Where should the MLS end and the IDX begin?

The whole ruckus over the NWMLS no longer sending its member’s listings to realtor.com inspired many unlit pixels of commentary and many more wasted bytes of hard drive space. As I pondered a while ago, the industry appears to have a healthy appetite for technology. However, one of the comments was really insightful….

I still feel that this decision made by the board was wrong. As was the decision last year to disable the client email updates from Locator. We have the technology but are unwilling to use it. I have no love of REALTOR.com but I see no problem with sharing a limited set of data with them and offering our sellers maximum exposure of their listing. In fact, perhaps one of the reasons they discontinued the feed was because as Galen said, “Realtor.com was given the exclusive non-broker feed…” and they were getting pressure from Google and others to get a similar feed. I say give it to them. NWMLS has the ability to provide its members, all of them, with the technology usually reserved only for those with very deep pockets.

The whole thing got me wondering if this just a tactic for the big brokers to keep their upstarts at bay? Because of the MLS system, the big brokers share their listings inventory, with the smaller and independent brokers. However, perhaps the big brokers want the technology out of the MLS, because it harms the smaller upstarts without withholding listings from them?

Maybe there’s a less nefarious motivation. Since the NWMLS board appears to be dominated by members that belong to big brokers, perhaps they don’t want the NWMLS spending its’ limited computing resources (at the end of the day, even the Google’s & Microsoft’s have limited budgets, they just have a few more zeros at the end than most of us do) in areas where a big broker’s IT department or a motivated IDX vendor could do a better job. Regardless of the motivations, it does bring an interesting issue to light.

What should the MLS responsibilities be in terms of listing change notification, statistics/reporting, automated listing distribution, listing access via mobile devices or any number of things that either an MLS or an IDX vendor could provide?

I’m sure the big brokers are less enthusiastic about this type of thing because some have probably already invented these kind of technologies in house years ago (and paid for it out of their own pocket). They probably also see the MLS as competition for viewer eyeballs and would rather the MLS make it easier to combine listings data across their empires instead of being a shared technology provider. MLS regionalization is probably much higher on their MLS IT wish list. After all, the point of an MLS is to share listings data, not share listings technology.

The independent agents and the smaller brokers, probably want the MLS to provide these services, so they don’t have invest any more money in their IDX vendor / IT infrastructure that they don’t have to. I also suspect a lot people in that market segment see technology as an expense and not as an investment. They only want it, if they don’t have to pay for it.

As for me, I’m just an IDX vendor (I don’t have a dog in the fight). From my biased perspective, the less the MLS does, the more valuable my technology becomes, the more useful my services become, and the more opportunities for paying customers I get. I want you to spend money on your IT infrastructure and your IDX vendor! Apparently, the big brokers want you to do the same via their MLS policy direction!

28 thoughts on “Where should the MLS end and the IDX begin?

  1. IMHO – One of the major benefits of the MLS should be to provide services it can provide to us due to economy of scale. Yes the independents want these technologies and NWMLS has the ability to provide them. Yes, if they provided all the services that some other MLS’s provide, I’d be looking for another line of work. I can live with that.

    Here’s a few numbers to chew on:
    There are about 1800 offices in NWMLS excluding branch offices. Windermere has about 4.5%, John L Scott about 2.75%, RE/MAX about 3%. Coldwell Banker, Century 21, Keller Williams, Prudential and Skyline total about 4%. 85.75% of the offices are independents!

    Of the 17 board members, only 5 are independent, or 30%.

    Agent counts give different percentages of course – the biggest companies have the most agents. But remember, NWMLS is broker owned and only brokers have the right to vote or make decisions.

  2. Jan,

    Some of our agents asked if they could sign the petition. Is the petition for only Broker Members to sign, or can they sign too? They know we will be sending to RDC either way, but they would like to support the rights of other small companies by signing the petition. Usually NWMLS only looks at broker members and not agent members.

    Let me know.

  3. I think the NWMLS pulling the R.com feed was a dumb move since it was a free service that it used to provide for the membership. The fact that it added additional costs and/or red tape for brokers and IDX vendors made it even stranger.

    Jan, of course you’re correct, that if the MLS did everything it could, the need for our IDX services would be signifiganty reduced. It might also increase the membership dues for everybody in the MLS (included those who don’t want any technology other than the bare minimum needed to serve clients). I’m sure all the BIG IP stuff and the Rapattoni software the NWMLS uses has isn’t cheap. Also, somebody has to write and maintain all that software and skilled software engineers are a bit pricey too. Should all members be forced to pay for features they don’t want?

    However, I am curious how the NWMLS board sets the technology agenda for the MLS. A big brokerage has different demands of their MLS than a smaller one would and axing the R.com feed (instead of implementing selective participation) seems like an odd decision to make.

    Regardless of what happens to the R.com feed, it’ll be very interesting to see if this the begining of a trend or not.

  4. As the NWMLS spreads to other counties (Pacific County just joined us) there are more subscribers paying dues, and more money. Dues have actually gone down. Rapattoni provides new features all the time that we could have with the flick of a switch. Our clients could be receiving real time listings updates directly from Locator, but the board voted against that last year. Another very close vote and the beginning of this trend. I just looked at “Feature Spotlights” linked from the Locator homepage, and see something called “Client Portal – See how easy it is to give your clients online access to manage their own prospect carts.” That sounds like a neat feature, but it isn’t there when I go to Prospects in Locator.

    Technology agenda? I’ve asked several times about the technology committee at NWMLS and finally learned that it doesn’t exist. “NWMLS’s committees are ad hoc and serve entirely at the discretion of the Board. We have not had a need as of yet.”

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  7. Why do you think the board is preventing new features from being deployed (or in certain cases, removing deployed features from production)? Do you think it’s a means for the big broker to level the playing field so it’s in their favor, or are there other reasons that I’m not seeing at work?

    Not having a technology committee would explain an awful lot. I suppose we should be thankful they actually have technology employees to keep Evernet running… However, giving the increasing importance of IT to the industry, I’m surprised more planning isn’t going on.

    Michael & Dustin – Where do these splogs come from? I think I’ll go splog hunting this weekend.. 😉

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  9. What can you do about a splog? Anything? It looked really odd seeing Robbie’s post word for word over there published by “admin”. Doesn’t that duplicate content hurt RCG in the Search Engines?

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