Although it was originally designed to help consumers, “Coming Soon” has now become a fragmented and ill-defined status used to attract buyers with the false promise of an oasis of hidden home supply. Can it be reformed, or should it be retired?

“Coming Soon” is the first big digital showdown around the perpetual brokerage business decision of how profitable it is for a brokerage to cooperate versus how profitable it is to be less-than-fully cooperative.

In the analog age, a brokerage could just leave the wrong key for cooperating agents at the front desk while using the right key to put a deal together with agents from inside the office. Now, they just label it “Coming Soon.” Everything’s a remix. 

The coming-soon (CS) status was designed to help consumers by making sure listings are advertised to the wider brokerage community and not just internally to a brokerage’s smaller pool of agents or an agent’s pool of clients.

Instead, it’s become a fragmented and ill-defined status used to attract buyers with the false promise of an oasis of hidden home supply. Can Coming Soon be reformed, or should it be retired?

This graph summarizes how Coming Soon is treated by various MLS systems that are a part of the NorCal MLS Alliance, the larger San Francisco brokerages and the major national real estate portals.

As the graph shows, even within the MLS systems that agreed on a major data schema update that went live in 2021, they couldn’t agree on what to do with coming-soon listings. If you don’t understand all the details, here’s the high level takeaway — Coming Soon is a hot mess. 

Why ‘Coming Soon’? 

In 2015, San Francisco was the first MLS in the nation to try and address the issue of “off-MLS” listings and internal brokerage self-dealing in the digital age. In an attempt to increase the number of internal deals, brokerages would internally market listings to their agents or sphere (as well as private listing networks) but not share the listing information with the wider brokerage community. 

In 2015, the perceived offender in San Francisco is a brokerage that no longer exists — a prophetic reminder that the desire to hoard listings isn’t new and probably isn’t the best strategy for the long-term existence of a brokerage.

SFAR’s 2015 solution was a new MLS status for homes that agents wanted to talk about with other agents but were not yet ready for public marketing. We named it “Coming Soon.” These listings would be viewable to all subscribers within our MLS but not publicly broadcast in data feeds or syndication. 

In one fell swoop, entering a listing in coming-soon status met your cooperation obligation, eliminated exposure to fair-housing discrimination lawsuits resulting from targeted advertising outside the MLS that may appear discriminatory, and met your fiduciary duty to your seller client. 

To address listing agent concerns about privacy and premature public debuts, Coming Soon was purposefully kept out of any data feeds, could be seen only within the native MLS system and did not accumulate days on market (DOM).

This was meant to strike a balance between fostering member cooperation and accommodating varying brokerage business plans. 

The ‘Coming Soon’ confusion

Shortly after SFAR launched Coming Soon, Zillow launched a status with the same name — and the two statuses didn’t work together then (and still don’t now). Entering a Coming Soon listing in the SFAR MLS doesn’t publish it to Zillow, and Zillow’s Coming Soon listings aren’t added to the SFAR MLS. 

This pattern has unfortunately repeated itself across brokerages, across MLS systems and across portal sites. Coming-soon statuses aren’t the same thing, aren’t handled the same way and aren’t visible in all the same places that consumers see active status listings. 

In San Francisco, for whatever reason (several are plausible) buyers, agents and sellers are highly focused on the days on market (DOM) metric more than almost any other. The SFAR MLS coming-soon status does not accumulate DOM. In contrast, just across the Bay, BridgeMLS’s coming-soon status does accumulate DOM. 

San Francisco does not publish reciprocal coming-soon status listings in broker data feeds powering broker-enabled apps and agent-client search tools. BridgeMLS does include its DOM-accumulating Coming Soon listings in broker feeds but not public-facing or syndicated feeds.

A standardized coming-soon status would increase cooperation and make the sharing of listings easier amongst broker agent members of the MLS.

The National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) policy solution, approved in 2019 and implemented in 2020, is the Clear Cooperation Policy. However, different definitions and treatments of coming-soon status mean that you absolutely positively can’t search just one site for all available inventory in my market area. 

In the San Francisco Bay Area, an agent wanting to search all the available listing inventory including coming-soon status has to abandon all of the slick third-party software apps and do a search within the MLS as well as on at least one portal site and one or two large brokerage sites.

That’s a lot of searches — and not a lot of progress. And if you’re a consumer? Generally speaking, no Coming Soon listings in your data feed! 

Is there a fix?

The cooperate-or-not strategy has always existed in real estate and always will. Is an agent or brokerage handling both sides of the transaction an improvement in the client experience?

For the seller, if a quick sale using a broker was the desired outcome, then maybe so. If maximum market exposure to deliver the highest price is the seller’s desired outcome, then minimal marketing to the agents of the listing brokerage is not the right marketing strategy. 

Technology can help solve some of the problems it has created. Industry associations, MLS operators, brokerages and large portals can create further clarity by agreeing to standard terminology about what Coming Soon, pocket listing and office exclusive mean, how they are visible to agents, buyers and sellers, and how they accumulate days on market or other metrics.

I’m sure there is more we can do — what are your thoughts?

Matt Fuller is podcaster and broker at Jackson Fuller Real Estate. Connect with him Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn

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