Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher
 

Ten Reasons why MLS is Dead Already

Once again, as REALTORS converged last week for their MidYear meetings in Washington, D.C., the forces of stability and sameness were present, coming up with last-gasp-ways to protect the tattered vestiges of Real Estate, the Last Generation. New white-papers and shiny-Powerpoint presentations proclaimed the “we-can-renovate” mentality of Gen 2.0 systems struggling to enter the 3.0 version of the industry. Much like Google and Yahoo – who refuse to admit their model is crumbling in the face of social networks – ’s are trying one last time to burnish a brand that has already worn off the chrome. What’s left underneath are the mostly rusted pieces of a structure whose time has come and gone, even if some REALTORS still believe the Comparables Book will someday make a comeback.

It’s time for the real estate industry to implode the MLS model so they can build something better suited to the of real estate practices.

To prove the point, let’s try to list 10 Reasons why MLS systems really must go. Only then can we see that we’re out of fingers on which to count the ways they might survive.

  1. They are expensive. It’s absolutely incredible that brokers pay the kinds of fees they do, on a per-member per-month basis, for essentially data warehousing. A Google Mini, which is a kind of server/software system to let you create your own in-house Google database, only costs about $4000 for 100,000 document capacity. Clearly even a few years of local housing data doesn’t reach that capacity level, but double or triple it and it’s obvious the exorbitant fees aren’t for the hardware. If a 5000-person MLS pays $100 per person annually, that’s still $500,000… and we know it’s more than that in most systems. Deduct staff, technicians and programmers, you’re still overpaying for data warehousing. How can Craigslist store so much more data for free to its users?
  2. The data integrity is awful. And that’s pushing away consumers. Let’s stop pretending that there’s any policing of MLS data; maybe a few fields are required and a few token fines issued. But one look at any site whose data is fed by an MLS (like REALTOR-dot-we-don’t-care-dot-com) and it’s clear that once you transfer responsibility for data quality from the broker/owner/manager to a MLS staff member, nobody is watching out for the consumer. Seller are horrified to see their property information incomplete online, with “too new for photo” for days, while buyers are duly unimpressed by the quality of data and its arrangement into pathetic “listing sheets.”  Data integrity is actually a barometer of brokerage oversight, which eventually falls to zero with the existence of MLS systems.
  3. MLS “organizations” are dominated by No Men. These are the programmers, directors, engineers and others at the “software/hardware” department who essentially say “No” to anything brokers want to do with their own data. No, you can’t use your data in the ways you want. No, we can’t add that field. No, you can’t store more than 20 photos. No, you can’t feed your data by FTP but must type it in manually. No, it doesn’t work on a Mac. No, it won’t work with Explorer (any new version for weeks). No, we won’t program it to look good on a smartphone. No, No, No. We won’t let you ruin our nice, neat little database!
  4. MLS rules are anti-competitive. Forget any legal rulings, because they are meaningless. What’s anti-competitive about MLS rules is that they continually suck the life out of any competitive advantages a broker might try to implement. In a death by a thousand cuts, brokers are prevented from using their own data in ways they want – such as watermarking a photo or filtering certain results on their web page. They are forced, through horrific concepts like IDX or data-exchange, to display the uber-crappy data/photos of their worst competitors on their own million-dollar-plus websites, simply because it’s all-or-nothing in the rules. If one broker invest huge sums of his own money to get ahead with new feature on his website, you can be sure his competitive advantage will be diluted once the “MLS” adds that same feature for everyone else to benefit from later – at a group-subsidy rate.
  5. MLS systems inhibit business model innovation. What if your company didn’t want to market properties by price – just features or neighborhood or some other feature. No chance, say the MLS software priests: price is a “required field” no matter what your plan, simply because the gestalt says so. Want to link-out to your own video library. Nay, ye aren’t permitted, sayeth the Village Elders. We don’t supporteth links to the external world. And any further attempts to innovate or trick the system will land you in the Tower of London, you blasphemer!
  6. MLS systems think like databases, not consumers. Consumers buy homes because their family grows or shrinks, they lose or find a new job, they want a longer or shorter commute, they need more or less space, and so on. They type real words into search engines. On Zappos.com you can search by terms like “high heels” or “disco” and find relevant shoes. Yet MLS systems force consumers to search like a computer, not a person. They’re all “beds, baths, price” driven. How dull. But if you try anything else, you end up with HAL staring red-eyed at you. I’m sorry, Dave, I must insist you enter a town. I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t display that without a price. I’m sorry, Dave, but registration is required before I can show you any data…
  7. MLS systems spawn MLS committees. And committees make horrible soup. Everything that makes committees good for wasting time makes them bad for developing MLS policies that bind the business practices of other members. Name one good, effective rule-making body on the face of the planet…. Ok, end of discussion.
  8. MLS systems distort markets by creating artificial operational costs and barriers. In addition to the other ways they constrain a broker’s use of his own data, MLS organizations create artificial markets of “our MLS” and “their MLS” based upon mercantalist concepts like geography. Lest we forget, all real estate is local, except in the minds of consumers. That’s why “local” MLS systems perpetuate such barriers (often controlled by committees of competitors, see #7) while they distort operating costs for brokerages who must operate as “multi-regional” rather than “one cohesive organization.” Costs for different software, training, support, standards and data management soar for companies who grow beyond their “local” markets. Even single “statewide” MLS systems, usually found in smaller states, creates borders between neighboring states in mobile regions, such as New England, for traditionalist reasons. While other industries have worked to eliminate operational incompatibility across regions – and around the globe – the persistence of multiple different MLS systems within close proximity can may artificially preclude the formation of innovative business models of larger scale. Potentially even consumers are harmed as these barriers prevent cost economies that could otherwise be passed along in lower commissions.
  9. MLS systems are a layer of operational redundancy. Huge portions of the real estate industry operate within a franchise structure that provides (at little or no cost) a variety of operational systems that already do what MLS systems can do, and frequently better. Since most brokers use MLS to communicate primarily with other brokers, the residual value of this purpose is waning daily. In olden days, MLS sytems served a purpose of collectivizing costs for computing power which smaller, independent companies could not afford on their own. After nearly two decades of consolidation and dramatic decreases in computing and programming costs, that reason for MLS existence has disappeared. Even non-franchise companies have to maintain their own internal listing databases, of highly redundant information to what they input into MLS, for accounting and management purposes. And every broker duplicates significant portions of their own data yet again, when they add it to their website and internet marketing. Even if they receive a feed of their data “back” from MLS into their website, they frequently have to add “more” content than what MLS can handle if they want to create marketing advantages like additional photos, videos or text-message response systems. No matter how you look at it, most brokers are double or triple-entering their listing data every day. Without MLS systems they would eliminate a layer of redundancy, and could still share data with other brokers by sharing data feeds with each other on a peer-to-peer basis.
  10. MLS systems confuse agents. Perhaps the final nail, and most ironic at that, in the coffins of the MLS systems is that most agents cannot really use them well. The technical support for MLS systems is enormous, even after training is offered. Sadly, most of the hurdles are on elementary activities, such as uploading, resizing or managing photos. Generating reports or emailing listings to consumers, also rudimentary activities, require agents to perform arcane or counter-intuitive activities, even on newer systems. Yet agents can’t take the blame for this: When they can master dozens of other web tools within minutes, without training or technical support, but still struggle as frequently as they do with their primary sales data tool, something is fundamentally wrong with the model, not just the technology.

