MLS: Homegrown and Happy

November 29, 2016

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There was a period of time when over twenty MLSs, representing about a quarter-million MLS subscribers used a primary MLS system that had been developed in-house by developers, or was developed by a local software company just for them.  We called those systems “homegrown,” compared with using a national vendor’s system. Clareity Consulting worked, and continues to work, with many of them to help maintain the competitiveness of their system. Other MLSs had us evaluate their ability to compete and our advice was to select a vendor system. Over the last decade, the number of MLSs with homegrown systems has decreased, but it’s worth putting a spotlight on this category because some of these MLSs are pretty happy that they took this route and have maintained it over the years.

There are a number of reasons that MLSs have chosen this route:

  • Vendors can be difficult to work with. Most of them have gone through periods where they are less than optimally responsive to enhancement requests and even to bug-fix requests.
  • Vendors are acquired by a company that doesn’t provide the same level of service.
  • Vendors go out of business (though all the current major vendors are quite stable!)
  • Vendors ‘retire’ well-liked systems
  • Licensing a shared code-base can mean waiting months or years for enhancement requests – or the vendor may just say, “No.”

Most of all, some MLSs get tired of all of the above and chasing a new vendor to try to get what they want via concessions and sales incentives – and both MLS staff and subscribers don’t enjoy moving from vendor to vendor. Having their own system has put them fully in control of their own MLS destiny. Building and maintaining a competitive MLS system isn’t an easy path by any means, and with the expansion of platforms to include high-functioning RETS servers, mobile apps and more it has only become more difficult – but following are some of the MLSs that have made it work – CLAW, IRES, and RMLS  in Portland, OR:

Combined L.A./Westside Multiple Listing Service (CLAW)

The MLS™ – CLAW (TheMLS.com) services more than 15,000 real estate professionals in the Southern California area. The MLS™ primarily focuses on the greater Los Angeles and Malibu areas; in addition, they license their software to the Palm Springs Regional MLS and Imperial County Association of Realtors® members. The MLS™ has data share initiatives with six MLSs, which gives members access to over 95,000 active listings and 6.5 million of-market listings; they are planning to add even more data shares in 2017. Further, The MLS™ produces its own in-house publication, The MLS Broker Caravan™, which is distributed to more than 4,500 Los Angeles-based real estate agents. This past year, The MLS™ achieved RESO Platinum Data Dictionary Certification.

As The MLS™ continues to innovate it helps ensure subscribers have the customer service they need via one-on-one trainings, Webinars, hands-on classes, Help Desk, and a YouTube channel that provides on-demand information.

The MLS™’s in-house technical team is actively working on their new listing search software (currently in alpha mode). Following are some key features in the new listing search (alpha) software:

The MLS™ has developed mobile responsive designed reports, and they anticipate that the entire MLS system will use responsive design in 2017.

claw-responsive-design

They combined public records data into search and mapping, so that members can find off-market sales and learn more about homes nearby to their listings, as illustrated below:

claw-public-records-in-mapping

Public record content is also integrated into MLS reports:

claw-public-records-in-mls-reports

Great Schools information has been integrated with their maps; this new feature includes a school boundary search:

claw-school-content

Users can search on the map by freehand drawing on any touch-screen.

claw-freehand-map-drawing

The MLS™ has also imported and integrated subdivision layers into mapping.  Layers can be used as reference or can be clicked on to search within that shape in the overlay.

claw-subdivision-mapping-layers

Users can easily communicate with clients and send them listings via SMS text messaging:

claw-sms-messaging

All of these examples just scratch the surface of how CLAW has been innovating recently to maintain the competitiveness of its homegrown MLS system.

Information and Real Estate Services (IRES)

IRES serves over 6,000 subscribers in Colorado. They are proud to have their very own local development team, allowing them to customize, enhance, and innovate – providing a great user experience for subscribers.

From inception in 2001, integration has been a primary goal, not only for convenience, but also for streamlining the various processes involved with a transaction, and maintaining a high level of data integrity. Wherever possible, listings, agents, offices, and broker contacts are integrated throughout the system. IRES has also integrated products such as Cloud CMA, Realist, InfoSparks statistics, NewHomeSource Professional, and ListTrac.

In terms of service, IRES has also developed a Learning Center available online 24/7/365, with numerous training videos and PDF booklets. They are able to coordinate this Learning Center content with what’s about to be released since the lines of communication are open between development and education. IRES also has exceptional customer service, and kudos from their subscribers are a common occurrence.  They can share screens with callers and offer a Live Chat. They also regularly conduct webinars, training classes and in-office presentations.  Again, the tight two-way communication between development and customer service makes each of them better.

IRES has also created www.ColoProperty.com, a very popular public listings web site that drives leads to subscribers.

ires-coloproperty.com

Following are some of the most popular features that make IRES MLS stand out. All three of these modules are included in the monthly MLS fees: showings, online contracts and MySite, a robust prospect website.

Showings Module

ires-showing-systemFirst, IRES designed and integrated its own Showings System. This system has some unique features, including the ability to text or email the showing agent and occupants directly through a ‘message center’. Sellers and tenants are very pleased with this ability to clearly and easily communicate directly with the listing office; and the listing office staff is thrilled to be able to provide the showing agent with instructions and lockbox code information at the click of a button. This message center takes away the stress of having to make multiple phone calls, to multiple people, just to set up a single showing.

