Home Brokers & Agents What If the MLS Were A Service Company?

What If the MLS Were A Service Company?

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The Agony and the Ecstasy…

Just about every single MLS in the country has mandatory training for all new members that’s in the 3-5 hour range. Add in other courses ranging from how to use the tax data system to creating CMAs to whatever else the MLS offers and you’re looking at tens of hours of training in order to use the MLS effectively.

Let’s leave to side the issue of why it takes 3-1/2 hours just to learn the basic essentials of how to use the MLS. Instead, let’s explore a different take altogether on this.

Here’s my question: What if the MLS were to become a service company instead of a software and data company? What if, instead of offering training to subscribers, the MLS offered to do it for you?

Would you sign up for that? How much more would you be willing to pay for that kind of a MLS?

The Point of Training…

Training is a real burden to the agent on the street, and yet… it’s necessary given the way we have set things up in the industry. Take a look at this video (although, by no means should you watch the whole thing…):

I ran across this doing research for a paper I’m working on and three things jumped out at me about the video:

  1. The trainer is Jay Meyers, Sr. National Trainer from CoreLogic, the company that makes Matrix, which means he’s not an amateur on his first training session.
  2. The video is 52 minutes long.
  3. This video is just part 1 of 5 videos, all of which are between 40 and 50 minutes in length.

Lest you think this is just the Williamsburg Association of Realtors (who provided the training and filmed it), take a look at a random example that came up first in my Google search: MLSListings in Northern California, in the heart of Silicon Valley.

MLSListings is one of the best run MLSs in the country, and one of a very few with its own software development team. If you were to take all six “Basic Courses” — one of which is mandatory — you would have spent 11 hours in the classroom. Add in the seven “Pro Courses” and you’re up to 20 hours. Finally, the five “Power Courses” brings the total up to 25 hours.

That’s a lot of hours spent either on your own, in a classroom, or in a lab just to learn how to use a piece of software. As a point of comparison, Ledet Training runs Photoshop Bootcamp that promises to take a novice and turn him into a Photoshop professional in 24 hours over 4 days — and Photoshop is one of the most difficult tools to master out there.

Of course, the training is necessary because everything in the MLS is directly connected to the business needs of the agent in the field. The point of training is to enable to agent to do business.

For instance, the mandatory “MLSListings Essentials” class from MLSListings above lists the following as Course Content:

  • Guiding principles and compliance
  • MLS tools overview
  • Profile
  • Matrix dashboard
  • Market watch
  • Inventory search
  • Saved searches
  • Auto-emails
  • Hot sheets

Those are all necessary for any MLS subscriber to conduct her day to day real estate business.

But think about why the subscriber needs to know how to do an Inventory Search in Matrix in the first place. A client or a prospective client calls the agent, says he’s looking for a 3BR/2BA with a swimming pool in X part of town between $250K and $300K or some such. The agent has to go see what’s on the market that fits the client’s criteria.

Similarly, saved searches, auto-emails, hot sheets, CMAs — everything on the MLS is directly related to some business need of a real estate agent.

So why not just do it for them instead of training them to do it for themselves?

Introducing RCMLS

At RCMLS (Rob’s Crazy MLS), that is our vision for the future of the MLS.

Instead of logging into the MLS, navigating to the appropriate area, and doing an inventory search, you simply pick up the phone and call your Account Executive and ask him to do the inventory search and email you the results.

Need a CMA? Just send an email to your Account Executive with the details and it’ll be waiting for you by the time you get back to your office.

Did you take a new listing? Congratulations! In another MLS, you’d have to rush back to your office and start the laborious process of adding a new listing.

At RCMLS, you just call your Account Executive from the car as you’re driving away from the client’s house and your new listing will be ready within 24 hours — or within 2 hours if you are a Gold or Platinum Member.

Did something change with the listing? Price change? Extend listing date? Want to use new photographs? Add a virtual tour? Just call your Account Executive and the change will be made within 4 hours — or in real-time while you are on the phone if you are a Gold or Platinum Member.

Change your syndication settings? No problem! Map-based search? No problem!

Not only will you save 25 hours of your life sitting in a classroom listening to a trainer — although, if the trainer is particularly sexy and interesting, maybe that’s a loss — but you will save countless hours of your life having to futz around with the MLS itself.

Premium Services of RCMLS

In addition to the basic services of RCMLS, we offer numerous premium services for those subscribers with specialized needs.

