Manipulated Americans: Don’t be a Tool

There was a rash of news stories this week showing MAGA Republicans at a rally voicing support for Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. One lady said, referring to the Russian leader, “he’s just taking back what’s his, I don’t see the problem with it.” Similar sentiments regarding support for Russian advances in Crimea and that troubled region were also made at the recent CPAC meeting. Held annually the gathering always produces some hyperbole but in an election year the content is usually especially spicy and this year was extra hot, given the nature of the contest before us this Fall. So, why am I writing a post about an obscure, and quite dead Welshman beneath an early impressionist painting? Because the Welshman saw something that MAGA lady almost certainly has never heard of, people dying of hunger on the richest farmland in the world. People were arrested or even killed for picking leftover grain, gleaning, from harvested fields. Maybe, who knows, if the MAGA lady knew the whole story it might be a foothold on reality for her. Until then she’s another manipulated American basing her views on Kremlin propaganda, again.

We have to start somewhere to get back to the truth.

How about we start with Peter the Great? Or his spiritual successor Catherine the Great? Peter expanded the Russian Empire and dramatically westernized his country in still visible cultural and other changes. He won wars against the Swedes, the Turks, and the Austrians assisted significantly by the Cossacks, natives of the Zaporiga Region in Ukraine and Russia. Culturally the Cossacks built a reputation as fierce defenders of their territory so often tested by invaders from across the ancient world. Later they were allies and mercenaries for armies who sought their expertise and numbers. But they were separate. Peter made deals with them, and so did Catherine. Their language comes from the same ancient Eastern Slavic tradition but it’s different. The people know which is which and they will tell you if you ask, or maybe if you don’t.

They know they are different, ask them.

“I don’t speak Russian” is one of the first things anyone said to me when I went to Kyiv in 1984. The college I went to had a focus on international experiences and I was there with a group of Economics and Finance Professors as their student researchers. The idea was to familiarize a group of students currently forming their opinions and deciding on careers in business with the realities of a Planned Economy. It was an interesting idea and we did manage to learn even with the dramatic amounts of vodka with which we were presented. Vodka in water glasses with fresh oranges. We were studying Russian Language and trying hard to use our words and the kind Ukrainians helped us, of course. But they corrected us anytime we said they spoke Russian. They know Russian, and they can speak Russian, but they do not as a people speak or understand Russian or Russians.

Picture of Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones

So who is the Welshman? Bet you thought I had forgotten the Welshman. Gareth Richard Vaughan Jones (13 August 1905 – 12 August 1935) was a Welsh journalist who in March 1933 first reported in the Western world, without equivocation and under his own name, the existence of the Soviet famine of 1932–1933, now known broadly as The Holodomor. See, the Russians have for generations asserted ownership of lands between the Southern Provinces and The Black Sea. Crimea was sought by Peter that long ago. Putin is just the latest to treat that Sea as a Russian Lake. Stalin asserted State ownership over millions of acres of Ukrainian farmland during his disastrous klepto-communist reign. That’s what Gareth Jones stumbled on while traveling in the area during this period.

Garth Jones spoke Truth, the NYT published Russian propaganda

Jones was a young man, in his twenties, but when he wrote of his experiences and gave a news conference in Berlin, the world took some notice of him. He reported that Stalin’s policies were killing thousands of people. Of course, it turned out to be much worse, certainly millions of people starved in the Holodomor, a word that means “murder by hunger”. Stalin’s policies asserted that The State owned all production from agriculture so all crops were seized from all harvests. Inspectors swept through barns and houses and lofts, caves, hollow trees, and even graveyards with long sticks to find hollow caches of precious grain. Even “gleaning” was outlawed. Gleaners were arrested and summarily executed in the field, for picking up leftovers once primarily food for gulls. French painter Jean-François Millet painted the painting at the top of the page in 1857, lovingly depicting poor peasants picking from the fields. It was controversial with high society when it was released in Paris. Modern Parisians did not like to be reminded that they were vastly outnumbered by masses of subsistence farmers, some close to starvation and desperate. Around the time of Jones’ visit, maybe a million native Ukrainian people died because of a Russian Land Use Policy directed from Moscow, Stalin’s Five Year Plan. And it was only a hundred years ago. (The photo is of a painting called “The Gleaners” at Musee d’Orsay in Paris).