The Showings module also takes the strain out of trying to receive feedback from showing agents. Users can automatically send feedback requests to the showing agent up to three different times: once on the day of the showing, and if no feedback has been received, a second time 3 days later, and a third attempt after 7 days. If the automatic feedback is still not received, the listing agent has the opportunity to call the showing agent and manually enter the feedback for the showing. The feedback may be printed to provide it to the clients. This is a great way for the broker to have a conversation with their client about what they could do to make a better impression on buyers.

ires-showing-feedback-response

Another one of the highly utilized showing reports gives the listing agent the ability to effortlessly send an email to all showing agents who have shown the home and let them know of a price reduction, or that the home is back on the market. This gives the broker an opportunity to do some marketing and possibly receive a second showing on the home.

For additional convenience, the Showings module is integrated with Sentrilock lockboxes and also links to the state licensing site to verify the status of an individual’s license when showing appointments are requested.

Online Contracts

IRES also built its own Contracts System with all Colorado state required forms and disclosures, and the system integrates both with MLS data and DocuSign®, the electronic signature program preferred by NAR.

ires-contracts

DocuSign® integration creates a seamless signing process between the broker and the client. Users do not need to tag the document for signatures, initials or dates – the IRES system does that for them. They simply click “Send” and the document is sent out for signatures. Mobile compatibility allows the client to access the document via email on their smart phone, sign, and get it back to the broker quickly and efficiently.

Another feature is the ability to export dates and deadlines into a calendar widget such as Outlook, iCal, or Google Calendar. Once the Export Dates function is selected, it will download a .CSV file to the user’s computer which they can then import into their desired calendar tool. They then have all of those important dates and deadlines in one place and have the ability to set up reminders for each of them.

MySite – Prospect Website

Lastly, one of the most popular features of the IRES system is what they call, “MySite”. This personalized web site was designed with both the broker and consumer in mind. Consumers can view listing information, all the photos, virtual tours, the map location, neighborhood demographics and much more. The site is branded with broker information and it’s simple to set up, too. This service is an IRES subscriber favorite.

ires-mysite

Here’s how it works. The broker creates a Prospect search that runs automatically based on the parameters selected (instantly, daily, weekly, or monthly). Along with the Prospect search, they have the ability to enable the MySite. When listings match the criteria of the search, they are emailed and simultaneously posted to MySite. The client will receive an email with a link to login.

Clients can view full listing details, rate properties, make notes about their likes/dislikes, or contact their broker for more information or to set up a showing – all from within MySite. Brokers have access to some great reporting tools that show the client’s usage and activity as well.

The common theme between all of the features described above (Showings, Contracts, and MySite) is the collaboration between the subscribers and the consumers. These kinds of features, and the customer service and support they can provide to subscribers by having their own homegrown MLS system, are the reasons IRES is proud to have their very own, homegrown, MLS system.

Regional Multiple Listing Service (RMLS)

RMLS serves over 10,000 agents in the Portland, Oregon area. Greg Moore at RMLS says that their “evolution not revolution philosophy along with our nimble approach; allowing the Board to direct and reprioritize our development efforts during the year has been our success.  This allows us to continually improve our MLS system without cutting over our user base.”  Like IRES, integrations are a specialty for RMLS. They “mash up” and/or provide Single Sign-On into RPR, ShackShout, Find and ZipForms as well as embedding school and city URLs in system reports, providing  all kinds of “one click” conveniences to enhance the user experience.  Convenience is their focus as RMLS continues to improve the system.

The screenshot below illustrates how RMLS integrated ShackShout to provide an easy way for subscribers to see how a property looks at various locations online:

rmls-shackshout

Search results allow subscribers to easily tab through various reports, including a photo report, maps, tax, and property history. Agent information is integrated on reports – all the information needed to complete a contact is included.

rmls-search-tabs

The roster includes a mashup with Realtor.com agent profiles, which provides efficiency for those agents using that Realtor.com service while providing a robust report for those searching the roster.

rmls-roster-realtor.com-mashup

Last Words

Over the last few years, some MLSs have been grumbling that we could use more competition in the MLS software space. While projects like AMP promise to increase that competition in some ways, some MLSs – those profiled above and others as well – took control over their MLS software destiny years ago, and have developed and continue to innovate the system they believe will best meet the needs of their subscribers.

Not every MLS with a homegrown system is a large one either – for example, Hawaii Information Services has had fewer than 2,000 subscribers and has been using a parcel-centric MLS for many years now – something the rest of the industry is just starting to implement. There are also many MLSs that may not be developing all of the functions we currently consider a whole MLS system, but have developed substantial MLS modules and related tools – this may be the subject of a future blog post and/or a session at an MLS Executive Workshop.

It’s wonderful to see innovation at every level, since innovation and competition is at the heart of what makes our industry great.

 

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Author: Matt Cohen

Matt Cohen has been Clareity's Chief Technologist for more than 20 years. He has consulted for many of the top Associations, regional MLSs, large brokerages and franchises, and a wide variety of information and technology companies that service the real estate industry. MLSs, Associations and Franchises look to Matt for help with system selection and negotiation. Real estate software and technology providers look to Matt for assistance with product planning, software design, quality assurance, usability. All seek his expertise in information security assessment. Matt has spoken at many industry events, has been published as an author in Stefan Swanepoel’s “Trends” report and in a variety of MLS and Association magazines and newsletters, and he has been honored by Inman News by being listed as one of the 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders in 2013.