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There’s always something to howl about

The elemental aimlessness of MLS-lessness . . .

Citing an article from the Boston Globe, the Real Estate Investing For Real bog insists that:

There should be a system where anyone, real estate agents, FSBOs, etc., can list or search for properties.

Great news! Such a tool exists. It’s called the classified section of the newspaper. Not so cheap to list, but searching costs around half-a-buck. Even better, CraigsList.com is free in most markets.

The good news is, the writer already has what he wants — in vast abundance: CraigsList.com, Trulia.com, PropSmart.com, et infinitely cetera. The bad news is, the writer already has what he wants — vastly abundant free or nearly-free listing portals, each of which has its own data structure and feed format. The geniuses who are bringing us all this cleverly-designed white noise don’t actually understand the problems the MLS was created to solve: open listings and the difficulty of coordinating cooperation among agents from different brokerages. So what do we find on CraigsList.com, Trulia.com, PropSmart.com, et infinitely cetera? Open listings and no provision for coordinating cooperation among agents. O!, Brave New World, simultaneously disintermediated and reambiguated. It’s hard to regard this as an improvement.

What the writer really wants is something very much like the MLS, but without exclusive membership, without the mandatory unilateral offer of compensation and without the intellectual property rights of listing brokers. You could say he wants to eat his cake and still have it, but the sad part is, he just might get his wish. Even as loose as we are about internet businesses, I’m pretty sure the Feds would regard such a thing arising privately as collusion. But if the Feds ram it down our throats instead…

The cure for what the writer thinks ails us might be a lot worse than the disease.

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2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Jim Duncan July 26th, 2006 7:05 pm

    Just for the sake of argument – what if the MLS didn’t have cooperation as a component of what it was designed for? What if each client hired his or her own representation with no offer of cooperation from any of the sellers?

    –Jim

  2. Greg Swann July 26th, 2006 7:30 pm

    It would still be to every buyer’s and seller’s advantage to have a central clearinghouse, as opposed to the Tower of Babel now aborning. But without the unilateral offer of compensation, the brokers (here broadly defined to include would-be disintermediating websites) are better off with unaggregated open listings and either dual or unilateral agency. In other words, it’s the shared compensation that makes the MLS work, in my opinion.

    Arguably, something like a feed reader could improve the signal-to-noise problem, and a uniform protocol — call it RSREML, Really Simple Real Estate Mark-Up Language — would enable an apples-to-apples apprehension of data. But a For-Sale-By-Owner seller and a postulated Self-Represented-Buyer represent the extreme edge of one bell curve or another: low income, high spare time, low motivation, high Realtor-hostility, etc. The remainder of the marketplace will want intermediation of some sort, and this will have to be compensated in some way.

    There’s a cost-benefit trade-off, too, baby and bath-water. It will be interesting to see how things shake out.

    I will give you one notion that none of the would-be disintermediators is suggesting, not even with the golden opportunity Redfin.com had yesterday: Keep the NAR but get rid of the licensing laws. If you want to be in this business, be in it. If you want to join the NAR or the MLS, pay your dues and follow the mutually-voluntary rules. If you want to run naked and free, be my guest. But don’t tell me that you have a right to my intellectual property against my will and without compensation.