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The debate over whether a national MLS would benefit the real estate community seems to be part of an ongoing conversation. But how would it help agents and brokers? Would it provide better governance, make data sharing easier, or open markets to new and innovative technology?

Let’s consider a different premise: that the debate itself is really misdirected. The concept of a national MLS organization is not only impractical, but seeks to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

Instead of considering the consolidation of the governance and management structures of the MLS, thereby providing coast-to-coast cooperation among brokers, we should instead focus on MLS data and technology infrastructure, and support the movement toward a national database system. This would create a vast information network available to application developers who, until now, couldn’t offer tools to agents and brokers without expensive and time-consuming customization for every individual MLS.

Has this ever happened to you? While walking the tradeshow floor at a real estate conference you find two or three new, interesting, and very functional tools that would work well in your business. Then, the vendor says that negotiations are underway with your MLS, but the timeline is uncertain due to several factors:

  • Governance oversight groups other than staff must review the product, adding unneeded layers of approval and delaying implementations.
  • The data license the MLS requires for the product to work must be reviewed by MLS lawyers and is often not the highest priority.
  • The RETS server that delivers the data the product needs is non-standard, requiring the vendor to re-map the data specifically for that MLS.
  • If product integration involves direct linking through the MLS system, the current vendor may not have the time or inclination to expedite the delivery.

You walk away frustrated and thinking, “There must be a better way.”

There is a better way. A national network of property-related databases, accessible through a common set of application program interfaces (APIs), would accomplish three significant goals for the industry:

  1. Standardize how applications examine data and receive results.
  2. Lower barriers to entry for new and innovative applications to come to market.
  3. Improve an agent’s productivity by making more programs available at lower prices.

The issue obstructing developers is that applications designed for agents and brokers that work on one of these platforms don’t necessarily connect to any of the others. Yet by opening the database to standardized access methods, developers can offer their programs in any MLS market that supports open standards. If other national platforms also adopt the same standards, those applications should work on any compatible MLS database, anywhere in the country.

A network of national databases all built to the same industry standards would solve many of the problems brokers and agents have when working across the artificial boundaries of multiple MLS systems:

  1. Brokers could receive one consolidated data feed from multiple sources to feed their back office and transaction-management systems, rather than combine disparate and incompatible data structures.
  2. Agent tools that work on one MLS database would work the same across all databases built to the same standard.
  3. Application pricing would come down because developers wouldn’t need to customize software for each MLS market.
  4. Time to market would shrink for the same reason—build it once and launch it in every standardized market.

A national database standard makes so much sense from every business vantage point that it’s difficult to think of any reason not to do it. The biggest resistance comes from the legacy-system vendors who have significant influence over the marketplace today due to their entrenched installations and pricing power. They realize that this new approach to platform architecture will require them to evolve and embrace the new technology or face extinction, much like travel agents and taxi drivers.

If MLSs are to continue meeting the growing demands of their user bases––brokers and agents who rely on the MLS system for the flow of information vital to their business success––the MLSs must evolve and cooperate. The MLS community should support adoption of a national network of standardized databases using common open-access technology. In doing so, they will expand exponentially the tools and services offered, while lowering time to market for developers and reducing costs to subscribers.

Bob Bemis is vice president of Business Development for Realtors Property Resource® (RPR®).

For more information, please visit www.narrpr.com.

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