5 Ways to End the “MLS/Broker Stand-off”

by Marilyn Wilson on July 24, 2013

StandOffA few weeks ago I wrote a post called the “Challenge for Positive Change” that highlighted many of the relationship dysfunctions we are experiencing in the industry today.

At Inman Connect in San Francisco I was invited to be part of a panel called the MLS/Broker Stand-off.  It’s clear that there are many that are feeling as though our industry could be working together much better than it is at the moment.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what is causing this stand-off and trying to find suggestions about ways to fix it.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1.  Data Distribution is Out of Control

Many brokers get VERY angry at their MLS when they find out that the MLS has taken responsibility to distribute the broker’s listings as they see fit. I just saw a note from one of our broker clients yesterday. They have chosen NOT to send their listings to third parties. The MLS in their region pushes all of the region’s listings to third parties, providing no option for a broker to opt-out, other than to opt-out of IDX along with listing syndication.  When the broker asked to remove their listings from the listing syndication data feed the answer simply was no.  Really?   The last time I checked a broker had the right to control where their listings were distributed and the ability to opt-out of IDX separately from any other listing syndication activity.  With today’s technology it is completely possible to allow every broker to opt-IN to every listing syndication channel they choose to, not make them proactively opt-OUT of every listing they submit.

While the MLS does have responsibility to ensure that the listing submitted by the broker is accurate and compliant, they do NOT have the right to tell the broker where to market their listing.  I’m not sure why an MLS would put a policy in place that takes away online marketing control from the individual broker.

Recommendations:

Offer only Opt-in data policies – Every MLS needs to review their listing syndication policies to be sure that every channel they offer is opt-in, not opt-out.  Once these policies are changed, the MLS owes it to each and every one of their brokers to give them a call and let them know how and why the policy was changed so that each broker can make their own decision about where to syndicate their listings.

Listing Syndication Education – Every MLS can offer their own education program starting with a broker forum helping brokers to better understand the true impact of listing syndication. These forums can start by simply sharing the results of the monthly Listhub and Point2 reports available to every MLS that uses these partners.  The education can help brokers understand which channels are the most effective locally. They can also encourage brokers to purchase individualized reports so each broker can evaluate their own online marketing effectiveness.

Eliminate the “Select All” button – Another quick way to allow a broker to make a conscious decision about which sources to syndicate their listings to?  Simply eliminate the “select all” button on your opt-in forms when a broker begins the listing syndication process.  Require them to proactively look at each channel.  Provide them with last month’s market report so they can see how productive each third party website is before they opt-in. Also, encourage each broker to read the terms of use of each site they are considering. The new Listhub reports allow a broker to search for listing syndication channels based on the criteria they choose.

2.  Access to Sold Data is Inconsistent, Data Feed Approvals take WAY too long

The access to sold data is inconsistent at best, even in states that are not non-disclosure states.

Why is it that many IDX feeds still do not include solds?  Maybe there should be two versions of IDX feeds – one with solds and one without solds to allow each broker to display the data they choose to on their own websites.

Here’s an even bigger problem from a broker point of view. Why is it that some MLSs will not provide sold data back to a brokerage to be used in their own back office systems and market statistics packages like Terradatum?  If brokers have contributed the data that makes up the solds database, why can’t they get it back for their own use?   Maybe I’m missing something here, but in my view the brokers are the key customers of the MLS – shouldn’t their needs be a top priority as long as they are not negatively impacting the greater good of MLS subscribers?

I heard recently from one of our broker clients that they have been waiting for approval for a VOW feed for over three months!  They are one of the largest brokers in the market. What possibly can take three months to review?   VOW and IDX feeds need to be approved in minutes, not months.  It’s this type of lag time that drives brokers CRAZY!  It’s no wonder they get frustrated with their MLSs.

Recommendation:

Broker-friendly sold data policies- I would suggest considering policies that include sharing solds in IDX or minimally offer two types of IDX feeds – one with solds and one without.  Second, when a broker asks for a complete data feed including solds for their own use, make it easy and quick for them to get access to this data.  It’s also incumbent on the MLS and the broker to ensure the data truly is being used ONLY for the broker’s use. Any reselling of that data could result in the revocation of MLS access.

Timely Approval of IDX and VOW feeds – I don’t why it should take more than 24 to 48 hours to approve a VOW or IDX feed. If the MLS has worked with the technology vendor before and the broker is in good standing, why delay?   Service the broker and get them the response they are looking for quickly.  If there’s a concern about the vendor based on past behavior then maybe a call to the broker is in order to let them know your concerns. Just sitting on it and leaving the broker in limbo is NOT acceptable in my view.

