Do you think clients should be able to have direct and unlimited access your local MLS?

  • No. (64%, 164 Votes)
  • Yes. (36%, 94 Votes)

Total Voters: 258

A recent study by the Center for Data Innovation suggests the exclusivity of regional multiple listing services (MLS’s) are harming consumers, a potential anti-trust issue.

As all practicing California brokers and agents know, each MLS is a database of property listed for sale locally. While most consumers use an online listing aggregator site like Zillow, Trulia, or Redfin at some point in their home search to acquire basic information on properties listed for sale, the local MLS holds the most up-to-date and extensive information that is available only to licensed MLS subscribers.

Real estate agents and their brokers pay fees to access and contribute listings to the MLS, which is designed and operated by local real estate associations. These local Associations of Realtors (AORs) engineer the MLS to be heavily regulated and exclusive — keeping this valuable information out of the hands of the general public. Here in California, the largest MLS is the California Regional MLS (CRMLS).

In fact, many real estate brokers erroneously believe they need to be a Realtor® member of the local AOR in order to access or post listings to the local MLS. Rather, licensed brokers may simply pay to be an MLS subscriber or participant, skipping the trade association membership fees and bureaucracy of becoming a member of the AOR and California Association of Realtors® (CAR). [Marin County Board of Realtors, Inc. v. Palsson (1976) 16 C3d 920]

However, paying to access the MLS can add up for some brokerages, which operate across multiple AORs in several states. The study cites online listing aggregators and brokerages like Redfin and Open Listings, which pay millions in fees to access each local MLS. These costs, which vary widely as they are set by each AOR, can be detrimental and destructive for smaller brokerages.

Further, according to the study, an effort is underway at the National Association of Realtors (NAR) to further consolidate listings and enable brokers to block their listings from third-party websites like Zillow, Trulia, etc.

The authors of the study suggest the following regulatory actions be taken:

  1. State policymakers need to require brokers to provide unlimited access to their listings.
  2. At the national level, the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission need to investigate the possibility of collusion by real estate trade unions to block MLS data from online listing aggregators.

In a rebuttal, Redfin’s CEO and Vice President clarify that simply freeing up MLS information so all consumers can access it isn’t enough. In the era of open data, they note the need for websites to share their listings with each other — a data-sharing agreement needs to be reached so that listing aggregators not only can receive MLS data, but they also need to share their data with the MLS.

Related article:

Letter to the Editor: Association membership and MLS access

first tuesday’s stance

Access to the MLS has been a long-debated and contentious subject. first tuesday stands on the side of openness and ease of access to all real estate data, including listing data and real estate forms. After all, the more people (brokers, agents, buyers and sellers) who see a listing, the more likely it is to sell quickly and for the most money — the seller’s objective.

But some agents worry that when buyers and sellers have more access to listing data, real estate professionals lose control and will be made obsolete. But this is extremely unlikely to occur, even at a small level.

Buying or selling a house for most families is a once or twice in a lifetime event. As such, people want an experienced guiding hand to walk them through the process. Agents and brokers do much more than simply list and locate properties — they diligently shepherd their clients through the largest financial decision of their lives.

For a recent case study, consider Redfin. When Redfin first started disrupting the buying and selling process, they were basically hands off. They charged a very low 1% fee and didn’t provide their clients with much help at all, aside from broad guidance with legal documents. But they found their business wasn’t taking off because clients wanted more from their trained agents. As a result, Redfin’s brokerage model now looks more like a traditional brokerage, as they have more agents and charge the traditional 3% fee, with a small rebate at the end of the transaction.

Agents and brokers — you’re not going anywhere. Even when clients have the ability to search listings on third-party sites, your experience and expertise are in demand, always. Increasing access to your clients’ listings can only help, especially when you are involved to ensure the data shared is accurate and up-to-date.