In a deal that closed Friday, MLS Aligned — founded in 2018 by Arizona Regional MLS, Metro MLS in Wisconsin, MLSListings in Silicon Valley, RMLS in Oregon and UtahRealEstate.com — has acquired the technology assets of RE Agent Solutions LLC, which include the software and technology behind Agent Inbox, a real estate messaging and showing platform. Agent Inbox earned a 4 out of 5 rating from Inman tech reviewer Craig Rowe in December 2016.
MLS Aligned’s member MLSs have more than 100,000 agent and broker subscribers combined. The company declined to disclose the acquisition price. RE Agent Solutions was founded in 2014 and continues as a company in Florida, though Agent Inbox ceased operations in 2018. MLS Aligned declined to comment on why.
The deal comes amid a tumultuous time for the showing management industry after the announcement of Zillow’s acquisition of ShowingTime in February. Up until that point ShowingTime had been a popular platform among agents, but after the acquisition news many expressed concerns about how Zillow might handle their data, among other things. (Zillow has vowed to keep ShowingTime’s privacy policies in place.)
“MLS Aligned believes in owning its own technology and its own future,” an MLS Aligned spokesperson told Inman. “With the uncertainty of [mergers and acquisitions] in the industry, MLSs need to forge their own path.”
In a statement, Agent Inbox co-founder and CEO Tyler Gordon said the deal “transforms the landscape and future of how independent MLSs serve their members. Leveraging Agent Inbox’s leading platform, MLS Aligned will control and further innovate on the most critical workflows of the real estate transaction.”
In the wake of the Zillow-ShowingTime announcement, numerous showing management companies told Inman they were experiencing a tsunami of interest from brokerages, MLSs and agents. MLS Aligned’s new service will be among those that have emerged in response to that growing demand. MLS Aligned told Inman the company began acquisition talks for Agent Inbox in April.
“The purchase and development of a showing service allows us to provide our members with a quality product that we control moving forward,” Metro MLS CEO Chris Carrillo said in a statement.
“Owning our showing service eliminates future acquisition anxiety and allows us to meet the needs of our members in the best way possible. We are excited to work with our MLS Aligned partners to develop a product that will positively impact our members and the MLS industry.”
In a phone interview, ARMLS CEO Matthew Consalvo told Inman that the frequent acquisitions in the real estate industry have brokers, agents and MLSs feeling anxious, pointing to not just Zillow’s acquisition of ShowingTime, but also Lone Wolf’s acquisition of W&R Studios, LionDesk and HomeSpotter, CoStar’s acquisition of Homesnap and Homes.com, and Stone Point Capital’s acquisition of CoreLogic.
“Every week we open up Inman articles to find that someone else has been purchased and sometimes that has an impact on our business,” Consalvo said. “Everything seems to be for sale at the moment.”
“This frequent news of acquisition of our technology partners has caused subscribers to call us up and ask what our plans are,” he added.
MLS Aligned told Inman that the “optics” of MLSs providing broker-owned services to other brokerages is “poor” and, for many MLSs, conflicts with existing policies that prohibit MLS vendor services to be delivered by a broker participant of the MLS.
For instance, ARMLS has had such a policy on the books for more than a dozen years, according to Consalvo. The MLS has offered ShowingTime as a service for a few years and is under contract with the company until Jan. 1, 2022.
Because the ARMLS board of directors is not willing to eliminate a longstanding policy and Zillow is a broker participant of ARMLS, that contract is not eligible to be renewed and ARMLS will need another showing management product to provide continuity for its subscribers, Consalvo said.
MLS Aligned’s new showing service will launch to three of its member MLSs — likely ARMLS, Metro MLS and UtahRealEstate.com — in the fourth quarter and then become available to other MLSs, including non-MLS Aligned members, sometime after that, according to Consalvo. The company does not yet know whether it will charge a subscription fee to pay for the product’s upkeep.
Staff from MLS Aligned’s member MLSs and consultants will be in charge of developing the software, which may be rebranded, according to Consalvo.
“It’ll take us multiple months to make it market-ready,” Consalvo said.
While the product has a “great foundation,” a team of people from all five MLSs have created “pages of features we want to enhance or develop,” he added. “We’re in an evaluation process to discuss how much time we need for each of these.”
The leaders of MLS Aligned are touting the new service as a way MLSs can team up to provide better experiences and services for agents and brokers.
“We wanted to show the MLS industry that MLSs can innovate together and bring the products our members are asking for to life,” said Brad Bjelke, CEO of UtahRealEstate.com, in a statement.
“The Agent Inbox software, combined with our future plans for the product, will revolutionize how showings are handled by brokerages and agents.”
The company declined to comment on specific features it plans to add. Its press release says, “MLS Aligned will integrate the showings and messaging systems within the platforms of their members to provide for seamless agent-to-agent and agent-to-client communications.”
MLS Aligned’s team will also work on best practices for standardizing showing data with the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO), according to Consalvo.
“After seeing significant changes in real estate software and the various company acquisitions over the last year, the need to standardize and modernize this data on their own showing platforms became evident,” the company’s spokesperson said.
Many brokers operate across multiple MLSs and use a variety of tech products in their business, such as analytics tools, that may benefit from showing data that can be easily transported between platforms, according to Consalvo.
“We see solutions that need to operate well across the boundaries of MLSs allowing information to be shared and allowing information to be coordinated easily between multiple MLSs,” he said.
“We would like the technology to work well in harmony with other solutions in the marketplace so that MLSs or users or brokers have the opportunity to take advantage of solutions that best fit their needs. All of those services should work well with each other. We can no longer have solutions in our industry that are just boxed in.
“We’re committed to having a solution that interacts well with others. The concept centers around showing data that can be transported anyplace that creates value for the broker.”