Toward a More Transparent, Thriving MLS

The brokerage cooperative that has served real estate for more than 100 years has never faced more pressure.

The nation’s multiple listing services are under intense scrutiny today. Lawsuits, transparency demands, and national policy edicts all scream for attention. A marketplace mandate has been laid at the feet of the MLS: Earn and keep the consumer’s trust.

A philosophy of affirmative transparency can be your guide. Seeking ways to shine sunlight on the MLS’ pro-competitive and pro-consumer processes and benefits has never been more important. 

While you’re shining that light, why not look at ways to improve the experience you give participants and consumers? In a five-part online series for REALTOR® magazine, I covered a range of issues MLS's should be addressing. Here are three potential trouble spots: 

  1. Coming Soon listings.
    Does your MLS have a policy around Coming Soon listings? Do Coming Soon listings go out to broker participants but not consumers? If so, for how long? Has your MLS defined how long a listing can be Coming Soon or in a delayed showing status?

Examples derived from real current situations highlight the inconsistencies. Take the case of Sally Seller, who wants to delay showings and internet advertising for a few weeks so she can prepare her home. Amy Agent lists the home in both the Sunny MLS and the Breezy MLS, but the systems have different rules for Coming Soon status:

  • The property can’t be shown to buyers in Sunny but can be shown in Breezy.
  • Days on market do not accrue in Sunny but do in Breezy.
  • The property is not published to brokers’ IDX websites in Sunny but is in Breezy.

Bobby Buyer sees the listing on a Breezy MLS IDX site and requests a showing. Sunny MLS’ rules say Amy can’t show the property, which confuses Bobby, since Breezy MLS’ website shows the property is open to showings. 

Once the house is moved to active status, Bonnie Buyer finds it on Sunny MLS’ website. That site shows that the listing has been on the market for one day, but Bonnie’s agent is a subscriber to Breezy MLS and tells her the listing has actually been on the market for 23 days. 

The different rules begin to feel like market manipulation. Sally is disappointed by the listing’s inconsistent advertising and showing communications. Bobby is frustrated that a property advertised as available for showings on one site is unavailable. Bonnie feels lied to. And Amy is perplexed because her client and the potential buyers have been let down, and it looks like her fault. 

“Can’t we all just do this the same way?” agents ask. It’s a question worth exploring: When should local flexibility give way to national rules? In Part 5 of the online series, I offer a framework for deciding when uniqueness takes precedence and when consistency should be prioritized. 

Read the Entire Series on MLSs

Special Series, MLS 2021: Earning Trust Through Transparency logo

  1. MLS areas.
    MLS listing areas—the traditional codes agents have used to classify listings geographically—are functionally obsolete. Yet listing a property in 520 versus 530 is so ingrained that mentioning the eventual demise of the practice leaves some agents feeling bereft.

Whether MLS listing areas should be used to define a property’s location is no longer just a question of personal preference. It causes damage to the credibility of the MLS, the broker, and the agent. Consider the facts:

  • These static areas don’t keep up with changing neighborhood or school boundaries. They’re dated and arbitrary, and they often split subdivisions and neighborhoods.
  • Areas are often based on older government maps that defined redlining areas—possibly the greatest concern that the MLS should consider.
  • Agents consistently “game” areas with listings that should be elsewhere or request to double-list in different areas. This puts an undue burden on the MLS to support an outdated practice.
  • Agents give clients more refined searches—and therefore, higher-quality results and experiences—with map-based searches.

Some agents will continue to list and search by area. They’ll miss listings, and so will their clients. Clients who miss their dream home will conclude—rightly— that the MLS didn’t serve them or their agents well. The MLS should consider its reputation and liability when discussing the retirement of MLS listing areas. Map-based search superiority makes the MLS a higher-value service provider.

  1. Rich media.
    A builder recently said his company wouldn’t use the MLS to advertise because it only allowed a maximum of 15 photos of 800 by 600 pixels each. While that conclusion is probably outdated, we’ve created an impression with some consumers that an MLS platform is made to box in media rather than expand and invite new-media innovation.

Remote home shopping, showings, and purchases have accelerated greatly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In many areas, mobile technology capabilities have outpaced what we’re capable of displaying in MLS systems. And yet there is innovation: Digital floor plans are squeezing their way into core MLS systems; FBS’ FlexMLS integration with FloPlan is one example. Multiple video uploads are table stakes. Interfaces for 360-degree videos and 3D walkthrough tours are becoming more commonplace.

Accepting the input and integration of rich media content into the MLS will be critical to keeping brokers and their clients engaged. Advances may be a potential competitive advantage or an opportunity to catch up. Can the MLS provide a platform where rich media is experienced within the MLS interface? Can the MLS provide a simplified way for brokers to access rich media and present it directly on their consumer-facing websites?

A seamless participant experience is paramount. It’s currently a clunky process to get media from the vendor to the agent, to the MLS, and back to the broker’s website. Cutting-edge MLSs and vendors are building tools to automate the placement of rich media because consumers are demanding it. When the MLS can’t meet participants’ needs to distribute rich media, brokers and agents will go directly to platforms such as WellcomeMat that can.

Consumers and brokers are demanding this kind of media support. It’s the MLS’ opportunity to provide it.



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