• For an MLS, a shared marketplace almost seems second nature, but we continue to buck natural order.
  • Buyers and sellers move around a lot and they look for homes based on jobs, family and wish lists -- not MLS barriers.
  • Creating a shared marketplace isn't too complicated; there is a technological solution out there that can make it happen.

To turn a popular phrase, I think it’s fair to say that all of us in the industry have learned that, if the brokers are happy, the rest of us will find harmony in the industry attainable.

The problem is that for too long, we ignored broker frustrations for whatever reasons. Now, we want to cooperate and address those issues that, upon examination, make sense logically, financially and from an industry perspective.

To characterize the issues, I will address our need for deeper cooperation. Please hear this; it’s time to get it. It’s time for shared markets. It’s time to erase artificial boundaries and for MLSs and associations to relinquish unfair control of broker data. Period.

The refusal to do this has caused brokers to spend millions to create their own portals for data management and plans to replace MLSs eventually — and the jury is out on the eventual plans for associations.

We could have paid attention to the concept of cooperation in business and industry trends, but collectively, we did not.

Unfortunately, it seems that our industry is holding to yet another fading business culture in our stubborn homage to fiefdoms. We are in the midst of the age of the “sharing economy.”

Frankly put, it’s a larger, collective pot that by its nature, provides more value.

The collaborative economy, considered disruptive, manifests in several industries.

“Today, the world’s largest hospitality brand — Airbnb — owns not a single room or hotel and is worth $2.5 billion,” Jeremiah Owyang, wrote in Crowd Companies, Report: The New Rules of the Collaborative Economy, 2015 Data on the Rise of Sharing.

“Uber, valued at more than $50 billion, is the world’s largest taxi service — and it doesn’t own a single vehicle. Barely four years old, the online grocery shopping service Instacart is already worth $2 billion.”

For the multiple listing services, a shared marketplace almost seems second nature, a natural foregone conclusion. But we continue to buck that natural order.

When I was a child, long distance phone service was provided by different companies than today, and we assumed it had to be because it seemed tied to areas. (I also remember my relatives thought you had to talk louder when a call was long distance).

It turns out that airwaves had no boundaries. Long distance service could come from one company or many, could be cheaper and easier to receive — and you could use a regular voice.

Those barriers were artificial. Much like MLS barriers.

Buyers and sellers move around a lot. They browse according to jobs, family, wish lists — but not our MLS barriers. At some point, the equivalent of a Verizon, Sprint or some other entity will make our services easier to receive and without the artificial boundaries.

Here are a few questions I think we need to ask ourselves as MLS service providers:

  1. When will we realize that as MLS providers we are imposing a concept on brokers that doesn’t exist for the customers they serve?
  2. Is our goal to continue maintaining these broker obstacle courses?
  3. If we make life this difficult and expensive for brokers, what does this do to agents?
  4. If brokers are investing millions in replacing us because of this, what will our new business models have to become?
  5. And if all indications are we currently have an offensive business model because we refuse to embrace the idea of a shared marketplace or data sharing, why aren’t we jumping on board and doing it?
  6. If we can’t hear this, where’s our relevance?
  7. If brokers representing the majority of agents nationwide support Project Upstream, a national listing database — what does that say about our current service?
  8. If you are ignoring this message, what does that say about you? Are you merely coasting until retirement? Shocked into disbelief? Paralyzed into inaction? Waiting for someone to come up with an idea or solution?

And if you believe creating a shared marketplace is too complicated, I encourage you to join me in making it uncomplicated. There is a technological solution out there that can make it happen. There are political comfort zones that can also be achieved, and there are creative solutions for staffing, service delivery and co-existence.

If MLS infighting is interfering with the greater good of broker service, you’re part of the problem. As MLSs and associations, we should be finding ways to redefine our value according to serving this new market demand — not in spite of it.

My challenge to MLSs and associations is to share this piece with your leadership and ask them if it resonates with them. Ask them if they feel a sense of urgency to respond to the demand for a new method of operation.

My request to the brokerage community is to recognize the tools of the high-performing MLSs. We have valuable expertise to share when we get out of our own way and learn to listen.

James Harrison, RCE, CAE is president and CEO of MLSListings Inc. You can follow him on Twitter @mlsjimharrison.

Email James Harrison.

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