We’re at an inflection point in the evolution of the MLS. Regional alliances are being formed. Consolidation is happening. New and hefty players are again calling for a national MLS. Off-market networks are popping up all over the country. New business models are challenging the very idea of cooperation and compensation.
All of this raises big questions about what an MLS is and should be moving forward.
Accurate, secure and timely data is still the MLS touchstone. But to say that the value of the MLS lies solely in that data, I believe, downgrades it to a mere utility.
Not a good place to be in a time of change.
Given this reality, where are the other opportunities for a stronger MLS value proposition moving forward?
I’ve been fortunate to work with some very smart and knowledgeable people at MLSs over the years. And as Chief Strategist at 1000watt, I’ve helped dozens of clients assess their strengths, weaknesses and the whitespace that’s open for opportunity.
Here are a few directions in which I see opportunity for the MLS:
The MLS as product manager
Let’s face it, many of the most pressing challenges MLSs face today center around the basic usability of core software.
As an outsider looking in, the user experience provided by some of the vendors in the space is, frankly, inexcusable (and I am aware of all the excuses). I’ve heard this from innumerable MLS leaders and members over the years. Just last night I had a conversation with an agent about their MLS – “What the %$#K are they doing?” were their exact words.
The path forward requires more than just throwing more and more shiny new apps at members. Marie-Kondo’ing your suite of products and starting fresh with a concentrated review of core search and add/edit software seems like a better approach.
Question the long-term viability of current core tools. Bring agents and brokers into the process, too. Sit with them. Convene a working agent group and use surveys and usability testing to determine where each product falls short. Know the problems, use cases and needs inside and out.
And then demand more from your vendors. If they respond, pay them more so they can continue to invest in their products.
The MLS as a network
One idea we’ve tossed around in the 1000watt office is that the MLS is the perfect social network — one in which every participant has an authorized and authenticated identity and every piece of content is vetted.
With these key elements in place, the next logical step is to look at the ways participants can derive value from one another.
Put more simply, what if your MLS made a concerted effort to define itself by the ways subscribers are connected? There’s a big opportunity to light up all the nodes within its network and ultimately apply graph theory to better understand, highlight and extract value from the connections between those nodes.
For example, how about an intelligent (and usable) roster tool that allowed near instant insight on every agent in a market and allowed them to communicate more efficiently with one another?
Tools like Homesnap have done this to an extent, but I’ve yet to see a concerted effort to pursue this opportunity.
Strategically, if your MLS becomes the owner of the network and not just the content within, there is much greater long-term value to be found.
The MLS as the champion
Taking either of these two paths, your MLS is going to need to become more connected to the community it serves. Both would require value to be articulated in more human terms.
Which leads me to believe there is also a role for the MLS to ultimately be the champion of its people.
I liked Rob Hahn’s point in a recent blog post that perhaps one of the roles of the MLS can be the defender of the REALTOR.
But I’d push it further and say that an MLS should defend the value of the network itself and the benefits that network brings to its users and their clients, the public.
A better product, built on how real people want to use it.
A wider network, more connected than ever before.
Now that’s a real story worth sharing.
Paths to value
If you’re not actively positioning your MLS and articulating its value in ways that resonate, you’re either being taken for granted or permitting others to define you. Neither of these are acceptable given the current industry environment.
This means more marketing and more communications. It probably means going to your board for more budget. It means empowering grassroots campaigns and even guerilla tactics.
As we move into an era in which the value of every part of the industry gets scrutinized as never before, MLS leaders will need to find new ways to talk about what the MLS is, and why it matters.
They’ll need to find new paths to value.
Work with 1000watt
If you’re ready to take your MLS to a new level with strategic thinking, clear messaging and distinct design, we should talk.