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Panelists at an Inman Connect Las Vegas panel Thursday didn’t hold back: both the old guard and the new guard are failing real estate brokers.
In a session called “Big Data, Small Hurdles: Are Brokers Getting What They Need From the MLS?,” Greg Robertson, general manager of MLS at real estate tech firm Lone Wolf, and Victor Lund, co-founder of real estate consulting firm WAV Group, took multiple listing services and the National Association of Realtors to task for not providing brokers with the data they need for their tools and businesses.
Along the way, Robertson also threw in comments regarding the idea of “hijacking listings,” which CoStar CEO Andy Florance had accused competitors of earlier in the day.
During that earlier session, Florance laid out a hypothetical scenario: An agent puts up a yard sign, and then another company pulls up, spray paints over the sign, and puts a new agent’s name on the sign. Florance said no one would tolerate such behavior in the real world.
But that scenario omits a crucial detail: agents’ and brokers’ websites do the same thing that Zillow’s website does in this regard. Every broker or agent that gets an Internet Data Exchange (IDX) feed from an MLS displays listings that are not their own and advertises someone other than the listing broker next to them, usually themselves.
“I’m not sure if anybody caught this, but Andy Florance wants to stop any broker from doing an IDX site,” Robertson said. “The way he’s defining things, a brokerage IDX site is hijacking listings.”
“That’s exactly what the narrative is now. We’re all hijacking listings on our websites. Ooooooh,” he added, prompting chuckles from the audience.
Robertson and Lund condemned MLSs that make obtaining data on behalf of brokers hard for tech companies that serve them by making them go through a long, arduous committee approval process.
“The approval process of getting an app to market is ridiculous,” Robertson said. “We might have an app up and running on some alpha site, some staging server, but [are then told] ‘Our MLS technology committee doesn’t meet for next month and that docket’s full, probably try the next month after that. Oh, the director is on vacation; he can’t come.'”
“It’s ridiculous the hoops we have to jump through sometimes just to add a new feature to a product. Permissioning has got to change,” he added.
He suggested an idea from Marilyn Wilson, also co-founder of WAV Group: to create a program similar to TSA PreCheck in which tech vendors who are vetted get advanced permission to deploy products and features.
“Some vendors have set it up like if you opt into a certain program that means that if this vendor has opted into these rules or regulations then any app they develop are automatically approved,” Robertson said.
“Vendors have to basically sign something or do something to say generally I’m going to follow these rules,” he added. “If they violate those rules, they’re out. But that means that somebody needs to pay attention to that. The problem is there’s a lot of vendors out there; a couple of bad apples can ruin it for all the rest of us.”
Lund noted that under the previous CEO of San Francisco’s MLS, it took the MLS around 11 months to approve a tool built by the largest broker in the city.
“It was a committee, exactly what [Robertson’s] talking about,” Lund said. “You just can’t allow MLSs to get in the way of progress, especially when companies are putting a lot of Treasury into creating great innovation.”
He suggested that MLSs collaborate to help each other vet vendors. It could be as simple as saying, “‘Oh, yeah, they’re in our market. They’re fine. They’re doing this,'” he said.
Denee Evans, the panel moderator and CEO of the Council of MLSs (CMLS), noted that MLSs have to “ensure that that data is being used for the right purposes by the right people, but we need to make that decision processing more efficient and maybe a little clearer.”
She asked what role policy could play and Lund and Robertson pointed to a major limitation of NAR policy: the trade group isn’t enforcing it. For instance, Lund noted that WAV Group is working with brokerages Compass and Side who often run into hurdles obtaining MLS data when expanding into other markets.
“They have to go and create relationships with MLSs in each one of them and they go to some markets and [the MLSs] just say, ‘No, we’re not giving you access to the data,'” Lund said. “We’re like, ‘But it’s in policy.’ ‘Well, that’s OK. We don’t want to do it.’ So you call Rodney Gansho at NAR and say, ‘Hey, here’s a bad character that you have. This established broker isn’t getting access to the data, can you go handle it?’
“And then six months goes by and we still don’t have a data feed. It’s imperiling their go-to-market strategy. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. So if you have policy, somebody needs to enforce it. NAR is not enforcing it.”
Robertson agreed. “If we’re not enforcing those things, it’s a bad thing.”
Lund said that brokers hire his firm to “fix problems with MLSs constantly” because they don’t want to fight with their MLS or any of their agents who are on the MLS’s board.
“They don’t want to ruffle feathers,” Lund said.
That the vast majority of MLSs are small with limited resources exacerbates the problem, according to Lund and Robertson.
“There are 16 MLS markets where Howard Hanna can’t get sold data today because the MLS can’t afford to pay their vendor to change the payload,” Lund said. “So they’re not in compliance [with NAR policy].”
Of 556 MLSs nationwide, 375 have less than 400 subscribers, according to rankings from T3 Sixty.
“They don’t have the knowledge, the technology stack or anything to answer these questions,” Robertson said.
Lund replied, “They don’t even know the rules. It’s an [association executive] who has a side-gig of running the MLS. They just know that they have a contract with some company called Paragon or CoreLogic or FBS or whatever.
“And they don’t really know anything about data. It’s like an [executive officer] or an AE and an assistant and that’s the entire company. They’re running the association and then this MLS thing. They’re clueless.”