“Which MLS system is the best?” Clients perpetually ask me that question, and it also regularly comes up on email lists and in web-based discussions.
To some extent, the question is a bit silly – akin to asking someone, “What’s the best place to eat in town?” Of course no two people agree on what restaurant is the best – they have different cuisine preferences, tastes, service requirements and budgets. One person will have a good experience at a restaurant and recommend it, while another will go to the same restaurant – maybe on an ‘off’ night – and have a bad experience and subsequently warn people away. We’ve got to recognize that answering the MLS question is similarly difficult.
Most vendors have both very happy customers and unhappy ones, as well as a number that are between those extremes. When one asks the “Which MLS system is the best?” question on a email group or web site, you will likely get answers from both extremes – and it’s just not that helpful. Every year Clareity Consulting performs a survey of MLS Customer Satisfaction to try to provide a more comprehensive answer to how each MLS vendor is doing – but while you have to take reference checking and customer satisfaction into account in such a system selection decision, the experience of others is not necessarily the best or only predictor of your own experience.
What differentiates the MLS options, really? At a high level, system and service. After all, MLS vendors are Application Service Providers (ASP) – they provide both system and service, and need to be evaluated on both. Service may seem easy to evaluate, but it can be difficult to measure. If the vendor is providing support to staff or MLS subscribers, what call center metrics can they share with you? How much service will they provide in customizing the system to your specific needs and how will they respond to ongoing enhancement requests? The “company fit” and relationship that your MLS will have the vendor can sometimes be difficult to gauge in advance. As for the system, sometimes things we take for granted, such as speed, reliability/accuracy, and uptime may not be a given, at least not these days. Each system also has a unique feature set for the web-based system as well as for PC-based software, PDA, or voice interface – we have to answer the question, “What would your subscribers be giving up if they were moved to a new system and what would they gain?” The MLS staff also has to consider how much functionality there is in the system to help them provide a high level of service to subscribers – this may includes features like listing compliance workflows, easy to use robust RETS / data feed setup, and features providing staff with direct control over many aspects of the system. There are other considerations these days as well – for example if your market is considering a data share, how much experience does the vendor have implementing them and what is their track record? Finally, though the vendors are generally very cost competitive, sometimes cost enters the equation. I always advise clients to choose the system they really want over a system they don’t want nearly as much but with which they could save some money. I don’t think any MLS ever regretted selecting a great system that they could afford, but I know of plenty that regretted going with the lesser preferred system to save money.
Changing systems is hard for MLS staff and subscribers alike, and it isn’t something to do lightly. I typically perform an extensive member survey as part of the selection process, and more than once in the past year clients have seen such high levels of satisfaction with their current system that they’ve decided there was no way a new system would provide enough benefit to justify moving to it. Of course, you have to find a good balance of listening and leading – if all MLS executives did was listen to subscribers, we may still be using books! Also, thoroughly evaluating the benefits of moving to a new MLS system involves rigorous work, and building a robust Request for Proposal (RFP) and evaluating the proposals obtained from qualified vendors as part of an MLS Selection Process is one of the more complex services my company provides.
Which MLS system is the best? Honestly, there’s no one answer that’s true for every potential customer. Only with rigorous evaluation of your system and service needs and comparing those needs to the capabilities, system, and services provided by each vendor can I even begin to know which vendors may be good to include in an RFP – let alone have some sense of the answer the final question: “Which MLS system might be best for your MLS?” When I’m involved in a selection process, my goal is to make sure that all of the appropriate information needed to support the decision has been gathered and presented clearly so that the MLS leadership (board of directors, committee, task force, etc.) can easily answer the question for themselves.
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