3.  MLS Consumer Websites

I can’t believe that we are even still talking about this one, but MLS Consumer Websites are still a big problem for many brokers, especially larger brokers around the country today.  Because HAR.com is just about the only MLS that actually shares the lead exposure being generated by these sites via an outbound report, brokers do not understand the marketing value of these programs. Many brokers are happy to syndicate their listings to third parties and pay thousands to upgrade their listings on those sites. At the same they continue to hate the fact that their MLS offers a free alternative to these sites.  In every case where Listhub measures traffic and inquiries for MLS sites, the MLS ranks #1 or #2 in the market usually delivering 2 to 3 times the number of inquiries of any other site, but MLSs have not done a good job of telling that story.  The marketing value of MLS sites is simply not being communicated effectively to brokers.

There’s also another underlying cause in my view. Many brokers are worried about traffic to their site and not lead exposure. MLS sites can be constructed to generate traffic and lead exposure to broker websites. There’s so much venom being thrown around, though, that productive and collaborative conversations about this topic are not happening.

Recommendation:

Lead Exposure Report – I have said this MANY times before. MLSs need to share the results of their MLS consumer site with their brokers and agents EVERY month. It’s not enough to have some dashboard somewhere where a broker or agent can look at listing exposure. The MLS needs to create an outbound monthly report that shares the lead exposure and inquiries generated by the site AND by the MLS system itself.  There should be monthly communications via newsletter, Facebook, Linkedin and System Message of the Day promoting the number of leads generated by the site. These results should be shouted from the rooftops.

This report could show the total listing exposure generate by the consumer site AND by the auto email prospecting systems inside the MLS. The report could show the listing exposure generated by the MLS and then compare it to the listing exposure generated by listing syndication sites.  Over time, I believe brokers would start to understand the MLS provides more quality listing exposure than just about any other source in the industry.  If the MLS fails on this account, then brokers need to step in and figure out why.

4.  MLS Executives Unilateral Decisions or Lack There Of

The more that I talk to brokers the more I realize that the MLS and specifically, the MLS executives are getting blamed for things that are well beyond their control.  First, many believe that MLS executives make unilateral decisions about rules and regulations and policies that affect every subscriber.  That is simply not true.   Any policy change in an MLS I have ever worked with comes from a taskforce, committee or board decision.

Recommendation:

Productive Broker involvement in policy decisions – Every MLS should have ongoing involvement in policy making initiatives from a variety of productive brokers who are leading the local real estate industry.  Decisions about data distribution, data accuracy and policies addressing dynamic market changes need to be made by those who are conducting a large percentage of the business. Too many times those that have time to be involved in committee work are those that are not truly driving the industry.

5.  MLS Boards Dominated by Agents

Many large brokers do not believe they are being represented effectively on their MLS boards.  I think there’s an underlying cause for this misperception that we need to talk about.  Many MLS boards are dominated by agents, assigned by their shareholder association. Board members are not chosen for their technology acumen, understanding of broker issues or their ability to effectively lead multi-million dollar organizations. They are chosen because they are on a political ascension path within their local association and they need the MLS experience on their resume in order to be considered for board chair or some state or national role.  To me this is one of the underlying causes for a lot of our industry dysfunction.  The skills required to run a technology service organization have nothing to do with political skills. Those chosen for MLS boards needs to be attuned to MLS technology trends and have at least a working knowledge of best practices of technology service organizations.

Recommendation:

Strategic Leadership with a diversity of skills- MLS boards need to be run by strategic leaders, some from within the industry and some from OUTSIDE the industry. The outsiders can bring a fresh perspective about technology best practices, data control, customer marketing, finance and a whole bunch of other important areas.

In my view the industry insiders should represent business owners – Brokers – not their staff and independent contractors.  At a minimum, there should be MORE broker representation with a mix of large, medium and small size brokers represented as well.  MLSs need to begin this hard work right away. They need to demonstrate to their brokers that they ARE listening and want to address their needs. Many MLSs seem to be burying their heads in the sand – they know there’s trouble brewing but they see no need to adjust their governance structures. This is VERY dangerous thinking. Brokers are reaching the end of their ropes.  We are at an inflection point. If MLSs don’t start listening and revising outdated policies and step up their service quality, I’m fearful that brokers are going to find an alternative way of doing business.

I have outlined a few areas that I believe can help improve the cohesiveness of our industry at least between brokers and MLSs. I welcome any thoughts from our readers about other areas that are creating conflict and suggestions about how to get our industry over them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: