For years now our industry has talked about how mobile devices will soon be the primary device used by agents in their day-to-day business. We have been waiting for our MLS vendors to introduce cutting edge mobile products that would allow this vision of our future to become real. Advances in mobile are coming, however, not all MLS vendors have kept pace There has been progress and some solutions are better than others but the reality is, because MLS vendors were slow to provide really compelling mobile solutions, 3rd party mobile vendors saw an opportunity and filled the void. It is very similar to the situation we saw in 2005 when Zillow n Truila recognized a huge consumer need with the realization that organized real estate wasn’t doing anything to fulfill it. Today those 3rd party vendors own that space. The same thing may be happening with mobile today and MLSs that are looking at upgrading their MLS systems are wise to evaluate all mobile options not just the ones offered by their chosen MLS vendor.
Tip #1.Understand the differences in mobile products being offered, namely the difference between Native Apps and Mobile Web Apps.
Types of Mobile Products
There are basically two types of mobile products you should be aware of. Both are defined below from an article by mobithinking.com that discusses the differences of mobile web products vs. native mobile apps.
1.Mobile Web Products
A mobile web app, or browser application, is one in which all or some parts of the software are downloaded from the web each time it is run. It can usually be accessed from all Web-capable mobile devices. This is the same as accessing any program from the browser on your PC or Mac.
2.Native Mobile Apps
A native app as one that is specifically designed to run on a device’s operating system and machine firmware, and typically needs to be adapted for different devices. For instance, a native application developed for the iPhone will need to run on its proprietary iOS platform, or on Symbian for many Nokia devices, and so forth.
These are apps like Angry Birds and Evernote. They are downloaded from an app store and are designed for a particular operating system.
What’s the difference between Mobile Web Apps and Native Apps?
Native apps are designed to work with each specific device they run on and as a result have the ability to take advantage of features on that device. Access to contacts and calendars as well as better and faster mapping are some of the advantages you will likely see on native applications. Most people are used to this paradigm from using other apps on their iPhone and Androids. They click an icon and away they go to that app.
Mobile web apps use the browser on a device to access the mobile functionality in the same way you use a browser to access any site on your Mac or PC. Mobile apps may not have the same functionality as a Native App but have the advantage of being able to be used on any phone or tablet with browser access.
MLSs we work with often have both Native Apps and Mobile Web solutions.
Tip # 2:Understand who you are really contracting with and what it means.
Just because you are getting a mobile product from your MLS vendor does not mean that the MLS vendor is actually the entity that delivers the product or service. Be very clear when you are evaluating mobile options who will actually be responding to you on contract issues, service requests, upgrade requests, etc. When MLS vendors use a 3rd party product to provide mobile solutions you may find that there is a middleman in the process and that things move slower as a result. You may also find that getting upgrades and specific design changes are more challenging than when you work directly with a mobile vendor that focuses 100% on mobile technology.
Tip # 3:Treat mobile solution selections as seriously as you would a change to your MLS system.
The days of mobile just being a service that comes with an MLS system are over. Mobile will be the core MLS service moving forward for brokers, agents and consumers and it is critical that you evaluate your mobile options with this understanding. If your review is taking place at the same time you are conducting a “Request for Proposal (RFP) for MLS services, make sure to have a separate process for evaluating your mobile options. While the MLS vendor you choose may have the mobile options you want we advise you to take a look at all of the major mobile products that are available, including 3rd party products, to see the full picture and to understand the pros and cons of each. Pricing on MLS systems today as well as most mobile products is quite affordable so don’t let this keep you from exploring the full range of mobile options.
Tip # 4:Get professional help or be prepared to do the legwork yourselves.
If you can afford to hire a consulting company like WAV Group to help you through the mobile landscape we obviously recommend this. This technology is going to be with you for years to come so investing upfront in making the right choice is a good investment. Getting up to speed on everything that is going on with mobile products and vendors today is a big task and you may find it more effective to let someone facilitate that process. That is what we do and we are happy to help. That being said, if you do decide to do a review on your own here are a couple of recommendations that may help:
1.Survey your members to understand what devices they use today for mobile access. Make sure any solution you choose fits your user base.
2.Interview your members to get a deeper understanding of how and when they use mobile or would like to.
3.Create a feature list of what you must have based on “best of breed” features available today.
4.Create a feature list of what you would like to have beyond that, your wish list.
5.Create an RFP (request for proposal) that forces all vendors to respond in a way that will make your review as much of an “apples to apples” comparison as possible.
6.Talk to reference accounts, and not just the ones the vendors give you.
7.Consider the company culture. Choosing any vendor is more than just a product choice. You need to be sure you interact well and are comfortable in the way a company communicates, and conducts their business.
8.Make sure whatever vendor and product you choose can integrate with your MLS system beyond simple search and display. Editing listings and sharing information such as saved searches, contacts and favorites is something you should expect today. You may be surprised to find that some 3rd party vendors do this better than your MLS vendor. .
9.Make sure you include provisions in your agreement to include ongoing upgrades, service standards and make sure any products you choose can serve both the industry professionals and consumers.
10.Whatever vendor you choose should also be able to include upgraded versions for members that may wish to have company branded mobile products.
There are many more things to consider in choosing a mobile vendor but these are some foundational points to include in your process. Or, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how we can facilitate the process for you.
Whichever path you decide to take we recommend you put the same energy into selecting your mobile partner as you would your next MLS system. It’s that important!
Great article Mike. I totally agree with Tip #3…Everything is going mobile and so is the MLS.
I am not sure about #10…
Is this day and age, you got to be the absolute best at what you do if you want to succeed. If you try to be the Jack of all trades, you may end up not being the best at what you do.
I may be wrong about this but I don’t think that MLS vendors (Corelogic, Tarasoft (now Corelogic) Rappatoni were ever successful at building web sites for agents. ) They have their hands full just maintaining their current MLS Systems. The other concern if you are in a market where there are large brokers, offering agents branded Mobile apps can be perceived as another way that the MLS is levelling the playing field. Large brokers do not want the MLS alternative to their own Broker branded mobile solutions.
We just made a consumer app for the real estate board of Montreal… It was a great project but doing the same thing for the agents or even offices would take us away from our main goal of being the best Mobile MLS system.
Charles, thanks for the feedback. I think on #10 I may not have been as clear as I should have been. I am talking about branded “broker versions” that would only go to agents or consumers through the broker. Real estate companies are embracing mobile so I think there it makes sense to have that option available for companies that want to pay for a customized consumer version. I agree, the MLS would probably get significant pushback if they offered this option directly to agents. I do appreciate your desire to focus on the MLS and applaud you for know what boundaries make sense for your company.