I am here in New Orleans, at the annual NAR Convention. This city, and this convention, are landscapes of contrast. Coming in from the airport, the cab driver took a back route to my hotel, and showed me the ugly, rotting buildings with the black water marks above the second stories. And then, like magic, we enter the green, gold, and purple lights of the party area-- New Orleans dressed up and ready to jazz.
The contrast shows in the faces of the attendees, too—I’ve been to a couple of formal functions which are glitter and big hair and multi-media presentations. And then yesterday, I watched the Realtors who’d been cleaning parks and pounding Habitat nails come back to the convention center, hot, sweaty and bug-bitten and rightfully proud of their day of labor.
I’ve been sitting through some meetings which are indicative of the Janus faces of this convention. So many wasted moments, I am thinking. My job as an association manager is to create products and services which will meet the needs of an industry which is reinventing itself. My job is to see beyond the intense desire to close Pandora’s box of technology and consumer demands and the erosion of tradition. At the same time, I must be open to new ideas, threatening as they may be to the familiar pain of the status quo. That’s why I come to this convention: to renew, rebuild my vision.
This morning I endured some inflated and enthusiastic presentations on “trends of significance” to association managers. I learned about some reporting changes for RPAC, a proposed readjustment in the way officers are nominated at NAR, and the how realtor.com is going to change its mapping programs and cosmeticize its website. Then, this afternoon, we talked about how to enforce MLS rules relating to owner signs on Exclusive Agency listings. Heady stuff, this….
Ok, I think. When do we get to the good part?
It wasn’t until David Charron gave his presentation at the MLS administrators’ forum that the ‘good part’ began to take shape for me. David, CEO of one of the largest MLS operations in the US, issued a resonating challenge to MLS managers and staff, a challenge which cannot be ignored. “Human and political factors”, said Charron, “can hinder the transmission of (MLS) content as much as technical factors.
“As an industry, we have not delivered on the promise of regionalization to our brokers. At least not lately. If we had, why has so little changed in the last 10 years?
Just as associations 10 years ago feared loss of their cash cow, now we as MLS’ fail to consistently see beyond the local market. And if we do, sometimes we don’t like the view. Maybe we are protecting our cash cows as well?
“Maybe those of us charged with creating the future have too great a stake in the status quo?”
Whoa, David! Them’s fighting words! I mean, we’re MLS professionals. We know our jobs, and we’ve tried reciprocal agreements, data sharing, and regionalization, and mergers, and….and…..
No, David says, it’s not working: “… even today, the local nature of the MLS continues to inhibit the potential of a contemporary MLS. The result is – 900 custom systems trying to deliver content management services to a customer base that has outgrown the local nature of the MLS. The custom and localized nature of these systems has made any attempt at standardizing the dataset seem a monumental task.”
Standardizing the database? Gasp. You mean a NATIONAL MLS??? Or a (heaven forefend!) COMMON VENDOR???
Not for a minute do I mean that, says David. “What I do suggest is that we look for the commonality of the systems and promote the adoption and deployment of standards that support this commonality.
“Let's do this first and let the governance catch up with the process. Otherwise we will be mired in politics and conflicting policies while our customers, all of them, go out of business.”
We are dying of a disease, David explains. It’s infectious and it’s spreading: it’s called ‘Overlapping Market Disorder’. Can it be cured? Yes….and some of the tools are already out there, RETS being one. But this biggest and most powerful tool is not technology, it’s OUR attitude. “Now is the perfect time for all of us as MLS executives to work together with the same sense of cooperation that defines the very industry, indeed the very customers we serve.”
‘Overlapping Market Disorder?’ That’s a disease? Hey, man…that’s my source of cash. Think of all those non-resident listings I’d loose. And those secondary members that have to join my MLS to cover their market area. THAT’S my job—make money for my MLS business….. Besides which, there’s no commonality with the MLS that is next to ours: they have totally different business rules, and they don’t have fines for late listings, and........
The symbol that dominates New Orleans these days is the fleur-des-lys. It’s everywhere—on flags, tourist items, glassware in restaurants. This ancient heraldic and religious design has taken on a new meaning in a city which is rebuilding itself amid the ruins of its proud and flamboyant past.
One particular legend about the fleur-des-lys tells a story in which the warrior Clovis, on his way to fight the king of Aquitania Alaric in the year 500, was searching in vain for a ford to cross a river, when a doe, frightened by the soldiers, jumped across the river along a ford that only it knew. The whole army then followed. On the banks, wild yellow irises grew in abundance: Clovis jumped off his horse, picked one and put it on his helmet as a symbol of his future victory. Thereafter did the kings of France use the fleur- des-lys as their emblem.
I’m not going to belabor the parallel…you are all smart enough to get it. But perhaps those of us who are willing to better understand the business drivers, and the technical and political challenges that hinder the adoption and deployment of standards across markets might place a tiny fleur-des-lys on our websites or business cards as a symbol of our willingness to move forward. Taking the first step toward crossing the barrier of Overlapping Market Disorder is not difficult. As David Charron suggests: “I encourage you to take … steps in your own market. To turn these steps into actions is as easy as picking up the phone and calling your peer who operates the MLS next to you.”