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Commentary by Beverly Faull

RISMEDIA, Feb. 20, 2008-At the beginning of 2008, with so much uncertainty in the air surrounding the housing market, we decided to ask some direct questions to get some direct responses.

At Fidelity National MLS Systems & Solutions, we needed to know what professionals in the trenches were experiencing. It is our mission to provide the tools and services these organizations need for their member agents and brokers. And, while we have an open-door policy that encourages feedback, nothing gets a direct response like a direct question. So, I asked a half-dozen MLS executives around the country to tell us how median prices are fairing in their neck of the woods, what’s happening to their membership numbers, and how inventories are running at the beginning of the year.

Their insights provide several valuable impressions. Whether it was someone we spoke to in California or Connecticut, New Jersey or Nevada, one consistent theme was that the picture painted by the media portrayed conditions on every block in America in the blackest possible terms. The reality is that different regions-and different markets within those regions-are experiencing different situations.

The lending practices that encouraged overreaching on the part of many buyers-many first-time buyers, and many challenged buyers in the “subprime” area-are being addressed nationally and recovery in most markets is felt to have either begun or be within sight. Some of our MLS executives believe that their market’s low point was reached as early as November 2007, and that they have leveled out and will begin to rise as early as spring 2008. Others do not expect their markets to find the bottom until mid-2008, starting to recover around the first quarter of 2009.

In the most resilient markets, median prices had barely dropped, and in some neighborhoods, continued to rise. The general worst-case scenario for 2007 was depreciation at a rate of 22-25%. MLS membership was the one universal, dropping about 10% across the board. But, in all cases, this followed record years of enrollment.

For a company like Fidelity National MLS Systems & Solutions, which must anticipate market shifts in order to have the appropriate tools for real estate professionals, the current cycle, while severe, is by no means unprecedented. We also asked our MLS panelists what products or services we have provided or could provide to ensure that their agents and brokers will not only survive, but turn these current challenges into opportunities.

As one MLS executive, who has also served as a liaison between Fidelity National MLS and colleagues in the industry, told me, “What we’re doing in 2008 as an MLS organization is really focusing on providing the best productivity tools we can and more affordable options for the members who are hanging in there and working. We are embracing quite a few of the newer products that Fidelity is offering because we can offer them affordably to our members.”

For the MLS in question, these offerings include broker/agent Websites and the Cyberhomes Websites. In both cases, the capability to “brand” their sites was the key attraction. In addition, this organization is looking at DocCentralª and the rDesk suite.

We should not whitewash what, in many areas, has been a near-devastating drop. But Realtors and brokers in those areas should take heart in news from their colleagues that are beginning to get up from the floor. The dawn of 2008 may already be streaked with the light of better days. Beverly Faull is the senior vice president and general manager of Fidelity National MLS.

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