The following is a high-level overview of a session from Clareity Consulting’s 2007 MLS Executive Workshop. Every year the Clareity Workshop provides fresh, in-depth updates on the most pressing issues facing MLS executives and leaders and creates an intimate environment for participants to share their knowledge and experience with each other. You can check the dates and/or register for next year’s event on the Clareity Consulting web site.
Accurate listing content is one of the greatest strengths of the Multiple Listing Service, and is one of the greatest barriers to entry for outside companies that think replacing local MLS organizations is easy. Even MLS subscribers don’t always understand the entire value of the MLS –- in one recent survey Clareity performed for a regional MLS, an agent asked, “Why am I paying so much for MLS when the consumer gets it for free from Realtor.com and other web sites?” Our answer to that question is that the data has to come from somewhere, and if it’s not accurate, it has nowhere near the value to the real estate professional — or to the consumer — when it is posted on an advertising web site. Maintaining listing accuracy is a constant battle for MLS staff, but thankfully there are new tools that can be added to the traditional arsenal, making MLS staff more efficient while improving the accuracy of the database and the value of the asset.
There are several ways to approach data compliance –- some old and some new — each with different capabilities, advantages and disadvantages:
1. MLS Listing Maintenance Business Rules
This is the best place to enforce many areas of data quality. Unfortunately thorough controls are rare -– sometimes Clareity even finds MLSs that don’t even ensure a valid link between state, county, city, zip code and school district, let alone some of the more complicated checks. Some MLSs have not explored adding additional checks at this level while others fear possible MLS vendor programming charges. Keep in mind that MLS subscribers are adept at finding ways around MLS system checks, and rule adjustments may take additional time and possibly money.
2. Manual Review by MLS Staff
Some of the checks performed by staff are the types that would be better enforced during listing maintenance, but it’s important to have staff review items that computers don’t yet have the capability to check –- especially the content of media such as photos, virtual tours, documents, and videos. But manual review is often not thorough or reliable; it is difficult to look through all new or changed listings in a timely way, before the listing is sent to Realtor.com or other sites. It can also be seen as unfair (“The MLS staff is picking on me.”). Still, there’s a place for manual review -– it’s just one part of a comprehensive compliance toolkit.
3. Community Reporting
If there is an easy way for MLS subscribers to anonymously report bad information when viewing a listing and if they are encouraged to do so, this method can save staff time during manual reviews and also keep the staff abreast of new tricks for dodging the methods already in place to catch issues. There are dozens of areas where community reporting is the best or only way to track bad information, including entry of inaccurate listing physical attributes, an unreported change in price or media issues as described above. Like the manual review, this method leads to the “picking on me” complaint -– but it’s still an important part of compliance checking.
Ideally, both staff manual review and community reporting all feed into an automated compliance system so that issues can be tracked and dealt with efficiently.
4. Automated Compliance System Testing
These systems are the latest and greatest addition to the MLS compliance toolkit, and less than 10% of MLSs utilize them to date. They improve compliance staff efficiency, are fast, reliable and impartial and can catch a wide variety of bad information, including but not limited to fair housing keyword violations, invalid address, incorrect area, re-listing (tricking DOM), agent and office mismatch, late submission, secretary as the listing agent, listing price (or other fields) that must not be zero, property address in remarks, agent contact information in remarks or other misuse of free-form text fields, duplicate listings by the same agent/broker/office, and late reporting of pending or final sale.
These automated compliance systems have hundreds of features that differentiate them, but at a high level, they do most of the same things –- allowing MLS staff to set rules, run automatic daily checks, accept manually caught violations, report violations and repeat offenses, take or allow manual courses of action (ignore, continue, hold for review, or mark corrected), send notifications, detect corrections, report repeat offenses per listing, agent or office, and create fine exports.
There are several approaches to automated compliance checking. Last year Solid Earth introduced “Citation Manager,” a tool built right into their MLS system. Other vendors will likely follow with built-in tools of their own. Clareity also knows of two regional MLSs that have chosen to build their own automated compliance system using staff resources. For most MLSs though, the short- to medium-term solution will likely involve licensing an add-on tool. At the present time, Clareity is aware of three market leading add-on tools:
- iMapp -– iCheck™
- PropertyInfo (Stewart Title) — Listing Checker
- MarketLinx (First American) -– MLS Data Checker (MDC)
Clareity tracks the features of each of these systems extensively, and each has a number of advantages and disadvantages depending on the needs of the MLS. Unfortunately, the length allotted to this article precludes an in-depth review of each.
All of the products have opportunities for further evolution. The most desired additional feature, according to those who already use such systems, is fax notification of violations. We also will likely see additional deeper system integrations that enable new kinds of automated tests. Ideally all of these products will eventually evolve to include a complete compliance toolkit that goes beyond data compliance, covering IDX web site compliance testing, and use of search engine integration to look for listings and media outside of approved sites on the Internet.
Together, robust MLS listing maintenance business rules, manual thorough listing review by MLS staff, community reporting mechanisms, and automated compliance system testing comprise a toolkit that can help maintain the greatest strength of the MLS, accurate data. Clareity Consulting encourages its clients to use all of these methods to their fullest and explore the new options for automated compliance testing.
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