ICNY 2019

#ICNY 2019: One MLS to rule them all, Zillow’s upstream movement, iBuyers and more

This article was originally published on Inman News, article image credit Inman News: 

Note: This discussion originated in the Geek Estate Mastermind — thanks to the Inman community for introducing me to so many of these brilliant minds at Connect events over the years.

Inman Connect is an annual highlight of the real estate and tech scene. Here were some of the loudest discussions of the event:

1. One MLS to rule them all

Big voices on big stages said that the real estate industry should have one system for accessing nationwide data. Compass CEO Robert Reffkinrepeatedly called for one MLS. It makes sense on a surface level — there are just under 600 MLSs today, and vendors are often mystified at the fragmented data landscape of real estate.

Brad Inman posited that this single system could be free. I envision Seattle’s downtown free bus zone experiment. Teenagers joy ride to kill time, people sleep on the seats and the atmosphere degrades to the point where no one truly appreciates the value that the service delivers.

MLS is a business tool. We want a black Cadillac car service that costs a few bucks, and puts professionals in the right light when they arrive at the consumer’s door.

Old-timer’s industry advice: Real estate wants no part in a centralized, bureaucratic organizing MLS body that would have zero competitive pressure and undoubtedly spark interest from federal regulatory agencies.

If it’s not progressing fast enough for your organization, your support is welcome. RESO’s open technology standards, CMLS’s best practices development, technology vendors promoting and using data dictionary/web API, NAR’s MLS policy standards for ensuring technology and service minimums — these collaborative efforts are all moving us in the right direction. Be a part of the answer.

2. ‘I’ll just start by getting the MLS data and then …’

Apologies for plagiarizing the comedy of Greg Robertson. New vendors in the real estate space often have trouble navigating the traditional MLS data permissioning maze. It can be a somewhat opaque system of MLS committees, licensing and service level agreements and fee schedules.

Vendors and MLSs are moving these causes forward: FBS’s Spark API/Datamart, CoreLogic‘s Trestle, Bridge API, MLS Grid and MLS Aligned are providing paths to straightforward, modern data access and permissioning. Here’s a simplified version of how things should look:

  1. Broker likes vendor’s technology product.
  2. Broker sends MLS a request to grant vendor access to MLS data as broker’s vendor.
  3. MLS already knows what this product does or quickly assesses its propriety without the need for large committees and long timelines. MLS uses credential manager and grants vendor an access token.
  4. Vendor joins MLS data marketplace:
    1. Agrees to licensing requirements
    2. Pays marketplace and MLS fees
    3. Accesses the MLS data via API with the token.

It’s an all-in-one shop. This is a huge benefit for brokers, vendors and MLS administration. It continues to gain momentum.

3. Zillow showing its own listings first

There’s not a conference without a Zillow Group headline. This month’s flare-up came from the company showing search results to some of its users that put Zillow-owned listings before all others. Cue rage.

There really is no defining Zillow at this point. With the combination of advertising, lead management, MLS software tools, iBuying, direct selling with traditional agents, reviews and more, there’s nothing that compares to it. It’s a company with tools that are often productive and also competitive for different industry constituents.

The industry should simply expect Zillow to attempt any angle that might benefit its customers, gain itself a competitive advantage in the marketplace and increase its strong relationship with consumers.

Then there’s no need for protestation by the rest of the industry when Zillow’s model inevitably changes again, and no need for the Zillow public relations team to continue drawing soon-to-be-broken messaging constraints around the company’s broadening roles.

4. About that consumer being the North Star

Quality data presents huge opportunities for intelligence in real estate sales. Look at what RealScout’s doing with buyer graph intelligence. Brokers are collaborating to share anonymized buyer search data across an entire marketplace, creating real-time insights into market activity never before achieved.

This is a picture of what the broker/agent sphere could accomplish through MLS marketplaces as well. Collaborative analytics on searches, showings, etc., at the top of the funnel can be anonymized and shared for greater intelligence if the interactions are tracked and recorded in a way to securely retain standardized data sets. All it takes is the will to collaborate.

This allows brokers and agents to create new market intelligence, leading indicators of market trends. They can inform their consumers more accurately and spend their resources in more efficient ways.

This shared data source can also allow them to be the voice that media outlets are seeking for the most comprehensive data on market activity. Who better than the boots on the ground to tell the world what is happening, up to the minute, in the streets?

5. Use your powers for good

Does it feel like much of the big money funding new industry blood seems to value the data aggregation from a transaction more than the outcome of the home sale? If the game is access to more data and selling real estate is just a necessary avenue to get there, the buyer and seller lose.

A more benevolent tech company’s motivation often sounds like: “I bought a home, the experience was bad, so I started up company ABC.”

I’ve heard this from dozens and dozens of tech startups. It has traditionally been a tough path to profitability in real estate.

Until the recent iBuyer/trade-in models, most of these improvements were lipstick on a pig of a process. They were software Band-Aids covering nicks and scratches, while the gaping sores of locked up equity and financing time constraints still festered.

Every tech company wants to “delight the consumer” with experience (we need a new verb, communications department). That’s a laudable goal. The real estate experience, though, is often a minor consideration to the buyer and seller seeking a highly exposed marketplace and an end result.

Real estate tech entrants sometimes need a refresher on why someone purchases a home. It’s not to be delighted by process (though that’s a nice plus) or to have their data exhaust monetized.

People buy homes to create a stable lifestyle, join a community, benefit from the network and infrastructure and build equity in the No. 1 wealth driver of most of our citizens. Notice citizen versus consumer. This isn’t a teenager consuming a gadget.

6. iBuying turns the corner

Homebuyers haven’t historically been willing to pay with their feet in significant numbers for supposedly superior real estate tech experiences. The advent of companies with large enough war chests to purchase away the true hurdles of the traditional transaction — primarily financing-related — are finally starting to make the experience transformational enough to appear attractive.

Financial investment by large brokerage companies in iBuying programs may commodify the service to the point that it’s just another tool in every brokerage’s kit. Whatever the outcome, it seems necessary when the industry is flush with cash that we continue to remind those associating their businesses with residential real estate that there’s an inherent responsibility involved in guiding citizens’ housing opportunities and outcomes.

Focus in a storm

The week at ICNY was a blur. There were too many meetings and not enough time for work. (Add a winter blizzard to throw off your plans.)

Then you get on a plane. There are no meetings, no calls, no interruptions (you should really turn off your messages for a while and just read or write — it’s glorious).

I’m hearing more folks promote the value (superiority?) of asynchronous communication and how damaging “busy” is to good decision making. Constant Pavlovian drooling at every Slack notification does not create a healthy environment in which a clear, linear storyline is written. Ergo, scattered blog posts.

Thanks to all who joined us in New York. See you at the next Connect.

Sam DeBord is Managing Broker/VP of Strategic Growth for Coldwell Banker Danforth, Past President of Seattle King County Realtors, and 2019 NAR President’s Liaison for MLS and Data Management. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and BellevueHomes.com.