Midyear Wrap-up : Portal War?

Like many of you in this industry, we typically spend the last weeks of April preparing for Midyear. This year, we estimated that our time in DC would be a lot busier given that Spring had been delivered to the Greater Chattanooga Association of REALTORS the week before – and we were right.

It seems that some key industry people had their eyes on that event and had noticed a few things that we hoped they would:

Brian Boero of 1000w Consulting wrote, “I would be overstating things only slightly by saying that The Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors just might have the best home search site in the industry.”

Mike Audet of WAV Group wrote, “…agents have outstanding vision into client behavior on Spring in terms of their preferences and search behavior creating a truly interactive agent/client experience.”

Greg Robertson of vendoralley.com wrote, “Looks like Solid Earth is swinging for the fences here. It acts as both and public and private portal, responsive design, the works. Congrats to Solid Earth.”

With that kind of exposure, the week in DC went very well. Lots of meetings with clients, potential clients and the industry intelligentsia. Then something happened. The NAR political machine whirred to life.

The events surrounding the Multiple Listing Issues & Policy Committee and the BoD is very well documented, but just in case you didn’t leave the lobby bar at the Omni all week, Andrea Brambila at Inman News has a great recap here. Rob Hahn added his unique brand of wisdom here. It’s great stuff.

But when reading and listening to accounts of the decisions made (or not made) last week, it sounds to me like battle lines are being drawn on two sides: those for a MLS-produced public portal versus those against them… placing MLSs with existing public portals directly at odds with Mr/Mrs Big Broker.

I don’t think the sides are that clearly defined. So, I felt compelled to put our own $.02 on the discussion given that we’re in the business of building super-awesome data portals designed to benefit everyone involved. And even though we’re building said public portals, we’re certainly not in any anti-big-broker camp.

As the MLS technology partner our stance has always been to build software that keeps the broker at the center of the real estate transaction. Up until a few years ago, that was pretty straight-forward. We’d churn out a steady flow of cool stuff to put in our platform, LIST-IT. Make a better CMA than Flex, make more reports than Innovia or release a better drip-marketing tool than Paragon. Business as usual on vendor alley, so to speak. Our work was predicated on increasing the effectiveness of the software. We either won or lost accounts based on our performance in this MLS feature arms race.

Now obviously the world has changed. Consumers, tired of being left out of the conversation have essentially given Zillow and Trulia (Zulia) a reason for existence. So much so that, to me, the greatest threat facing our client MLSs and their members isn’t totally solved with “better software”. The threats are much more strategic, much more fundamental. Far beyond a checklist of MLS features.

Solid Earth is still very much in the business of keeping the broker at the center of the transaction. Only now we’re focusing on, and building value around, the specific differentiators of the broker business model. The ends are the same [empower the professional]. The means are totally new [dump the antiquated tactics, open the doors a bit and invite the consumer to the party in a big hurry].

But don’t read this as completely anti-Zulia. Honestly, I waver on my attitude towards Zulia. Many brokers are utilizing their tools and doing just fine. But my (or your) view on whether Zulia as friend or foe is immaterial. What isn’t immaterial is the continued erosion of the broker image.

It’s this erosion…this distance being created between professional and consumer is the biggest threat to every Association, every MLS and every broker. We saw it happening two years ago, so we started preparing.

The result of this preparation is Spring. A beautiful, well-managed, locally-promoted public portal powered by the best data there is; MLS data that must pass through a strict business rules filter (the differentiator). If you can establish your local MLS brand and take hold of your local market, you have a foundation of independence against any outside threat.

So, back to the meeting rooms, dinner tables and watering holes in Washington DC.

Does a popular public site really compete with a local broker site? To answer this, we have to qualify what is meant by compete. Presuming an IDX feed or similar, a broker’s company site and the MLS site both contain the full database of listings, so that data is simply replicated. In terms of a Google search, yes, you could argue that a MLS portal and broker site may jockey for position, but both MLS and broker searches serve the same purpose – producing leads that go directly to the broker. As long as one or the other maintains the top spot, who cares?

Clearly, not everyone is convinced on this point, so it’s our job to show a clear ROI for a public portal to every stakeholder.

So that’s a lot more Midyear Wrap-up than you expected, but this is important to get out to the people paying attention to what we’re doing. Solid Earth is clearly a major champion for the validity (and urgency) of the MLS-produced public portal. But we are definitely not suggesting this strategy runs afoul of any large broker business model.

In fact, just the opposite.

3 thoughts on “Midyear Wrap-up : Portal War?

  1. Great blog Bill. I coundn’t agree more but what can I say, great minds think alike. The only difference….your ability to sing as well.

  2. Bill and the team at Solid Earth, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I completely agree with you that the MLS software features are not what will keep the MLSs or the brokers in the game. The consumer doesn’t care about how cool the MLS system is for the professionals. MLS Participants and Subscribers don’t pick their MLS system based on features (mostly). The market-based MLS picks them and it’s typically a one-horse race. So organized real estate is generally aware that there is a problem and it’s going to take a unified front to make it going forward.

    Read Todd Carpenter’s related report (download and ready it)

    http://realtynex.us/2013/05/23/special-report-why-online-consumers-love-zillow-and-trulia-more-than-you/

    I think Todd sums it up rather well.

    Thanks for what you and the team at Solid Earth are doing for the industry. I hope that people are paying attention and I am a cheerleader for your success as you launch Spring.

  3. Thanks Kevin. I think Todd’s piece is important for Associations to read and internalize. And it’s a call to action for independent-minded cities who want to defend their own brands in the marketplace. It’s exciting and energizing and we’re up for the challenge at Solid Earth! We just hope there are enough progressive trade associations who get it!

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