Friday Flash: The last RPR critic

Quick: what image comes to mind when I say, “Lenders marketing to Realtors”?

For me, it’s a massive trade show booth at the NAR EXPO, something with more square footage than a small condo development, from which candy, tchotchkes and flyers are passed. There’s a wheel of fortune in one corner, a motivational speaker in the other, and a popcorn machine in the middle.

It’s always been more complicated than that, of course, but the big booth is one of the most visible ways lenders have worked the real estate channel.

It may be time for a new, or at least refreshed, approach.

The refi boom, despite a recent rally, is ebbing. RESPA/TILA changes loom. The CFPB is looking hard at MSAs. Compliance is the word of the day. Everything’s more complicated now.

But lenders still need real estate brokers and agents, and real estate brokers and agents still need lenders. That much has not changed.

Last week, 1000WATT and Inman News released a joint study examining the real estate/mortgage relationship. If you’re in the mortgage business, it’ll give you a current read on how the real estate brokerage industry perceives you. If you’re a broker or agent, you’ll get a peek into how your competitors handle mortgage referrals, MSAs, ABAs and more.

You can get the report here. It’s free if you’re an Inman Select member. If you’re not an Inman Select member, I recommend becoming one. It’s a bargain at 10x the current $199/year subscription price.

So much talk about “Millennials” out there. I sometimes wonder if the real estate industry of 40 years ago was wringing its collective hands so vigorously about “figuring out the Baby Boomer buyer.”

I kind of doubt it.

Of course, it’s important to understand your market. But common sense, Maslow and a bunch of survey research suggest that these Millennial people aren’t really a puzzle. They want shelter. They want self determination. Ownership. Even, it seems, in this “subscription economy”.

If you want a good, quick, factual look at this generation check out this site Goldman Saks released a few weeks ago. But really, don’t freak out.

I think I vowed never to write about RPR (NAR’s national property database product) about a year ago, but I’m going to put that aside for a minute. I just have too many people in my ear about recent developments.

Here’s what I’m hearing around the rumor mill:

RPR is going to get into the business of providing MLS “Back-end” services – the database/data management/heavy lifting sort of stuff – so that more MLSs and MLS subscribers can implement their own “front-end of choice.”

In other words, RPR is pivoting.

Existing MLS system vendors like Core Logic, Black Knight and FBS are looking at a new competitor funded by the NAR. Some MLS execs, haunted as they are by the recurring nightmare of a national MLS, are sharpening their knives. On the other hand, big brokers, never the NAR’s most adoring constituency, may actually get some love out of this move.

If you’re thinking this seems like a lot of inside baseball, you are right… partially. But there is, in my opinion, a broad story here.

RPR has cost NAR members over $100 million to date. Each year, it costs about $20 million more. Adoption by the members bearing its cost is low (less than 5% in many of the MLS systems I’m hearing from). Execution on the product appears slow. The mobile version of RPR was launched only last fall, years into the mobile sea change that has rocked the working lives of Realtors.

The bottom line is that a lot of money has been spent on an initiative for which the market has provided no convincing validation. And now it seems poised to expand into an entirely new dimension.

I don’t get it. I really, honestly, don’t. It was a noble idea put forth by well-meaning, intelligent people. But now it seems to me like the driving force is saving face, not saving member dollars.

The only way I can make it work in my mind – and this is a stretch – is that RPR might be a massive hedge play by NAR. If the whole MLS system were to implode, if the portals were to pull any truly weird stuff, if for some reason things got really shaky under the basic structure of real estate, then RPR – NAR – would stay standing with a national property data repository.

An RPR Doomsday Strategy.

OK, I’ll leave it alone. Too many words on this. I just think more rank-and-file brokers and agents need to be paying attention as this proposed shift in RPR strategy unfolds. A lot of money is at stake – money that won’t be invested in initiatives for which NAR has a demonstrated competency.

And that – in the opinion of an RPR critic shouting in the wilderness – would be a terrible shame.

I can’t decide if this is brilliant or gross. But if they released one for Budweiser I’d probably put it on my fridge.

Enjoy the weekend.