Fake News (again)!

But wait, there’s more! So I know about Gareth, but there is a pattern here that’s more important than this one Welsh guy, as important as Gareth turned out to be. The real issue is not that most people don’t know about Gareth, that MAGA lady certainly doesn’t, it’s really about the media, truth, and a guy named Walter Duranty who wrote for the New York Times at the time as our Gareth. See, when Gareth published his articles and had his press conference Duranty was a Moscow-resident American journalist. He had lived in Moscow for a decade and wrote articles that won the Nobel Prize and were later denounced by The Times and everyone except the Moscow authorities. Duranty was a hack and wrote to please the Dictator in the Kremlin. While he was disgraced, the Nobel Committee has so far refused to withdraw the prize. The result for many Americans, as today, might be that those reading only the headlines might be tricked into believing a foreign power’s successful attempt to cover up their nasty. Stalin certainly did that successfully with the New York Times and the Kremlin mouthpiece Duranty.

If you were Ukrainian, you do not have an affinity in your heart for Russia. I’ve been there. I know Ukrainians find one and ask them if you don’t believe. They want to Westernize, like most modern Europeans. They want self-determination. They want their borders to stick and to work their differences out with their neighbors through the actions of a modern Civil Society. Drone wars. Indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets, hospitals, and nuclear power facilities do not indicate the presence of now widely accepted rules of civil order. Putin violated those rules and continues to press any advantage, including attacking the soft right flank of the American electorate. Fake news, modern Durantys, are out there today convincing lightly-educated Americans that Russia has some historical right to the homes of other people. They are not historians so I can only assume they got this from Talk Radio or Ticker Carlson or some other promoter of the fringe.

Please, if you value peace, truth, and freedom, push back on the merchants of hate and doom who push these sick ideas. They are only trying to manipulate Americans into believing their lies as a tool to erode support for the people of Ukraine. Don’t be a tool.

PS: Read more about fake news, the Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter who testified about things she’d never seen to encourage the US to defend her country. here.

MLS Olympics

What a crazy idea, right? What if all the MLSs competed every four years to see who was the best? A race for the gold! Some friends are setting up a new Olympic Sport and I am following their progress, watching how that’s done. It’s an interesting process. It starts with a World Championship series on all five continents where the best in each country compete to be the best on their continent. That happens every four years during the Olympic Off Years and is the feeder process for picking the Olympic team. So there is a huge infrastructure of people, buildings, rules, marketing; all the things.

For MLSs, what if we took the regions in the nine regions, as defined by the Oracle of Swanepoel. Each region would host competitions in the approved “Olympic Sports”. The regional winners form the Olympic Team from each country, and they move up to compete in the Olympics. I love it. The big question for me is:

What are the MLS Olympic Sports? The real Olympics have these criteria:

  1. International Popularity: The sport should have global appeal with widespread participation and fanbase.
  2. History and Tradition: The sport should have a significant level of history and tradition, indicating a solid foundation.
  3. Governance and Organization: The sport should be governed by an international federation complying with the Olympic Charter, demonstrating effective organization, anti-doping efforts, and ethical practices.
  4. Athlete Representation: The sport should provide equal opportunities for both male and female athletes, promoting gender equality.
  5. Technical Requirements: The sport should have standardized rules, a well-defined competition format, and suitable facilities.
  6. Appeal to Youth: The sport should attract the younger generation, keeping the Olympic program dynamic.
  7. Media Coverage and Public Interest: The sport should generate sufficient media coverage and public interest globally.
  8. Anti-Doping Compliance: The International Federation of the sport must adhere to anti-doping regulations and ensure a clean and fair competition environment.