Unfortunately, none of these ten reasons (and perhaps dozens more) are likely to make MLS go away soon. MLS is one of the few places the real estate industry is holding on tightly to its past, even when the information revolution has already passed it by. Like a Pontiac dealer down the street from newly built Honda factory, it might take another ten reasons, and as many years, for brokers to face the facts. So for good measure, let’s add just one more. Perhaps this one – a consumer reason why MLS must go – is enough to push the industry over the edge.

11. Today’s sellers are Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. They are computer savvy enough to come to the conclusion that MLS printouts and web displays are pathetic. They are horrified to see their homes on “ink-jet” display on their kitchen tables at open houses. And they are mystified by any system that would permit the display of their property online with the icon “Too New for Photo” rather than forcing the agent to upload at least one. Yet even if we ignore Boomer sellers in a buyer’s market, that leaves us with first-time buyers who doesn’t use a computer to shop for things or print things to take to the store any more. In an age where iPhones and Blackberries can order movie tickets or plane tickets, the crudeness of so many MLS  displays on smartphones isn’t something that can be “fixed.” Because the Gen Y consumer has already book-marked some other site, where homes display nicely and searches are touch-screen simple.

There’s little to no chance the consumer is going to be wooed back by the “we can renovate it” last-gasps of the MLS monster. The faster REALTORS realize this, the quicker they’ll be able to move forward and revitalize their industry.

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  • KUDOS! to you for telling the truth!!–what happened to the rumor that Google was buying up all the listing services across the US? if something like that happened, we would have a chance to make some of the changes you are noting here .

  • KUDOS! to you for telling the truth!!–what happened to the rumor that Google was buying up all the listing services across the US? if something like that happened, we would have a chance to make some of the changes you are noting here .

