Friday Flash: Esoterica

I’ve been on the road almost every week for the past two months.

There are some negatives to this. Bloodshot eyes. Back pain. A creeping detachment from time and place. You know, the usual stuff.

The upside is that you get to talk to a ton of people, in their place about how they see the real estate world.

This brings clarity to things – the work we do for clients, most importantly, but also plenty of big industry questions.

Here’s an example:

Big Industry Question:

Why do MLSs often seem threatened and behind the times even though what they do is really valuable?

Clear Answer:

Because the software on which they run on is really dated.

There’s nuance here, sure. But that’s the truth. The software doesn’t look, feel or perform like 2016 software. And the gap is widening, even as incremental improvements to the software are being made. Agents are feeling the pain.

The software falls short because the companies that build it aren’t paid enough by the MLSs. They can’t invest in the talent needed for a great leap forward. So you can’t really blame them.

But you can’t really blame the MLSs, either. Because they don’t get paid enough. An agent who will pay $400 a month for the lease on their Mercedes C-Class will only pay around $30 a month for their MLS subscription. Kinda messed up, right?

Unfortunately, the clarity ends there. Trying to figure out how to fix this requires submerging oneself in the sort of mind-clouding industry esoterica only about 7 people on the entire planet understand.

Could the NAR/RPR/AMP initiative open the door for new MLS software? I suppose it could, but I have yet to hear it explained clearly. Upstream, a related initiative which I do understand pretty well, could make it easier for brokers to create alternatives. And I know my good friends at W+R Studios just launched Cloud MLX, which looks exactly like what we need, but is brand-new and unproven.

Can someone clear this up for me?

Speaking of complexity, the big news this week was Zillow’s launch of “Retsly Connect,” a program for putting MLS data into a single API that makes it easier for software developers to build cool stuff for agents and brokers.

Fantastic idea. It’s something I advocated for five years ago. Four years ago, FBS did it.

The tricky part – suprise! – is that Retsly Connect is a Zillow initiative.

Ugh… always this. Always.

I saw a copy of the Retsly Connect license agreement yesterday. There’s a section called “Payment for License” in which it is made clear that some monetary consideration will be made to MLSs that participate in the program.

This, of course, makes it very easy for brokers to claim that “MLSs are selling our data to Zillow.”  And while Retsly Connect is not directly competitive with Upstream, it certainly is close enough to muddy the waters and inflame the old Broker/MLS enmities.

The termination of the ListHub agreement a year ago created a crisis Zillow leveraged to get hundreds of MLSs to sign direct feed agreements. They now have 400 on board. They play to their worst existential fears of takeover by NAR/RPR/AMP/Upstream or some other bogeyman.

What we’re left with, then, is something like a fog of war where perspective is lost, battle lines are blurred and nobody really knows how to proceed.

Guess who wins in this context?

Maybe I need to get back on a plane.

Enjoy the weekend.