MLS & Associations

First national MLS listing portal will promote buyer’s agents, too

Agent directory could feature transaction data

The first national multiple listing service (MLS) consumer-facing listing portal will not just serve listing agents, but also buyer’s agents, according to the project’s facilitator.

Since the project’s inception, the brokers and MLSs backing the “Broker Public Portal” have emphasized its potential benefits to listing brokers and agents, including display rules that do not allow other agents to appear on a listing’s property details page.

Such rules were created in response to ads for competing agents that appear on listings displayed on third-party portals, such as Zillow and Trulia, and highlight a tension in the industry over who should receive listing leads.

After the Broker Public Portal initiative announced its elected leaders last week, real estate consultant and former Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service CEO Bob Bemis posed a question: What’s in it for buyer’s agents?

“Buyers’ agents, who by definition do not have any listings, will not be given any exposure at the ‘point of purchase’ — the moment when a potential buyer has a question but perhaps doesn’t want to ask it of the legal fiduciary of the seller for fear of disclosing something about his/her negotiating position,” Bemis wrote in a blog post.

“Those buyer’s agents are members of the same MLS that is supporting the portal; they are paying the same dues as the listing agents; and $1 to $3 of their dues payments each month are going to fund this portal project. Yet they get nothing in return?”

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If the portal will only benefit the “small minority” of agents who take listing contracts, that “seems grossly and unfairly lopsided,” Bemis added.

But that will not be the case, according to project facilitator Victor Lund of real estate consulting firm WAV Group.

In response to inquiries by Inman, Lund said the site could have an agent directory that would include the profiles and services of buyer’s agents.

“[It would be a] full agent directory similar to what you would see on any MLS consumer-facing website, but it will also have the potential to show listings that agents have sold in the past,” Lund said.

Brokers or MLSs would probably have the choice of whether or not to showcase transaction histories, Lund said.

That may help the portal avoid some of the negative reactions from agents garnered by previous attempts to match agents and consumers based on performance data, including attempts by realtor.comRedfin, the Houston Association of Realtors and NeighborCity. 

If the agent directory does include a filter for performance metrics, the new portal could offer a service that would rival Zillow’s new Agent Finder tool, which lets consumers search for agents based on which have the best reviews, the most recent sales or the greatest number of listings.

Such a tool could potentially attract more leads for both buyer’s and listing agents by giving consumers a picture of an agent’s productivity.

If the directory doesn’t include transaction data, it could be more like what the Houston Association of Realtors offers in its new statewide listing site, HAR.com.

That site’s “Find a Real Estate Pro” tool includes filters for agent name, location, designations, languages and cultures, but does not allow consumers to find agents by how many deals they’ve done or other performance information.

Agents can choose to have their transactions included in their HAR.com profile if they choose, but they are not included automatically.

Whether the new portal will have an agent matching tool that would include transaction data as a filter has not yet been decided.

Lund pointed out that the work group that will make decisions about the site’s technology has not been formed, and the project has yet to file as a corporation.

The project also has yet to put out a request for proposal (RFP) to vendors with its specific technical requirements. Lund said he expected the RFP to go to prequalified vendors such as CoreLogic, Real Estate Digital, Homes.com, WolfNet, Listingbook and Delta Media — companies that already handle hundreds of MLS feeds.

“Everybody can say that they can build a website, but very few firms can manage the volume of data that we’re talking about,” Lund said.

The company chosen will not necessarily design the site, but Lund said it was “too early to know” whether that would be contracted out separately. Project organizers also have not decided whether to build or acquire the technology that the portal will need, he said.

Regardless of what the portal eventually looks like, Lund pointed out that MLSs provide services that not all agents enjoy all the time.

A recent WAV Group study found that in a six-month period in 2014, 39 percent of MLS members did not complete a single transaction. Another 50 percent completed between one and 10 deals. More than 4 in 10 members (43 percent) did not have a single listing during that time.

Agents with low or no productivity may be less likely to take advantage of MLS services, even as they continue to pay their MLS dues.

But it’s important to note that the agent landscape is more nuanced than listing agent vs. buyer’s agent. There are some agents who exclusively represent buyers, sometimes for ethical reasons. Agents often also specialize in representing one or the other.

But most agents represent both buyers and sellers at one time or another. Some critics have said the “my listing, my lead” approach means deals are more likely to be double-ended by listing agents, depriving buyers of their own representation.

Dual agency is not the inevitable result, however. Often, buyers who ask for more information about a listing from a listing agent do not end up buying that listing, but rather another home represented by another listing agent. In that case, the first listing agent becomes their buyer’s agent.

In this way, a listing is not just bait for potential buyers for that listing, but also for potential buyer clients for an agent. Who gets access to those potential buyers is a main source of the angst around listing syndication that continues to plague the industry.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.