SAN FRANCISCO — Three years ago, Craig Cheatham of broker network The Realty Alliance announced that brokers had “lost faith in the system,” read out a list of grievances against MLSs and cryptically hinted at an upcoming big initiative that he said would not endanger MLSs “swimming upstream.”

  • Out-of-touch leadership and "absurd" rules are among the reasons disagreements between brokers and MLSs remain, according to Inman Connect panelists.

SAN FRANCISCO — Three years ago, Craig Cheatham of broker network The Realty Alliance announced that brokers had “lost faith in the system,” read out a list of grievances against MLSs and cryptically hinted at an upcoming big initiative that he said would not endanger MLSs “swimming upstream.”

The ominous-sounding warning caught MLSs by surprise, though both Cheatham and the Council of Multiple Listing Services (CMLS) have publicly said that relations between brokers and MLSs have improved since then.

Still, even as the initiative, Upstream, begins rollout and pledges unity with MLSs, disagreements between brokers and MLSs linger, as evidenced by a session at Inman Connect last week.

“The MLS industry is one of the few where competitors work together. Today we’re in a mud match when the reality is we’re all on the same team,” said Jeremy Crawford, executive director of the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO), which counts MLSs and brokers as members.

“There are some MLSs that are extremely progressive and their brokers are happy,” and then there are others that are “fiefdoms” lead by brokers that haven’t done business in decades, he added.

Broker leadership

Andrea Geller, a Chicago-area broker and the panel’s moderator, asked: “Is it stemming from the structure of the MLS?”

“It’s the structure. Many [MLSs] don’t have term limits,” Crawford said.

“Brokers have to step up and get in the room of leadership,” he added, noting that some MLSs have a rule where you can only be on the board of directors if you do a certain number of transactions a year and manage a firm of agents.

Glenn Phillips, CEO of Birmingham, Alabama-based Lake Homes Realty, didn’t let brokers off the hook, either.

He said some brokers had forgotten the reason that real estate professionals work together in MLSs in the first place: to serve buyers and sellers better.

“Now we’re back to the brokerages that want to hold the data back” on the “false belief” that they can block people from their space, Phillips said.

‘Let someone progressive come in’

The way MLS organizations are structured can be a problem in a different way in some markets, according to Crawford.

Realtor association executives — often older — tend to also head up the association’s affiliated MLS, and those execs are sometimes just a few years from retirement.

“They don’t want to ruffle feathers. They want to ride it out in an easy manner,” he said.

But “if association executives don’t want to do their job, they should go into early retirement. Let someone progressive come in,” he added.

‘Absurd’ rules

Crawford pointed out that some MLSs impose “absurd” rules on their members.

For instance, one MLS required brokers to submit a paper listing agreement to the MLS before the listing could be entered into the MLS system, despite the privacy implications that would involve, he said.

Phillips added: “They wanted to fine us $1,000 because we hadn’t submitted this information that they shouldn’t have. We left that MLS because it was small and they weren’t on our side.”

‘Fix this or the market will’

Geller asked if MLS consolidation would solve the problems between brokers and MLSs.

“Possibly,” Phillips said. “We’re going to fix this or the market will. If we had our ducks in a row, Zillow wouldn’t exist.”

Geller asked: “Would it help if MLSs weren’t association-owned [but rather] privately-owned?”

Phillips said he wasn’t sure given that even a private entity can “screw things up.”

“But a private entity may be more financially incented to get things right,” he said.

Email Andrea V. Brambila

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