When The Realty Alliance, a network of dozens of the nation’s biggest real estate brokerages, issued an ominous-sounding warning to multiple listing services and Realtor associations concerning members’ grievances with a long list of MLS practices, it got the industry’s attention.
Industry leaders were eager to hear more about the group’s plans. But when The Realty Alliance — whose members include some of the biggest independent brokerages in the business, including Long & Foster, Howard Hanna, Baird & Warner, and Edina Realty — voted to move forward with a mysterious “big initiative” last month, it did not disclose any details about the project.
Now Greg Robertson — co-founder of MLS vendor W&R Studios, and author of real estate tech blog Vendor Alley — says that after speaking to more than a dozen sources, he’s “connected all the dots.”
The Realty Alliance, Robertson said today in a lengthy Vendor Alley post, intends to build a national broker database, with the aim of gaining leverage over MLSs and repackaging listing data for sale.
“Brokers will put their listings in this database first, then decide where those listings go, who to share them with, and under what terms,” Robertson said. “So if this thing ever gets traction (it won’t, in my opinion) brokers could decide to send listings (only some?) to the MLS, or not. They could syndicate, or not. They could share with other brokers, IDX-style, or not. And they would not be subject to any rules regarding monetization of the data.”
The crux, Robertson concludes, is that brokers “want to gain leverage over their MLS providers by creating a national upstream database.”
The Realty Alliance’s president and CEO, Craig Cheatham, declined to confirm or deny Robertson’s claims.
“We have yet to see any speculation that addresses anything but a portion of the industry’s overall plan and that does not contain many significant errors and gaps,” Cheatham said.
Robertson believes the database is “phase one” of The Realty Alliance’s business plan, which he said would charge brokers up to $2 per listing. He thinks real estate consulting firm WAV Group, and the firm’s co-founder Victor Lund, specifically, put together the business plan.
Lund did not respond to a request for comment.
Robertson said he’s also heard that The Realty Alliance hopes to repackage the listing data and sell it to Wall Street with real estate analytics and valuation firm Collateral Analytics as a partner. Michael Sklarz, Collateral Analytics’ chairman and CEO, told Inman News it was not involved in such a project.
“Collateral Analytics works directly with brokers as a service provider in (an) MLS-compliant program that supports real estate firms,” Sklarz said. “Our company is not involved in any ‘upstream’ project with The Realty Alliance or any other real estate organizations.”
Last week, before Robertson published his theory, Cheatham told Inman News that The Realty Alliance had commissioned more than one consultant report.
“If someone got a copy of one of those documents, they still have to figure out which recommendations we chose to accept and which we chose to reject from that single report. And, our plan constantly is evolving,” he said.
Brokers have not kept their frustrations with vendors, associations and MLSs secret, “so one might be able to map out solutions without getting access to any one of our internal documents,” he added.
The Realty Alliance has outlined a list of grievances that includes:
- “Tying MLS participation with products/services that should be optional and go beyond the founding MLS principles (data, cooperation/compensation).”
- “Creating and promoting public-facing listings advertising websites that compete with broker websites.”
- “Forcing brokers to participating in and/or pay for the creation, maintenance and promotion of MLS public-facing websites.”
- “Operating a public-facing listings website not in compliance with the ‘Fair Display’ guidelines.”
- “Subsidizing associations by overcharging for MLS services and passing extra revenue to associations.”
In his blog post, Robertson said he’s heard that not all of The Realty Alliance’s members have confidence in the plan. It’s not just a few members that have doubts, “but a lot of them,” Robertson said. “Which is why this stuff is starting to get out.”
Cheatham said support within The Realty Alliance for the first phase of the big initiative was unanimous, “and each week a new brand or network commits to moving forward with the broad-based initiative.”
“The actual plan makes good business sense for brokers of all sizes,” he added.
He declined to confirm or deny whether the initiative’s first phase was the national broker database Robertson referred to, saying he didn’t want to “get caught up responding to every guessing game started by everyone who has a blog or website.”
“We are working to resolve inefficiencies with how real estate data is handled and to enhance our ability to ensure content is handled properly. Our agents are paying way too much money to way too many organizations, many of whom are working against us — expanding their own domains at the expense of actual practitioners,” Cheatham said.
“We have plans at many levels and in many arenas involving and serving brokers of all sizes and business models. We will begin with a simple foundation and build what is necessary beyond that to prepare our industry to better serve customers and support the success of agents.
“We are hopeful brokers can count on those who are to serve the industry to work together with us to solve these issues. In the meantime, the broad-based industry effort continues as we begin to make progress on these for our agents and customers.”