Four years ago this May, at the first meeting of the Broker Public Portal during the NAR Mid-Year meetings in Washington D.C., a small group of dreamers turned an exciting idea into a movement.
Originally conceived as a national website jointly owned and controlled by both MLSs and brokers, the BPP's success would depend on collaboration and cooperation - two things organized real estate is founded upon, but that no one believed could be achieved on a national scale. After discussing my idea with fellow executives Tim Dain, Joseph Collum, Chris Carrillo, and John Leonardi, we believed strongly that the industry still had a small window of time to try and build what Realtor.com was supposed to have been - an outstanding, nationally competitive website with the most accurate, comprehensive, and timely data available - under the direction and control of brokers and MLS.
With this moral support in hand, I approached Bob Moline, then head of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, to share our thoughts and ideas about a national portal with him. To his everlasting credit, Bob, who had no idea who I was and who had recently made his dissatisfaction with the state of the MLS industry known, not only agreed to have a real discussion about building a national portal, but put his considerable influence on the line by backing it.
Another stand-out performance was turned in by Chris Bennett from Core Logic. We originally approached Chris to both gain a better understanding of the scale of data we would be working with and because Core Logic has more than 50% of the MLSs as customers. Instead of seeing the Broker Public Portal as a threat, Chris readily endorsed the concept and offered both technical and financial support in the very beginning of the effort. He made it clear from the very start that while Core Logic would be honored to win a contract to provide and host the BPP, they would be supportive of the effort regardless of the outcome for Core Logic. Chris's support lent vital credibility to the BPP effort in the beginning and his unwavering support - even once the BPP selected Homesnap - has been outstanding.
To bring this story around to the present, with the selection of four superb new Board members in Kathleen Manchin with Keller Williams, Christina Pappas with the Keyes Company, Bill Miller with Metrolist, and Chelsea Goyer with Redfin, the BPP is both widening its support among brokers and MLSs and gaining valuable experience with the operations of extremely high-functioning websites. The continued success of Homesnap in creating engaging, informational content for consumers and brokers/agents and outreach to collaborate with MLS vendors has, I believe, affirmed our reasons for their selection over truly excellent competition.
I am incredibly proud of co-founding the Broker Public Portal with Bob Moline, but I am even prouder watching it grow more successful with every passing month. The dream that started this is the same: Only through cooperation and collaboration on a national scale will brokers and MLSs be able to bring large enough resources to bear to compete effectively and draw meaningful consumer traffic. The alternative, if the BPP does not succeed, is the legacy of having permanently lost any viable, direct bridge from brokers to consumers online.
Metro MLS and ARMLS have announced some outstanding, visionary progress on non-contiguous MLS collaboration and I am honored that they selected Inevate Consulting to facilitate.
It's a brave new world out there and it's going to take innovative thinking, leadership, and industry expertise to navigate the challenges successfully. CEOs Chris Carrillo and Matt Consalvo are more than up the job and I look forward to helping them achieve success. We are focused on progress, tangible success, and intentional, strategic decisions to keep the MLS relevant to Brokers and agents.
Metro MLS and ARMLS are exploring the benefits of non-contiguous collaboration in an effort to gain from their combined economies of scale, products, and services. With technological advances, MLSs no longer need to border each other to collaborate and by finding and working with like-minded and progressive MLS partners, Metro MLS and ARMLS have adroitly resolved the reluctance of neighboring MLSs to merge or collaborate.
With collaboration comes the ability to benefit from common products and services at the same time as building a more comprehensive database. If high quality, comprehensive, accurate, and timely data is at the heart of the MLS' relevance to brokers and agents, then data collaborations that take months rather than years to achieve can be the most effective path to success.
To learn more about non-contiguous collaboration, email Cameron@inevate.net. In addition to collaboration and consolidation, Inevate Consulting specializes in strategic planning and executive placement services.
By definition, "Volunteer Leadership" is a process by which leaders of an organization are selected from a pool of candidates willing to offer their time to an organization at no cost.
Volunteerism is a proud tradition that has served to forward the noble goals of non-profit organizations like the Boy/Girl Scouts of America, sports clubs, country clubs, enthusiast clubs, and charitable organizations, to name a few. Part of the fabric of the American experience, the volunteer leader serves a very real need within a community by providing time, a willing set of hands, enthusiasm, and benign direction for an organization that either cannot pay for, or chooses not to spend their money on, professional leadership.
