- One of the largest MLS's in the country, My Florida Regional MLS, will launch a revamped consumer site in January with the aim of delivering leads to its agents.
- The site will feature a tool found on no other public site: a predictive analytics-powered affordability calculator from TLCengine that considers a home's "true lifestyle cost."
- MFRMLS has not yet decided whether it will join the Broker Public Portal, a project to create the first nationwide MLS consumer site.
Move over, Zillow. Scoot on down, Broker Public Portal. My Florida Regional MLS (MFRMLS) is revamping its consumer site with a feature no third-party portal yet delivers: a tool that helps buyers scope out homes based on true cost of living — beyond just mortgage payments.
By giving its user interface a facelift and adding a predictive analytics tool from tech company TLCengine, the multiple listing service hopes to not only attract consumers to its site, but encourage them to stay and contact the MLS’s agent subscribers, thereby fostering more agent business.
Serving 48,000 real estate agents and brokers in central and southwest Florida, the Sunshine State’s largest MLS teamed up with strategic marketing firm August Partners and TLCengine to complete the overhaul.
Donning fresh URL State27Homes.com and mobile optimization, the site will go live in early-to-mid January.
“With the TLCengine, that’s just something you don’t find anywhere else. I think people will really be drawn to it,” MFRMLS CEO Merri Jo Cowen told Inman.
The new site’s other attributes include:
- Advanced MLS search filters
- Down Payment Resource, a tool that flags listings that might be eligible for down payment assistance
- A “Communities” section that features content on the various communities and lifestyles in Florida
- A “Find an Agent” directory with agent profiles
- The ability for agents to see their own clients’ saved properties and search history
- Personal agent URLs, which agents can turn into their own internet data exchange (IDX) site
What goes into the TLC: True Lifestyle Cost
TLCengine factors more than 31 variables into its calculation of a home’s “true lifestyle cost,” including:
- Mortgage rates
- Property taxes
- Area heating and cooling costs
- Water, sewer and trash pickup costs
- Commute costs, such as gas, tolls and parking
- Daytime child care fees
- Home and auto insurance fees
- Maintenance costs
- Number of people in a household
- Cable, internet, mobile phone and landline fees
These costs vary from location to location, even within the same county. So a home listed for $200,000 in one place may actually be more affordable than a $150,000 home somewhere else.
“I think it will be an interesting tool that will get people guessing,” Cowen said.
“What we want them to do is be curious enough to call an agent and see what they can afford,” she added.
“At the same time, it might help them set more realistic expectations. Or they might be able to exceed their expectations.”
MFRMLS has not integrated TLCengine into its MLS system yet as Northstar MLS in Minnesota has, though it will “if it takes off the way we expect it to,” Cowen said.
The new site, State27Homes.com, will replace the current site since 2008, myfloridahomesmls.com, which MLS system vendor CoreLogic powers.
The new name comes from the MLS’s year-old blog, State27.com. (Florida was the 27th state to join the U.S. in 1845.)
The MLS decided to change the name because it wasn’t “recognizable,” and some agent and broker websites have similar names. The MLS’s intention is not to capture consumers affiliated with their member customers, Cowen said.
“Our intent in operating a consumer site is to help capture some traffic that might not have found its way to a broker site, …. [or to] Zillow or Trulia or realtor.com or homes.com. [Consumers] might not go there, and we’re hoping they come to us,” she said.
“It’s a tool for agents and brokers to potentially generate leads.”
MFRMLS’s new site, like the old site, will follow “fair display guidelines” devised by a group of MLSs and brokers.
The guidelines include not forcing brokers to display their listings on the site; no featured listings or ads for other brokers or agents next to a brokerage’s listing; and free leads sent to listing agents or brokers, among other stipulations.
The existing site does have non-real estate banner advertising, “but it has never generated the kind of revenue that we felt was necessary to continue,” so the new site will remain ad-free, Cowen said.
My Florida Regional MLS is a backer of the Broker Public Portal (BPP), a project to create the first national MLS consumer site, which Cowen deemed an “excellent” idea.
But that doesn’t mean MFRMLS is putting all of its eggs in that particular basket.
“Having a national portal like the BPP is going to have some advantages, but I‘m not sure it’s going to replace any time soon any of the other portals,” Cowen said.
“We still see that a regional site can capture traffic that some of the larger portals didn’t capture. BPP is new and it could be something that is hugely successful, and it’s something we’ll have to look at.”
Even if BPP is successful, “I don’t think brokers are going to give up IDX sites. I don’t see that happening,” she said.
MFRMLS’s board of directors has not decided whether to participate in BPP.
“We will be looking at it as part of [our] strategic plan. We’ll be giving it serious consideration,” Cowen said.
“We know that there’s an agreement [between BPP and Homesnap] pending and we know approximately what the cost will be, but it’s not set in stone yet, or other expectations. We don’t feel 100-percent informed yet to make that decision.”
Capturing consumer traffic
The existing site will redirect traffic to the new site as soon as it launches.
