Standard Operating Procedure for MLSs has, admittedly, been bad for innovation. Terrible, really.
For my thirty years in the business, there has been one way to enter listings, and one way to work with them: through whatever MLS software some Board committee picked. Then, every Realtor and appraiser in the market was forced to use that software for everything. For three to five years until, just when everyone gets accustomed to using it, the committee votes to switch again. It’s great. People love that.
To make things worse, the person leading the MLS is usually also the CEO of the Association of Realtors that usually owns and operates the MLS. Not always, there are some big ones that have their own leadership but in most places, the MLS Director is also the Association CEO. These folks usually come up through the Association as Government Affairs, Finance, or Membership Directors, often Legal. And, they are some of my closest friends and a big reason why the industry has been so fun and rewarding. But they are not, as a rule, Subject Matter Experts when it comes to technology.
So, that creates a situation where a non-technical management person is leading a group of non-technical real estate people making what are fundamentally technical decisions. An unfortunate but not terribly surprising outcome of this dynamic is a general over-reliance on the vendors to do, well, everything.
Black Knight, CoreLogic, and Flexmls, and to a lesser extent, Rapattoni, DynaConnections, SEI, and, back in the day, Solid Earth have dominated the MLS-tech space for decades. These are all very good companies run by friends that I trust and respect. No. Seriously, I mean that. I won’t even start to try and name them all, they know who they are, and they know those relationships mean a great deal to me. Despite my personal affinity and respect for them, in my new role I now see how this is underserving most MLSs. The vendors have too much power and control, their agendas dominate strategy, and they sometimes forget, the companies not the people, who owns this information in the first place. I am thinking of some mortgage giants looking at MLS as a source of leads. Just because MLS Subscribers use Software A to store their leads, does not mean the publishers of Software A have any access or rights to use or even see the confidential information stored inside Software A.
If I store my tax returns in a mini storage warehouse, the owner of the warehouse does not have the right to access, see, or use any information inside the leased space. This is no different, and TMLS will never sign a License Agreement that challenges the ownership of our Subscriber’s confidential information. So, before we get to the architecture of “getting out of the way”, let’s pause for a moment to remind ourselves that we are talking about protecting someone else’s valuable property left with us for safekeeping.
Like an original song, painting, or movie, the creator of those works owns them. In our context, the Intellectual Property, or IP, is centered around the listing agreement. Thats the contract between the Listing Brokerage hired by the owner to sell their, house, farm, condo, or whatever, and the Owner. The broker owns the contract, and usually the Exclusive Right to Sell the property in question. She owns the photos she took, or a license to them if she hired a photographer, and most documents she uploaded describing the property. She uploaded this material to our website, entrusting it to us, the MLS, to share it with authorized real estate professionals solely for the purpose of marketing and selling the property. It is her intellectual property that, when added to all the others, creates the critical mass, the positive network effect that defines the collective and creates the MLS’s core value.
So, at the MLS, our job is to build and maintain that list. And to add to it where we can, and to constantly check the records for errors, potential fraud, inequity, or other undesirable economic outcomes. Our job is not to build or even think too much about the software our Subscribers use in their own businesses. As we’ve described, almost all MLSs choose one system for an exclusive contract term. All listings must be entered through that platform, and all searches and prospecting, statistics, public records access, CMAs, drip marketing happen there too. Unless the Realtor or their Broker has heavily invested in their own tech, most Subscribers rely almost exclusively on the MLS software to operate their businesses.
But what if we changed all of that.
The particular software platform a Subscriber chooses to use the information in the MLS is less important to us. Mainly, we don’t want to be a roadblock to any novel way an innovator my find to incorporate the information into their businesses. Forcing people to use one interface feels like monoculture. Like it’s anti-choice, anti-diversity, anti-openness. We don’t want to be any of those things.
For the last several years in The Triangle region, as most places, to enter a listing there was one option: Black Knight‘s Paragon system. Lack of choice is not the only issue here, what if Paragon was down for days or weeks like Rapattoni’s MLS system in August 2023? If that was the only way to manipulate the listings we would be down. That is an unacceptable business risk.
