Recently, I had the opportunity to read an article posted on RISMedia by Kim Prior with Onboard Infomatics titled, “MLSs Taking Control of Destiny -a Plea, an Observation, a Call to Arms,” I was impressed with the simple but direct way she framed the challenges currently facing our industry. The relevance of the REALTOR®-centric control of the real estate industry is in jeopardy in a way which we all recognize; yet somehow, fall short of the solution which we know we need to embrace.
When I was first asked to become involved with Realtors Property Resource (RPR), I recognized that NAR was reaching into the future; not just reacting to change the way real estate data will be controlled and disseminated , but attempting to have a hand in its creative design. NAR recognized the challenges facing agents and brokers dealing with increasingly technology-empowered consumers, who are beginning to question the value of a REALTOR®, as they have their own access to information. RPR is being developed to change the game; to insure that REALTORS® have the best in single-source access to valuable, national and local property data.
Today, RPR enjoys valuable partnerships with more than 315 MLSs, representing over 535,000 REALTORS®. However, it has recently hit a wall of entrenched attitudes and business models which is affecting many of NAR’s members. RPR’s mission is to bring its robust parcel-centric database to all NAR members, but the reality is that 865 individual MLSs of various sizes and ownership structures are the stewards of the active and off-market data, and each MLS has to execute a separate contract with RPR in order to provide local market data which will assist RPR in bringing the highest value to NAR’s members. RPR’s business model is well known. As a wholly-owned subsidiary corporation of NAR, RPR has been completely transparent, even posting its License Agreement on its blog from day one. As a REALTOR® for more than 30 years, and a past NAR Director for 17 years, it’s what I would expect from our association. However, our competition is under no such obligation. While RPR strives to deliver a member benefit, owned and controlled by 1,000,000 REALTORS®, our competition is fighting for control of the industry solely for its own benefit, as for-profit, publically traded companies are supposed to do. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just important that you recognize the difference.
In the article, Kim Prior makes the following statement about the REALTOR® Industry, “Solutions which foster increased relevance, business control, financial power and stability are within our reach, yet we hesitate to make bold decisions. We wait patiently as more of the pie is taken away.” In another section she points out, “We see the industry power players continue to grow and hone their story; withdrawing control, profit and power from our model.” This is not a new discussion for REALTORS®, and the focus of all of this comes down to control and ownership of the data. Debates about the ownership between Brokers and MLSs do not address the bigger issue which threatens us. The authorization and use of that data once it leaves your hands is the challenge which will ultimately decide who controls the real estate industry.
The article goes on to say, “ . . . you all have the power to influence and the authority to lead our business into an ’age of success’ rather than an age of diminishing value. That age of success encompasses the following:
- Full control of our product (distribution, terms, usage, price)
- Appropriate dissemination of power to external parties and control those relationships
- Delivering what the consumer wants without a middleman
- Opportunities, innovation and job growth
The age of diminishing value lies ahead if we don’t take action:
- Others controlling our product and profiting from it
- Power in the hands of others who use it to control relationships
- A middleman delivering value to our consumers, devaluing industry professionals
- Suppressed innovation, monopolization of power, lost opportunities, lost jobs
What RPR seeks to offer NAR members is REALTOR® control of property data, analytics and valuations. At the core of the RPR system, the licensed data provided to the MLSs by brokers is aggregated with the additional licensed parcel-centric data. RPR then seeks to return valuable tools to REALTORS® designed to bring national and local information as well as agent and broker support systems directly where they are needed the most, at market level to benefit the consumers, but provided by REALTORS® to reinforce REALTOR® value. Short term revenue opportunities offered by competing products can undermine that value, and ultimately position the REALTOR® to meet all the standards the article outlines, as the path to diminishing value for our industry.
Ask yourself this question, “When the current economic challenges are behind us, who do I want controlling our industry?” In many markets, decisions on whether an MLS should license its data for use in the RPR Application have been based upon potential revenue by competing companies. The short term gain, while attractive, does nothing to address the real challenge facing us today, and the one which will continue tomorrow. The solution RPR is focused on is putting more money in your pocket, by helping REALTORS® be more efficient and assisting you with opportunities to obtain more listings and create more sales. REALTORS® helping REALTORS® is our core strength.