MLS & Associations

Mysterious ‘Upstream’ initiative won’t be consumer-facing

Database aimed at letting brokers send listing data wherever they wish

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Details of the mysterious Project Upstream remain sparse, but whatever it is, it will not be public-facing to consumers.

That’s according to Craig Cheatham, president and CEO of The Realty Alliance, which is spearheading the project. Cheatham spoke on a panel at Clareity’s MLS Workshop this week.

“Upstream is totally back-office, it’s not that sexy,” Cheatham said.

At that point, Victor Lund of WAV Group, who was on the same panel as Cheatham, chimed in. “It’s not an MLS,” Lund said.

Upstream would allow brokers to put listings in a database that brokers could then send wherever they wish, including the MLS, Clareity CEO Gregg Larson told conference attendees.

Cheatham did not dispute Larson’s description, but said he couldn’t say too much about the project, prompting groans from the audience.

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“I do have to say that Upstream is not a big broker project. Everybody wins if Project Upstream gets going. The mom-and-pop shop. Franchisors,” Cheatham said, echoing assurances he made to MLSs about the project in the fall.

“Like it or not, Zillow wins. Like it or not, News Corp. wins.”

He said the project would be “something akin to the Federal Reserve” in its level of cooperation and how it handles real estate data.

“This is critically important to our industry,” Cheatham said. “Our data is such a mess. We are so inefficient with our data. It’s embarrassing.”

He acknowledged that Upstream is seeking a CEO, and a search committee has been interviewing search firms in the last several months. The committee has narrowed down the firms to two, and there will be an official announcement “in the next few weeks,” he said.

Currently, the plan is to have something to show by the end of the year, Cheatham said.

“We’ve got the technology, the functionality worked out,” he said.

“The concept is painfully simple. We just need existing technology to be redeployed for Upstream,” he added.

At a Leading Real Estate Companies of the World conference last month, Crye-Leike exec Gurtej Sodhi said the National Association of Realtors and its subsidiary, Realtors Property Resource (RPR), were considering becoming partners in the project, which Sodhi said had been officially named Upstream RE LLC.

NAR, RPR and Cheatham declined to comment.

Cheatham has previously said that the coalition building Upstream includes The Realty Alliance; fellow brokerage network LeadingRE; real estate giant Realogy; Realogy’s brokerage arm, NRT LLC; and franchisors Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Keller Williams, Realty Executives, Re/Max and others.

The real estate industry has a reputation of not being able to work together, Cheatham said, but “that’s been a real success for us.”

“The relationships are very deep, are very collegial, and they’re very proud of the governance structure that they’ve set up for Upstream,” he said.

National broker public portal

Connecticut MLS CEO Cameron Paine, who has championed a separate initiative, the National Broker Portal Project, emphasized a spirit of collaboration in that as well.

That project has held two meetings in Chicago and he was “amazed” at the “unbelievable uniformity in desire” for a national broker portal from individuals who often do not agree and are in competition with each other.

“There is a need for a national portal that is competitive, that is owned and controlled by you,” Paine told attendees, most of whom were MLS execs.

Brokers who have been “pretty staunchly opposed” to local MLS consumer-facing sites are in favor of the broker portal because it will be a national MLS consumer-facing site, Lund, who is a facilitator of the project, said.

But the national broker portal will not be constituted around making money, Lund said.

“This is not about paying dividends back to the MLS,” he said.

The broker portal will also not follow the business models of third-party portals such as Zillow or Trulia either, Paine said.

“With the exception of realtor.com, they have not made any profits yet so that’s not a model we want to follow,” he said.

But attendees seemed more concerned about how the broker portal would differentiate itself among consumers.

“Is this going to be just another syndication site? Another box that my brokers check off on a list of sites?” asked MLS Property Information Network head Kathy Condon. MLS PIN’s largest shareholder, NRT, just launched its own national search portal, homesforsale.com.

How will you compete? asked another MLS exec.

“Help us understand what the consumer is not getting right now from the other sources,” said another.

Consumers “want data that’s complete (and) accurate, where they don’t feel like there’s sales pressure” and a site that is a “proxy for the MLS,” which is the “candy that they’re looking for,” Lund said.

But Paine emphasized that a real estate pro’s value to the consumer is not the data.

“That might have been 10 years ago,” he said, noting that real estate data is now online and global.

“What is local is your expertise,” and that’s what the broker portal will capitalize on, he said.

When asked whether the broker portal would commingle existing for-sale homes with new homes, for-sale-by-owner homes, or rentals, Paine said, “For the portal to be successful, we need to (serve consumers). Decisions will be made by board of directors. They’re open-minded.”

The portal will probably be mobile-first, Lund said.

“It would be foolish of us to launch without a mobile product that is awesome,” Paine said.

Some attendees were not satisfied with Lund’s and Paine’s responses.

“If (brokers) are sending direct feeds to Zillow, then that is the broker portal. What are these guys going to reinvent?” Cliff Long, CEO of Greater Alabama MLS, told Inman.

Clareity exec Matt Cohen urged attendees to let the project be “figured out.”

“I’m bullish on broker public portal,” he said. “I’m not trying to shoot holes in something that doesn’t exist yet.”

Inman reporter Paul Hagey contributed additional reporting to this story.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.