In organized real estate, this volunteer leadership structure has served the membership Associations of Realtors well by providing a dependable stream of volunteers with skills commensurate to the duties expected of a non-profit membership association. There was the oversight of administrative staff, usually the creation and chairing of a charitable effort, and the planning of the annual installation and/or holiday party event. Nothing more was expected because, like the local country club or youth organization, nothing more was needed to run a local membership association.
When the Multiple Listing Service developed, it happened under the umbrella of the membership organization of the local Association of REALTORS. It made perfect sense, because until NAR changed the rules, ONLY brokers were REALTORS (which meant that only brokers decided the business practices, bylaws, policies, etc., of the local, state, and National Association of Realtors) and they were already loosely cooperating through their membership in the Realtor Association. As a result, the MLS was developed under the Realtor Association governance and ownership as a direct privilege of membership.
In the beginning, swapping listings on note cards at membership meetings meant that the demands of running an MLS would not have been greatly different from that of the Association. But the desire for efficiencies of trading information increased, so did the demands of running an MLS which caused two distinct, but related, problems: First, the staff originally hired to handle the purely administrative details of a non-profit membership Association were now being asked to run a for-profit corporation, something which many had little or no experience doing. And second, a Board of Directors long-accustomed to their biggest issue of the year being the planning of the charity fundraiser or annual installation banquet was now tasked with running an actual for-profit business, including making policy decisions that affected business practices in their market.
Through no fault of their own and with the best intentions in the world and very little direction, training, or education from the National Association of Realtors, when called to serve the new MLS, these volunteers relied upon what experience they had - which was how to run a membership association. The direct result was that despite increasingly complex requirements of running a for-profit Multiple Listing Service corporation, many volunteer leaders applied the same governance, structure, processes, and volunteers from what they were familiar with already - a model specifically designed to run a not-for-profit membership organization.
TECHNOLOGY CAME KNOCKING...
With the move from the printed MLS book to online listings came significant additional complexity for both Association staff and leadership, suddenly requiring knowledge of computers, databases, software, technology purchasing decisions, and emerging technologies far beyond the original parameters of association management. The result has been a twenty year scramble to catch up - with very mixed success.
Ironically, the ability to meet these challenges has been under the nose of MLS Boards of Directors all this time - the MLS executive. Because they have actively sought to be educated on their business, the best MLS executives know more about the business, the technology, the local market, national initiatives, NAR policy, etc., than any volunteer can, but many MLSs still treat the MLS exec as an administrator. Case in point: An MLS exec says to their Board of Directors, "Consumers want agent reviews. It's already happening in other industries, so we have the choice to either A: Do it ourselves and have control over the creation, management, ability of the Broker/Agent to reply, etc.; or B: Do nothing and watch as someone else introduces a product that we have no say in." Feel free to substitute the agent reviews subject here with "statewide listing data," "real estate search website," "providing sold data to consumers," etc. You get the picture. Board of Directors members, no doubt each of them thinking about the angry client they just spoke with, thinks that agent reviews is a terrible idea and punts. The MLS exec, who is paid by that very same Board of Directors to be the expert on the business, has their expertise ignored, is unable to enact change because they don't have a vote and, frankly, are expected in many Boards to be subservient to the volunteer President.
MLS EXECS HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY, SO LET THEM PLAY IT
In my time as an MLS and Association executive I have met hundreds of other execs; for the most part they fall into two categories of complacent and not complacent. I have had execs tell me that they could care less about what happens to the industry or their MLS as long as they get another 5 years until they retire, and I have had execs tell me that worrying about the future of the MLS industry keeps them up every night.
Of those that have concerns, they have a common grief; the near impossibility of educating volunteer leadership on the true scale of potential threats to the MLS industry. They tell me there is not enough time in once monthly meetings when only minutes are allocated to the CEO report, that the turnover in leadership means the exec cannot set a strategic course for more than the one year that the President serves, that the bar for professional knowledge is set too low prior to becoming president, that there are too many Board members, and that the MLS exec is treated more like an administrative post rather than as a CEO. This is a structural dysfunction, rather than a personal one. The fault is with a governance model, leadership expectations, and structure still deeply tied to its membership association roots.
