Brian Boero from 1000Watt often is flying home on Friday evenings and takes that opportunity to reflect on the week in a blog post he calls the Friday Flash. Today, his Friday Flash is about MLS software:
Big Industry Question:
Why do MLSs often seem threatened and behind the times even though what they do is really valuable?
Because the software on which they run on is really dated.
Brian goes on to issue a few caveats, saying the issue is “nuanced” and may be the result of MLSs and vendors not being paid enough, but nonetheless concludes that “agents are feeling the pain” and, worse, “trying to figure out how to fix this requires submerging oneself in the sort of mind-clouding industry esoterica only about 7 people on the entire planet understand.”
This post caught my attention for several reasons. First, for once I’m also flying home on a Friday evening and have the time to write this reply. Second, I’m scared I might just be one of those seven people he’s talking about. Lastly, whereas usually I’m nodding my head yes-yes-yes as I read the Friday Flash, tonight I’m thinking, eh, not quite.
Even though we’re an MLS software company, I can agree with Brian that MLS software, as a class, tends to be complicated and dated. For example, here’s a screen shot from the agent side of our Flexmls system. The interface is complex, dated, and focused on serving the professional agent and not the consumer.
Where I disagree with Brian is that I don’t think this interface in any way poses a threat to the MLS or makes it “behind the times.”
Instead, I think those questions have to be asked and evaluated in the context of the core value proposition of the MLS. As I wrote in a post nine years ago (time flies!) called MLS Is More Than Technology, the core value of an MLS is creating cooperation among competitors. and that value is not about technology.
In fact, though I risk delving into esoterica of the MLS here, the reality is that many brokers and agents do not want the MLS to provide their competitors with a consumer-oriented interface that “levels the playing field.” This isn’t about money or fees (at least not directly) but rather about preserving cooperation, the first order of business for the MLS.
In this regard, I think a strong case can be made that, with respect to their core value proposition of creating cooperation among competitors, MLSs are not behind the times but rather have been leading the effort for decades with collaborative efforts like RESO and CMLS. Indeed, as Brian mentions, the web has been changing broker attitudes about the value of cooperation, resulting in new initiatives like Upstream and Broker Public Portal, both of which excite FBS a great deal as we believe they validate our significant investments in the Spark API, mobile products for agents and consumers, and even new portal interfaces we’re launching soon.
A few years ago, consumer-focused interfaces like this may have met with resistance from some brokers fearing a leveling of the playing field, but, today, I’m hopeful new opportunities abound for MLSs and their vendors to extend the value proposition of cooperation further than ever before. By supporting industry standards through RESO and CMLS with platforms like the Spark API that allow brokers to leverage the MLS aggregation to compete in ever new and interesting ways, I believe MLSs are continuing to strike the right balance between cooperation and competition that is essential to the foundation of the residential real estate market.
Welcome to the esoterica (and cheers to the other six people in the world who care about this post)!
P.S. I’m returning home from the T3 conference, where one of the more interesting panels involved two national economic strategists who made the point that residential real estate is the foundation of our economy and critical to future growth. On my flight home tonight, this point was driven home in spades as I watched The Big Short. If you haven’t seen it, do. And then reflect on the value created by the foundation of cooperation established by MLS organizations today.