The case for a small, local MLS

I literally grew up with MLS books. My relationship with them started when they were re-tasked as a booster seat by my mother. One of my most prized real estate memorabilia is an MLS book from the Greenwich Multiple Listing Service. While I don’t know if it continues to be published today, my copy is from October 27th, 2011… Yes, 2011. For the sake of this article, I’m going to assume they still publish it.

mlsbookWhen most REALTORS® see my copy of this MLS book, their reaction is to make an immediate judgement that the Greenwich MLS is a dinosaur. I have the exact opposite opinion. While GAR serves its 1000 members online, they continue to provide services like the listing book because, quite simply, that’s what their members want. MLSs are not technology companies. They are member organizations.

I think it’s important to step back and think about what an MLS’s highest value proposition to its members is. My friend Bill Lublin explained it well in this post:

As the MLS developed as a business tool it went from 3×5 cards on a cork board at weekly luncheons to printed cards and books collecting and sorting the information by area and company, to computer databases shared by its members. But its purpose never changed. In fact, the MLS Policies suggested by NAR, and used by most of the 970 MLSs states, “The purpose of multiple listing is the orderly correlation and dissemination of listing information to participants so they may better serve the buying and selling public.” – seems simple doesn’t it?

MLSs offer tons of value added services beyond the scope of their highest value proposition, but this is only thing they absolutely have to get right.

Recently, Cameron M. Paine released a report that’s makes a case for statewide MLSs. As CEO of the Connecticut Multiple Listing Service, I assume he would assimilate the Greenwich MLS into his own if he could. Cameron makes a good case for combining resources and market efficiencies, but in reading his report, my gut reaction tells me the MLS book would be the first thing to go. Publishing this book may not make sense for the rest of the state. For Greenwich, maybe it still does.

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote. – Benjamin Franklin

This isn’t really about the listing book; it’s about how the needs of a local market aren’t necessarily served by a statewide MLS. Cameron argues that statewide MLSs could better compete with Zillow and Trulia, but why do they need to? MRED, one of the nation’s largest MLSs has no public facing search portal and their brokers seem to love them for it. MLSs do not need to have a public facing website to serve their members well.

Their are further arguments for consolidating the technology infrastructure cost by combining MLSs. But I’d argue that it’s getting cheaper to run an MLS if you do it right. RAMCO has driven down the cost of association management software. RPR has given an option for MLSs to access large amounts of public data. RETS has revolutionized the way MLSs “talk” to members, publishers, syndicators, and each other. Social media has made member communications more affordable. Software companies like RED, Core Logic, and Solid Earth have made it far easier to host the infrastructure needed to run an MLS.

If you’re a small MLS that wants to stay a small MLS, don’t give up. Consolidation might be the best option, but there’s also a path that includes independence through adoption of affordable technology solutions and more focus on the highest value proposition to your membership. Besides, I want to have kids someday, and they’re going to need a booster seat…


3 thoughts on “The case for a small, local MLS

  1. J. Philip Faranda

    Todd this is one of those areas where I have to respectfully disagree. I work in a market area with numerous small, fragmented MLS systems essentially serving parts of the same region. I have to pay dues to 5 systems just to cover my territory. Three towns 15 minutes from each other are in 3 different MLS’s. That’s not good.

    1. Todd Carpenter Post author

      That’s a completely valid argument.. I’m not sure there’s a right answer for every region. My point is that consolidation is not the only answer.

  2. Judith Lindenau

    I agree with you, Todd: there is a strong case to be made for professional, cooperating real estate business networks on a local level…and certainly the real estate business has many local customs and ways of doing business. The key is, I think, to separate the technology from the business protocol and expectations that do vary from region to region, sometimes quite significantly. I think you make a valid point in saying that the MLS is very simply, the orderly accumulation of listing data and the offer of cooperation. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is that a significant number of MLS users (and the public) don’t understand the difference between an MLS and an advertising cooperative.


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