In the real world, the CEO sets the direction of the company and is solely responsible for leadership, vision, and the direction of the company. They are the professional employee, expected to be the subject expert. They are surrounded by Board member stakeholders of differing expertise, specifically geared to be complementary to the corporation's mission. The Board's job is to listen to the CEO, critique, if necessary, then let them do their job by setting expectations and holding the CEO accountable.
As Chairman of the Board the Chairman's job is to run the meeting, and, assuming they are on the same page as the CEO, to support, defend, and fight for the strategic vision articulated by the CEO. Recognizing that the CEO is the expert in the room, the Chairman uses their position to influence discussion, policy, and voting to support the initiatives of the corporation. The Chairman's job is also to hold the CEO accountable for meeting the performance goals established by the CEO. The runaway salaries and eye-popping compensation packages we see in many corporations today is the direct result of a failure by the Board to set meaningful, achievable, measurable goals with the CEO - and hold them accountable for failure.
MOST WILLING TO SERVE VS. BEST SUITED TO SERVE
It's a lot to take in because its so different from the way most MLSs are run now. If you are a broker and you don't agree with me, think of it this way. Would you want a Board of Directors full of MLS execs making decisions for your company? How could they possibly have the expertise to determine better than you can what a good decision or a bad decision for your brokerage are? They couldn't, which is my point exactly.
An MLS exec I think highly of calls this the "professionalization" of the Board, and it's one of the most important things MLSs will need to do to stay relevant. I've heard of Board members that describe themselves as "tech gurus," but could not understand why their iPad's wireless connection didn't magically follow them around wherever they go. I've heard of Board members proudly bragging that they could manipulate anyone into doing anything they want, and I've heard of Board members who have served out their entire terms without once offering an opinion or insight. Like most MLS execs, I have also had the privilege to work with truly outstanding, talented volunteer leaders who have brought incredible value to the Board room. Given a choice, I'd bet that the best MLS execs would choose to work with - and be challenged by - a highly educated, engaged Board every day of the week over marking time with a leadership of those most willing to serve, rather than those best suited to serve.
It's time to create a process to find and keep professionals and volunteers who are not complacent. It's time to set expectations higher for both executives and Board members and it's time to give MLS executive professionals the room and support they need to enact real change. - CP
Score one for NAR CEO Bob Goldberg. He said he was going to take a hard look at NAR products, services, and positioning, and this is the first concrete sign that he meant what he said.
In a short and difficult life, AMP (Advanced Multi-List Platform) never quite realized its potential. Originally the brainchild of Timathy Dain (then CEO of the SIR MLS, a small MLS in Illinois), the original brilliant concept that wound up twisted into the AMP product was an incredibly insightful, ambitious undertaking. At its core, the proposal was for multiple small to medium sized MLSs to collaborate on a single back-end product by commonizing fields, rules, etc., in order to be able to negotiate as a group for MLS and other related services. Had this vision become reality, it would have allowed a group of say, ten, 1,000 member MLSs to essentially have the buying power of a 10,000 member MLS - and stay independent, should they choose. Really, it hit the perfect balance between ensuring data collaboration to benefits brokers/agents, while leaving enough room for local ownership, direction, and administration.
What started out as a great idea got "borrowed" wholesale in a bid to provide MLS services to Associations directly. In short, AMP was NAR's move to cut MLS vendors out of the picture and take the revenue slice from the small MLS market for their own. I remember sitting in the original meeting where AMP was proposed and hearing that it was targeted only at MLSs of 500 members or less. They argued that this was an underserved market and that NAR's responsibility was to try and provide an opportunity for these very small MLS markets to provide products and services not financially possible for them because of their small size. Then at the next meeting, AMP was talking about serving MLSs in the 1,000 member range. Then under 10,000.
The beauty of the idea before it became AMP was that it allowed for ownership and control by the local MLSs. What AMP became was a technology product owned and control by NAR. Local MLSs would be trading one vendor for another, which, in the end, is one of the reasons it did not succeed.
There are several morals to this story:
- First and foremost is that this industry has some really smart people doing really smart things. NAR's benign support would be great, but don't try to grab other's progress to make a buck off it. Support it. Nourish it, and hold out the leaders who dare to do something different as models to be emulated.
- Second; give credit where credit is due. The only time I ever saw AMP give credit to Tim Dain for his original idea was when they threw him under the bus in the middle of an MLS executive meeting in an effort to deflect criticism from themselves.
- Lastly, well done Bob Goldberg! This is a great first step, but there are far more expensive, equally unsuccessful targets that could use your attention. - CP