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There’s no denying that multiple listing services (MLS) are the most sought after business partners for the countless technology companies in real estate.
When you collectively hold information that details every property bought and sold in the industry, it’s only natural to be thought of as the honey pot to the bee colony, especially when it comes to helping agents coordinate showings.
But MLSs have their own rules, operating standards and customer needs to serve; their existence was never predicated on being a data source to technology companies.
Who gets access to what, when and for what reason has become a scalding debate of late, and the heat was turned way up last February.
“In February, the world changed when it came to showings in the MLS space,” Chris Haran of Midwest Real Estate Data (MRED) said onstage at Inman Connect Las Vegas.
Everyone knew what Haran meant.
Zillow’s purchase of ShowingTime upended relationships nationwide, and agents scrambled to voice concerns about the controversial online brokerage’s ownership of a neutral and familiar service provider.
“A lot of us have basically chosen one vendor, and the network effect was great; we had a really good experience for our users,” Haran said.
It wasn’t just its customers’ collective outrage about having to work with Zillow to arrange a showing that troubled the MLS collective, however.
Haran said he and his industry colleagues had to determine how to work with all the new companies aspiring to replace ShowingTime.
“We suddenly found there were a bunch of entrants entering the space, and we need to come up with a way to address that,” he said.
Sitting next to Haran on stage was Mark Bessett, CTO of California Regional MLS, who added that if all the new startup showing vendors wanted in, they’ll have to talk with one another. In short, no more single partnerships. Any other approach would only further fragment the marketplace.
“Choice is what we’re really after here,” Bessett said. “Think about the USB [port] on your computer, I plug in any device, and they talk to one another. We want to take that same idea to other pieces of software, in this case, showing software.”
Bessett used the USB analogy to introduce the “hub model,” a way for aspiring MLS software providers to openly access property data as needed to serve the members who choose them.
The idea is similar to the MLS Grid, a network of multiple listing systems working together on data access and standards.
“Any showing system can plug into that hub, and with a common registration ID of these listing, make a request and do a showing,” he said.
Those requesting a showing wouldn’t know at first who is managing the listing, but the answer would filter through the hub as a yes or no, according to Bessett.
Hubs would be regional, and if a vendor is approved for one hub, they could connect to another, creating a standard. A concrete ownership structure for hubs hasn’t been formalized, as the model remains in development, spearheaded by MRED, California Regional and Bright MLS.
“To that point, as three MLSs, we all had the same problem,” Haran said. “We have the same amount of resources, same amount of time, same amount of money, so we should do it together.”
The problem is the same across the board, for all 500-plus MLSs, Haran said.
“But this is for the vendors, too, because they want to have to do 500 different implementations,” Haran said.
The duo told the audience that a big part of this potential hub system would rely on professional trust, meaning each hub manager needs to set clear standards for transparency and approval of vendors, etc.
Universal standards, especially in real estate, can’t work if even one MLS becomes a sore spot for technology partners hoping to serve agents. The industry would end up in the same place it is today — onstage at Inman Connect, talking about how to solve the problem.
“Right now, everyone trusts the MLSs,” Haran said, “That’s where integrations happen. That is where you go to schedule your showings, but by asking the new companies coming into the space to work with the existing companies, they have to trust each other as well.”
The overarching message MLSs want to send to the industry is that the idea of “choice” will become the benchmark for vendor partnership decisions. Haran said they don’t want all the showing services to be the same.
“We don’t want to pick the winners,” he said.