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2009-02-12 17:33:16

MLS Public Facing Websites – Build or Buy?


Progressive MLSs have adopted new thinking and launched platforms designed to generate more exposure and leads for their Subscribers and Participants. Approximately four hundred MLSs in the United States have now introduced consumer-facing websites to allow home buyers and sellers to research local listings as they would on sites such as, Yahoo!, Point2 Homes, Trulia, Zillow, VAST and other final destination web portals. Some are better than others. Several are world-class.
For many MLSs contemplating launching a public-facing site, the big question is whether to build their own or to buy an existing solution.
One of the advantages of hiring a technology team and building the solution in-house is control and choice. The ability to choose functionality and to deploy resources at will can be very attractive, such as the ability to develop unique features that may not be part of an existing, out-of-the-box solution. A custom solution may address this issue but always at the expense of time and money.
Counterpoints to the “build it yourself” route include:
Distraction – As an MLS, focusing on data integrity, customers and value-add services is paramount. Introducing a technology development department is a significant undertaking that will dilute management’s focus on its core mission. If the right management structure is not in place, and necessary additions are introduced, the potential negative impact cannot be overstated.
Technology Know How – Building and maintaining a world class portal requires serious technical knowledge and expertise. It’s also an ongoing process that necessitates constant networking and contact within the technology industry. Technologies deployed might be adequate today but will quickly become obsolete or require constant updates to stay at the leading edge with a solution that consistently meets consumer expectations. Maintaining adequate relationships with third parties to enable functionality such as listing syndication or traffic reporting and tools is extremely taxing. Ongoing challenges such as search engine optimization will intensify over time, easily overshadowing the excitement of the first release of a “build it yourself” site, often within weeks or days.
High Cost –  The idea of bringing on a team and releasing half or part of its members when the site is launched might be appealing. This notion is in fact flawed. If anything, the team may need to grow instead. The added cost of staffing, employee benefits, computer hardware and software will be substantial. Considering that tens of millions of investment dollars have gone into the development and upkeep of some of the popular consumer search sites on the WWW today, and that many of these organizations will continue to require funding until they turn profitable, the drag on the financials of an MLS may be overwhelming.
Some MLSs have done very well with in-house teams. For the majority, however, the option to buy versus build is probably the best alternative. If you choose this route, partnering with a vendor i) who has a proven track record, ii) whose core business is technology development and, iii) who has staying power would be critical considerations.

(Saul Klein is a REALTOR® and nationally recognized speaker and consultant who, over the last 16 years, has spent more than 15,000 hours in front of real estate professionals, consumers, association staffs and volunteers. Over the past 15 years he has traveled over 1,500,000 miles delivering a message on technology and its role in the future of the real estate industry. Saul was selected by the National Association Of REALTORS® as one of the “25 Most Influential People in the Real Estate Industry” in 2003 and one of the “100 Most Influential Real Estate People” by Inman News in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.)

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