The MLS industry is in an existential crisis. There are no minimum standards of performance, no agreed upon definition of what it even means to be an MLS. Members of differing MLS’s have different experiences with what the MLS means to their business life.
When the Realty Alliance says that MLSs need to clean up their act, it means that some (or many) of the MLSs it participates in don’t perform at a basic level necessary to conduct business efficiently. Following are suggestions for the 10 minimum standards for a modern MLS:
1. Provide participant brokers with a complete ‘broker download’ of the MLS database for use in broker back-end products.
A broker download is the ability for any participating broker to receive a complete data set of the entire MLS for explicit use in back-end, non-public products.
Use restrictions on the download include no third-party use, non-transferable to another MLS, etc. Small, medium or large, every broker deserves the right to have the MLS data provided in a way that he or she can use to support his or her back-end office products.
This is not a VOW feed, it’s not for publication, and it includes all fields available in the MLS for search by a broker.
2. The ability for participant brokers to syndicate their company’s listings within the primary MLS to at least the top 5 real estate websites in their market.
Consumers don’t blame bad or stale data on the website they happen visit, they blame it on the broker and agent because they think there’s been a “bait-and-switch.”
Clearly, bad data has not hurt the biggest portals with consumers—and the accuracy gap is narrowing quickly.
Because of fragmented data between overlapping MLSs that don’t share data with each other, consumers can already get a more complete market picture by going to realtor.com or Zillow than brokers and agents can from their MLS. This is problematic for the continued relevance of brokers and agents.
I specifically stressed that syndication selection should be in the primary MLS system and within the listing input selection screen. From hard experience, it is clear that the majority of MLS subscribers simply will not visit an external syndication service more than once during setup—and many not even once.
Allowing these services to run on autopilot is a disservice to the subscribers (agents) who are often left unaware of syndication choices their participants (brokers) have made.
The input screen should clearly show which sites will receive syndication, and indicate whether the broker has chosen to have the MLS send listings or not, or if the broker has a direct feed agreement with the portal.
Broker’s default selection for syndication for their office listings may only be overridden by an agent to turn a broker’s default “yes” to syndication to a “no” if the seller has requested that the listing not be syndicated.
This is necessary because bad data online hurts consumers, period.
3. Provides technical support on Saturday and Sunday.
Brokers and agents work on the weekend. The MLS should want to ensure technical problems do not inhibit a broker’s or agent’s ability to serve clients.
Despite low call volume on weekends, being available when you are needed is the foundation of good customer service.
4. Provides state-wide tax data (except in states where state law may prohibit this).
Every real estate license has the state in which the licensee is authorized to practice printed on it. Not having statewide tax data for brokers is like withholding case law from different parts of the state from attorneys.
5. Provides professional training support for MLS products and services.
Volunteer trainers are great, and some MLSs are lucky enough to have individuals who are both willing and fluent in technology and MLS services, but, by definition, volunteers have other lives to lead. If the MLS is going to stay relevant to subscribers, it should look to improve the business knowledge of its subscribers by providing superb training by professionals—directly in the brokerage office, if possible.
6. Provides a system-wide electronic showing service.
Just as more comprehensive MLS data improves the ability of brokers and agents to serve their clients, a system-wide electronic showing service improves the ability of agents to serve their client more quickly and outside of office hours.
When set so that showing alerts populate directly in the MLS system and when the default is for all brokerages to participate, a system-wide showing service provides consumers with modern, expected capability to the showing process.
7. Guarantees 24 hours to either grant or deny a data-feed request.
This is the computer age. We should join it. Automation is in reach if we apply some effort.
8. Represents at CMLS conferences and NAR meetings.
In any two-year period, the MLS executive should attend one of two annual CMLS Conferences and two of four annual NAR meetings (NAR Mid-Year and Annual Meeting—specifically the MLS Issues and Policies Committee and MLS Executives meetings).
Educating the CEO to the highest possible standard should be the goal of every single board of directors. If the CEO doesn’t learn new things, the board won’t learn new things; the result is an echo-chamber where the only things discussed and approved will be those things everyone already understands.
There are certainly other great conferences that add to the professional development of the CEO and staff, (Clareity MLS Executives, RESO, T-3, etc.), I’m just outlining the minimum.
9. Hold annual meetings, with minimum 30 days notice, to broker participants and subscribers. Provides an annual performance report, and allows for public comment.
MLSs should be looking to create good, consistent feedback loops with their participants and subscribers. Make a point of having the meeting somewhere nice so people will attend, but make it a business meeting and provide financials, annual performance versus goals, future goals and a technology/visioning segment by the CEO or outside professional.
10. Conducts bi-annual membership surveys, and sends automated surveys after every customer service interaction.
The MLS is a business, but sometimes one that treats its subscribers like a captive audience. Find out what your users want from you, how well your staff does in answering their questions, etc.
Surveying can be scary for execs because it’s often the angriest people who are most motivated to respond to a survey—and poor scores on a survey can reflect on the CEO.
You will want to do it regularly and after each customer service interaction to ensure that you receive a balanced survey result over time.
I am positive that there are more additions, and I am equally positive that there will be many different opinions on whether these are good ideas. The point is—it’s a place to start the conversation.