Given those criteria, we can put together some ideas:

  1. Data Downhill (syndication):
    • Definition: A prime function of any MLS is distributing our Subscriber’s data to the various websites that display the listings. There are literally hundreds of them from Zillow to the smallest Mom & Pop IDX vendor.
    • Competition: A draft listing is prepared and, at the whistle, is added to the competitor’s system. Auditors from Accenture and the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) measure how many microseconds it takes for all accounts to receive, and display, the new listing, with attachments and media.
  2. Sharpshooting (accuracy):
    • Definition: The center of confidence and integrity, data accuracy is a feature of any MLS system and without it nothing else matters.
    • Competition: Auditors from Accenture analyze a sample of listing data using a carefully guarded randomized selection formula (alphabetize by street number and pick the last 30 odd-numbered MLS numbers). Check the address against CASS, the price against an AVM, the lat/long against the GeoCode, required fields against known datasets, etc. The winner has the highest composite score.
  3. Prose (remarks):
    • Definition: The description of the property for sale is a rare opportunity for creativity. From Haribo Sugar-Free Gummy Bears to Three Wolf Moon t-shirts, Amazon reviews are rich sources for creative writing. Realtors have few chances to add value in the rapid-fire process of marketing a house. Public Remarks is a rare example.
    • Competition: Professional copyrighters (or ChatGPT) review a carefully selected (#2) cohort of Public Remarks are selected and analyzed for 72, or a number that can be factored into 72, elements of style. The winner has the highest composite score.
  4. Aesthetics (media):
    • Definition: Photos, videos, virtual tours, are the data elements that get all the attention. The quality of the media probably matters more than anything, besides the price, when marketing a property.
    • Competition: AI photo tools line up to do their best. A Jury of Visual Artists scores all media for beautifulness. The winner has the highest composite score.

What else? This is fun. I want to do it now, maybe in Salt Lake City or Lake Placid like the Winter Olympics.

Which Search am I Supposed to Use Now?

A very (very) successful and also friendly local Durham broker asked me a question in an email the other day.

Her: OK, I see that we have to enter listings through the “Listing Management” button on the Dashboard. Fine. Which system should I use to set up searches?

Me: Great question. This is what our Choice project is all about! You (and all Subscribers) have three of the most popular MLS platforms from which to choose for searching. The Listing Manager is only for adding and editing listings, there is a lite search function in that app in case you need to look up a listing for editing. But searching, and listing alerts, and prospecting happens in one of the three MLS options.

If I were in your shoes, I would set up a simple search in each system using a personal email address, not your TMLS email address. That way you can see what a Client will see when there is a listing alert. Paragon, Matrix, Flexmls, Homespotter, all do these alerts a little differently.

See what you think about them

Share them with a client

Take a poll

Click through them back into the Client Portal for each platform and check out each experience.

Paragon has the Collaboration Center, Matrix has OneHome, FBS has its Client Portal and each has its strengths and weaknesses.

So, if you are happy with Paragon then you would set up your searches like always. If you have trouble or get weird results using your current searches, try recreating them. There were over 500 changes to the database when it was translated to national standards in November causing some existing searches to be impacted. To be safe, I would reset them.

2023 Spotify List

The list is always kind of, what, a little surprising I guess. Weathervanes came out this year so I expected wall-to-wall Jason Isbell. I could have told you King of Oklahoma would be the top song. The Pop playlist got more airtime than I thought, how about that Harry Styles next to Taylor Swift. Olivia Rodrigo almost made the top ten, love her energy. And one song from The Greatest Showman soundtrack and some atmospheric tracks down the list, Theivery Corporation, Nirvana, Simon and Garfunkel from back in the day, closed out at 100 by Tempted from Squeeze. Kind of a fun list really!

Why is Choice better than One-Size-Fits Most?

Why Did TMLS Change the System?
Triangle made the decision late last year to do two things in 2023: translate the database to the national standard, and offer choice in MLS systems to Subscribers. The first part involved combing through every term in every category and comparing them to RESO, the official national dictionary of real estate terms. This required hundreds of small changes in our terms, and they are all reflected in the new Listing Management system. The benefits of this are many:

  • Consumers looking at other markets will see terms they recognize, instead of local jargon that might be well known to us but is foreign to people who are accustomed to the standard.
  • Matching terms allows us to data share with other MLSs with relative ease. Now that we have this milestone behind us, watch for announcements about pending data shares with other North Carolina MLSs.
  • Software based on the standards works everywhere. So, products can be built once and published everywhere. This materially increases the availability of these services because it dramatically reduces the cost to deploy and maintain them.

Now, with the database translated, TMLS was able to move to the second part of the plan: introduce the concept of Choice.

