OpinionAnalysis

The Inman Files: It’s time to shut down RPR

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Like Guantanamo Bay, Realtors Property Resource, aka RPR, is a sticky wicket for powerhouse real estate trade group the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

The scuttlebut is that NAR’s leadership is considering a plan to wind down and stop funding RPR, the bloated data venture that has cost its Realtor members nearly $180 million since 2009 and is asking for $47.5 million more for 2018 and 2019.

With an initial investment of $25 million, it promised to be a NAR profit center, with forecasts of $60-$80 million in revenue. Instead, it is bleeding money faster than a Russian Oligarch spending spree on the Rodeo Drive Chanel store.

One alternative would be to unload RPR to a private company like Black Knight or CoreLogic or, god forbid, Zillow, the threat of which was one reason NAR undertook the venture to begin with.

It is no secret that former NAR CEO Dale Stinton hated Zillow as much as President Trump despises CNN.

The fate of RPR will be a hot and heavy issue in the backrooms of NAR’s mega confab in Chicago this week, where 10,000 agents gather and the trade group’s board of directors convene.

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The budget issues surrounding RPR’s funding must be resolved by February of next year, only three months away. The clock is ticking.

When it was created nine years ago, RPR was positioned as beachhead against interlopers like Zillow. The value proposition was a good one: put all of the property data a click away for the working Realtor — a national MLS really.

Instead it has become an expensive gold-plated tech boondoggle suffering from questionable technology and disappointing agent adoption numbers.

Last fall, Upstream CEO Alex Lange told a small industry gathering that working with RPR was like dealing with IBM circa 1985.

Upstream Pres. and CEO Alex Lange

Upstream Pres. and CEO Alex Lange. Credit: UpstreamRE

NAR CEO Bob Goldberg, incoming prez Elizabeth Mendenhall and the rest of the new leadership team have an opportunity to show they mean business.

Put RPR out of its misery. Use your economic embargo power to defund a rogue NAR enterprise. Or go back to the original vision for RPR — a national MLS — and fund that until it is done. Either way, everyone would be better off.

For Goldberg, this is a test as to whether he will act on his vision of change, laid out in a tough speech to the NAR leadership in August when he took over the sprawling trade group.

He offered to partner with other companies, vowing not to spread NAR’s wings into areas outside its core competencies. He thumbed his nose at NAR trying to build everything in-house that was common under Stinton’s administration.

Goldberg is not stupid; he knows too well that the RPR initiative is too expensive with disproportionate results for the size of the investment.

No shame, most tech ventures fail. Join the club.

As difficult as it is, killing a bad investment shows true leadership.

One insider alleged, “RPR is spinning up its adoption numbers. Most markets are in the low single digits,” he said.

A comprehensive report on RPR on Inman this week concluded that, “while some consider RPR’s platform indispensable as a tool, they are in the minority. RPR’s platform currently has 150,000-plus “power users” (users that visit RPR more than once a month). That means only about 12 percent of Realtors use the tool on a regular basis.

With 34,700 members, the Houston Association of Realtors data department provided Inman these numbers:

  • The RPR data has about 2,000 unique visitors each month, representing about 6.7 percent of HAR members
  • The average number of users per day is 77
  • RPR generates about 15 unique data reports per month in Houston.

Other MLS organizations report similar results.

Though NAR would never admit it, the original vision for RPR was a national MLS, making it from the start a threat to local MLS organizations that are, surprise, surprise, RPR’s fiercest critics, sometimes openly sabotaging its success. No doubt, they protect their fiefdoms and hurt the industry.

Just look at what the local MLS organizations did to put the brakes on the California Association of Realtors initiative to create a statewide MLS in the Golden State.

CAR CEO Joel Singer, who has been through many tough political, government and industry battles, describes the attempt to create a statewide MLS as his nastiest professional experience ever.

Our worst fights are often with family members, not outsiders.

NAR CEO Bob Goldberg. Credit: NAR

One attempt by RPR to find its footing was by providing technology to its little sister company Upstream, a data single sign-on experiment to give brokers more control of their listing data. NAR through RPR subsidizes Upstream. Brokers have thrown in about $1 million to support the project.

For awhile, Upstream was the hot new band at the real estate music festival.

But as Inman reported earlier this week in a comprehensive article on Upstream, “More than two years after the Upstream initiative was announced, nothing has launched and NAR has little to actually show for its [$15 million investment in Upstream] other than a series of missed deadlines and yet-unrealized promises. Based on its original goals, Upstream is 17 months behind schedule and counting.”

But killing Upstream is as tricky as snuffing out the Obama health care program. Those that support it and those that think it is a waste of resources have become tribal in their divisions.

For now, neither Upstream nor RPR are essential to the business of enough agents and broker owners. And that is at the heart of the problem, where are the benefits?

If RPR was shuttered tomorrow, the hue and cry would be modest. The talented teams that work for Upstream and RPR can easily find good jobs at NAR, in the MLS world or in the private sector. They fought the good fight.

And agents have many other data management options today such as CoreLogic, Black Knight and Zillow’s Bridge Interactive.

Now is the time for NAR to do the right thing. Openly pursue a national MLS or kill RPR.

My mother used to say, “hell or heaven, purgatory is not an option.”

Disclosure: Inman provides a real estate market intelligence data product to its users.

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