People need to stop thinking of coming soons and pocket listings as identical, they aren’t. The Clear Cooperation Policy needs to pass. Coming soon needs rules codified that are separate from private, off-MLS sales.

Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.

For the love of all the kittens, rainbows and unicorns of the internet, for the love of everything, can we all step back and take a deep breath about this whole “coming soon” thing?

It’s getting a little out of hand out there.

“What coming soon thing?” someone out there is surely wondering.

And a darn fine query that would be. Let’s recap. I’ll try to keep it brief, but it’s more complicated than it should be:

What is a ‘coming soon’?

Perhaps the best place to begin is with what a “coming soon” is. Or more accurately, what it should be. Troublingly, the meaning has gotten cloudy and confusing because it is so often used synonymously with “pocket listings,” “off-market,” “pre-MLS” and probably another half-dozen terms.

A true coming soon is a property that the owners intend to list for sale on the open market at some point in the near future. Ideally, it’s a listing status in MLSs, with processes and rules for its use just as there are with any other MLS listing status.

The usefulness of a coming soon status has always been debated. Seems every business practice, marketing technique, advertising platform, brokerage model — you name it; if it’s real estate-related, people debate it. Sometimes passionately, sometimes ignorantly.

Personally and professionally, I have been unable to grasp the disdain for true coming soons (remember, we’re talking true coming soons here, not the conflated pocket listings, pre-MLS whatevers).

From a marketing perspective, there are valid reasons for having a coming soon status. Reasons that benefit all — sellers, buyers, agents, MLSs and associations.

The thought of promoting a product before it is ready for consumption is not new. One only need to look at Hollywood. Ever seen a preview for a movie and thought, “Oooh, gotta see that one!”

Ever noticed how car manufacturers advertise the upcoming models long before they’re available at dealerships? Ever seen a teaser for an author’s next book?

Of course you have.

A listing in coming soon status is no different. Coming soon marketing gives time to build buzz and excitement around the listing. It piques the interest of potential buyers. It alerts the market that there will soon be another listing available.

None of that is bad. All of it is beneficial.

And it works. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t see it in movies, television, books, automobiles, boats, travel, new product launches and more. To think “coming soon marketing” won’t work with houses is patently short-sighted.

Sellers often have an interest in selling their homes before they are “show ready.” A coming soon period is an ideal time to prepare a home for showings because in a true coming soon situation, the home can’t be shown to anyone.

If you show a coming soon home, it’s not coming soon — it’s here now. In the parlance of most MLSs, that’s what’s called an active listing.

That can’t just be ignored. Words matter. If something is “coming soon” that means it is not available right now. If you show a home, it’s available, it’s no longer coming soon. Show it, and it’s here, not on its way.

You know who wants their agent testing marketing collateral on a live listing? No one. With coming soon, you can run A/B tests on different images and copy while the home is in a non-active status. Find out what works and what doesn’t before the home goes active.

And that brings up an important point. A coming soon will go active at some point. Active as in on the open market, available to all agents, brokerages and consumers. Otherwise, it’s a pocket listing, and surely we know by now that coming soons are not pocket listings?

What a coming soon is not

Coming soon status is not the place to hide your listing, hoping to have it known only internal to your brokerage or via some sort of “private network.” Again, a coming soon is not a pocket listing. Yes, I am going to beat that point relentlessly.

It’s not a place to test pricing. Price testing is an advantage often cited by those in favor of coming soons. But if you can’t show a home, if you don’t take offers during the coming soon period, how do you test pricing? (Really test pricing, not test what seems to appeal in an ad.)

Another thing a coming soon is not, and this is a real problem, is it’s not available everywhere. Some MLSs have created specific statuses for coming soon, some have simply acknowledged they’re acceptable by the fact that they haven’t banned them, and some have rules forbidding them.

MLSs often lead to the confusion over naming and definitions by lumping coming soons, broker exclusives and pocket listings in the same set of rules, the same announcements and mention them in the same breath as if they all mean the same thing.

They don’t mean the same thing. Have I mentioned lately that coming soons and pocket listings are not the same?

What is an MLS or association to do?

MLSs need to take action and do so swiftly. With the NAR prepared to discuss and vote on the MLS Clear Cooperation Policy this week in San Francisco, the time is ripe for also including coming soon rules and policy.

Yes, I know that I just said intermingling coming soon and pocket listings, which is what the Clear Cooperation policy addresses, leads to confusion between the two terms. But if MLSs are going to be dinking around under the hood and wading into the policy weeds, might as well add coming soons to the list and knock them all out.

It’s really not as hard as the industry seems to want it to be. Why not follow these steps:

1. Establish a coming soon (CS) status

The basic rules are simple. Properties in CS can not be shown. Time in CS status is limited to 21 days or 30 days, whatever. Pick a time limit, and make it extendable one time.

Future “go live” date is included. CS listings can be syndicated to IDX and third-party sites. Marketing is allowable. There are no showings.

Some MLSs want CS to automatically convert to active on a pre-determined date. This seems fraught with the risk of something causing the date to slip and that not being changed in the CS status.

If you make the CS auto-switch to inactive, I can assure you the agent will bend over backward to get the proper status in the MLS. “Automating” things weeks before they occur is just a bad idea in real estate.

2. Educate subscribers on the Clear Cooperation Policy

This, of course, is assuming it passes. My prediction, worth exactly what you’re paying for it, is either the MLS Policy committee or the board of directors sends the whole thing back to either a workgroup, a PAG (Presidential Advisory Group) or some aptly named body to do further work and kick it back up to committee the next time around. Personally, I hope it passes. Clearly, I’m on the pocket listings aren’t good wagon.

3. Enforce the Clear Cooperation Policy (and your coming soon rules)

Without enforcement, what’s the point? Yep, sometimes a fine is the most effective, “stop this behavior” club to whack someone over the head with. (It’s a metaphor folks, I’m not advocating physically clubbing people over the head.)

4. Clarify your private/exclusive listing policy

Rarely a seller will have the need to sell a property outside the MLS. They should have the right to do so and have the right to representation. A private/exclusive listing should not be publicly marketed, doing so clearly removes all privacy. Sellers (and agents) should be fully aware of the disadvantages of a private listing and the marketing restrictions they face.

Agents, if you think you should be able to fully and publicly market a property everywhere except the MLS, then you need to get a grip not only on what privacy means, but also of the purpose and rules of a cooperative MLS. Sorry, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. It just doesn’t work that way. Deal with it.

MLSs deal with it. Remember your subscribers as they’re the ones writing you checks. Yes, you can — and should — make the rules. You can do that and involve your subscribers.

Just ask, some might actually help. Most won’t. You have nothing to lose and everything to win. Be reasonable too. Yes, it takes five minutes to update a status, but it can be rather involved to input a listing. Give them two days; 48 hours isn’t the end of the world.

Compromise, we’re all in this together.

Something has to happen

The hodgepodge of coming soon policies across some MLSs need to coalesce. Yo, NAR, help them out. People need to stop thinking of coming soons and pocket listings as identical, they aren’t. The Clear Cooperation Policy needs to pass. Coming soon needs rules codified that are separate from private, off-mls sales.

If these things don’t happen, we’ll be debating coming soons, pocket listings and MLS policy into the next decade. Well, to be real, no matter what, we’ll probably be debating this or something else well into the next century, but it sure seems that with some policy wrangling and education, we could at least put a good portion of this to bed and move on.

A big job, sure. Impossible? Hardly.

Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate. 

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