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Thanks, Ruth! I appreciate the comments.

    To be honest, I’m not overly sure we want Google buying the services either; I’m thinking every company needs to manage their own data, build the competency, then only join sharing alliances where they can send/share data but never lose control of the platform.

    Have a super day! Stop by again soon!

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Thanks, Ruth! I appreciate the comments.

    To be honest, I’m not overly sure we want Google buying the services either; I’m thinking every company needs to manage their own data, build the competency, then only join sharing alliances where they can send/share data but never lose control of the platform.

    Have a super day! Stop by again soon!

  • Okay, so tell me why anyone should own data that is already out there? Where is the magic in data that for the most part is copied over and played with by agents who don’t want to be honest about actual days-on-market? Count on agents to take good pictures and present properties in their best light? Ha. Hasn’t happened yet. My favorite point? Number 11.

  • Okay, so tell me why anyone should own data that is already out there? Where is the magic in data that for the most part is copied over and played with by agents who don’t want to be honest about actual days-on-market? Count on agents to take good pictures and present properties in their best light? Ha. Hasn’t happened yet. My favorite point? Number 11.

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Susie:
    Right on all points! Maybe MLS is a kind of “barometer” of how well our managers and owners are performing; an MLS filled with excellent, accurate data and photos would mean that our companies were actually managing performance and outcomes in each of their companies.

    On the other hand, since MLS data mostly stinks, and we know where it gets its data from, we can make a different assessment of management effectiveness in the industry, too.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Susie:
    Right on all points! Maybe MLS is a kind of “barometer” of how well our managers and owners are performing; an MLS filled with excellent, accurate data and photos would mean that our companies were actually managing performance and outcomes in each of their companies.

    On the other hand, since MLS data mostly stinks, and we know where it gets its data from, we can make a different assessment of management effectiveness in the industry, too.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Great stuff. What we need is an MLS which thinks for consumers instead of merely lists bedrooms and bathrooms. We could have 1 picture of 1 million pictures per listing, and it doesn’t matter if you can’t sort on the pictures. We need a whole other level type of thinking.

  • Great stuff. What we need is an MLS which thinks for consumers instead of merely lists bedrooms and bathrooms. We could have 1 picture of 1 million pictures per listing, and it doesn’t matter if you can’t sort on the pictures. We need a whole other level type of thinking.

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Tim: I like the point – that it should be consumer centric. But it shouldn’t come from MLS. BROKERS are the ones who should be focused on Consumers; and their OWN sites should be doing the job of MLS/data management. All they have to do is share exchanges of data with each other via XML; and only those they want to share with… and at a LOT lower cost, too!

    Thanks for stopping by!
    Matthew

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Tim: I like the point – that it should be consumer centric. But it shouldn’t come from MLS. BROKERS are the ones who should be focused on Consumers; and their OWN sites should be doing the job of MLS/data management. All they have to do is share exchanges of data with each other via XML; and only those they want to share with… and at a LOT lower cost, too!

    Thanks for stopping by!
    Matthew

  • Our MLS is slated to change vendors this fall, and while I’m pleased w/ the changes that we will experience, I think that your points have a lot of merit, especially that they control what & how data is shared, streamed, etc. I’ve wanted for a while to either merge with, or at least have access to, neighboring MLS data. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening here in the good old Midwest anytime soon.

    My broker is also changing website vendors this summer to become even more consumer-friendly (we get 90k+ visitors per month in peak months) and to keep ahead of the MLS site. I’m very excited about those changes and am looking forward to being able to assist clients better than before. The nice thing with our broker site is that they’re not charging the agents any more fees for it, and it includes (hopefully a decent) agent site as well as individual property sites.

    Thanks for your insight in the industry, I always enjoy reading your posts!

  • Our MLS is slated to change vendors this fall, and while I’m pleased w/ the changes that we will experience, I think that your points have a lot of merit, especially that they control what & how data is shared, streamed, etc. I’ve wanted for a while to either merge with, or at least have access to, neighboring MLS data. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening here in the good old Midwest anytime soon.

    My broker is also changing website vendors this summer to become even more consumer-friendly (we get 90k+ visitors per month in peak months) and to keep ahead of the MLS site. I’m very excited about those changes and am looking forward to being able to assist clients better than before. The nice thing with our broker site is that they’re not charging the agents any more fees for it, and it includes (hopefully a decent) agent site as well as individual property sites.

    Thanks for your insight in the industry, I always enjoy reading your posts!

