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2008-08-18 20:50:17

MLS 5.0 -- A Vision of the Future Part Four

Recently, RealTown released the MLS of the Future Vision Article authored by RealTown's Saul Klein. The article release has created an incredible buzz in the Real Estate industry. If you have not read the entire 28-page paper, you can download it by visiting In the meantime, we will be releasing a portion of the paper several times a week to allow you to read the specific sections and make online comments that will fuel additional views and opinions on the subject as we move forward.

What will be required to build on the current solid foundation of today’s MLS? This paper attempts to answer this question and create a basis for an industry discussion. Open and frank discussion is essential to creating the tools and organizations that will position REALTORS® to provide services to meet the expectations of future buyers and sellers. This Paper is a vision and not a roadmap. MLS in the broad, generic sense, needs to be redefined in the age of information proliferation and online participatory environments. MLS is more than an offer of compensation and cooperation, but how much more? That decision is up to you.

Being at the Center of the Conversation

It is no longer sufficient to be at the "Center of the transaction." If a REALTOR® waits until the transaction, it is too late. To be at the center of the transaction, the REALTOR® must be at the "Center of the conversation" about real property and participate with consumers far in advance of the actual listing or sale.

This of course has always been the case, and is now, more and more, taking place through visibility and participation on the Internet, through social networking and social influence marketing. MLS 5.0 on its public facing side will give consumers and REALTORS® the ability to engage and discuss, bringing them together to fulfill the long stated promise of listings on the Internet, to bring the REALTOR® and the Consumer together.

Generational aspects of communication and information access beyond current inventories of properties for sale are important considerations as the sale period of a property is merely a snapshot in the life of a property and just a part of a continuous historical record, that will now be available, easy to find in a parcel based MLS, through parcel numbers, addresses, or maybe even distinct URLs. Web 2.0 concepts and philosophies, sharing and collaborating, must be built into the MLS structure and mindset, and released for use as the political and territorial constraints allow, and as consumers demand. 

Enabling Innovation 

MLS 5.0 envisions future vendors developing valuable real estate applications without being required to source the data and develop complex aggregation and data interpretation algorithms. Through the use of Open APIs that provide access to listing data, support existing authentication, and facilitate authorization, applications that leverage existing data can be built very cost-effectively leading to a richer ecosystem of features that will benefit real estate professionals.
Example (provided by Zach Scott, CTO Point2 Technologies):

Creating an application for the iPhone and iPod Touch
All PC-based platforms will support any browser resolution and will be designed to be highly usable at any resolution above 1024x768. Point2 web logs indicate that fewer than 10% of users/visitors have resolutions below 1024x768. See for more detailed web statistics and trends.
Specific add-on modules will only be used to enhance the product and will not be required. Add-on modules such as Flash, ActiveX, or Java could be used to enhance the end-user experience for image uploading and searching, for example.
There are no specific client-side requirements beyond having a supported web-browser, an internet connection and any CPU, memory or hard drive requirements recommended by the browser’s vendor.
Ultimately to realize the MLS 5.0 vision, we will provide support for our Open APIs to enable other vendors to offer applications that leverage the listing information. Although the APIs are open, MLS 5.0 will remain in control of authorization and policy enforcement to protect access to sensitive features and data.

The APIs will be designed to fit the needs of MLS 5.0 and will likely consist of numerous REST-based and/or SOAP-based interfaces protected by SSL and other standards-based authentication and authorization mechanisms. In addition to this, client SDKs may be provided in multiple popular languages, such as PHP, Python, Java, .NET, and Ruby.

It is envisioned that numerous MLS vendors will adapt their products to work directly with MLS 5.0 via these open APIs in order to provide REALTORS® with a full featured and familiar front-end. Imagine being able to choose from a multitude of CMAs, or create your own application specific to your business. All the data can be stored in one database, and based on permissions, accessed and solutions and applications developed. In summary, the future will be a more open environment where brokers and agents can select their “Software of Choice” from numerous providers.

