MLS System needs to change…

Industry insiders know that the inefficiencies in real estate brokerage pose two problems: the consumer is not well served; and the industry remains exposed to outsiders solving the problems for their own profit, again to the detriment of consumers.

Wherever you live, real estate agents in your area are members of a local board of Realtors, and also an MLS… some MLSs are small, serving a county or two; others are larger, serving an entire region, with multiple counties and multiple boards of Realtors.  Here lies two inefficiencies, which present long-term concern for the industry, and more importantly for consumers: (1) why so many MLSs, now that technology solves the issues of presenting this data back to the Realtors who have created the MLS to serve their purposes of promoting their listings, and finding properties for their buyers? And (2) why so many boards of Realtors?  Each board of Realtors requires space and staff, both of which are rising costs of the business.  Not to paint a general picture, however, these local boards have a self-preservation interest… which just adds additional cost to the Realtors, which is paid for by the Gross Commission paid by consumers in each transactions with their agent.

Here’s another thought to consider: Read what Bob Bemis has to say about it… Bob has held some very high level positions running MLSs and for third party listing aggregators…

15 years an agent…

I’ve been a real estate agent since 1999.

I got my start with a very good company in Shaker Heights, Ohio, called Smythe, Cramer Co.  At the time, we were located in a nice small office on Chagrin Boulevard, in an upscale suburb of Cleveland, and Smythe, Cramer was in the process of opening a much larger office across the street.

In 1999, the real estate brokerage industry was slowing adopting the internet, seemingly as slowly as possible.  Our listings where not available online, even to ourselves.  Every other week, a new issue of the Multiple Listing System books would arrive at the office.  We had about 50 agents in that office, and one arrived for each agent, and a couple other copies littered the copier/resource room.  Agents drove around with four or five of these in the backseat of their car, each the size of a phone book.  The listings covered the whole area of Cleveland, so you didn’t really need the whole book to service your geographic area of business.  The books became doorstops in the offices… just a ton of waste.

In the same period, agents were reluctant to give out their cellphone numbers to clients, and lawn signs had the office phone number, or a voicemail phone number if a consumer had questions about the properties for sale.  Agents would get annoyed if you called them on their cellphone, using up precious minutes of their monthly allotment.

Agents would stand around the coffee maker in the office discussing the new “e-mail” program the company was rolling out… many of the older agents just opted out of this new tool… they didn’t want to have to check another place for messages.

I was 27 at the time, and while these older agents had vast experience, there was enormous opportunity to get out there and make things happen.  My willingness to give out my cellphone number, to take those calls, to check email routinely, all gave me and other younger agents a distinct advantage.  We could call our clients from the living room of a home that just came on the market, and wait there while they drove over to see a prospective home that might suit their needs… I could call the seller’s agent, and express our intention to go back to my office to write up an offer, and we’d get that property under contract before other agents even knew it was available for sale.

Eventually, the local Board of Realtors opted to phase out those old MLS books, and to put all the listings online, so we could view them in real time.  The next hurdle we needed to jump over was the delay in getting those properties into the MLS, and making changes to the listings, especially price changes.  The office policy was that you’d fill out a listing input form with the property details, or a price change form, and the secretary would enter the changes.  This just took way too much time.  A listing taken on a Friday afternoon or over the weekend, or any price changes taken during evening or weekend hours, would not get entered until the secretary got to the next day, or on Monday.  Many of the older agents were fine with this, because it was how they always did it… and they even used the time to try to get the home sold without another agent’s participation, what they called a pocket listing or a pocket price reduction.  These pocket listings gave those agents an opportunity to pocket both sides of the gross commission income, a double pop, both sides, double the money for the same work.

The problem we younger agents saw was two-fold: first, it didn’t serve the seller to limit the size of the market that had this new information… the best buyer might have paid more for that home, if only they knew it was available for sale.  And second, as the internet became more and more of a force in real estate marketing each month, buyers were getting angry to see properties sell so quickly when they never had the opportunity to even know about the home for sale, or even see it.  This was quickly hurting the reputations of real estate agents as a whole.

We solved this by petitioning for the right to enter our own listing information, which our brokers needed to approve.  The managing brokers were reluctant to grant us control of this, but it was inevitable that they had to solve this input problem.  Again, those agents who pushed for change, while taking on no additional effort (it took more time to fill out a paper-form than it did to enter the data directly into the computer), took advantage of those days and minutes of head-start over agents and sellers whose home wasn’t fully on the market all weekend long, and whose price changes were not generally known until the next business day.  Many people were checking their email when they got home from work, which was when they would start calling their agents to see these new listings or to revisit a property with a new price.

Over the course of 4-1/2 years, I became a rising star at Smythe, Cramer Co.  And I enjoyed it very much.  Older agents may have resented this younger, more tech-savvy, generation of real estate agents, but it was simply a choice to embrace the next generation of tools and business models to achieve success in the business.  Those of us who chose to get unlimited cell-phone plans, purchase  laptops, and then faster laptops, and Palm Pilots and PDAs, were closing more business and growing future pipelines of business, and the brokers and office managers had to navigate the issues of office space, sales awards at team meetings, and demands for more advertising in the Sunday paper, while older agents were angry to see their perks and benefits moving toward the younger agents, and those who did jump on-board the changes in technology.

Since these humble, in-the-trenches, beginnings, I’ve been involved in nearly all aspects of real estate brokerage: as an agent, then a mega-agent with a team of agents working for me; as an investor in multiple real estate offices, to a recruiter of talent and also managing broker of some very large real estate offices, for the fastest growing real estate company at the time, Keller Williams Realty; to a managing broker of two offices for the largest real estate brokerage in the world, NRT, LLC… and now, as an owner of my own real estate brokerage, and as a real thinker of real estate brokerage, seeking to completely change how real estate transactions are completed, for the benefit of the sellers and buyers who are the principals in these transactions.

Real estate is evolving very quickly, and yet, the industry is determined to stick with what always worked for them… which is collecting Gross Commission Income from sellers.  Technology has changed the travel agent business, and the stock brokerage business too… yet, real estate has valiantly fought off this change for a long time.  The change is inevitable.  The question remains:  will the industry change from the outside, or from the inside.  My goal is to change it from the inside, for the benefit of consumers.