  • I really agree with point #8. Living in dense SoCal, I see no reason to have to belong to 2 different MLS’ in order to view properties in my geographical area. It is even more confusing with the Supra lockboxes and having to pay extra fees in order to be able to use the lock boxes in different areas.

    There is great debate in our AOR and MLS about the proposed statewide MLS. If we are going to use an MLS system, I say go for it especially if we can align the Supra boxes and the electronic keys to work any and all of them without extra cost. Most agents work within a defined geographical area based on how far they want to drive anyway, I don’t see how a statewide MLS would change that dynamic.

  • I really agree with point #8. Living in dense SoCal, I see no reason to have to belong to 2 different MLS’ in order to view properties in my geographical area. It is even more confusing with the Supra lockboxes and having to pay extra fees in order to be able to use the lock boxes in different areas.

    There is great debate in our AOR and MLS about the proposed statewide MLS. If we are going to use an MLS system, I say go for it especially if we can align the Supra boxes and the electronic keys to work any and all of them without extra cost. Most agents work within a defined geographical area based on how far they want to drive anyway, I don’t see how a statewide MLS would change that dynamic.

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Thanks for stopping by, Chad. I appreciate your thoughts; good to hear that your broker is taking the initiative to stay ahead of the “norm” playing field that other brokers simply take “from MLS”.

    Follow the consumer, not the competition, and you’ll always succeed!

    Have a super weekend,
    Matthew

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Thanks for stopping by, Chad. I appreciate your thoughts; good to hear that your broker is taking the initiative to stay ahead of the “norm” playing field that other brokers simply take “from MLS”.

    Follow the consumer, not the competition, and you’ll always succeed!

    Have a super weekend,
    Matthew

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Barbara:
    it’s definitely a business insanity to have to belong to multiple DATA systems within a small geographic area. Even cell phone vendors will “pass you along” to their competitor’s systems and towers without much hassle; it’s all just data!

    Statewide data sharing is the right concept; now the question is whether a statewide “MLS” system would be unwieldy in the nation’s economic zone……

    Good day!
    Matthew

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Barbara:
    it’s definitely a business insanity to have to belong to multiple DATA systems within a small geographic area. Even cell phone vendors will “pass you along” to their competitor’s systems and towers without much hassle; it’s all just data!

    Statewide data sharing is the right concept; now the question is whether a statewide “MLS” system would be unwieldy in the nation’s economic zone……

    Good day!
    Matthew

  • I am sure these are very good points , but do imagine to work in a market with no MLS at all, very low number of exclusive mandates , Agents taking photos and descriptions from your website and upload on their………. WHat would you suggest to implement in such a market ?

  • I am sure these are very good points , but do imagine to work in a market with no MLS at all, very low number of exclusive mandates , Agents taking photos and descriptions from your website and upload on their………. WHat would you suggest to implement in such a market ?

  • I see merit in many of your points, but must disagree with others. Brokers may know best how to market and sell, but they certainly have different individual ideas about what role the MLS plays in their business scheme.

    What’s wrong with maintaining a structured MLS a database for statistical analysis and research? Do you believe it’s just another advertising channel? Agents continually twist their square peg listings into round holes to make sure other participants find their listing no matter what they are trying to find. The result is that anyone trying to do real market analysis gets flawed results.

  • I see merit in many of your points, but must disagree with others. Brokers may know best how to market and sell, but they certainly have different individual ideas about what role the MLS plays in their business scheme.

    What’s wrong with maintaining a structured MLS a database for statistical analysis and research? Do you believe it’s just another advertising channel? Agents continually twist their square peg listings into round holes to make sure other participants find their listing no matter what they are trying to find. The result is that anyone trying to do real market analysis gets flawed results.

  • Hi Matthew, great story. Garbage in/Garbage out is very true when talking about MLS data. We have come up with a Market Centric approach to doing CMAs for sellers & buyers that overcomes some of the data issues. If you have a chance, you can check it out at https://www.cmadashboard.com/tour

    Scott

  • Hi Matthew, great story. Garbage in/Garbage out is very true when talking about MLS data. We have come up with a Market Centric approach to doing CMAs for sellers & buyers that overcomes some of the data issues. If you have a chance, you can check it out at https://www.cmadashboard.com/tour

    Scott

  • It’ s hard to come by decent info on the web.

  • Nice weblog, just looking close to some blogs, seems a fairly nice platform you’ re using. I’ m presently using WordPress for a few of my sites but looking to alter one of them over to a platform similar to yours as a trial operate. Anything in specific you’ d recommend about it?

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Actually, we use WordPress ourselves, hosted by our ISP, with a custom theme.