Advanced Search

Have a difficult client with extremely specific and narrow needs? He’s looking for a property with at least 100-feet of mid-bank saltwater frontage that also has a private dock and a workshop within 20-minute driving distance of the hospital during peak traffic hours. Oh, and it must be a colonial, a craftsman, or a mid-century modern with privacy so the neighbors can’t see him.

In a normal MLS, that would be a nightmare property search indeed. Many of the features are not even in fields, or even if they are, the listing agent likely did not complete them because they are not required fields.

At RCMLS, that kind of search is sent to our Advanced Search team who utilize advanced database tools from simple SQL queries to AQT to Cogito Semantic Technology and beyond. Our team of data experts will connect to multiple data sources from tax data to ESRI to Google Maps to get you the best answers to provide your client.

The cost is $50 per search, and Advanced Search is included with your Gold or Platinum Membership.

Copywriting

Are you way too busy to write the description of the property? We have professional copywriters on staff who will create compelling listing marketing copy for you starting at $25. Copywriting is included with your Platinum Membership.

IDX/VOW Setup

The expert RCMLS staff will work directly with your IDX or VOW vendor to ensure smooth setup of your credentials. No more filling in complex forms and waiting; your RCMLS Account Executive will handle all of the details for you.

Don’t delay! Call today!

Your MLS experience need not be filled with pain, frustration, and hours of classes to do even the most basic task. With all the free time you have, you can focus on business development or client service. Maybe spend more time with your family! Or more!

I was a stressed-out workaholic constantly frustrated with trying to do things with my MLS. I spent hours and hours just doing CMA reports for clients. But now, after joining RCMLS, I have so much free time that I finally pursued my lifelong dream of becoming a painter! One of my paintings is now up at the Museum of Modern Art! Thank you RCMLS!

– Joan, Platinum Member

Call 1-800-RCMLS4U to speak to a sales representative today!

Benefits of the MLS As a Service

Yes, I had some fun with that. But think about it. There are real benefits of operating a MLS as a service, rather than as a technology platform.

The most obvious is saving time and effort for the subscriber. But there are less obvious benefits to the MLS itself.

For one thing, human error can be minimized by having all listing input be done by MLS staff who can be trained to become experts in data entry into the MLS and who have far different consequences for screwing up than the paying member. Forget compliance emails; we’re talking terminations of employment.

All of those optional fields in the MLS might actually get filled in should the MLS take on the job directly.

For another, certain copyright issues (such as with photographs) can be prevented if the MLS is doing that itself. Sometimes, listing agents will not bother taking new photos and reuse old photos, believing incorrectly that they have the right to do that since they paid for it. That isn’t always the case, depending on the license from the photographer. The MLS can make sure that there are no copyright violations.

Speaking of photos, if the MLS is handling listing entry for its members, it has a far easier time policing rules on photos.

And so on and so forth. In fact, it’s difficult for me to see a downside to doing this as a new business model for the MLS.

The Downside: Cost

The only downside, of course, is cost to the subscriber. Hiring all of that extra staff — Account Executives, database people, copywriters, data entry clerks, etc. etc. — isn’t exactly cheap. The question is how much the real estate agent is or is not willing to pay for MLS-as-a-Service vs. what she has today.

On the other hand, I know quite a few high producers and agent team leaders who hire administrative staff specifically to help with the MLS. Even if such admin people are being paid $8/hr and are doing things other than futzing with the MLS and attending classes and whatnot, that’s a cost that would go away for those agents. $8/hr is $320 a week and over $1,200 a month after all.

So that’s the question for my Realtor audience.

If your MLS offered this RCMLS concept as a “premium level” service, what would you be willing to pay for it per month?

$100? $500? $1,000? What?

PS: I have no clients right now who are thinking of doing this, so this isn’t market research for anybody. This is just my curiosity about something many people would initially go, “Oh, that crazy Rob Hahn,” and then say after a few minutes go, “But actually… hmm… there’s something here….”

-rsh

 

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Rob Hahn
Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Amazing,!!!!!! Zillow announces that they will no longer accept listings from agents directly unless they go thru the lousy mls’s thereby creating a even larger and more destructive monoploly and you want bestow more influence on the mls’s,why not call for the US Justice Dept to investigate them for anti trust activities,?????anyone care to answer ?

  2. That’s a fantastic idea Rob. I would easily pay 1k a month for that. Please call The Austin Board of Realtors and make it happen.

    I think another side effect of this is as it became normal the barrier to entry would have gotten at least more expensive. I suppose that’s a double edged sword. Probably also supports large super teams continuing to be the standard.

