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According to Larson, part of the problem stems from the fact that MLSs vary broadly, not only in terms of size, but in terms of services they offer their real estate members. While MLSs offer core (“must include”), basic (“may include”) and optional (“may offer”) services, there is no standardization among MLSs as to what services are offered or how they are categorized.

Larson cited a recent Clareity study that put the average national retail price of MLS service at $39; this includes access to public records and the “bundle” or value package of services an MLS offers. However, subscription price varies widely based on the size of the MLS.

For Larson and many others, the current MLS situation makes a strong case for consolidation. While in some areas that is currently happening at a slow pace through the emergence of statewide MLSs, Larson believes that a national MLS is possible in 10 to 15 years, adding that a savings of $100 – $200 million or more per year is possible with just a 20 to 35 percent efficiency improvement in current MLS structure. In the meantime, data standards need to be adopted, if not mandated, across all MLSs.

According to Larson, MLSs must begin this evolution from within or risk change being forced from the outside: “The question for brokers is, ‘who’s your best, long-term business partner? The local not-for-profit, the national not-for-profit, or one of the online companies?’ We can save cost by forming bigger MLSs, but can there be an über MLS? Is that possible in our industry?”

Mobile Technology: A Better Landscape for B2B
From basic communication to property search, mobile technology has become the linchpin of the real estate business. According to presenter Simon Guest, distinguished engineer for Neudesic, mobile technology stands to take the client interaction much farther.

According to Guest, there will be an estimated 24 billion interconnected devices online by 2020. Forms-based B2B mobile technology is essential to reducing paperwork, increasing productivity and providing client interactivity.

While most of us carry around a mobile device that is capable of a mind-boggling array of functions—from location awareness to taking high-res photos and videos—the proliferation of connected devices with sensor capabilities will take mobile technology to a whole new level.

While the sensors in our phones today can track how far we walk and respond to our voices, emerging connected devices will more actively monitor your activities by actually listening to you, says Guest. “The question then becomes, ‘what can I do as a REALTOR® to take advantage of the awareness of these devices?’”

How advancements such as Google Glass, Nest, smartwatches, and the like will impact the way real estate professionals interact with and serve clients remains to be seen. “As technology becomes more pervasive, it does unlock many opportunities,” says Guest.

Guest also believes that GPS capabilities will soon extend to indoor locations, such as malls or the different rooms of an open house.

“Once you combine hardware and software sensors, context becomes interesting,” says Guest. “We can begin to make assumptions. Based on where you are and what you’re doing, I can predict what you may like. If an agent has context about what I do and what’s important to me, there can be more perceived value.”

The bottom line, according to Guest? “Mobile will just become IT, so everyone needs to invest. B2B apps will need to outshine consumer apps.”

What We Can Learn from the Lending Arena
When it comes to using technology to standardize and make things easier for practitioners and their customers, perhaps the real estate industry can take a cue from its lender colleagues. The significance of technology’s role in the lending arena is mounting—especially in the wake of recently passed government regulations regarding mortgage lending. Bob Jennings, EVP of RealEC Technologies, discussed the example of the new CFPB Integrated Mortgage Disclosure Final Rule and how technology is helping the transition.

As Jennings explained, the financial crisis revealed that the lending process was error prone and confusing for consumers. The Dodd-Frank Act established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which, among other things, was charged with streamlining the closing process. Specifically, Dodd-Frank charged the CFPB with integrating certain disclosures from the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) to help provide loan detail clarity to the borrower during the mortgage approval process.

“Consumers are very confused about what’s going on during a real estate closing and CFPB came up with a mortgage disclosure ruling,” says Jennings. “The final ruling was announced in November 2013, but will not be in effect until August 1, 2015. We’re in for a rocky ride until August of next year. This is the biggest change the industry has seen.”

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