MLSs Must Evolve

Get the scoop on the state of the industry with Council of MLSs 2019 Chair Chris Carrillo.

MLS mergers, adoption of new technology, implementation of the latest polices, competition from portals and startups … there’s a lot going on in the MLS industry today. Who better to clarify the issues than Chris Carrillo, CEO of MetroMLS in Milwaukee, 2019 chair of the trade group Council of MLSs, and a member of the National Association of REALTORS® MLS Emerging Trends Advisory Group?

What keeps MLS executives up at night?

Change is happening very fast, and a lot of that speed is driven by consumer expectations for housing information. Younger buyers coming into the market consume data differently. Traditionally, the tap of information was the real estate professional. But now a lot of information is from ancillary third-party avenues, and it’s presented and communicated in completely new ways.

This puts MLSs in a new position. They’re not just service providers; they’re being asked to license data in a way that requires them to be much more nimble. This puts a lot of pressure on MLSs to mature quickly, but it’s also a great opportunity for organizational growth.

MLSs must look at the opportunities that are coming up with the evolving technologies and talk to the vendors who are putting them forward, without losing focus on the needs of today.

Business man in an empty room with virtual reality mask on

What are the new technologies?

Existing MLS industry companies and startups are advancing our capabilities with predictive analytics and machine learning. They come to MLSs and say, “We need a full data dump and API access for instantaneous updates.” This positions MLSs as technology enablers. This is where they want to be. For MLSs that are a bit more stagnant, this pace of change will be difficult.

Forward-looking MLSs want to be in front of new technology to deliver new opportunities for their REALTOR® members. MLSs must evolve. At MetroMLS, we’ve exchanged ShowingTime abilities throughout our state, created a preferred photographer program, and established MLS Without Borders.

This pace of technological change, however, has forced MLSs to do something that we haven’t always been good at: communicating our value proposition to the marketplace. At CMLS we believe that the MLS is “Making the Market Work.” It is our mantra and our mission, and it’s front and center in all we do. CMLS has marketing materials for all MLSs to use to communicate their value.

“MLSs must look at the opportunities that are coming up with the evolving technologies and talk to the vendors who are putting them forward, without losing focus on the needs of today.” — Chris Carrillo, CEO, MetroMLS, Milwaukee, and 2019 chair of CMLS

What is the value of the MLS in today’s industry?

New competition and technology forces MLSs to take a look at their value proposition and ask themselves: What is the difference that we make in the real estate professionals’ business? How difficult would their life be without the MLS?

It used to be that the MLS provided listing books, and REALTORS® used them and home shoppers had to go to REALTORS®, but that paradigm is long outdated. The data is out there, listing information is out there, and that’s okay.

If you look at any of the third-party portals, whose early mantra was, “Let me get my hands on data and put it out there,” at a certain point these third-party vendors realized that their product was harmed because they didn’t have access to the timely information that comes only from the MLS. There was a realization that the end consumer was being put at a disadvantage.

MLSs do something unique that no other organization does, and that is ensure that the information is timely and accurate. We are the quality insurance stop for property information. We’re the checks and balances on making sure that the information is correct.

What is the best MLS model: local, regional, national?

I think there’s a misconception that if you’re a small MLS, your days are numbered. I reject that thought because there are some really effective small MLSs. There have also been some very effective mergers and other collaborations. I also don’t believe there is a best model or a one-size-fits-all path. The key is to meet the needs of your members today and plan for the future.

At CMLS, we have an evolving set of best practices. When we meet as a board, we review the list of best practices and make sure that it remains dynamic.

Best practices are really the way forward. If you look at NAR’s Core Standards for associations, it says you must be able to communicate your value back to the community; you must have campaigns that advocate homeownership and the value of a REALTOR®. A lot of those same ideas are baked into the CMLS best practices document. It’s our hope that, regardless of size, any MLS can look at that document to gauge their effectiveness and chart a path forward. At Council of MLSs, we are always working on materials that our members can use to communicate their value in their markets. Currently, we’re finalizing our newly redesigned technical and IT best practices guide. That should be out this spring, followed by our new marketing and communications best practices guide.

Are MLS of Choice and other new policies on the horizon game changers?

Last year, when the MLS of Choice idea was being discussed, it raised the collective blood pressure within the industry. I think some folks were concerned, but I think it fixed a couple of MLSs who were unfairly leveraging some outdated policies for their own benefit, and that’s an example that gives the MLS industry a black eye.

Within the last three years we have all had to make uncomfortable decisions. If, as an MLS, you have not faced those uncomfortable decisions, then perhaps you should take a fresh look at the industry and ask yourself, “How can we grow?”

In the case of MLS of Choice, the industry discovered a problem and worked together nationally though NAR and the national policy to correct it.

Just like any business out there that competes for customers, MLSs need to be progressive and responsive to the marketplace and differentiate themselves by providing more value than the competition. If anything, MLS of Choice forced MLSs to evaluate whether they are doing all that they can to be competitive for the benefit of REALTORS® and brokers.

NAR’s MLS Technology and Emerging Issues Advisory Board is next looking at whether to require listing feeds and portals to publish a link to the listing broker’s site alongside individual listings. I think this policy has a lot of layers. There are different points of view and areas of concern, but the overarching goal is the right one. This is yet another example of a difficult conversation that continues to push the industry forward.

Study Searches for Ideal MLS Governance Structure

More than 129 MLSs participated in the recent CMLS study of MLS governance structures nationally. “We looked at what is the best operating model for an MLS and what we found is that there are many,” says Chris Carrillo, chair of CMLS. “We gleaned some common success practices that all MLSs can look at to find the optimal structure that will allow them to be more strategic and progressive.” The 2019 CMLS Governance Survey Report is due out this spring at councilofmls.org/research.

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