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The nation’s two largest MLSs have founded a company that aims to sell MLS data to financial institutions and share the revenue with brokers.
California Regional MLS, which has more than 110,000 subscribers in the Golden State, and Bright MLS, with more than 98,000 subscribers across six states and Washington D.C. in the Mid-Atlantic region, formed a joint venture on June 24 called REdistribute LLC. The company will aggregate and distribute data for MLSs and brokers that participate and sell it to institutions including government-sponsored entities, mortgage lenders and insurance companies.
In turn, REdistribute will share the revenue it brings in with participating MLSs and brokers, which the company says is meant to ensure that participants are compensated fairly and at true market value for their data. That’s something that isn’t happening right now, according to President and CEO of Bright MLS Brian Donnellan.
“Today, we are rewriting the rules of engagement,” Donnellan said in a statement. “Now is the time for professional MLS organizations to invest in solutions that create additional value for brokers, while also delivering the most comprehensive, accurate and freshest data to critical participants in the housing industry.”
REdistribute expects its eventual customers will use its data to price their products and conduct risk assessments, Donnellan told Inman in a video interview.
In the same interview, CRMLS CEO Art Carter told Inman that REdistribute’s data will be especially useful for desktop appraisals, which are becoming more commonplace.
“Those property records that come out of counties and municipal entities, it’s not real-time data,” Carter said. “As these desktop appraisals move forward, and as these very different ways of valuing properties [move forward], they’re completely reliant upon MLS data.”
REdistribute will officially launch its platform on January 1 when it will start delivering data to GSEs and financial institutions, according to Carter. It is currently working on aggregating CRMLS and Bright’s data into a format that those institutions are comfortable receiving and will launch in beta in August with Bright and CRMLS data, Carter added.
In an open letter to the industry published Thursday, Bright and CRMLS call for other MLSs and brokerages to participate in REdistribute. Already, Beaches MLS in Florida has signed a letter of intent to become a co-owner in the company in time for the launch.
The joint venture is a result of a tech collaboration deal the two MLSs inked in January. It also follows other big moves from the MLSs including CRMLS’s launch of a venture fund and two investments and Bright’s hiring of a chief economist, a chief marketing officer and a vice president of strategic alliances and partnerships.
How much will brokers get?
Both CRMLS and Bright have had broker rewards programs for years. One of Bright’s predecessors, MRIS, began paying out syndication and other licensing revenue to brokers around 2012. CRMLS began handing the revenue it obtained from listing syndication, but not other licensing revenue, back to brokers in 2016.
On a per-listing basis at $1.36 per listing, the median check amount brokers received from CRMLS in 2016 was $39.51 and the largest was more than $10,000. In 2017, the median check amount from CRMLS at $1.24 per listing, was $30.98 while the biggest check came to $7,267.14.
“Even the values that Bright and CRMLS send back to the brokerage community scratches the surface of what’s actually being made out there,” Carter said.
“The brokers put a lot of hard work and a lot of money into creating and curating these listings, putting them into the MLS, and I think it’s time that the brokerage community reap some of the rewards for the money that is being derived by data in the real estate industry.”
CRMLS and Bright declined to say how much brokers are currently getting for their listings under these programs and declined to say whether REdistribute has a specific goal toward increasing the size of those checks.
“We firmly believe that the value of real estate data is an iceberg,” Carter said. “How much is exposed at the surface versus how much is below the waterline is something that we’ll determine. We believe that there’s quite a bit underneath the waterline that is not being brought back from a value prop prospect to our brokerages.”
The company anticipates that 80 percent or more of the revenue that REdistribute generates will go back to the MLSs that provide the data. But how much MLSs decide to give back to their brokers will be up to them, according to Donnellan.
“We’re not going to dictate what folks need to do,” he said. “I can tell you what Bright and CRMLS have done and that is to give almost 90 percent of any money made on data back to the brokerage. There’s going to be some reinvestment into the company, so you can’t give it all back, but we’re talking a very large amount going back to the brokers.”
When asked whether the money that would go back to brokerages would be “business-changing” considering the size of the checks so far, Donnellan said, “It’s real money.”
Carter said, “We obviously wouldn’t be putting the money behind this initiative if we didn’t think it was going to be real money plus.”
“Not to give you specific numbers, but if we were giving out X before, I would have a hope and I think it’s doable that we give out 5X,” Carter added. “I think that’s tremendous value back out to the brokerage community. It’s not going to be business-changing money, but it is significant dollar amounts.”
The ghost of RPR
This is not the first time something like this has been tried in the industry. In June 2010, CoreLogic launched Partner InfoNet, a revenue-sharing program in which MLSs licensed their data to CoreLogic for use in new risk management products for mortgage lenders, servicers and the capital markets.
That program debuted shortly after the National Association of Realtors announced the formation of Realtors Property Resource LLC (RPR), which went live in September 2010. At the time, the trade association was attempting something that had never been done at the national level: integrating public property records — residential and commercial — with information gathered by Realtors and others when properties are listed in MLSs and commercial information exchanges (CIEs).
The business model for RPR depended on selling analytic products like market reports and property valuations to non-NAR members, such as lenders and government agencies. MLSs offer fast, up-to-date, accurate details on listings including the selling prices of homes — information that can take months to turn up in public records — as well as historical information and photos. At the time, RPR backers said lenders, investors, mortgage guarantors like Fannie Mae and government agencies like the Federal Reserve would pay to harness the power of the new database.
But RPR, by NAR’s own admission, has generated very little money while its cost has ballooned over the last 12 years to some $283 million total by the end of this year.
This was in part because RPR had a hard time at least for the first few years from its inception, getting enough MLSs to sign up to feed RPR their data. Consequently, RPR was unable to offer financial institutions the nationwide coverage they sought. RPR did not offer to share revenue with MLSs opting to provide them with tools instead.
How is REdistribute planning to succeed in making money when RPR couldn’t do it?
“It is actually ‘the’ question,” Donnellan told Inman.
“I have nothing bad to say against RPR. But this is what we do. We collect the data, we make sure the data is right and we distribute the data. So I think we have expertise in this area.”
REdistribute is also working with real estate consulting firm PRESTA, which was founded by CoreLogic veterans Chris Bennett and Amy Gorce.
“We’re putting together a team that has had success in doing this in the past and we feel very confident that we’ll be able to translate their past successes into the future for our industry,” Carter said.
REdistribute’s goal is to cover as much of the nation as possible and the No. 1 milestone the company is looking to achieve is MLS participation, according to Carter and Donnellan.
“The more [data] that you can aggregate the more valuable it becomes,” Carter said. “But I don’t know that we necessarily have the political hurdles to overcome that RPR did in the beginning. I think there was a lot of distrust, and it was a new concept when RPR came out with it.”
The idea of monetizing the MLS data was relatively new then, according to Carter.
“In talking with large and small brokerages now, they understand the concept a little bit better now,” he said. “Whereas RPR not only had to educate on what the GSEs and the financial services markets were doing with the data, they also had to sell that it was okay for an outside entity to capitalize on it. [REdistribute] isn’t an outside entity capitalizing on it out from underneath the brokerages. This is an entity that is doing it on behalf of the brokerages.”
REdistribute is not looking to be profitable, according to Carter.
“In all honesty, the company should never be profitable in a traditional sense because there should be dividends being sent out to the partner MLSs to distribute to their brokerages,” he said. “The intent is not to build this monolithic company with lots of money, but the intent is to be a conduit back to the brokerage community.”
Currently, CRMLS and Bright feed data to RPR and Partner InfoNet. While Carter said neither will be “cut off,” they will begin getting the data from REdistribute rather than the separate MLSs.
Donnellan acknowledged that would mean contracts with RPR and CoreLogic would have to be re-negotiated and said the terms of the contracts would be defined in the future.
‘A one-way street’
In their open letter, Bright and CRMLS paint a picture of how they see the current state of affairs when it comes to real estate data and its value to brokers.
“New entrants and technology-enabled startups came into the industry and each one asked for access to the broker’s data to build their technology,” Carter and Donnellan wrote.
“MLS data became the backbone in the value proposition for most of these startups. The exchange of real estate data turned into a one-way street.”
The “one-way street” refers to the monetary value of MLS data, rather than the overall value that brokers and agents get from having business tools that work with MLS data, according to the company.
“Is there value in tools? Sure, sure,” Donnellan said. “But there’s value in the data and there’s value in the tools and data. I think they’re different things.”
The MLSs’ open letter portrays their effort as an attempt to change a status quo that has taken advantage of brokers’ labor.
“For far too long, this industry has sat idly by, as outside entrants siphoned away data from the brokers — all the while monetizing it for the benefit of their shareholders,” the letter stated.
The MLSs declined to name the “outside entrants” they were referring to or how they have “siphoned away data from brokers.” They did clarify they were not referring to any brokerages as outside entrants including those that are publicly traded or venture-funded, such as Zillow or Opendoor.
REdistribute is currently owned equally between CRMLS and Bright. The company declined to disclose how ownership stakes will work as other MLSs and brokerages join the venture. They anticipate that some will want to be owners of the company but others will opt to join only as participants.
Carter and Donnellan declined to disclose how much money their MLSs will be spending on the joint venture, though they said they would disclose that to their MLS partners.
In recent years, MLSs have begun teaming up to provide their subscribers with products and services including listing data management.
When asked how REdistribute will differ from other joint ventures such as MLS Grid and MLS Aligned, Carter said, “They’re focused on delivering data to broker and agent participant and subscriber audiences. This audience is completely different. We’re not looking to compete.”