Front End of Choice: In the past, the MLS Board of Directors chose the MLS software and all 15,000 users were forced to use it for almost everything. Other markets such as California Regional MLS, the country’s largest, NorthStar MLS, MRED, and others offer more than one MLS interface so it’s a new but not original concept. By allowing Subscribers to choose between the three leading MLS platforms, we force those companies to compete more urgently for your business than they ever have. Now, you have until the end of February to try the three leading systems. We know that choice is going to be popular with the membership as soon as the data levels out.

Very briefly, three choices are:

  • Paragon from ICE: Paragon is a popular MLS platform and has been the only platform for TMLS Subscribers for the last several years. It is popular for its consumer-facing features and ease of use. ICE is a large, publicly traded company based in Atlanta and recently acquired the former Black Knight Financial Services, the makers of Paragon. You can learn more about ICE here and here, as well as our recent Podcast here.
  • Matrix from CoreLogic: Matrix has the most subscribers of all MLS providers. It is popular for its depth and integration with public records through its Realist platform. CoreLogic is owned by two venture capital firms: Stone Point Capital and Insight Partners. You can learn more about CoreLogic here and here, as well as our recent Podcast here.
  • Flexmls from FBS: Flexmls is also very popular and has about the same number of subscribers nationally as Paragon. It is known for its flexibility, mapping, focus on mobility, and a consistent experience from computer to phone and back. FBS is by far the smallest of the three, and is 100% Employee Owned. You can learn more about FBS here and here, as well as our recent Podcast here.

Listings, updates, photos, and documents managed with the Listing Management system will copy into Paragon, Matrix, Flexmls, and the other systems at roughly the same time. After launch on Nov 29, it will take some time for the systems to sync and for mapping errors to be fixed. At some point, hopefully this year, we have a design to make those updates instantaneous (using webhooks, for data scientists in the audience).

Impatience is an Argument with Reality

My new friend Bernie Koehrsen posted this the other day. He ran across it reading a book about patience. In the book, there was this quote:

“Impatience is an argument with reality”

Several people responded to that, and felt a connection. I assume these people have been frustrated, and later learned that the “rock” they were pushing uphill, the thing that frustrated them, turned out to be the Universe and not some person, or rule. In hindsight, it was never something they could have influenced.

Stay with me… I bet some of the salmon swimming upstream are really frustrated by those waterfalls. while others are having fun. Some of them are probably competition-Salmon, trying to outdo each other, to see which one does the best leap. 20% are griping about the whole thing. Likely talking about the old days when the falls were higher or the water was colder. When bears were bears and fish were men, or something.

Arguing with reality reminds me of the futility of griping. If your lot is to swim, you should learn to love the leaping.

Personally, I think cancer taught me this lesson. I know that seems like a tangent but, again, stay with me.

Sitting in an exam room on the 14th floor of a hospital in downtown Philadelphia, an intensely earnest genetic counselor shared with me, and my wife, that my cancer was likely “terminal”, her word. She showed me a scatterplot diagram illustrating the disease outcomes for a thousand or so patients in my cohort, people with the same type tumor according to the tumor’s DNA . The dots were all deaths, dates on the chart indicating how long after diagnosis.

In the moment, the dots looked like a murmuration, where birds fly in a tight group all together, with a leading edge and a stream of dots tapering off. Not many people died right away so, left to right, there were only a few dots on the left but they grew in density moving to the right, sort of like the pattern the birds make. Before twelve months, on the chart, there were only a few. Twelve to twenty-four months, there were dozens. Twenty-four to thirty-six months, the dots melt together into clumps. Thirty-six to Forty-eight months still dense but starting to taper off. Then, four years and out, there are fewer dots than in the first year.

The counsellor struggled to tell me that meant, based on the experience of the people in the cohort, I was not going to live more than about forty months, most likely less. Things changed for me and my family that day, but it took months of therapy to make sense of it.

In 2008, after ten years in business, the other founding partner at my company retired and I became CEO as well as President. So, in 2011, I had been in charge for three years and my company had just launched a new software product. It was a huge deal and cost millions to execute. I had speaking engagements all over the country on the schedule including a high-profile panel discussion at the Clareity MLS Executive Conference in Scottsdale AZ. Plus, my wife was scheduled to go with me. Since we were going to be empty nesters in the fall when our second daughter went to college, there were big plans.