  3. Hm…. interesting concept, but I respectfully disagree. I can’t see any of the more techie agents going for this. Although many agents might, the more tech savvy agents out there don’t need hours of training to learn to use the MLS. And then let’s talk about having someone else do my CMA for me? Isn’t that the point of me putting together a CMA – that I’ll use my specialized market knowledge to pick the comps best suited to the subject property? Last thing I want to do is call some account exec a hundred miles away and have them try to do my job for me.

    What probably SHOULD happen is the MLS’ should become more user-friendly – better UI/UX design and interfaces so that the hours upon hours of training is reduced greatly.

    • I’ve been talking about MLS UI for quite some time now… and yes, that is the real solution, but… there are a LOT of reasons why that likely won’t happen anytime soon. 🙂

      I figure, RCMLS is best as an optional “premium membership” type of a thing out of the standard MLS.

      • Well I’d definitely say as the first account exec for RCMLS, I’ll leave you a good review for your rapid response times. 🙂

  4. Data error transcription rates vary, but they go up drastically when information is transcribed by phone (is that Griffen or Griffin?).

    My take on the training issue is that in an effort to continually add new features, the MLS software UI keeps getting harder to learn. It’s like a Levittown house with a dozen additions. MLS software providers know this, but to maintain backward-compatibility with old users, they cannot fix it. This is a programming problem, not a training problem.

  5. Nice article that once again reinforces the true issue with this industry. Due the lack of standards at every level of the industry; NAR, State Association, local Board, MLS, Broker, agents et al, there is great difficulty in making things happen. Or for that fact, making anything happen. And the industry suffers from the “too many” syndrome. And that involves every entity listed above. There are simply too many of everything to do anything that makes sense in this business. And the majority that does little or nothing rules the minority of the industry that actually do the business. This is true for both the industry and for the consumer. Fix that issue and lots of things become easier and more effective to deliver and get done. Tailoring the business to suit the lowest common denominator in the business is not going to remedy the core issues.

  6. My 2 bits: We have a couple of companies in town that do some of this, used to do all of this. 2 companies don’t allow their agents to input listings, so if I were to take a listing on Saturday Morning, these companies don’t input listings on the weekend. So Monday or Tuesday before listing is active (pending how many listings taken over the weekend). Similarly, one company used to do CMA’s. Now I have a staff admin person telling me what a home is worth, and/or waiting 1-3 days before I can do a listing appointment. Maybe having a well trained staff person performing CMA’s is better than some agents, but we still have to wait. Today’s consumer is much less willing to wait than pre-internet. That’s why ZTR is around. Instant info. I think the staffing requirements, the perceived preferences that could happen with different company sizes at an MLS level would be a bad thing. HOWEVER, with the right staffing, this would be great at company level. EVEN BETTER – make MLS software that is simple enough, we don’t need that many hours of training. Think CLOUD CMA! And strip out the “New Listing” bloat ware. With so many IDX, and ZTR providers setting this up – are agents best use of time or the expertise we bring to a transaction really best used setting up something in a difficult to use MLS software environment?

  7. So everyone gets an assistant.. I like it. I have to imagine there is a price point that this makes sense at — costing less than having your own assistant, but more than doing it yourself.

  8. I have to say i agree with Eileen’s comments above. I feel fortunate that using our MLS requires little training and every time I extract information I am learning. So many things that we used to need to hire an assistant to do are now easy thanks to the tools in our MLS and those that have been added to it.

  9. Welcome to Push Button Real Estate! Get a license, buy a good vendor, push a button and VOILA, close a deal! Rob, you think of some truly crazy ideas at times, but this one promptly puts the REALTOR on the quick path to be “replacement by bot”. The masterful book, The E-Myth, posits the idea that if we can just reduce “quality” to automated, repetitious behavior by the “lowest common denominator”, we can makes scads of money just for building the system. That’s why the Ray Kroc, developer of the McDonald’s franchise system, had so much money to donate upon his demise.

    Service from the MLS is great, but the notion that we should hire others to think for us, that our value to clientele is only in quickly providing shiny slick reports over real substance, that local market expertise is something we can simply hire the MLS to do for us, provided we’re willing to pay for it, is the kind of short-term, pie-in-the-sky thinking that will quickly “disrupt” us right out of any value we may still have.

