The pessimist MLSs among you will look upon the title of this article with raised hairs. The lens that we have adopted here is for a single focus. Namely, to search for specific context within the databases of Upstream that may be of value to MLSs. Remember, Upstream does more than manage listings, but it does start with the MLS destination in mind. The MLS does not need to change their business rules, or modify their data schema. They need only disclose to their brokers what their rules and schema are and accept a broker load as is common among nearly every large regional MLS today. With MLS participation, Upstream will, in turn, create and maintain an environment that will allow for data management that will adhere to the MLS’s requirements.
There are a few ways that Upstream will benefit the MLS, so it is worth nominating them. In aggregate, the MLS is likely to reduce administrative fees as a result of supporting Upstream.
- Fewer Broker Feeds
A broker feed is a data feed of a broker’s specific listing data. Unlike an IDX feed, it only supply’s the listing data that is associated with that broker’s ID, or in some cases, the brokers many IDs. There are some Regional MLS markets where this may be a confounding task. For example, the Central Coast Regional MLS in California has Associations of REALTORS that assign broker IDs to each broker’s office. If you have agents in that office that belong to more than one Association, then there are more than one broker ID for that office. As a result, a brokerage with 13 offices may have 20 or more office IDs that need to be carefully compiled to provide the broker with a feed of their listing data. With Upstream, the broker already has their data, so broker feeds become an administrative thing of the past for MLSs.
- Fewer Syndication Feeds
Listing syndication has always been profound for the MLS. It is a very complex process whereby the MLS needs to understanding things like “who authorizes listing Syndication,” and requires a control panel for the authorized person to “manage channels that receive listings.” Thankfully, Move’s Listhub product solved this challenge until Zillow Group unsolved it by withdrawing from Listhub. This caused some MLSs to scramble to provide direct feeds of brokerage’ opt-in listings to Zillow. It caused the MLS to fabricate a new system for managing broker preferences on the MLS distribution server. It caused the MLS to negotiate specific data license terms with the Zillow Group, and now the MLS is inundated with managing the many opt-in and opt-out provisions for hundreds or thousands of brokers, which sometimes may require certain listings to be sent and others to be withheld. With Upstream, brokers will handle direct syndication to the portals on their own. The MLS does not need to get involved with legal, compliance, administration, nor pay their MLS system vendor for updates to their data distribution servers. Moreover, the MLS does not take on the liability if they mishandle broker data for non-MLS related services.
- Fewer Listing Feeds To Vendors
Outside of listing syndication to portals, there are many other data feeds that MLSs maintain for their brokers that are restricted to the specific broker’s listings only. I will not belabor this list by attempting to make it comprehensive, but consider a few category’s of broker only data like Accounting Systems, Flyers, Virtual Tours, Franchise feeds, transaction management, etc. Administrating these services is expensive and beyond the core of MLS services. Brokers will maintain their own data feeds directly to these vendors and reduce the burden from the MLS.
- Better Agent, Office, and Firm Records and Communications
Today’s MLS systems primarily focuses on subscribers and the unique broker participant. Some MLSs also support Assistant and Affiliate subscribers to the MLS. However, there are plenty of other people that are involved in the real estate brokerage operations of a brokerage firm that do not fit nicely into the categories. Think less about people authorized to modify listings and more about the business leaders and administrators who are being left out. Some of these examples may include accountants, IT Staff, out of area CEOs and other executives. Too often these business people are not getting MLSs communications forwarded up to them, leaving a gap in awareness of MLSs programs, services, and changes that can improve the satisfaction between the firm and the MLS.
Beyond communications, Upstream will be able to provide the MLS with a data feed that contains the type of branding information and lead management information that they would want for consumer facing applications. The most common usage of this data type is required for an MLS Consumer facing website. Today’s MLS consumer sites often fall short in displaying the agent’s headshot, bio, complete contact information, office description, firm description, or firm’s lead processing rules.
As a data recipient, the MLS broadens their access to communicate more effectively with the firm’s they support and obtain data that they might otherwise not have access to.
- Data Support for MLS Mergers
Regional MLSs will often recognize the Associaton of REALTORS® as the customer. The MLS will wholesale the MLS services to the Assocaiton who in turn retails the MLS service to the member. Regional MLSs rarely bill the agent or broker directly. As such, the MLS relies on the roster information provided by the Association for counting and managing subscribers. The annual rift between State Associations of REALTORS® and local Associations of REALTORS® illustrate that the membership count is routinely inaccurate.
