Merri Jo Cowen led a fabulous CMLS 2011 Conference, hosted by the wonderful staff of the Tucson Association of Realtors, led by Phil Tedesco and joined by Wes Wiggins, who left to run Regional MLS in Florida earlier this year. The event was held at the Westin La Paloma, which was nostalgic for me, since it’s where Clareity Consulting held its first conference, “Law and Order in Information Commerce”, back in 1998.
View of Tucson – Council of MLS 2011
I dislike conferences where we talk and talk and talk but there’s nothing practical for my clients to do, so I was pleased that this conference had some good takeaways, both big and small:
Consider a board of directors not based on geography, rather one that is lean and mean, whose members bring reason, passion, and specific knowledge. Consider outside directors. Other suggestions that I was somewhat less keen on but merit consideration were to include consumers, paying board members and having a stock purchase requirement.
Thomas Brown Esq. suggested that our current industry status as a “consortiums of competitors” is untenable. We’re not going to get an exemption like Major League Baseball, and can’t continue to keep butting heads with the government and pay the “antitrust tax” like BMI, ASCAP, and others. We should learn from companies that solved that problem for themselves such as Visa, MasterCard, Star, NASDAQ, and the NYSE. Options include diluting the influence of the board of directors, creating diluted public ownership or true public ownership. Otherwise we will continue to be a litigation target. The question is, who will lead this governance change, and will anyone follow?
Several speakers were on the data standards bandwagon. Rebecca Jensen was just wonderful in talking to that point. Brian Boero wants to see a ‘data socket’ to all MLS data in one place. Innovation plugs in to that socket, with royalties going back to MLSs (and possibly back to brokers) for value provided. That’s an interesting vision. I certainly agree that data standards can fuel innovation and efficiencies. MLSs should participate in RESO (rets.org) and adopt the most current data standards. Too many MLSs are still using RETS 1.5 – a version created back in 2003 – rather than the current version. Important changes in the standard are afoot – keep up!
A number of speakers urged further consolidation and collaboration of MLSs as a key to provide the funding needed for innovation and to improve service offerings at lower cost. I’m sure the trend of consolidation and collaboration between MLSs will continue.
A number of speakers seemed to have a misconception about what the MLS is. One said that “Zillow is 2 fields away from being from being an MLS.” MLSs are not a database of listings, they are companies that field a wide variety of technologies and provide extensive services – too numerous to get into in this post. I believe we need to combat this misperception – among ourselves, members, and beyond.
Listing syndication was discussed. Intermountain MLS sends data to Trulia for “Direct Reference” under strict contract and got report back about the sources of bad data. Carl Demusz from NORMLS created RETS Genie, which normalizes and syndicates MLS data. Kurt von Wasmuth (Portland) said, “We’re not doing enough to educate the brokers” regarding syndication – something I agree completely with. More information about listing syndication can be found in Clareity’s white paper, “Syndication to Real Estate Portals: Problems and Solutions” http://shar.es/b3vNq
MLS public websites were discussed. Cool website features to look for include home values, price reductions search, Walkscore, lifestyle information, lots of photos, video, and statistics back to brokers/agents showing the value of the website. MLSs advertise their site on Zillow, Facebook, Google, sports events, radio, vehicle wraps, and billboards. Thank you, Bob Hale, for pointing out how crazy it is that as an industry we still have to sell the value of public websites in 2011.
We discussed the MLS IDX policy. The NAR PAG recognizes social media as a fact of life and that policy needs to admit it exists – but details aren’t done yet, or at least weren’t discussed at CMLS. At this point the PAG thinks that brokers should opt-in or out to franchise display like they do for any other third party. Basically, the current policy should be rescinded, so franchisers are not a part of IDX. This is 100% in line with my thinking. Dealing with complaints about IDX rules violations has been a material expense for most MLSs. Medium and large MLSs have IDX and VOW compliance managers and even compliance departments that deal with multiple aspects of data quality. My sister company Clareity Security is putting out some cool compliance tools, complementary to the IDX and VOW compliance services that I currently provide some of my MLS clients. There were lots of other IDX topics – new compliance tools, mobile IDX, social media and RSS. There’s a lot left to work out. There are some ideas for new ways to distribute data but changing the way hundreds of IDX vendors and thousands of brokers get their data may be tricky and I hope everyone developing such methods works with the newly formed RESO organization on any new way to transport data.
There was a legal session and some key points were as follows: Regarding listing syndication: data is going to places the brokers don’t think it should be going and the data isn’t good – so a broker could get tagged by a state agency for inaccurate/outdated data. What is the standard of care? There’s no easy answer. John Rees said that when negotiating with a syndication channel (or a vendor) understand allocation of risk in contract and monitor the contract. John suggested that MLS executives go to realtor.org to look for the legal toolkit dealing with IP rights. I think there’s a lot missing from that boilerplate – but it’s a great starting point.
We talked about MLS conversions. My second favorite quote of the conference came from Wes Wiggins: He told his staff: “Best case scenario: this is going to totally suck.” It’s hard to account for how everyone uses the system – features are missing or moved in a new system. Wes suggests having end users try performing their daily tasks before conversion to find issues before cutover. Tim Ford suggests vendors carefully working with staff – suggesting a 2-3 month parallel period where users USE the system to find issues (as per Wes’ comment). Setting a timeline for the conversion in the contract and monitoring it closely is key – communicating regarding delays as quickly as possible. Don’t launch if the new system isn’t right. I believe that one of the most critical area to take care, unmentioned by the panel, is in data distribution – ensuring brokers and their vendors have plenty of time and support to get the new data feeds squared away prior to cutover.
My favorite quote from the conference came from Brian Larson: “We’re an industry with too many nightmares and not enough dreams.” Thank you for that, Brian!
There was so much more – but I want to keep this post reasonably short. I’ll be writing other posts based on and responding to other CMLS Conference content over the coming weeks and months.
I would encourage my readers to visit the Council of MLS website and join, if not already a member. Visit http://councilofmls.com
If you’re an MLS Executive, please don’t forget to sign up for the Clareity MLS Executive Workshop – we’ve only sent out one marketing email and the event is more than half full. When we send the next email out, the event may fill up. More information is available here: http://www.callclareity.com/MLSWorkshop/
UPDATE: for a complementary post covering the conference, visit Vendor Alley!
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