Times used to be simple. The real estate industry had a straightforward contract, called broker cooperation, which created a seamless marketplace, the MLS. This system thrived on a 100-year old tradition: “Let’s work together. I will show your listings if you show mine.”
Those days are numbered as we head down the road for a Thelma and Louise moment.
Many companies and organizations are building their own databases and platforms. Traditions are under siege. Confusion reigns as I watch the balkanization of our industry.
Today, agents are involved with as many as a dozen databases, directly or indirectly — your customer data, your listing data, your leads, your immediate prospects, your online behavior and your activity. Taken together, they are the backbone of real estate services.
Despite obvious inefficiencies in this approach, the reasons behind this trend are driven by distrust, fear and control. An assortment of vendors, portals, franchises and brokers are gathering and manipulating data and selling it back to agents in the form of leads, predictive analytics, customer management services and other data programs.
This data muddle started with the meteoric growth of the portals. Zillow originally billed itself as a media company but morphed into a marketplace. And its proprietary database is supplemented by broker listings, consumer search information, public record information, agent behavior and transaction data.
Brokers and the big brands panicked by Zillow’s data chops have been trying for three years to create a centralized database, establishing their own rules of data engagement — welcome Upstream! Another rogue operation, operating outside the simple rules of the past.
The National Association of Realtors joined the fray and provided funding for this ambitious initiative, further destabilizing the status quo.
The industry began to drink its own blood — eroding the MLS along the way, the heart of the real estate marketplace that is the envy of the world.
And everyone is joining the data bandwagon.
Windemere created its own database and proprietary solution to support and protect its agents.
Realogy launched Zap, a customer back-end program for managing agent leads. And new Realogy CEO Ryan Schneider has declared data is his priority.
Keller Williams announced it is building its own technology platform — at its core is the promise of data control. The Austin-based firm promises less reliance on external parties, at the same time promising its own safe-data haven for agents.
Technology companies like Remine, Real Scout and HomeSnap have created expansive, affordable tools that harness the power of data and are advocating on behalf of agents and brokers who are relentless in a quest for differentiation.
CoreLogic is stepping outside traditional lanes and adding agent-focused tools and technology, based on proprietary data sets and technology.
And of course, MLSs contribute to this destabilization by providing the pipe that sends data to many third-parties.
It seems everyone now has a plan for greater control and use of data, disrupting the tradition of trust that worked for so long.
We are all contributing to the balkanization of our once tidy, cooperative industry. In the process we are pushing an envelope that is not widely understood and most importantly from which there is no return.
One thing is certain; the status quo is broken. Nothing stands still forever. And it’s messy.
David Charron is the president of MRIS Investors, Inc., in Washington, D.C. Follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter.