Is the ‘Perfect MLS’ Achievable?

There’s no shortage of issues faced by the hundreds of multiple listings services across the country. Here are a few of the ways MLS executives, agents, and brokers suggest the situation can be improved for all.

MLSs were in the spotlight during the 2018 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C., with several sessions concentrating on the effectiveness of the multiple listing system and how it can be improved for agents, brokers, consumers, and the real estate industry at large. Here are a few of the talking points that emerged.

It’s All About the Data

How do you create “the perfect MLS”? The topic at the MLS Association Executives Session on May 16 was meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, noted organizers, who put together two panels—one composed of agents and brokers and the other comprised of MLS executives—to address the idea. “The perfect MLS doesn’t think they’re perfect,” said Kerry Melcher, a panelist and general manager at Opendoor in Phoenix.

One improvement Melcher said she’d like to see MLSs undertake is allowing brokers to push data feeds directly to their systems, not just input individual listings and pull feeds into their sites. She said that kind of dedication to data fidelity and authority is much more important to her brokerage than offering new tech tools to agents. “I’m not as interested in the shiny things. … I’m interested in the MLS being the LexisNexis of property data.”

MLSs have also made strides toward data standardization. Jeremy Crawford, CEO of the Real Estate Standards Organization, reported at a number of MLS-related meetings during the conference that 94 percent of brokers and agents are using Data Dictionary–certified MLSs to input listing information, which is saving time and money for MLSs, participants, and subscribers. Thanks to the standardization, more MLSs and real estate professionals can take advantage of enhancements, such as the partnerships RESO has forged with the Department of Energy and utility companies to automatically populate energy usage information and environmental certifications into property data. “We now have brokers who are tying energy data into their listings,” Crawford said, noting that the benefits accrue to homeowners as well. “Homes with more data sell faster and typically with more value.”

Encouraging Better Communication

During panel discussions about the “perfect MLS,” it became clear that a more fluid exchange of ideas could improve MLS practices and use. Bob Getto, CRS, co-owner and co-broker of Ferguson & Getto Inc., REALTORS®, in Fallon, Nev., defined perfect MLSs as ones “that really take the time to physically listen to their individual agents and brokers. … It’s great to say [you do] that, but it’s hard to actually do.”

In a lighthearted moment that, nonetheless, underlined some tension between the two panels, Cathy Libby, CEO of the statewide MLS known as Maine Listings, asked of subscribers: “When we send out communications, will you please read them?” Fellow panelist James Yockel, CEO of the Greater Rochester Association of REALTORS®, encouraged his colleagues to “send communications that are interesting to read.”

“There’s a lot of volume coming into people’s inboxes,” he said. “Make it worth their time.”

There was also discussion about how MLSs can better communicate their value to consumers. Jason O’Neil, with Century 21 Scheetz in Indianapolis, noted that when listing agents are confronted by sellers who don’t see the benefit of displaying their homes on the MLS, it can be hard to convince them otherwise. He said he’d like to see more MLSs “marketing to the consumer that this is the place where homes are sold.” Getto countered that MLSs do sometimes get pushback from large brokers who see their websites as the authoritative sources of listing data and more worthy of promoting to their clients. But CMLS executives encouraged MLSs to look to the association’s “making the market work” ad campaign for resources.

Redfin's Glenn Kelman addresses the Multiple Listing Service Forum

Getting Into the Google Game

Though there isn’t currently a vote scheduled on the issue, the MLS Technology and Emerging Issues Advisory Board will soon examine the question of whether or not to require IDX feeds and portals to publish a link to the listing broker’s site alongside individual listings.

One brokerage that is already offering this option is Seattle-based Redfin. CEO Glenn Kelman offered full-throated support for the idea, which he predicted would fundamentally change the balance of power online. “Google decides which sites to favor based on links,” he said, explaining that sites that are linked to as sources of information tend to rank higher in search results, and that if listing aggregators had to link back to listing agent sites, brokerages and agents would ultimately benefit in terms of SEO. “The MLS should not be picking winners online. ... It should have the same set of rules for everyone.”

Kelman noted that, as a brokerage that is also in many ways a real estate listing and media company, the new rule isn’t exactly in his best interests. “There are a bunch of engineers at Redfin who want to tackle me when I come up here and say this,” he told the committee. “Why do I care about this? Because I want the whole system to work better. Redfin has bet on the MLS. … We didn’t scrape other sites; we joined the MLS.”