What did Dale Ross, CEO of NAR's RPR, mean by a "lot of mouths to feed"?

Jan 20, 2010 Michael Wurzer

Last week at the Inman Connect conference in New York, Dale Ross, CEO of NAR’s Realtor Property Resource (RPR), was asked by Brian Boero why RPR wasn’t trying to create a national MLS. Mr. Ross initially responded with the same thing Marty Frame (RPR’s President) said during the RPR Reverb panel I moderated the day before: RPR is a small company that doesn’t have the resources to become a national MLS. However, Mr. Ross added that politics would get in the way and there were a “lot of mouths to feed” in all the MLSs involved today.

I was a bit confused by the “lot of mouths to feed” comment at at the time he said it and, even on reflection, I’m not really sure what it means. Does it mean they feel they would have to buy out the existing MLSs? Does it mean they believe they’d have to hire a bunch of people from the existing MLSs? Or something else?

Overall, the statement leaves me uneasy. To date, RPR has clearly stated they aren’t trying to become a national MLS, which seems backed up by their apparent willingness to include a non-compete in the MLS data license agreement. At the same time, statements like those made by Mr. Ross give one pause to consider whether RPR isn’t really a Trojan horse. Looking back, we all can remember that the initial gateway/archive/library, etc., vision was to be a national MLS. Only after there was a lot of resistance to the creation of such a monopoly did NAR hone its message into what is now the RPR pitch for cool tools for Realtors and free public records for MLSs in exchange for MLS data.

I think this is important because a single, national MLS would be a monopoly that would hamper innovation in the long run, and so letting in the Trojan horse would be a big mistake. Importantly, there are legitimate arguments that the pain some brokers experience from overlapping market disorder would be improved by a national MLS but that same problem can be addressed through standards without the long-term negative consequences of enduring a national MLS monopoly. If there are concerns with MLSs today, they’d only be exacerbated years from now with a national MLS monopoly.

Importantly, RPR could do a lot to foster innovation and addressing broker concerns of overlap by promoting standards and data sharing but they’ve also been pretty clear they don’t intend to do that. If I was running RPR, my sole mission would be to create a platform that would foster competition for new technology. Instead, RPR appears intent on being the sole vendor of technology. So, what do you think? If there weren’t a “lot of mouths to feed,” would RPR be positioned as a national MLS? Do you agree with me that monopolies are bad or do you think a national MLS would be a “good” monopoly?

Update: Watching the video of the Q&A at Inman, Mr. Ross makes clear that he does believe there will be a national MLS someday. He says RPR isn’t being built for that but it will happen. I don’t get that. If you’re looking to create a national MLS, why would you build RPR for something else? This shouldn’t be that hard to explain or understand.