Who "Won't" Leave Well Enough Alone?

Several years ago I was invited to be on a panel at one of the first T3 Summit meetings in Las Vegas. And the topic to be discussed was, “what if the MLS were to be reinvented by the brokers. What would it look like?”

Needless to say, as much as I dislike being on panels, this was an opportunity that I jumped on! Why? Because for a very long time I have discussed the issues broker have with the MLS and I have ”sketched” various alternative models for a new data management and data publishing platform.

"Oh I get it Ken, you mean the design for a new MLS, right?” No, you are actually wrong.

You see, the MLS that serves the industry today is incapable of change. I have learned that adapting the MLS to the demands of the brokers of today simply cannot be done. This is the case of a horse that cannot be changed in the middle of the stream.” But change is needed so what must be done now? What is needed now is an entirely new data management system.

This is where I believe that “two must become one.”

On that panel that day in Las Vegas I said that what the brokers would assure if they rebuilt the MLS would be choice. Total choice with whom they share their data with, compensate in sales, cooperate with and with whom they would agree license their data. No blanket policies or rules and no fines for non-compliance because their would be no set rules. The data management platform would be focused on a custom data solution for each and every listing and no two “data management profiles” would necessarily look alike. Needless to say, the MLS experts on the panel went crazy, but suffice it to say that the audience of brokers listened very closely. But sadly very little change has happened.

Since that time, I have watched as the MLS sinks deeper and deeper into issues with industry conflict and now as it struggles to preserve its lifelong fight for maintaining the “status quo” facing significant legal issues with the consumer and governmental oversight challenges from the DOJ.

Add to that this fact, this ongoing dilemma. The MLS was never intended for public use. You see, the MLS was originally designed as an industry database for the use of the industry. And as such, it was never intended to be the marketing face of the industry’s products, namely listings. I can still recall the days when we entered the listing data into the MLS and then we worked wit the marketing team to prepare the listing for publication to the consumer. They were two separate databases of content and information; one intended for B2C consumption and the other intended for B2B use.

But then something pivotal happened.

Along came the Internet and the only database we had as an industry to publish was the B2B MLS database. Ouch! We did not have a “feed” of the marketing database housed within each brokerage company so what did we do? We syndicated the B2B database to the B2C audience of consumers on the portals. And bingo, the problems with the quality of the online consumer experience were born. Consumers wanted to see the rich marketing content and all they saw was the bare bones MLS data we uploaded from the MLS online. Our opportunity to post nearly unlimited amounts of rich marketing content without paying for the ads was doomed from launch.

And so the MLS, by default, became the face of the residential brokerage industry to the consumer. First with the MLS feeds sent to Realtor.com and then all of the other portals followed.

Unbelievably, this situation has never changed since that time.

As much as we would like to upload rich marketing content, we have no way to do so in the MLS. Either the MLS tech will not support it or the portals will not publish it. To this day most of the rich marketing content resides outside of the places where the most consumers go to shop - on the portals. That is why brokers and agents today are forced to publish unique property pages or web sites that link the consumer away from the portal search experience. Not a good thing. Furthermore, and as a result, what the consumer sees on the portals represents only a fraction of the marketing content that we generate to market and sell the properties.

So fast forward to today. The following article published on Inman News got me thinking about this MLS dilemma all over again. Not that I am suggesting that RealHub has it all figured out, but I think they make some good points about how what we are doing today that is not working and how it might be improved. Shouldn’t the data management system be one with the portals?

So think about it. What if the world of real estate data management and marketing was different. What if they were aligned? Like an industry B2B data aggregation platform meets a platform of full data management choice meets the marketing department’s content meets the display of that content to the consumer meets leads on all listings redirected back to the listing brokerage company? Moreover, what if the data management system and the portals were one platform?

And what if that platform was a single, perfectly integrated industry utility? More like B2C2B. Wouldn’t that be cool and wouldn't that serve to help alter the uncertain course of our industry today?

I think then we would have an opportunity to genuinely impact the consumer real estate shopping, selling and buying experience. Amazing things would result. And we would be able to operate our business with a "content platform fed by data” and not the “data platform absent the content” as we do today.

So what now?

Over the 38 years I have been in this business I have learned many things and I have helped to facilitate many changes. But this may be the single most important thing that I have learned about the evolution of change.

Everything amazing begins by being something that was once envisioned to be even more amazing. Bezos didn’t stop at selling books online because from Day One Bezos saw so much more he could do online with his platform than to just sell books. He had envisioned the limitless distribution of everything while the rest of the world was fixated on selling books.

This is a great industry and as I have said before, each and every broker has the full capability of charting the course of their company's future. There is no doubt that brokers are even more powerful when they work together, but each broker individually now has the power to begin the creation of something amazing. The only limitation is our ability to "stretch our minds beyond the realities that limit our thinking today” and to then be motivated enough to lead our business past the many challenges to a new level of success.

So who out there wakes up each day like I do with the clear understanding that change is needed and therefore that you “won't" leave well enough alone?

I am confident that we can do it as an industry because I know individually, each one of you want to do it. And the only real question remaining is, when do we begin?