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The Nail In The Coffin?

Dec 3, 2007 Michael Wurzer

For years, decades even, some in the real estate sales business have believed that a significant part of their value proposition lies in their access to the MLS and to open it up to others would be catastrophic to their business. I think I’ve finally found the nail to hammer into that coffin.

Yesterday, I posted about what I and others see as an inevitable decline in MLS membership numbers and was graced with several insightful comments. The one that really caught my attention though was from Matt Lavallee, Development Manager at MLSPIN in Boston, who posits, “I know many, many former Realtors and RE Brokers who have long since left the market but keep their membership & licenses active (often simply to sell their own or friends’ houses). A single $10,000 commission therefore carries the base cost for a full decade.”

Following this, Judith Lindenau commented that, “In my former association, over 1/3 of the members had not completed a transaction in the last 12 months–and that’s not unusual!” One-third may seem like a lot but I know this is basically right, because we ran these numbers a few years ago for our MLS client-base and I was astounded that so many users had sold nothing in the prior twelve months. The number is likely even higher now in this slow market. So, 1/3 of the members of the MLS really are not in the MLS market at all.

Huh? What happened to the need to keep the information private to participants in the MLS? What’s the difference between providing MLS access to a retiree or ex-agent who has no intent of listing or selling anything and a consumer? Two things: (1) agreement to abide by the MLS rules; and (2) payment of the fees. Oh, yes, and the fact that the consumer, if they want to access the MLS, likely want to do so because they are interested in buying or selling, whereas the 1/3 of existing MLS members have no such interest or at least ability.

So, is that really all that’s keeping the MLS private? Money and terms of use? These should be easy problems to solve. I’ve suggested before that MLSs, brokers and agents should consider the terms on which they’d grant various parties access to the MLS. Such terms have obviously been struck already with 1/3 of the members who really are just participants in form, not substance, and so the idea that the MLS should be maintained privately seems anachronistic.