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RISMEDIA, February 6, 2009-Progressive MLSs have adopted new thinking and launched platforms designed to generate more exposure and leads for their subscribers and participants. Approximately 400 MLSs in the U.S. have now introduced consumer-facing websites to allow home buyers and sellers to research local listings as they would on sites such as, Yahoo!, Point2 Homes, Trulia, Zillow, Vast and other final destination Web portals. Some are better than others. Several are world class.

For many MLSs contemplating launching a public-facing site, the big question is whether to build their own or to buy an existing solution.

One of the advantages of hiring a technology team and building the solution in-house is control and choice. The ability to choose functionality and to deploy resources at will, can be very attractive, such as the ability to develop unique features that may not be part of an existing, out-of-the-box solution. A custom solution may address this issue, but always at the expense of time and money.

Counterpoints to the “build it yourself” route include:

Distraction-As an MLS, focusing on data integrity, customers and value-add services is paramount. Introducing a technology development department is a significant undertaking that will dilute management’s focus on its core mission. If the right management structure is not in place, and necessary additions are introduced, the potential negative impact cannot be overstated.

Technology Know-How-Building and maintaining a world-class portal requires serious technical knowledge and expertise. It’s also an ongoing process that necessitates constant networking and contact within the technology industry. Technologies deployed might be adequate today, but will quickly become obsolete or require constant updates to stay at the leading edge with a solution that consistently meets consumer expectations. Maintaining adequate relationships with third parties to enable functionality-such as listing syndication or traffic reporting and tools-is extremely taxing. Ongoing challenges, such as search engine optimization, will intensify over time, easily overshadowing the excitement of the first release of a “build-it-yourself” site, often within weeks or days.

High Cost-The idea of bringing on a team and releasing half or part of its members when the site is launched might be appealing. This notion is in fact flawed. If anything, the team may need to grow instead. The added cost of staffing, employee benefits, computer hardware and software will be substantial. Considering that tens of millions of investment dollars have gone into the development and upkeep of some of the popular consumer search sites on the Web today, and that many of these organizations will continue to require funding until they turn profitable, the drag on the financials of an MLS may be overwhelming.

Some MLSs have done very well with in-house teams. For the majority, however, the option to buy versus build is probably the best alternative. If you choose this route, partner with a vendor:

– Who has a proven track record
– Whose core business is technology development
– Who has staying power

These are critical considerations.

Saul Klein is CEO of InternetCrusade and Point2 Technologies Inc.

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