The MLS moment

6a00d834f24b4869e2010536ce401f970c-800wi We’re bullish on MLS. Or rather, the potential that lies within most MLS organizations. In fact, Marc and I think MLSs hold some of the most exciting possibilities in real estate and technology in 2009.

I know that may sound odd, and more than a little naive. For those of us with a close-in view of the MLS world, it seems at times hopelessly hamstrung by politics. Those just a little further removed see a fragmented, somewhat mysterious assortment of acronyms.

But let’s step back for a minute. Way back. Out to Mars. Looked at from this perspective — with political fault lines and puzzling borders blurred — we see an industry in a pretty compelling position.

Here’s why:

1. MLSs have the most valuable content assets in their entire category. And content, as we know, is King. No one touches them on quantity or quality.

2. MLSs have market share, adoption rates and, as a result, a distribution channel that is the envy of any other business entity on the face of the planet. Never mind why that is. It is.

3. The best and the brightest are lined up outside MLS doors. Everyone wants to do business with the MLS. There must be some value there, huh?

4. It appears as if users of the MLS really need it. It looks to pass the “if it disappeared tomorrow, would you really care?” test. That type of utility means the MLSs are not only relevant, but can solve problems for their customers.

These realities don’t disappear when we come back to Earth; we just lose a clear view of them.

That was the crux of a presentation we gave to several hundred MLS executives at NAR a couple months ago: You can kick ass — but you had better get moving. Click here for the slide deck, or view it below. You’ll miss a lot of the details without the discussion, but it’s a broad outline of our observations.

It starts with your brand. Yes, an MLS is a brand, and a brand is a unit of meaning. Ask yourself, “what does [my MLS here] mean? If you can’t answer that in two seconds, you’ve identified a core problem.

We offer some ideas for moving forward with this broader perspective, but the important thing is in the stepping back.

We absolutely believe:

1. Brokers have no better partner for surviving this market than their MLS

2. MLS organizations can take a leadership position in the online real estate category

3. Consumers — and the Realtors that serve them — can benefit immeasurably from products built by, or off of, the MLS (API, anyone?).

But that can only happen if MLS leaders step back and look at the bigger picture, forfeit near-term comfort for long-term value, and start messing with the playbook.

Last week at Inman, I moderated a woefully short session on the future or MLS that featured leaders that have done it. David Charron at MRIS [disclosure: 1000WATT Consulting has performed work for MRIS] and Bud Fogel at Midwest Regional Data see the big picture and have done the hard work of sharing it with others.

It is my hope that more join them this year. I think they will be rewarded.

Here’s the presentation:

MLS: A view from Mars

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