The PLS, formerly a private listing network for real estate agents, is set to relaunch on January 19 as a public-facing site with new agent services that complies with a pocket listing policy from the National Association of Realtors, the company told Inman in an exclusive interview.
The California-based company’s name, formerly The Pocket Listing Service, is changing to The Property Listing Service and its slogan will be “Where Real Estate Happens First.”
The PLS’s founders are Mauricio Umansky, CEO and founder of luxury brokerage The Agency and Chris Dyson, James Harris and David Parnes, top-producing agents at The Agency. ThePLS.com has several owners: FASP Realty, Midnight Capital, Harris Family Trust, David Parnes Living Trust, Green Collective and Sidehill Ventures.
Agents who join ThePLS.com before it relaunches on January 19 will be offered “founding member” status and be eligible for “lowest ever pricing,” which they will receive for life, according to the company. Dyson declined to say what the pricing would be, but said the standard price would be about half of what an MLS would charge and founding members would pay about half of that.
In May, ThePLS.com filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against NAR and three of the largest multiple listing services in the country, the California Regional MLS (CRMLS), Bright MLS and Midwest Real Estate Data (MRED).
The suit alleged the defendants had violated the federal Sherman Antitrust Act and California’s Cartwright Act for adopting the Clear Cooperation Policy, also known as MLS Policy Statement 8.0, which requires listing brokers to submit a listing to their MLS within one business day of marketing a property to the public.
The controversial rule is meant to effectively end the growing practice of publicizing listings for days or weeks without making them universally available to other agents, in part to address fair housing concerns. The Clear Cooperation Policy went into effect on January 1 and its implementation deadline was May 1. Some MLSs have instituted hefty fines to enforce it.
ThePLS.com shut down its service in March due to the new policy, after seeing declining use of its site, Dyson told Inman in a phone interview. At the time, ThePLS.com had more than 20,000 agent members in virtually every state, he said.
“We didn’t want to have any danger of us, I suppose, endangering or compromising our members by exposing them to potential fines from using the platform,” Dyson said. “So we wanted to redevelop the platform in a new way to give them a different value proposition.”
The new ThePLS.com takes advantage of a term in the Clear Cooperation Policy: The rule allows agents to advertise a property for one business day — up to 72 hours if the property is advertised on a Friday — before it must be submitted to the MLS.
“In the current market where inventory is extremely tight across the board, ThePLS.com will give agents the opportunity to exclusively share ALL listings on the platform first,” the company told Inman via email.
“The PLS then sends savvy buyers, who want to see properties immediately before they appear anywhere else, to the platform. Agents will have unfettered access to these valuable leads. No other agent will be able to advertise against another agents’ inventory on ThePLS.com.”
Dyson framed the new site as an alternative to third-party listing sites such as Zillow and realtor.com, which display ads for competing agents next to other agents’ listings.
“The mission of ThePLS.com remains the same: Providing added value to its agent members and giving them the tools to fight back against the threat of the large public platforms,” the company said.
“Many agents are frustrated with what happens to their inventory after they post it. The agent loses control and many believe the public platforms are using their own inventory against them. The PLS wants to help its member agents take back control of their inventory and lead generation by allowing them to publish all new listings exclusively to the site first before listings are shared to public sites and the rest of the internet.”
Previously, members of the public could not search for listings on ThePLS.com. Upon relaunch, both the public and agents will be able to search exclusive “PLS only” listings that automatically convert to just active PLS listings after one business day has elapsed, according to Dyson.
“In this current market, minutes are important,” Dyson said. “It’s so competitive out there that hours can be the difference, minutes can be the difference. And so, I would also argue that those first calls that you get as a listing agent are your most important. They are the buying agents or the buyers who have been waiting for that property to hit. They have alerts. I would argue that they are your most valuable leads.”
“If you are a buyer’s agent and your buyer is letting you do the whole search, you will get access to that first. It will give you a competitive advantage that’s completely compliant,” he added.