    I like your provocative thought process, Rob, but let’s focus on the real issues you brought up in your recent post about having too many crappy agents in the business. Big Z reinforces the notion the one can buy their way into expertise, appearing next to many listings of other brokers just because one has the funds to do so, but it doesn’t in any way promote quality, expertise, market knowledge or real service. If we want to have more value as brokers, we have to be a whole lot smarter–we have to understand the market better, we have to have real negotiation and data analysis skills, and we have to be more people savvy. Once MLS figures out how all these things can be provided in a neat, but probably expensive, automated package, market success will become a commodity that anyone can buy and sell. Which means, like Uber and driver-less cars, the push will quick be to move to Realtor-less transactions. In the meantime, like Uber, there will be a lot of “crashing transaction” to deal with.

    Buckle up my friends….

    • Hi Rick – thanks for the thoughtful comment 🙂 I felt it deserved a real response, so here we go.

      1. I yield to no one in my admiration for the great Realtor, and my disdain for the crappy ones, and I think as you mentioned, my mission in this industry is to do something about the “too many crappy agents” problem.

      2. Having said that, I don’t think I’ve ever once thought a Realtor was great because of her skill with Matrix or FlexMLS or Paragon or whatever. Nor do I think that *using the MLS* is related to the insight/thought/skills that a Realtor brings. It’s kind of like saying that a Realtor has to be a great photographer; she doesn’t — she just has to hire a great photographer. A Realtor doesn’t need to know how to stage a home; she just needs to know great staging professionals and hire them.

      Why is it different with the MLS? It is, after all, just a piece of software, a tool, that they use in business.

      3. I’m all for what you say here: “If we want to have more value as brokers, we have to be a whole lot smarter–we have to understand the market better, we have to have real negotiation and data analysis skills, and we have to be more people savvy.”

      I’m 100% in support of that. But does knowing the mechanics of how to put a customer on an auto-email improve your negotiation skills? Of course not. Sitting through a five-hour class on how to use Matrix to do property searches doesn’t add one iota of insight into any Realtor’s market knowledge.

      On the other hand, skipping the 5-hour MLS class and spending that time attending a seminar on local economic trends or even better, attending a government affairs committee meeting at the local Association does likely help that Realtor gain valuable market knowledge. Refusing to master the intricacies of Paragon so she can use the time to master the intricacies of the real estate contract is probably a better use of time for a Realtor, no?

      As Eileen says above, the true solution is for vendors to make the MLS software user-friendly so it doesn’t require 25 hours just to learn how to use it. But there are a lot of reasons why that does not and can not happen. Until then, what’s wrong with having someone do the grunt work for you?

      4. As I noted in my post — and as Drew Meyers pointed out — there are a lot of agents who hire assistants to help them with the MLS. Are those agents somehow less competent? Of course not. There are brokerages who do listing input for their agents, believing that their time is better spent on client service than on struggling with the MLS. Are they doing a disservice to their agents or to the industry? I don’t think so.

      One of the finest Realtors I know whose clients LOVE her, who does tremendous business the right way, knows her market like the back of her hand, and delivers results and client satisfaction every day likely doesn’t even know how to login to the MLS. Her assistants handle all of that for her. Of course, she can afford to pay thousands of dollars each month to have such assistants….

      Is the issue that the MLS would provide shared-assistants to those who otherwise couldn’t afford one? That… would be an interesting discussion to have. 😉

      5. Finally, I don’t believe that market success will ever become a commodity that anyone can buy and sell. Like anything sales-related, money can get you the opportunity to be successful (leads and advertising) but real market success comes only from consistently providing value and service to clients. Uber didn’t buy its success; it became successful because its service was better than what the taxicabs were providing.

      The problem with crappy agents isn’t that they’re buying market success; many are failing after a year or two. The real problem is that they bring down the reputation of the entire industry, including those of the good Realtors.

      MLS-as-a-Service, even if anyone were to try it, would affect that issue not at all. That issue needs different solutions, which some of us are working on. 🙂

  10. Great idea, in spirit you’re right. I’d rather control our own training since there are business components that a brokerage aligns within its training regime and interfaces with other software we use in addition to and/or augmented via MLS which we prefer third party, best in class, and even proprietarily built as time goes on, that I can’t see much value in our MLS providing these services since we are all out here practicing real estate in our own style. You basically described services which brokerages do, or should do. I could see this being a benefit for brokerages who don’t value or provide these services and strategy already.

    But at that point why even have a brokerage at all, just pay a split to the MLS as the universals regional brokerage? Which sounds more like the idea you’re proposing

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