Single Point of Entry and Content Distribution (Syndication) - "Distribution Trumps Destination"

No one goes to just one web site; most people go to many and everyone has their favorite. It is in the best interest of the homeowner to have their listing appear on the Internet on multiple web sites, from Google, to Yahoo, to Trulia, to Craigslist, to and more. It is a lot of work for agents to enter the data multiple times. This process should be no more difficult than entering the data once and having it distributed to the media outlets of your choice, as determined by the brokers. That is why the MLS of the future will include a syndication engine with comprehensive reporting features to enhance web advertising initiatives by brokers and agents.
The traditional MLS was not created to market to the world outside of its subscribers and participants. The MLS of the future will bring a marketing service and benefit to the industry by being the single point of entry for listing data and then, based upon the election of the broker, distribute that information to web portals, newspapers, even radio and television, handheld devices and applications.
The MLS will go from being a tool for the sharing of inventory to being THE primary marketing control point for brokers and agents, and providing marketing analytics back to listing agents that will help with advertising decisions as more advertising dollars continue to be spent online in the future. The below is an old graphic but the evidence is clear, an inordinate amount of media spend is still taking place offline. Online advertising can be targeted and more effective than old media. As brokers begin to spend more money online, how will they decide where to spend their dollars for greatest effect? Tracking and analytical tools coupled with predictive marketing tools.

Advertising clout and reduction in advertising costs may be realized through buying power and packaging of purchases.
Lead Generation – With advanced Listing syndication software, all leads can and should be directed to the listing agent, at no charge. Listings are marketing assets and the leads created from the work expended to acquire the listing should go directly to the listing agent. 

Proliferation of Listing Content on the Internet – Can listing content be controlled? 

The short answer is no. If you are going to put it on the Internet, one way or another, with or without the permission of the listing broker, the content will find its way to other destinations. Because these destinations have no rules and do not police the content, there may be duplication, inaccurate and untimely (property sold a year ago) data. How does this happen? Unauthorized “scrapping” is an Internet fact of life.
Since the MLS data is policed, and since listing status is an essential component, and since the best entity to provide updated status is the MLS, perhaps MLSs can “certify” status, within a certain period of time. “MLS Certified for Sale” would be preferred web site content for destination sites and for consumers. This concept increases the awareness with consumers that they want to go to sites where the property status is “MLS Certified for Sale.”

Referral network 

A referral network where REALTORS® gain exposure and "social capital" based on their contribution to and participation in various online communities will be part of MLS 5.0. No third party referral fee - this is a benefit of participating. Gen X and Gen Y have been raised participating online, as evidenced by the explosion of Facebook and MySpace. A connection between the MLS and these social networking sites will be a feature of the MLS of the future. 

Agent Rating System

Should this be provided through the MLS or through a third party?
Some of the information that would be useful in the creation of an agent rating system is readily available through the MLS (and the association). Information such as:
         How long agent has been a member of the MLS
         How many transactions completed since joining
         Buyer sides
         Seller sides
         Volume based on sales price
         Average sale price
         Median sales price
         Consumer complaints
         Ethics complaints
This is a political hot potato. Even if the MLS does not provide a system, it could facilitate a third party in the delivery of this service to the public.
Many agents and brokers hate this idea, but consider, if you could find out before you went to a doctor or a lawyer, where they went to college, where they went to law school, where they graduated in their class, how long they have been practicing, if they have any complaints against them…would you, as a consumer, find this information valuable? If you answered yes, why would it not hold true for the real estate industry?

