Comments on CAR's MLS Working Group Statement of Principles

Sep 15, 2007 Michael Wurzer

Mark Flavin comments today on the Statement of Principles by the CAR MLS Working Group, and I’ve added my own thoughts by commenting on the Future of MLS Wiki. I’m hopeful that I won’t have to cross-post for too long, but, until traction is gained over there, I’ll be posting both here and there.

Here are some of my thoughts about the CAR’s statement of principles:

1. Data Standards. The call for data standards should adopt RETS as that standard.

2. Statewide Access to MLS Data. Just because one has a license from the state doesn’t mean they know anything about a market hundreds of miles away. Also, state boundaries seem an arbitrary border that will ill-serve those on or near the state lines. Of course, CAR likely is only going as far as they possibly can, but as the discussion moves national, state boundaries don’t seem well advised.

I believe a much more extensive terms of use agreement needs to be discussed that outlines the data involved and the purposes for which that data can be used by members. Simply declaring “universal access” is overly broad in some cases and not broad enough in others.

3. Broker/seller control over where and how the listing is advertised should be a given, however, the definition of advertising is changing under our very gaze by companies like Zillow with their “report a house for sale” campaign, regardless of whether or not it is your house. Leaving that issue aside for a moment, however, there is a significant question about how broker/seller control over advertising individual listings applies to the compilation as a whole. Few would challenge the right of the seller/broker to control the advertising of a specific listing. But is the display of the MLS compilation on a public web site advertising?

The compilation is content that is very valuable in its entirety. Individual listings are of little value. The cooperation fostered by the MLS to create that compilation is necessary, and the question becomes whether that cooperation can extend to the public web. So far, the IDX policies have been successful, but IDX is inconsistent with the idea of individual broker control over advertising. If this policy were adopted, IDX would be gone. (So, too would Is that desireable? Does that serve consumers?

Also, I’ve suggested previously that if the only public aggregation is subject to individual broker/seller decisions, then there will be no complete aggregation because competitors naturally will choose disparate sites. Again, is that in the best interest of consumers?

I would suggest that the principle should be re-formed to differentiate between (1) the control of sellers/brokers over where their individual listings are advertised and (2) making the entire listing compilation available on the web in one place for consumer access.

I also suggest that this issue is intertwined with the question of market boundaries in question 2 above and data standards in question 1 above. I also would suggest that the best approach to this question extends data standards by creating universal terms of use for MLS data to encourage innovation and allow competition to define the markets while protecting the cooperation that forms the compilation in the first instance.

4. MLS entities should exist for the benefit of participants and subscribers. I don’t really get this fourth issue at all. It’s so obvious it seems like a back-hand slap to someone. Or perhaps it is a complaint regarding Association ownership of MLSs, and the subsidizing of Associations through MLS dues? If so, I would agree that MLSs should be separated from Associations. In many cases, they already are. But, I think this entire statement should be re-phrased to be more to whatever point is trying to be made.

5. Common MLS Rules. As Mark Flavin has pointed out, the devil here is in the details. This issue should follow the same concepts as being developed in RETS that allows for an agreement on core rules that are common for all locations but also allows some extension for local markets. This is really one of the fundamental points of the Future of MLS Wiki — that standards are needed for more than data and those standards can only be developed by the participants engaging in the discussion.

6. The MLS Board of Directors should include broker owners with appropriate regional representation. This seems like a better expression of issue 4. I agree that brokers are critical, but, in many places, agents are more and more driving the show, even if they are not brokers. Should that trend be considered? Anyway, ownership of MLSs seems like an issue that should be left to local decision and not part of broad principles like this. Regardless of ownership structure, the question is what are the terms of cooperation among brokers, agents, and markets?