We run into the discussion/disagreement, call it what you will, on a regular basis during MLS strategic planning meetings on what the actual role of the MLS should be and what technology it should deliver. This conversation will differ somewhat from MLS to MLS depending on the make up of the largest brokers in the MLS but there is typically a push back from the larger brokers who feel the MLS should not provide technology that “levels the playing field”, to use the the phrase we have all heard too much. I really understand this argument because it seems to make so much sense at first glance. MLS is supposed to provide a vehicle for the sharing of listings so brokers can cooperate and offers of compensation can be realized, managed, etc. That is what MLS was created for in the first place, right? So, when MLSs try to provide broader levels of technology it seems logical that this is going beyond what they were created for…and that is correct. But here’s the problem! Brokers, across the board, are losing the online battle for viewers to the large 3rd party portals and even the largest brokers do not fare well. I think it is time for brokers to realize a couple of things with that in mind that may help them take better advantage of the collective power of the MLS in creating a stronger industry for all brokers.
Here are a couple of points I would toss out for discussion:
1. If a large broker has a predominate online share of viewers in their local market, but the total share of all viewers is a small percentage of all online viewers (which it is in most cases) they should worry less about competing against other brokers and think more about competing with the big online portals.
2. If brokers can work together to raise the overall standard of web services they provide to consumers, in conjunction with the MLS, the entire local market benefits. Obviously larger brokers will still get more viewers in this scenario, all things being created equal, but everyone benefits.
3. If you look at the types of information and tools provided by the large, successful 3rd party portals you will see the information and tools that should be provided on ALL broker websites. If it was available on all broker websites in a local market, consumers would not be so quick to run off to national 3rd party sites that offer these tools yet have inferior data.
4. Broker websites have little to do with who a consumer works with. I have heard many brokers argue this point but I know of many instances where consumers will use one broker’s website because it is easier, better, has more tools etc., while they work with an agent from another company.
5. If brokers agree with the fact that their website is not what is driving the majority of customers to them does it make sense for each broker to pay retail for things everybody needs like good demographic data, and high level market stats, and rich neighborhood information, and AVMs and whatever else is going to raise the bar to be competitive with the big 3rd party sites? Or, would it make sense for brokers to realize the “GAME HAS CHANGED” and that it is time to re-evaluate what brokers need to cooperate on and what they need to compete on?
6. We learned in just a few years that the listings aren’t what makes real estate professionals valuable. It is your knowledge and your skills and your ability to help consumers navigate the buying and selling process successfully. Brokers need to realize as well that it is not their online website that is going to win the battle for them…but it could lose the battle. Each time consumers go outside organized real estate to do their research, I believe it weakens the industry overall. As a result, I would argue brokers needs to work together collectively, via the MLS, to find ways to RAISE THE BAR on web services
There will always be a line in each MLS which the MLS should not cross because that is truly an area where brokers differentiate themselves. I believe that most real estate companies today, however, should take a serious look to see if their idea of where that line has been drawn in the past needs to be changed. There is a huge opportunity for every MLS to help their local brokers gain access to tools, data and services that would certainly be more cost effective for every broker if done as a group. The only argument against the is from large brokers who feel they can afford to add these tools today and so will have a competitive advantage over their competition. If these same brokers, however, take an honest look at how they are doing relative to the big picture and the actual pie they are splitting up in their local market, they will realize they are winning the local battle (small pie) but losing the war (big pie).
Our industry is the only one I can think of where this level of cooperation and competition exists and has worked so effectively. I think it is time to take another look at how the industry can work together to raise the bar as a group and how the MLS can help make this happen. Wouldn’t it be great if all of our brokers had not just the best MLS data but the data and tools as good as any 3rd party site?