The data inaccuracy is caused by the myriad of systems and ways that an Associaton manages their roster. Often, the data is submitted to an MLS in a spreadsheet CSV format or worse. The more Associations that are supported by a Regional MLS, the harder it is to manage the Associaton Data feeds. It has always been this way, so MLSs have become expert at adapting to this challenge. But it is a challenge that Upstream can help solve. Upstream will be maintaining a data base of each MLS that an agent is a member of along with each Associaton of REALTORS® that an agent is a member of.
Beyond that, MLSs are routinely merging or in some cases, Regional MLS disband. Upstream’s data can support the complexity of removing duplicates and reduce the costs to data mapping.
- Copyright Support
Today, the MLS has valid copyright capabilities in the area of the compilation. Unless the MLS has taken an extreme approach, they can rarely support the protection of a single element of copyrighted data in the MLS. If you have ever wanted to understand why an MLS puts their watermark on the images, you will appreciate understanding this reason why. With Upstream, the broker will have a chance to copyright their Inforamtion before it goes into the he MLS system, providing an added layer of copyright protection on data elements like the listing photos, agent photos, description text, etc. I am not sure that this will solve the issue of data scraping, but it will extend the copyright protections in a way that adds a little more strength to the validity of a copyright – especially in situations where a listing is displayed in more than one MLS. Ultimately, Upstream will enhance the ability to pursue copyright offenders in court.
- Normalized Broker Load
We already appreciate that there are many markets who accept a broker load of data from their brokers. Granted, it’s is mostly the large firms who need broker load. For every 1000 listings, a broker needs to process about 150 daily listing updates. Brokers who load these electronically will often provide the Inforamtion in inconsistent formats. By converting those to Upstream, the MLS will improve the normalization and efficiency of of managing broker load and make the service available to all broker participants in the MLS.
Clearly there are some numerated benefits above that will not apply to every MLS. Some of these benefits may only offer a slight value to your MLS. It is also true that without widespread broker adoption of Upstream, some of these benefits are hard to capture at all. However, taken in context as a group of benefits, MLSs must surely recognize that there will be some value attributable to Upstream. There may also be future value to Upstream that we have yet to understand. The one thing that I believe that we can all agree upon is that a single point of entry for MLS data extols an enormous benefit for all brokers of all sizes.
Upstream is not competitive with the MLS, it represents a feature enhancement that supports a universal broker load system to inject data into the MLS. Upstream will not disrupt the relationship between the MLS and the broker. If anything, it will improve it. Broker load does not put the MLS at risk. Broker load does not alter the participant agreement. Broker load, as envisioned by Upstream, will streamline the fees the brokers pay to manage their data today. This is an obvious place for MLSs to support their participants and subscribers.
Upstream stands to save independent brokers about $6 per listing per month, or more if they are a franchise broker. To the nay sayers I would deposit this. Would you prefer an alternative where the broker does not include your MLS in their list of data destinations? Today the nation’s MLS have the opportunity to embrace positive change in our industry.
There will be MLSs who refuse to work with Upstream, and others that will embrace it. To remain competitive as an MLS of choice, you get to decide your own path. As for MLS Listings in Northern California, RMLS in Oregon, NTREIS in Central Texas, West Penn MLS in Northern Pennsylvania and Northstar MLS in Southern Minnesota – they are willing to pioneer the test to learn if Upstream is compatible with the MLS. Let’s at least agree to keep an open mind until we see the outcomes.
About WAV Group
WAV Group is a consulting company that provides project services to MLSs, to Brokers, and to the technology companies that serve them. We have worked on the Upstream project for two years. Now that Realtors Property Resource™ has been selected as a vendor, and Alex Lange has been selected as a CEO, our involvement will diminish. This in no way dissolves our enthusiasm for the Upstream mission. The concept is sound, but the challenge is always in the execution of an idea, not the idea itself. We fully expect that the roll out is in good hands. The biggest risk is resistance from the MLS community. Our hope is that Upstream will be widely embraced as it achieves future milestones and proves itself to be a relevant, valuable tool to all parties concerned.