bottom lines at the same time.

Look for the big online real estate players to "pooh-pooh" these efforts or tolerate us as if we are flies at a picnic — something to be endured. Regardless, more of us will test the adage "all real estate is local."

5. Online real estate companies will court MLSs like elusive lovers.

It’s already happening. I’ve been on a few dates myself. Big online real estate sites, perhaps realizing the peril of offering incomplete listing coverage to increasingly sophisticated consumers, are actively trying to cut deals with MLS organizations. Look for us to get enticed with everything from offers of revenue share to statements on certain pages that the user "should consult with a real estate professional to get more precise information …"

None of this is inherently bad. And these companies can deliver value. My point is this: MLSs will play a leading, not a trailing, role in the future of online real estate innovation.

Whether an MLS sends its listings to an online destination site, builds a public portal of its own or does nothing at all, it stands in a strong position to shape the future.

6. The difference between private and public MLS systems will blur.

Those MLSs that are successful with public entry portals will start considering the potential to merge certain elements of the consumer and professional database. As the lines blur between what is available to both parties, the cost of managing and innovating separate and distinct systems will come into question. Fast. This is going to be fun and will provide some great opportunities for innovation!

What am I missing?

Mine is a partial view bounded by my own position and biases. I am interested in alternative visions. I suspect you are too. E-mail me your ideas. I’ll share them in a follow-up to this article.

David Charron is CEO of MRIS, the nation’s largest MLS.

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