The whole world of MLS is exploding. That part that isn’t exploding will be carpet bombed into oblivion. The sky isn’t just falling, it’s getting ready to crush every little chicken in its path. So many people are crying “Wolf!” that even the wolf is scared spitless. At least that’s what some writers would have you believe.
Others see the problems inherent in crying “Wolf” but nonetheless think there may be some substance to the cries.
One of the morals of the Aesop’s Fable of the Boy who cried Wolf is often lost behind the more important metaphor: Don’t cry Wolf unless you mean it because you will make your audience weary of your warning. What we forget is that the Wolf eventually DID show up – and killed the whole flock of sheep.
I fear the same thing happening now in the MLS community in the aftermath of the warnings by The Realty Alliance to the collected MLS executives and leaders in Boise last week.
Some pundits are saying, “Yeah, we’ve heard this all before and nothing ever happens.” “Why should this time be different?”
This time it is different.
I’ll offer that this time is different because these are not idle threats made by some petulant teenager throwing a hissy fit. No one on the stage last Friday at CMLS was holding their breath until they turn blue in order to get their way. Not once did I hear the phrase “or else” uttered by TRA President/CEO Craig Cheatham. What I did hear was simple declarative statements of what TRA considers the facts of business life – that the practices they itemized were likely to cause conflict between MLSs and their Broker participants.
Some listeners were shocked, SHOCKED I tell you to hear there had been discontent here. They had never heard of such a thing, at least not in their backyards.
I’ve been doing some digging trying to figure out where this schism between brokers and their association owned/operated MLSs started. This has apparently been going on for years and no one noticed until last Friday.
Here’s what I’m finding and some of it is disturbing.
The Realty Alliance has a Facebook page. The page is posted to with great regularity by the administrator with observations and statements that sound an awful lot like either policy or stated concerns. These posts go back two and a half years, to May 2011. There aren’t many, but they do recite multiple expressions of angst about the growing schism between brokerages and their associations and MLSs. Examples:
Some of the messages are very cryptic. Such as
and a reminder a week later
And earlier that year when Franchisor IDX was a hot topic:
These last few entries all point to the time when TRA was fighting its implementation of franchisor IDX by NAR. The discussion was heated and almost everyone with a passing thought and a keyboard chimed in with their personal opinions about the debate. One blog, Matthew Ferrara, linked to from the TRA Facebook site, had some provocative quotes and comments, such as:
Again, so what? This is just picking at the scabs of the never-healing self-inflicted wound REALTORS stabbed themselves with decades ago, called MLS.
So all of the “nice” things that MLS policies supposedly provide brokers are becoming less valuable to many brokers with every new technology decision that accompanies them.
Mr. Ferrara had some observations that seem to presage the discussions we’re having today by nearly three years. Here, on how difficult a new technology solution would be:
As for sharing it (data) between multiple brokers, alternatives have already proven the possibility: Postlets, Point2 and – shock! – peer-to-peer syndication feeds make it possible for companies to transfer data to each other without much cost (in some cases, none). If an unfunded-nobody can syndicate their data to Huffington Post using a free WordPress-coded blog and free WiFi at Starbucks, don’t you think today’s brokers can figure out how to send data to each other?
On how to do business without an MLS (remember this is early 2011):
And that’s the real unintended consequence of the IDX syndication rule. Some brokers must now seriously consider withdrawing from the MLS club entirely. And why not? Most of New York City has survived just fine into the 21st century without MLS. Millions of real estate brokers around the world get along fine without overly organized compensation policies and data policing. They know how to cut each other a referral check, and generally play nice. Consumers, on the other hand, are far better at inducing brokers to keep their data fresh than a few dollar fine by a MLS cop, lest the broker face consumers’ wrath on Twitter and Yelp.
So the discussion of MLS v. Broker problems isn’t new. Nor are some of the more obvious possible resolutions to the problems in the event that the brokers and NAR/MLS teams can’t reach consensus on changes needed in the underlying relationships.
At the risk of repeating myself, I will. Here are comments I posted to the Vendor Alley essay on this topic earlier today:
I think we are over-thinking this. Let’s look at Occam’s razor: the simple answer is most often correct.
What do the brokers say they want? A simple solution that lets them trade inventory and cooperate on selling homes. Nothing more. The simple solution would be to meet for coffee at the corner restaurant once each week and exchange lists of addresses and prices. Sound familiar? Now make it electronic, but keep it simple.
We are seeing this in the agent community with private listing networks where agents exchange pocket listings with other agents with whom they choose to work. No NAR oversight; no mandatory cooperation requirement, no syndication; no MLS rules or competing products/services, no need to join 47 MLSs because of artificial geographic or political boundaries, just a simple society created by the peers in the group. And if someone isn’t playing by the rules, the group either kicks them out or just ignores them.
That approach on a slightly larger scale could work for residential brokerages. It certainly has worked just fine for the commercial brokers for decades. And most of them have never joined an MLS in their lives.
What have we learned from all this research? The sky isn’t falling yet, but storm clouds are definitely making it darker out there. We’ve heard these complaints before, but ignored them. The alternative solutions being considered aren’t really that hard to do nor are they that novel. Don’t ignore the warning signs just because you’ve heard them before.
One more lesson from many, many old black and white jungle movies: the most dangerous time is not when the war drums are pounding in the distance, but when they stop. As long as TRA and its affiliated groups are making noise, NAR and MLS are probably safe.
But don’t expect brass bands to come marching out of the Realty Alliance meeting room on Monday. There will probably not be a news conference held, no press release released, no profound statements of great import about the future of the industry, and certainly no ceremonial button pushing. The time to really start worrying will be Tuesday morning when the drums fall silent and the jungle is deathly quiet.
For this post:
Cause: Boy cries ‘wolf’ and no one listens
Effect: the Sound of Silence.