Technology

Broker portal debate: visionary or stupid idea?

Real estate consultants Rob Hahn and Marilyn Wilson duke it out on stage

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Takeaways:

  • Real estate consultant Rob Hahn believes the broker portal’s success will hinge on whether it can attract the right talent.
  • MLS public-facing sites often offer better engagement than third-party portals, according to real estate consultant Marilyn Wilson.

SAN FRANCISCO — The idea of a national listing portal controlled by multiple listing services and brokers and popular with consumers is generally a desirable one in the industry. But is it viable?

Real estate consultant Rob Hahn took on fellow consultant Marilyn Wilson at Inman Connect today, questioning whether an industry initiative known as the “Broker Public Portal” could be successful.

The BPP hopes to create the first national public-facing MLS listing portal, run it using display rules that favor listing brokers, and compete with today’s most popular consumer portals — Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com. Wilson’s WAV Group is facilitating the project.

“I’m a little skeptical for a number of reasons. As a threshold matter, I have a general principle when it comes to trying to work with consulting clients: You don’t ever try to out-Wal-Mart Wal-Mart. It’s just a bad idea,” Hahn said.

His second concern is that BPP is structured as a not-for-profit.

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“How do you compete with a for-profit company as a not-for-profit?” Hahn said.

“At the end of the day, if the broker portal is generating a million unique users a month, nobody gives a crap. Unless consumers start visiting in large numbers, nobody’s going to care,” he added.

BPP’s ability to compete will hinge on talent, according to Hahn.

“[BPP] needs to be mobile. It needs to be cutting-edge. Imagine I’m a top-notch mobile engineer. I could work for Zillow” and get a high salary with stock options and eventually never have to work again, or work for BPP where compensation is more limited, Hahn said.

“If you can’t get talent, you can’t compete,” he said.

Wilson addressed Hahn’s contention that it was too late to compete first.

“Do you think Netflix was worried about Blockbuster? They killed them. How about Zillow with realtor.com?”

As far as competing as a nonprofit, she said, “Let’s clarify when we say nonprofit. This isn’t a charity. The idea is that brokers and MLSs around the country would come together and share in that.

“To your point about talent, this is a passion play, this isn’t a profit play. This group is never going to have more money than Zillow. It’s not a public company. It doesn’t want to be a public company. This is about taking back the way consumers want to see [listings].”

Who knows the property best? The listing agent, she said. She also noted that in markets with public-facing MLS portals, the MLS sites often do better than third-party portals, if not in traffic then in engagement.

“Consumers say over and over again that they prefer websites that are brought to them from brokers,” Wilson said.

MLS public-facing sites are “not amazing,” she noted, but they “blow away” the third-party portals in actual leads.

“Agents want leads. Brokers want leads,” Wilson said.

Hahn said he’d give the broker portal a chance, but noted there was at least one unanswered question about the project: “If I’m a buyer broker, what’s in it for me? Why would I want this?”

To at least partially address this question, WAV Group has previously said that the broker portal could have an agent directory that would include the profiles and services of buyer’s agents.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.