When Partnering With A Vendor, Who Owns The Data?
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Agents, brokers and multiple listing services have lots of choices when it comes to picking a technology vendor to handle their listings and other crucial data.
While competition is a good thing, the landscape is changing fast, and mergers and acquisitions can make choosing the right vendor even more complicated.
What happens if your tech provider is acquired by an industry player that has other motives beyond providing you with the best service? Or worse yet, what if it’s acquired by a straight-up rival?
One of the biggest concerns in such situations — Who Owns Your Tech and Data? — was the topic of an Inman Connect panel moderated by Denee Evans, CEO of the Council of Multiple Listing Services (CMLS), and Inman contributor Sam DeBord, CEO of the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO).
When evaluating the impact of an acquisition of a tech provider, it’s helpful to think about the buyer’s motivation, said Alissa Harper, executive vice president of marketing and enterprise sales at Inside Real Estate.
When a tech provider is acquired by a venture capital or private equity firm, “these are folks that are looking to invest and grow a business,” Harper said. “That can actually be very positive,” for clients of the company being acquired.
If a tech provider is acquired by an industry player like a listing portal, mortgage lender, or title company, the new owner may see opportunities to grow its own business at the expense of the tech provider’s clients.
“You need to ask yourself, ‘Are these folks solely focused on my best interests?’ ” Harper said.
That’s an even bigger concern if a tech provider is acquired by a rival.
“Suddenly you’re writing a check to a vendor that’s owned by a competitor,” said Brad Bjelke, CEO of UtahRealEstate.com, Utah’s largest MLS.
Bjelke said UtahRealEstate.com owns and develops its own technology, but also has partners who “provide excellent tools for our members.”
UtahRealEstate.com is big enough that it has some clout with vendors. This year it became the first MLS to require all of its nearly 200 vendors to use its internally-developed application programming interface (API) for data feeds.
“We need to make sure that our core services … are in line with what the MLS members’ mission is, and that can we offer products we own and control for their needs under our umbrella,” Bjelke said.
But MLSs can work together to provide services to their members, and those efforts can include getting into the acquisitions game themselves.
Last month, UtahRealEstate.com and four other MLSs acquired the technology assets of RE Agent Solutions LLC, including the software and technology behind Agent Inbox.
The five MLSs are partners in MLS Aligned, a company founded in 2018 to share tech development, resources and data. In addition to UtahRealEstate.com, MLS Aligned’s owners are Arizona Regional MLS, Metro MLS in Wisconsin, MLSListings in Silicon Valley, RMLS in Oregon
When MLS Aligned acquired RE Agent Solutions’ technology, ARMLS CEO Matthew Consalvo told Inman that a wave of acquisitions had brokers, agents and MLSs feeling anxious. Those deals included Zillow’s acquisition of ShowingTime, Lone Wolf’s acquisition of W&R Studios, LionDesk and HomeSpotter, CoStar’s acquisition of Homesnap and Homes.com, and Stone Point Capital’s acquisition of CoreLogic.
“Every week we open up Inman articles to find that someone else has been purchased and sometimes that has an impact on our business,” Consalvo said at the time. “Everything seems to be for sale at the moment.”
Regardless of who’s providing the technology, “We feel really strongly that agents and brokers need to own their data,” Harper said.
That means that data should not only be accessible to the owner as they go in and work with a new tech vendor, but when the owner is leaving that vendor for a new provider.
If you don’t have access to stored data on the way out, “you don’t really own your data,” Harper said.
DeBord said good MLSs “are heavily invested in their APIs and being able to move data around. If we don’t control where it’s going, you’re dependent on the vendor to get that data back when the relationship is over.”
As RESO’s CEO, DeBord advocates that MLSs follow the lead of UtahRealEstate.com and its partners in MLS Aligned, by adopting “fully loaded APIs” and ditching the Real Estate Transaction Standard, “a decades-old method of transporting data.”
While that might sound ambitious, “You gotta think big,” Bjelke said, and take risks that will pay off in the long run, five years from now.
“With the industry at its height, you can’t be as conservative about how you run your business, especially an MLS,” Bjelke said. “When MLSs succeed, brokers and agents succeed as well.”