Year-to-date through November, the current site gets, on an average monthly basis, 68,275 visits, 38,298 unique visitors, and 373,715 page views, according to the MLS.
MFRMLS doesn’t know where its current site ranks statewide among other real estate sites, though the site is typically fourth after Zillow, Trulia and Homes.com in stats provided to the MLS by listing monitoring tool ListTrac, the MLS said. (ListTrac does not provide listing performance stats for realtor.com.)
The new site will also have ListTrac installed. In addition to providing MLSs and their subscribers with free statistics on the traffic and leads their listings pull in, ListTrac harvests agent, broker and consumer data the company plans to eventually sell to third parties.
‘Super clean, modern design’
“We have been given the opportunity to reinvent what an MLS portal is,” said Tracy Weir, founder of August Partners, during an online preview of the new site last week.
“We asked ourselves ‘Why can we not have a search experience that is equivalent to any other site?’ We think we can.”
The new site has a “super clean, modern design” that is “designed to show beautifully on a mobile device,” she added.
“It delivers a major portal-like experience, and it’s unlike anything else out there.”
The site’s MLS listing data updates every five minutes, “which is as fast as it can possibly be and beats everybody else,” Weir said.
“Fresh Squeezed” (most recent) listings that appear on the homepage emphasize why MLS search is so important: because buyers “want to get there first,” according to Weir.
The site’s filters allow users to search the way agents do in the MLS, with pending, active and sold listings on display.
“Anything that’s in the MLS that you can search on is in this panel,” Weir said.
State27Homes.com is compliant with IDX rules. While not required, “I think it’s a good rule of thumb,” Cowen said.
“There’s not more information on our site that could be on a broker’s site, with the exception of the TLC.”
‘True Lifestyle Cost’
When a user tries to save a property on the site, he or she will be prompted to either log in or register. Once signed in, users can designate their agent (if they have one) and display that agent’s contact information next to every listing that users see.
Users can share their complete profiles with their agent or just their contact information, according to Weir. If users later switch to another agent, they can modify their designated agent on the site as well.
If clients share their complete profiles, agents will be able to see the information clients entered to calculate their TLC, including their number of household occupants; car make, model, loan amount, insurance and parking; debts and expenses, including credit card debt and student loans; net income per month; tax bracket; and filing status.
“This is enormously helpful for consumers to understand if they can afford the home. They don’t have to do this, but if they do, the better the results they’ll get,” Weir said.
The TLC is calculated from a variety of sources, including public records and U.S. Department of Energy statistics, according to MFRMLS.
“Many people aren’t familiar with [the TLC] concept yet, but we think it’ll become as familiar as your FICO score because it’s what you can truly afford,” Weir said.
If, for some reason, an agent did not want to have the TLC feature show up on his or her listings, there’s no option to remove it, according to Cowen. “We can’t customize it to that level,” she said.
Listing detail pages also show other information such as neighborhood demographics, area “sound scores” indicating how noisy the neighborhood is and school information.
Down Payment Resource
More than 200 down payment assistance programs are available to Florida homebuyers. Down Payment Resource is a tool that identifies homes where that assistance might be available.
MFRMLS has integrated DPR into its MLS system along with its old and new consumer sites. The MLS’s agents and brokers can integrate the tool into their own IDX websites as well.
“[DPR] puts a little icon next to the listing. Then [consumers] can also contact an agent and find out more about those programs,” Cowen said.
Find an Agent
The new site will include a Find an Agent directory that users can search by city or ZIP code; last name; or office name.
Agent profiles allow users to see contact information as well as recent and past sales.
Agents are notified of leads via email. MFRMLS also plans to give agents the option of receiving notifications via text message sometime in the future.
Agent and client recommendations
State27Homes.com is set up as a collaboration tool between clients and agents. Agents can recommend properties and save searches for clients.
And if the clients save properties, agents can see the bookmarked properties.
Agents can also see what their clients are doing on the site, whether they are updating their TLC details, saving properties or viewing listings.
The site’s “Communities” section includes content about the many towns, big cities and nature-filled areas in the state.
“Most people don’t truly understand the diversity of Florida,” Weir said.
This section also features a gallery of nearby related listings, so if someone is looking at information about beaches, listings near beaches pop up.
The content on this page is also great for search engine optimization (SEO), Weir said. The site’s listings have also been optimized for search engines by making the listing remarks available.
As with the current site, MFRMLS agents will be able to obtain a unique URL to the new site that they can give to their clients.
Once used, the personal URL (PURL) turns the MLS site into the agent’s own IDX site, branded to the agent. On listing pages, the PURL replaces the listing agent’s name and photo with that of the PURL’s owner. (Listing pages still indicate the source of the listing.)
“Twelve thousand of our current agents and brokers use that in the existing system,” Cowen said.
“That’s 25 percent that are using it as an IDX site, and there’s no fee for that. That helps them generate traffic without having an IDX site of their own.”