Back when I was just getting started as a Loan Officer, my first big break was being introduced by a REALTOR® at the Jefferson County Board of REALTORS® monthly breakfast meeting. That day, I officially joined my first real estate based social network. Technology had come a long way since the days of index card file cabinets and MLS books. In Denver, an agent could pull potential listings through a device that looked something like a cross between a telephone and a typewriter. Shortly after, agents could even access the MLS via the web.
Not a lot has changed since the first days of MLS access. Agents and brokers use the MLS as their primary distribution hub for sharing listings between other agents and to the public. From a technology standpoint, the MLS structure fits the client/server model. Brokers and agents (the clients) share listings with the MLS (the server) who then shares those listings with other clients. This system has served the MLS structure well, but as the value of data is realized, some brokers and agents see the status quo as a hinderance to building a competitive advantage, especially when old guard MLS politics begin to suffocate innovation.
Enter peer-to-peer sharing.
The concept of P2P sharing, popularized by Napster in the 90s, is largely responsible for fundamentally disrupting the music industry. Instead of a server that each client must talk to, the clients simply talk to each other. Each client is also a server. In real estate, a peer to peer (P2P) network could be as simple as a network of brokers who publish their own listings to feeds that they syndicate to each other.
We’re already seeing a business case for their creation today. Agents and brokers are using online networks to share pocket listings and pre-MLS listings. Frank Llosa, broker/owner of FranklyRealty.com, recently started “coming soon” Facebook forums in several markets and launched PreMLS.com. David Faudman, the CEO of Top Agent Network, has established an exclusive network of top producers for sharing listings that likely never make it to the MLS. Technically, these are still client/server relationships, but this model would be better served with P2P platforms.
While there are diverging views on whether or not pocket listings are good for real estate, technology has now made it very easy for agents and brokers to do it.
While P2P sharing is in its infancy today, I believe there’s a high potential that you’ll see this model used to share pocket and MLS listing data in the future. The MLS will simply be another client, not the server. Just as this self-published blog syndicates an RSS feed to its subscribers, brokers and agents have the technology in place to syndicate their own listing data. Bigger brokers have done it for years, but now that RETS has become an industry standard data set, building a listing feed isn’t a lot more difficult than building an RSS feed for a blog. The technology allows the broker to take control of how their listings are shared, and with whom (other brokers, publishers, data analytics companies like LPS…). The MLS would simply be another channel that brokers syndicate to (or not).
Should MLS executives freak out? No. So long as the MLS focuses on their core value proposition, they will survive. However, last week’s departure of Bob Bemis from Zillow was the result of frustration around their lack of progress in building direct relationships with MLSes. Meanwhile, a silent majority of brokers and agents want their listings on Zillow. MLSes need to decide if providing listing distribution is one of their value propositions. If so, working directly with the portals is something they really ought to consider. Zillow isn’t going to give up on securing direct listings, but they may give up on getting them through the MLS.
Organized real estate is a centuries old social network. Its primary reason for being is to share listing data. MLSes need to make sure they aren’t perceived as the bottleneck for that sharing.
Photo: Creative Commons license via Flickr user Gruenewiese86