In the old paradym there is one system and one price for all members of the MLS, generally referred to as “subscribers”. Associations have “Members”, MLSs have “Subscribers”. The price is negotiated by the MLS Committee or Board of Directors in each city with the assistance their staff and counsel. MLSs vendors generally bundle services such as Tax Data, Statistics, Showing Scheduling, and the like into the price which ends up being presented to the MLS Committee/BoD as a Price Per Member per Month. The bigger the MLS, the smaller the price per subscriber, because all Subscribers pay whether they ever actually login or not. That’s called a Site License and it’s how almost all MLSs operate today, so that’s what it cost today. But what should MLS cost? Let’s think about what MLS-Next might look like without the one-size-fits-all nonsense.
So, for illustration purposes, a 1,000 member MLS is paying $10/subscriber/month for their MLS software. That comes with an input form to collect the data encoded with the MLS’s specific business rules so the data complies with MLS Rules & Regs as well as other data integrity rules. For example, the price can’t be zero, the listing agent ID has to be a valid, the closed date can’t be prior to the list date, and literally hundreds of others. In addition to capturing the data, the software will also include rule-based change forms, automated processes that expire listings based on dates and business rules. Also reporting from Consumer Reports to CMAs and Multi-property flyers, there are dozens of those and most also include a Report Builder so Subscribers can create unlimited styles and options for their clients. The MLS will also include support for a handful of integrations with Tax Data, Rental Data, outside reporting services, and integrations. All that for $10,000/month or about $120,000/year on a 3-5 year contract.
In the standard environment the 1,000 users all have to use the same software to both manage their listing inventory and also their customers. A core function of the MLS is of course to capture the data in an organized way, as we described above, but then most Subscribers also use the MLS to send updates to their clients. Subscribers use the MLS to describe the parameters a buyer is looking for in a new house, and to send them an email when something new comes on the market or something changes. This drip marketing function is a core service delivered by the Subscriber to their clients and most, according to a recent survey, use their MLS for this. So the emails every customer in the market are receiving from their Agents are, the same.
Fast forward to 2023, November 29th to be specific, and the 16,000 Subscribers in the Triangle MLS will find that the data, the listings that we capture with our rule-based forms, has been separated from that second part. The software Triangle users decide to license to talk to their clients will be up to them, not me and my staff at the MLS. And, to begin with, there will be three: Paragon, the one all 16,000 use now, plus two of the other national leaders in the MLS space: FBS and CoreLogic. Its a goal I have had for a long time, and not just me, it’s a goal our industry has been working towards for at least a decade. To push the purchase decision out of the MLS Board Room and into the offices of our Brokers and Agents.
Maybe it’s a little like IDX software in our industry. The MLS does not dictate who our Brokers can use to power listing search on their websites. They have to sign a Third Party License Agreement since they will be holding MLS data on behalf of the Broker, but we know how to make that easy. We support thousands of those sites from hundreds, certainly dozens, of IDX vendors. Its an active marketplace with a wide universe of prices from free to thousands of dollars a month.
So, what should MLS cost?
Who knows. Thankfully in America we mostly still believe in the power of the market to answer questions like that. At launch in November all options will cost the same. Base MLS membership costs $X and comes with the ability to add and edit the listings plus one of the three MLS systems. To add a second system it costs an additional $Y, a third is the same, $Y. So, to be clear that’s $X a month for one, $X+Y for two, and $X+$Y+$Y) for three. In dollars, say X=$50 and Y=$25 so $50 for one, $75 for two, and $100 for three. Those prices are subject to change of course and likely will change. I think it’s strange that they are the same. Like if you went to a restaurant and everything on the menu was $39. That would be strange, and would mean there was some funky math happening back in the kitchen.
That means the answer to our question, what should MLS cost, depends on who you are. Right now the options cost the same to make the transition easier for our 16,000 subscribers for whom all of this is new and confusing. But that’s the only reason they cost the same and that will always be the reality of the marketplace, it almost can’t. Those conversations have lead to some really fun questions. So, if Brokers get to choose whatever options the MLS software companies can work onto the Dashboard, what would a product look like that cost $250? Or $2500? What if a team could choose a complete customer engagement system from 1000 Watt or Agency McKenna? The MLS could automate the property and license data sets and provide programatic access to everything through our shiny new API.
On the other end of that spectrum we already anticipate a $50 option that does not come with an MLS system. Brokers and Agents working for certain tech-heavy national brands do not want or need to use Paragon or Matrix or any of those platforms because they have their own. Soon, when can receive as well as send data through a rules-based API, Brokers with the right tech will submit listings from their own platforms and never need to use MLS software at all. Their people can work entirely within the firms branded environment and never leave. That’s optimal for any business. So, when they signup in the future, they will pick a new API-Key-Only Option which still includes full MLS membership but no software, since they don’t need it.
Either way, whether it’s $25 or $2 or $2,500, the MLS of the future will support them all, but we won’t compel the use of any of them. That seems like a decision best left to the real estate professionals themselves.