But, life had other plans. After the diagnosis, I went back to the hotel and started making calls to my team telling them I could not make it. I suggested we push back our release plans and cancel the trips. My daughter called and said she was reconsidering going off for college and staying home.

Instead of cancelling everything, my team stepped in and did all the work stuff with confidence and ability. Several stepped into senior roles, maybe a little early, and are still killing it out there in the world, including my brother. Amazing, good things came of it.

I had to focus on setting my family up for success after I was gone, and maybe even surviving although the odds were very low. I went on to get two kinds of chemo, plaque radiation behind the eye, lots of lasers, three surgeries; basically everything they could throw at it and I lived. And the kid went to college and, so far at least, everyone lived happily.

I did not learn patience easily, and I still struggle. But I did learn this huge take-away: the universe does not care about my expectations. After all of this, I made a list of things that are most important to me. When I was finished, I found that I personally did not make the list. Everything on the list was about someone else and all of it is more important than me: my wife’s happiness, even her future relationships if I don’t make it. My daughters’ futures, my granddaughter’s happiness, leaving the place better than I found it, supporting people who need a hand, I mean, those things will last and I won’t. None of us will.

What should an MLS subscription cost?

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.

What Should MLS Cost?

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.

Home » News

Getting MLS Out of The Way

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.

TMLS Network Diagram September 2023

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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, and 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, the South’s Premier Property Technology event of the year.

Office Culture, when conversations turn toxic

When we updated our Employee Manual to adjust for Remote Work, we added a section called “Professional Interpersonal Communication”. The section is our attempt to define what we mean by unprofessional communication between people in the workplace. There are several good articles on workplace culture and what some have called Triangulation. Linked has this post from an HR coach and I also found this definition:

Triangulation occurs when two or more people get together and talk negatively about or plot against a third person or group. (reference)

In the break room, Chris says to Lori:

“Were you on that Slack call with Bob? Does he even know how to use a computer?”


“Wow, that new ‘marketing plan’ (air quotes) is genius, that will be an epic fail.”


“I know what she said, but you know they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Those are examples of “office gossip” or a “culture of griping” that we have all been around at one time or another. Humans, some humans anyway, create coalitions naturally as part of group behavior. People have friends, and friends talk about their other friends, and people who are not their friends. That’s normal. But when it is directed against someone, or against a team or project, it’s not good. In fact it’s toxic. It’s the fastest way for teams to split or spin apart.

The line between normal human conversation and a comment that is bad for the team can be hard to understand, and no doubt people cross it all time unintentionally as well as intentionally. My point is this: when you are in that environment and someone says something negative about another person, or about a company initiative, ask yourself a question:

Am I in a position to do anything about this person’s complaint? If you are not, then why is this person telling me this?

If you are not, then the reason they are griping is to get you to agree. Then the two of you are a team against the thing you are both now complaining about. But that’s the point. By engaging you join the splitters, not the people trying to pull the team together.

This is the section from the new Employee Manual:

TMLS is committed to maintaining a productive workplace in which all employees are treated with respect and the organization receives feedback in an appropriate manner. We depend on employees to communicate professionally with coworkers, subscribers, and all stakeholders so that TMLS runs as effectively as possible.

Every employee’s feedback is valued, and necessary for the Company to be successful. You are encouraged to share your feedback with those who are in a position to act so that solutions are reached instead of sharing with those who cannot act and creating acrimony and conflict. In accordance with our Open Door policy, all employees are expected to share concerns about a coworker, Company initiative, or project with their manager or supervisor.

Nothing in this policy shall or is intended to interfere or in any way restrain employees from exercising their rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. For examples and guidance regarding this policy, speak with your manager or supervisor.

TMLS Employee Manual – Updated August 2023

“You will have Pepperoni and you will like it!”

When I was an MLS vendor, “cutover” was a great time. It meant we won another contract and were going to get to learn a new place. And make more money. Back then we traveled to the town and sometimes spent weeks there living out of hotels, spending days teaching software classes. Eventually I was sure the whole world looked like the inside of a Marriott Conference Center. But for the agents and brokers attending my classes, my presence meant only that SOMEONE down at the Board office was forcing them to take time off to learn some new MLS system for NO REASON. Someone has decided that the whole world is changing from Coke to Pepsi, from Cheese to Pepperoni and your options are: 1) Like it, 2) Get over it.