Asked why listing agents would not just enter a listing into the MLS immediately so that all buyer’s agents would be able to see it, Dyson said, “The idea is that there is a competitive advantage with having a day or three days lead time with those buyers.”
“It’s not the MLS we’re competing against,” he added. “It’s the big public platforms that get the information from the MLS and it’s what they do with the information. It’s not the MLS that we have issue with or that we’re trying to give our agents any advantage against.”
While buyers will be able to save searches for what they’re looking for, those saved searches will not be accessible to listing agents or sellers, he said. Rather, only buyers’ agents will be able to post buyer “wants” that both sellers and listing agents will have access to — a feature Dyson said is intended to protect agents.
“It will be the first platform to aggregate supply AND demand in one place,” the company said. “This new ‘wants’ functionality means that buyer’s agents can share what they are looking for while sellers and seller’s agents can search buyer needs — seamlessly matching the two.”
Buyers, sellers and agents “receive an email or text the minute a property or buyer is a match,” according to the company.
“Because you can’t advertise pocket listings anymore the key now is that if you have a pocket listing, you have to be able to search who has a buyer,” Dyson said.
Listing agents who do not have a signed listing agreement will be able to privately share off-market listings by communicating with other agents in a live chat or through private direct messages on ThePLS.com.
Asked whether this particular feature would comply with the Clear Cooperation Policy, NAR declined to comment due to the pending litigation, but a spokesperson noted that, in general, “State law governs whether and how a property can be advertised by a real estate licensee. Most states require a listing agreement as a prerequisite to advertising.”
Dyson told Inman that ThePLS.com’s terms and conditions require all members to abide by national and state rules when using the site.
“Furthermore, before a member can post any listing or want on The PLS they must agree to a waiver that allows The PLS to fine them up to $5,000 if they are found to be posting any non-compliant or incorrect information,” he said.
Agents will also not be able to advertise a specific property that they do not have a signed listing agreement for, according to Dyson.
“[A]gents will not be advertising specific ‘non-listed’ properties on the site,” he later told Inman via email. “Rather [they] will be able to use our ‘live chat feed’ to post about potential opportunities they may have access to. The feed is designed to connect the entire membership and allow them to share ideas and opportunities in a nondescript manner if that is what the user wishes or needs. It is then up to the users to qualify any situation that may arise from that connection.”
Therefore, an agent will be able to say something like “There will be a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home on the market soon in the Heights neighborhood” or “If you have a client looking in Beverly Hills up to $X, give me [a] call,” but not specifically say that “123 Main St will be for sale,” according to Dyson.
Dyson emphasized that ThePLS.com is open to all agents, not just 10 percent — an oblique reference to rival service Top Agent Network, which is also suing NAR over the Clear Cooperation Policy but has struck out so far in court.
The PLS has always been available to all agents and will now display listings to all members of the public, which Dyson believes addresses concerns regarding fair housing raised by some proponents of the Clear Cooperation Policy.
“We didn’t discriminate at all and still don’t,” Dyson said.
When asked why a seller would want to list a property on ThePLS.com for one business day first rather than the MLS, where all buyer’s agents in a market would have immediate, automatic access to the listing, Dyson said, “Part of our job is to make sure that everybody knows to go there [to ThePLS.com] first. We’re going to advertise extensively.
“We have a whole campaign that will be launched once the site is up and running. It will be a national campaign explaining what the platform does and why it’s important, sending all buyers and sellers there. We’re not discriminating against anybody.”
Dyson said the campaign would be similar in size to campaigns the company has run in the past and will be focused on where The PLS membership is concentrated, mainly Southern California and Southern Florida. He declined to provide further details.
Agents will be encouraged to set up their profile pages as virtual business cards that show off their transaction history, according to Dyson.
“The ethos of The PLS was always to try and protect the agent community and to future-proof the agent community against platforms seeking to undermine it and to bring value to the agents,” he said.