Neighborhood data    

Buyers typically choose a neighborhood first, then a home. Rarely do they define the neighborhood they are interested in by its zip code (which is how many MLS searches are done), and good geographical definitions of neighborhoods are not readily accessible and often have what can be referred to as “fuzzy boundaries’.” By employing the “wisdom of the crowds” and online communities, neighborhoods will be better defined to the benefit of consumers and REALTORS®.
No one can contribute and help build neighborhood data like REALTORS®. The MLS of the future will have the most comprehensive and accurate neighborhood information available on the Internet. A Facebook application, currently deployed by Point2, will assist in this effort.    
Sold Data

There are political hurdles to overcome, but one of the biggest lures of eyeballs to web sites is the promise of sold data. Consumers want the information and have proven that they will settle for anything, even inaccurate data. The owners of the most accurate historical sold data are the MLSs. There is no aggregated sold data in existence that is as good as the sold data contained within our MLSs. Making certain aspects of that data available to consumers, with the statement to always consult a REALTOR® when attempting to determine value, would be valuable in the battle for the consumer's attention on the Web, and valuable to REALTORS® as well. It is interesting to note that sold data is available on the web, yet one of the places you will not find it is on a REALTORS® web site (with some exceptions). All brokers and agents want more traffic to their sites, and they do not want to buy leads…and they have the asset that will help them rule the online world of real estate, and they don’t use that asset for fear of losing control. 

Strong Authentication (Two Factor Authentication)

Various processes and methods of authentication may be provided as determined by the local/regional/state MLS when appropriate and timely. While it is generally felt that more security will prevent or at least minimize revenue erosion, it could also serve to position the MLS as the location for the initial sign in of participants and subscribers. As MLSs create trusted relationships or federations with other organizations, the strongest required authentication partner would likely be the controlling federation and identity partner.  

SSO - Single Sign-On 

Convenience and the ability to sign into other secure web locations after first signing into the MLS with the ease of a click.  
  • From MLS to other Local MLS
  • From MLSto Local Association
  • From MLS to State Association
  • From MLS to National Association (
  • From MLS to transaction related sites (Winforms/Relay) 
  • From MLS to third-party web marketing platforms and agent and broker web sites
  • From MLS to third-party CRM (customer relationship management) solutions
  • From MLS to third-party social networking sites (such as currently being done from Rapattoni MLSs to RealTown)
  • From MLS to non-real estate related sites: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, gmail, etc.
  • ???

Online Communities

Consumers will assemble around a website with accurate sold data and property listing data. Social networking tools such as blogs, groups, bulletin boards, and other community tools, should be readily available as this is where the “online conversation” will take place. Communities can be open and they can be private, depending on the desire of the “community organizers.” Virtual prospecting may replace “face to face” prospecting in the next generation and beyond and MLS 5.0 on its public facing side will fulfill the vision of bringing the consumer and the REALTOR® together on the Internet. 

Local, Regional, State, or National MLS

Real estate is local, but technology today will allow for great economies of scale, lower prices for a better MLS tool, user-defined experience and more. In the past, each MLS or locale, had their own idiosyncrasies, definitions, terms, all “essential” to that particular local MLS. Today, with so much information available beyond the MLS, are all of those different fields still necessary, in light of the benefit that can be derived from creating standards…not technology standards, but standard terms?
Is there a technology solution that would allow for the mapping of data so that every local MLS can retain all of their information fields? There is, a data dictionary of sorts, similar in concept to what was referred to as DXM (Data Exchange Method) during the REALTORS® Information Network Project (RIN) back in the mid 1990s, but it is not a necessarily easy task and this solution would likely take longer.
There is the fear for some that someone with access to listing information in their area will invade their territory and carpetbag some business. In light of this fear, some want to attempt to keep the listing information proprietary to their respective MLS participants and subscribers. The next generation of home buyers, sellers and REALTORS® won’t stand for it, they will insist on more transparency and freer flow of the listing and marketing information.
The real benefit in boundary-less access to information is in the ability to provide information to one’s relocating client, not the ability to sell a home down in San Diego to a buyer from Los Angeles. A Los Angeles broker would be able to provide information to their customer and refer them, better armed with knowledge about the San Diego market, to a San Diego broker. Great advances are being made to regionalize or share MLS data in mega markets in California and also in other areas of the country. These efforts are steps in the right direction.
Part Five in this series will be published next week.


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