Fast forward twenty years to today, and I am in charge of a big MLS, the 33rd largest in the country. To avoid the trauma of those cutovers, we are building a new system that will keep cutovers from ever happening again. I do not mean that new software will not come in, or that people will not have to learn new systems, but that the MLS will not decide what the subscribers have to use, or when. It will be up to Participants and their teams.

Details are: Listings will be entered through a new Add Listing workflow built by FBS. That database will be the Primary or Original dataset that will be used to update all others. Matrix and Paragon will have access to the data as close as real-time as possible to maintain Messaging Equity among the Front Ends of Choice. Subscribers can choose to use one, two, or all three of the interfaces, but all listing changes and all new listings will come through the new Add Listing workflow. RESO anticipates listing updates will come through RESO Web API at some point, so changes can come from any authorized UI.

The end result of this project will be data that is clean enough so that any compliant software can use it. It means that big brokers and small, with their own areas of concentration, can innovate. It means that MLSs vendors do not have a little monopoly for the terms of the MLS contract. It means they have to compare themselves against their rivals every day, not just every three to five years. It means each of them will have to invest in their systems to support their customer’s need for automation. Some are way ahead on that road.

The end result is something like a pizza buffet? You can have Pepperoni, or Cheese, or Sausage, or even Pineapple, back in the kitchen there are only a few ingredients and all dishes come off of the same counter. Really stretching the metaphor, but that’s like the MLS. Our new systems will allow each user to decide how which TMLS service adds the most value to their business, to make their own pizza.

Does Homeownership Materially Add to Wealth?

Yes, homeownership has contributed to wealth building in the United States. Home equity is the most important asset for most middle-class families. In fact, for households in the three middle-income quintiles, home equity is the largest single financial asset, representing between 50% and 70% of net wealth (Link to Brookings Article Figure 1).

Homeownership can help families build wealth in a few ways:

  • Building equity: When you make a mortgage payment, a portion of that payment goes towards paying off the principal balance of your loan. This means that you are gradually building equity in your home, which is the difference between the market value of your home and the amount you owe on your mortgage. Over time, your equity can grow significantly, which can provide you with financial security.
  • Tax benefits: Homeowners can deduct mortgage interest and property taxes from their federal income taxes. This can save you a significant amount of money each year.
  • Appreciation: In general, home prices tend to appreciate over time. This means that your home could be worth more in the future than it is today. This can be a great way to build wealth.

However, it is important to note that there are also some potential disadvantages to owning a home, such as:

  • Mortgage payments: Mortgage payments can be a significant financial burden, especially if you have a large loan. You will also need to pay property taxes and homeowners insurance.
  • Maintenance and repairs: As a homeowner, you are responsible for the maintenance and repairs of your home. This can be expensive, especially if there are major repairs that need to be done.
  • Immobility: Once you own a home, it can be difficult to move. This is because you will need to sell your home before you can buy another one. Selling a home can be a lengthy and expensive process.

Ultimately, whether or not owning a home is a good financial decision for you will depend on your individual circumstances. If you are able to afford the monthly payments and are willing to take on the responsibility of homeownership, then owning a home can be a wise financial decision. However, if you are not sure if you are ready for the commitment of homeownership, then it may be better to rent for now.

Here are some of the factors that can affect the wealth-building potential of homeownership:

  • The amount of your down payment: The larger your down payment, the less you will have to borrow, which will lower your monthly mortgage payments and the amount of interest you will pay over the life of your loan.
  • The length of your mortgage: A shorter mortgage will have lower monthly payments, but you will pay more interest over the life of the loan.
  • The appreciation rate of your home: If your home appreciates in value over time, you will build more equity. However, there is no guarantee that your home will appreciate in value.
  • The cost of maintenance and repairs: Home maintenance and repairs can be expensive, so it is important to factor these costs into your budget.

If you are considering buying a home, it is important to do your research and understand the potential benefits and risks. Homeownership can be a great way to build wealth, but it is not right for everyone.