NAR's RPR and HouseLogic Fuels Speculation About Death of the MLS

Nov 8, 2009 Michael Wurzer

Last Friday, following the burst of rumors that NAR had purchased Cyberhomes to power its RPR (Real Property Resource) and HouseLogic web sites, the cries of the death of the MLS have risen to a fevered pitch again.

Rob Hahn, founder of 7DS Associates, thinks MLSs need to be very concerned with RPR and that a war is coming between NAR and the MLSs. Brian Boero, from 1000Watt, doesn’t use such stark language, but he, too, thinks RPR will be a “a significant shock to a system that needs it” and asks: “Will MLSs play ball?” He then answers with uncertainty: “As with most things in this space, the outlook is unclear.” As an agent and one of the members of the original NAR PAG that envisioned the RPR, Jim Duncan is excited by the possibilities of RPR and HouseLogic and asks some important questions, namely what will agents be able to do with the information and who will have access to it. The comments to all three of the above posts focus in on the impact the RPR will have on MLSs.

Though I was initially going to wait for an official press release from NAR (I hear it’s coming Monday), the more I thought about it, the more it seemed appropriate to weigh in on some of the speculation about RPR’s impact on MLSs. I’ve already written at length about both the death of the MLS and RPR (RPR or Ready?). In fact, most of the posts on the FBS Blog have been about these same issues in one way or another.

For example, I wrote some time ago that MLS is about more than technology. This crucial point — that MLSs enable competitors to cooperate — is where I think Rob Hahn goes awry in his post. He assumes that the MLS is only about the software. What Rob ignores is that the software merely implements a wide variety of business rules that were carefully crafted by the local MLS or Association in order to create the compromise that makes it possible for the competitors to aggregate their data in the first instance. NAR understands this, though, which is why they’ve been saying that RPR is not intended to replace local MLSs and, to my knowledge, has no listing input or maintenance functions so far. In other words, the data is going to come from the local MLSs and not brokers or agents directly.

NAR and its leadership knows how “local” MLSs really are. The local Boards and Associations and their respective MLSs (some independently owned, others not) are run by brokers and agents competing in the local marker and who have cooperated together just enough to make aggregation of their listings possible. Often, this cooperation results in a complex set of business rules.

This set of business rules is the heart of the MLS today and so talking about the death of the MLS means killing these local business rules in favor of business rules established by RPR. NAR knows this is a tough challenge, and so they’re just not going there, yet. As this issue (death of the local MLS business rules) is debated again in the coming years, I believe there are few core questions:

  • Is cooperation at the local level (agents and brokers deciding how they want to work together) necessary to aggregate the listing data or is aggregating listings now a given (a commodity, if you will) such that it can more easily be established at a national level?
  • Is a single national MLS a good thing?
  • Are there alternatives?

If you’ve read my earlier posts on these topics, you already know that my answers to these questions are:

All three of these issues are related to each other. FBS serves over 100 different MLSs across the country. We know how important our system is to our customers and that it’s important to have lots of cool features. More importantly, however, we believe responding to each of our MLS customers’ needs is what differentiates us over the long term. We provide value by implementing their business rules, which makes the cooperation central to MLS possible. Responding to these local needs is critical.

At the same time, the lack of standards created by local control of MLSs causes pain for many bigger brokers, franchises and others dealing with multiple MLSs. This is where standards could be of great benefit. Creating standards, however, is very, very difficult, especially at a national level. Of course, one way to create a national standard is to create one MLS. The problem with that result, however, is that you create a monopoly. I’m pretty sure what online real estate needs is more competition, not less. Standards enable competition, monopolies do not.

Accordingly, I applaud NAR buying Cyberhomes and using it to power RPR. As an MLS vendor, FBS loves competition and looks forward to learning more about RPR and how their tools can help our customers. We’d love to see RPR help create a universal property ID. We’d love to leverage data from RPR if it can in any way help improve accuracy of the MLS data. We’re excited about the possibilities of RPR but also strongly believe that those possibilities should not be used to create a monopoly that squelches competition in the MLS software space.

For those of you interested in these issues, join me at the NAR meetings next week in San Diego for the Future of MLS panel. The RPR and related issues should be a hot topic.