Because system architecture is one of those things I needed to understand as a software CEO, I spent considerable time studying, attending seminars, and interviewing technical experts to try and learn what an “optimal” configuration might be. Engineers and our friends at RESO have been futurecasting the optimal future MLS for years and, happily, the answer is not new, and does not require new inventions to make it real. Other industries have figured this out and built systems that effectively communicate in a rule-based way so that related systems can work together and scale through automation, like the one illustrated in the TMLS Network Diagram from Sept ’23.
What are the building blocks?
- Standard Data: It starts with data that is similar enough to be shared across boundaries without unnecessary and inefficient ETL processes. RESO originally reported over 500 types of “status” and more than 400 existed in only one MLS. It’s really hard to share listings when the “threads” don’t line up. Triangle Data is compliant with RESO’s latest Data Dictionary, version 2.0.
- Standard Rules: If rules are different it produces a race to the bottom, meaning the MLS with the least rules weaken the viability for everyone and make the whole dataset less or even unreliable. All five Triangle Stakeholders abide by the same rules.
- Open Data Policy: For Subscribers, Triangle makes data available in multiple ways including all three major MLS interfaces from Black Knight, CoreLogic, and FBS, as well as high-availability, RESTful APIs for Subscribers requiring only data. This Front-End-of-Choice was made possible because of the years of work at RESO normalizing hundreds of disparate datasets.
- Enriching the Data: When a Subscriber enters a listing into the system, Triangle checks other trusted databases for things like green energy features that may be registered at the address, or whether fiber internet is available. The TMLS system adds these fields to the information provided by the Listing Broker to make it easy for her to provide those choices to her clients.
- Compliance and Auditing: We can check to see if the property described by the Listing brokerage matches trusted data sources from Government and other places. Artificial intelligence routines constantly scan the images and documents uploaded along with the listings tagging aspects of the information. Missing and conflicting information is reported to the Listing Brokerage who is prompted to improve the accuracy of the listing and the system by confirming or challenging the alert. The result is a dataset that is more reliable and more complete than other sources of real estate information.
So for all of those reasons, coming this fall, Triangle MLS is going to be MLS agnostic, Front-End-of-Choice, or just “Choice”. All three of the major MLS platforms will be available to Subscribers of TMLS. Black Knight‘s Paragon system used now by all 15,000+ members will remain the default MLS platform for all users and will continue to work as normal. But if the Subscriber prefers CoreLogic Matrix or FBS’s Flexmls, or they have their own platform, they can choose none, one, two, or all three. Triangle’s job will be about ensuring the data is accurate and complete in all supported interfaces. The days of steering Subscribers to one platform or another are over in the Triangle.
Multiple ways to look at weather data.
That configuration is something like apps on a phone. I have three weather apps that do slightly different things. All three use the same National Weather Service data to produce their displays (by accessing an API), but one has a cooler radar, another has better alerts, another has nicer hurricane maps. I bounce back and forth between them during severe weather. Maybe MLS will be like that in the future. Instead of being married to one for years, the Subscribers get to compare and move around if they want to, or use one for some things and another for something else.
Spreading the data around also reduces single points of failure. If there are multiple ways to get to the data, one or more of them could be offline and there would still be a way to do business. The benefits of this architecture are many, and the costs are present but manageable. It means that all three will be more expensive on a per unit basis, since no one gets an exclusive. But that also means that we will never tell Black Knight to uninstall Paragon. Never. Can other Black Knight customers say that? As long as my Subscribers want to use Paragon, we will support it. That changes the relationship in a material way, in a positive way. Yet another reason to change the way we do things and, finally, get out of the way of innovation. Its part of becoming the best MLS in the business.
Interested in PropTech stuff? Watch for more on Triangle’s social feeds and occasionally on this site. Also, come out to PropTechSouth.com, the South’s Premier Property Technology event of the year.