The largest multiple listing service in New England has rolled out a public-facing listing site with the participation of most, but not all, of its broker members.
Shrewsbury, Massachusetts-based Multiple Listing Service, Property Information Network (MLS PIN) launched the site, mlspinhomes.com, in October with the aim of providing its members with free leads.
“It is something that a number of our members have been asking for over the years,” said MLS PIN President and CEO Kathy Condon.
“I think a lot of them are just sick and tired of having to pay for leads from any of the sites that they syndicate listings to and if this was going to be something that we could assist them with it was worth a try.”
MLS PIN has nearly 32,000 members and, unlike many MLSs across the country, is broker-owned, not association-owned.
MLS PIN’s largest shareholder, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, and independent brokerage William Raveis Real Estate were among the firms that chose not to display their listings on the public site.
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, a division of Realogy-owned NRT LLC, is the largest brokerage in the Boston area by 2013 transaction sides, according to Real Trends. William Raveis is the third-largest brokerage in the area by transaction sides.
The two firms constitute 98 of the 135 offices that have opted out of participating in the site, Condon said.
Coldwell Banker did not give a reason for not participating, but William Raveis Chairman and CEO Bill Raveis said the firm wanted to direct all traffic to its own site, raveis.com, Condon said.
Bill Raveis was not available for comment. Coldwell Banker declined to comment.
Public-facing MLS websites are controversial in the industry. In May 2013, the National Association of Realtors adopted a policy permitting MLSs to charge all of their members for the operation and promotion of such sites, against the objections of some brokers, including big broker network The Realty Alliance.
The Realty Alliance contends that public-facing MLS websites compete with broker websites and included them in a long list of grievances with MLSs and associations circulated a year ago.
MLS PIN has addressed some of brokers’ concerns by complying with “fair display guidelines” developed by TRA for public-facing MLS websites. They include not forcing brokers to display their listings on the site; no featured listings or ads for other brokers or agents next to a brokerage’s listing; and free leads sent to listing agents or brokers, among other stipulations.
Condon said she does not think mlspinhomes.com competes with brokers’ sites.
“I honestly think it’s just one more way to expose their listings if they choose to take advantage of it. If they don’t, that’s their prerogative because they’re their listings,” she said.
Mlspinhomes.com is one of more than 40 sites that MLS PIN syndicates to for its customers, Condon said.
“We still syndicate our customers’ listings wherever they want them to go. That includes their local association’s website and local publications here, and Zillow and Trulia and realtor.com,” she said.
The idea behind the MLS site is not to compete with top portals Zillow and Trulia, according to Condon.
“I think we all know that we can’t really compete because we don’t have the budgets that they do, but [the idea is] to give our customers another option,” she said.
MLS PIN’s second- and third-largest shareholders, Hammond Residential Real Estate and Kinlin Grover Real Estate, have opted in to the site, as have other large brokerages such as Century 21 Commonwealth, Jack Conway & Co., and ERA Key Realty Services.
This is not MLS PIN’s first public-facing listing site. The MLS had a site up around 2000 but took it down in 2001 at the request of some of its broker shareholders, Condon said.
“They (brokers) were just starting to put up their own public access IDX (Internet data exchange) sites and they told us that they wanted PIN to come down so it came down,” she said.
Although the brokers did not say so at the time, the most likely reason is that brokers wanted to direct consumer traffic to their own sites, she added.
The idea of relaunching a consumer site gained steam last year after shareholders learned that none of the broker sites in the Massachusetts region except for one — Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s newenglandmoves.com — were among the top 25 most visited real estate sites, Condon said, citing data from Experian Marketing Services.
By contrast, the MLS’s corporate website, mlspin.com, was among the top 15 most visited sites, she said.
That site now includes a prominent home search bar that redirects consumers to mlspinhomes.com.
MLS PIN chose Real Estate Digital as its website vendor. For models on what its site would look like, the MLS considered sites of other RED customers, such as California Regional MLS’s homeseekers.com and REcolorado’s recolorado.com.
“Clearly, we’re not trying to be har.com,” Condon said, referring to the Houston Association of Realtors’ highly trafficked consumer website.
HAR actively promotes its website to consumers, but at this point MLS PIN doesn’t have the budget to do that, she said.
MLS PIN will promote the site to its members so they can promote it to consumers, she added.
The site will feature institutional ads for entities such as Home Depot and Comcast, but not on individual listings. The hope is that the ads will cover the cost of the site’s upkeep, but “I doubt that will be the case for a while,” Condon said.