Real Estate

Who Owns My Data? The Biggest Debates In Real Estate Tech Today

From Zillow’s ShowingTime acquisition to pocket listings, RESO’s CEO Sam DeBord breaks down all the buzziest tech conversations from Inman Connect.

Inman Connect took us into the final summer phase of virtual industry conferences. We’re good at this now. And as Matt Consalvo and Rebecca Jensen noted, it’s brought us an opportunity to retake our calendars. We don’t have to give that all back.

The tech/multiple listing service (MLS) track is hot again. Conversations aren’t purely focused on the money, and the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) but the boots-on-the-ground decisions that everyone from agents to MLS executives must make. Whether it’s data or listings, everyone’s asking what’s in your pocket.

Brokers buy vendors. MLSs buy vendors. Vendors buy vendors. Vendors become brokers. Everyone becomes competitors, and they already have your data.

And yet, they all continue collaborating to serve the same consumers. It’s a very “organized real estate” thing when “I’m gonna eat your lunch,” usually just turns into a potluck. But this feels different.

There’s a Game of Thrones flavor to it all recently, with family loyalties and strange bedfellows forcing all to choose sides. Do we serve investors, consumers, brokers or the (MLS) marketplace? It depends on the tower you’re looking down from.

Alissa Harper of brokerage tech vendor Inside Real Estate illuminated the questions on so many brokers’ minds:

  • Are my tech partners high risk or low risk for my business?
  • Are they a protector or a purveyor of my data?
  • What kind of disruption to my business are they likely to create if they’re acquired?

As the industry’s independent tech tools continue to fade into a shrinking number of multifaceted platforms, the choices for brokers may become simpler but fewer.

On the other end of the spectrum, Brad Bjelke of MLS and MLS Aligned are looking to pull more of their tech completely into MLS ownership. They’re building and purchasing tech tools, with the goal of providing more consistent MLS technology planning. There’s a loud rumble asking for more of this certainty.

The Connect tech track always covers MLS issues, and the conversation with an eXp Realty team highlighted a strategy many companies are pursuing in a tight market: exclusive inventory. The strategy seems almost exclusively focused on the company’s needs, sometimes in direct conflict with consumer needs and obligations to the broker cooperative MLS.

Joe Rand sheathed his customary flaming sword of truth and instead politely pointed out that while Clear Cooperation Policy has taken on the ire of some exclusive inventory strategists, we need to answer very basic questions about agents’ duties to sellers.

Does an agent’s creative strategy quell sellers’ desires for more money and better terms and simultaneously obviate the benefits of exposure to buyer demand? Because that wouldn’t be marketing — it would be magic.

Here’s how it really works: Exposure delivers the best terms (price, timing, guarantees, etc.), and the MLS provides multiple avenues to privacy, security and convenience for unique situations alongside market demand. Sellers want the best terms. Agents sometimes tell sellers what they should want. Sometimes what they tell them stinks.

Studies from National Association of Realtors (NAR), California Regional Multiple Listing Service (CRMLS), and now Bright MLS make it clear that sellers who desire the best terms are materially harmed by MLS exclusion. But we know this already.

It would be nice to hear more brokers join Glenn Kelman in acknowledging this. I said it a bit more brashly back in the day. This won’t end well.

One home, one seller, one listing agent, one buyer, one buyer’s agent, one appointment at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Our reality is millions of singular events, controlled by a very complex and messy technology space. Single vendors with closed systems have been the most common technology solutions available.

But new efforts will challenge that model across all broker and MLS technology. For showings, in particular, technology companies are looking to join the successful incumbents like ShowingTime to provide more flexibility to the marketplace.

Whether that’s a lockbox company like SentriLock’s or Supra’s related showing tool, an added service on a current vendor like Homesnap’s platform, a new independent product, or an open API standard from the MLS space, the stated goal is consistent: choice.

Can a listing agent communicate that single 12:30 Saturday appointment to buyers’ agents across three MLSs and 100 different brokerages? Can each agent use their own MLS or broker’s software to schedule it?

Multiple models for this kind of interoperability are being promoted to the industry as we speak, and RESO will be hosting a discussion to find where alignment exists. In the interest of the customers — whether sellers, buyers, agents, brokers or MLSs — the opportunity to get this right now is too important to pass up.

P.S. Productivity improvements, travel savings, and family time aside, we need real conferences. Lobbycon, happy hour in Startup Alley, dinners to remember and karaoke sessions to forget: Whether we see you at RESO in Kiawah Island or Connect in Las Vegas, it’s going to be a restart to remember. Be well.

Sam DeBord is CEO of Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO). He has served as the National Association of Realtors­ President’s Liaison for MLS and Data Management, President of Seattle King County REALTORS, and Managing Broker for Coldwell Banker Danforth.

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