This article was originally posted on the Notorious R.O.B. blog:
“The market leader in MLS software platforms just agreed to be the technology vendor for an organization that most MLSs think is out to put them out to pasture. Does no one think that might cause a bit of a reaction from various quarters?”
This argument will be a theme. There’s a desire to make all MLS opinions the same and put them in one corner, with their vendors as a protective shield. Brokers, in this drama, are in the opposite corner with Upstream as their spear to strike a deathblow into the heart of the MLS. It’s a sexy visual, but the reality is much more nuanced.
You know what they say when we assume…
“I’m going to assume that during the six months of courtship between CoreLogic and Upstream, none of CoreLogic’s current MLS customers were informed about the possibility, or consulted. Maybe I’m dead wrong about that, but knowing what I know of board politics and MLS politics, I rate the possibility of prior consultation as being pretty low.”
Rob did admit he could be dead wrong here. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on CoreLogic having the ear of its largest customers at all times and keeping them informed of strategic decisions that might affect their relationships. A venture like Upstream, with the massive politics that have surrounded it thus far, would probably be an important topic to broach with your current customers as opposed to surprising them with a closed deal. It’s not like the whisper network hadn’t been churning this story for months—but we can let the core players speak to the prior conversations.
“The history is a bit convoluted, but suffice to say that Upstream was initially conceived of as a way to get around, replace, or simply “get upstream” from the MLS so that brokerages had total control over their listings, including whether those listings would go to the MLS or not.”
No. This is a written sleight of hand. An effort to control an input module that allows for a more robust data set and feeds this data to the MLS and other tools is poisoned with innuendo of replacing the MLS. Its misuse is common and adds to the confusion about Upstream. Upstream coming into an MLS market has zero effect on brokers’ ability to decide whether or not listings go to the MLS. They already make this decision, every day.
What is Upstream, redux
Let’s provide another definition of what Upstream is. Amy Gorce of CoreLogic delivered what may be the most concise explanation we’ve heard in some time (condensed for brevity, full version here):
“Upstream is a back-office database designed to…put you, the broker, in full control of your data assets and to help keep your data secure and confidential. Only you can determine who is granted access to your data.
…Upstream will support brokers in maintaining data related to the Firm, Team, Agent, Employee, User, Customer, Vendor, and MLS record.
…our industry requires the same data to be entered into lots of different software systems. The goal of Upstream is for brokers to enter data once, giving all downstream software systems a single place to access it.
…An agent’s headshot is displayed in…the MLS, Association of REALTORS, agent website, agent CRM, agent flyer, agent mobile app, broker website, franchise website, hundreds of advertising websites like Realtor.com, CMA, transaction management, listing presentation… Today, an agent would need to log into each application to make this change. With Upstream, the agent can change their photo once with the Broker and it will be distributed to all authorized recipients.“
This understanding is ultimately important. Clarity is essential to having this conversation without conspiracy.
More Data, More Problems
“So is Upstream paying CoreLogic? If so, did it finally convince the brokerages to drop a few million bucks into the bucket to pay CoreLogic? … Could it be….Data?”
Again, we’ll let the participants describe the monetary relationship. But let’s get to the data angle, because it’s a good question to ask. Most of the highest-flying technology companies in the world are monetizing users’ data.
Upstream’s mantra since its inception has been brokers controlling their data. The idea that they’d lose sight of individual brokers having control of their data in the selection of a new vendor—considering Upstream’s broad brokerage leadership and Alex Lange’s business intellect–seems highly unlikely. Could there be an agreement that allows aggregation, anonymization, and reselling of broad data insights? We can leave that question up to the participants, but let’s grant the possibility.
It’s a fair question. It’s just that it can be stated simply or couched in an unnecessarily political conversation. Speak of the devil….
“But you still have to get the MLS to say Yes. The deep relationship (between CoreLogic and Upstream) helps, but let’s not forget that the deep relationship was built based on a customer-vendor relationship. And for the past few years, in the Upstream Era, CoreLogic was unquestionably on the side of the MLS. That now appears to have changed. Will the deep customer-vendor relationship lead to those customers agreeing to commit suicide? Probably not.”
There it is. There are rivalries, disagreements, leverage-seeking positioning by cooperating competitors in the industry. Upstream, though, never intended to subvert the MLS (an organization for sharing listings via cooperation and compensation, not a piece of software). It intends to put a more valuable input module in brokers’ hands that fuels the MLS’s and broker’s databases.
Do we need the drama?
Many MLS leaders have expressed to me that they understand and support the concept of Upstream. They’re already allowing alternative input models within their organizations. Focusing on Alex Lange’s previous frustration with CoreLogic and Craig Cheatham’s “10 Days” might provide a satisfying level of emotion for some, but it distracts from the business realities that are being traversed. (I should note that “10 days” had little to do with Upstream but has been intertwined into the storyline of brokers vs MLSs by some including myself.)
These are leaders making statements for their organizations that they know will bring some derision upon themselves, falling on their swords to break through the real estate industry’s “tyranny of politeness” (thanks, Rob) when they don’t feel their brokers’ needs are being addressed. The blame game is distasteful, and complacency is frustrating at the same time.
So it’s not a surprise that the adrenaline ramps up on this topic until we equate an MLS “agreeing” to Corelogic becoming Upstream’s vendor to suicide. Positioning an Upstream/Corelogic partnership as MLS harakiri is more more kabuki theater than kaizen for the industry. Ganbatte, kudasai.
Threading the needle on defined roles
“This still remains the key issue. Is the MLS the single source of truth? Or is Upstream the single source of truth? Or are both sources of some of the truth?”
“If…Upstream has its own database and stores the brokerage data there… to pass down to the MLS as needed and as directed by the brokerage… well, then that’s a different thing altogether. Then the MLS is no longer the single source of truth, no longer the marketplace, and no longer all that vital in the grand scheme of things. Sure, sure, the MLS will do cooperation and compensation, but so will a simple two page form co-broke agreement that can be e-signatured in 5 minutes.”
This is a critical question, and essential to defining the difference between Upstream and an MLS. As the initial data input module connected to brokers’ multi-resource database (more than just listing data), Upstream could clearly be the single source of data input and initial point of distribution. But that doesn’t make it the single source of truth for the marketplace.
Each individual broker decides where the brokerage’s data goes. So Upstream does not provide a marketplace like the MLS. There is no marketplace-wide funnel of data. It may sound like splitting hairs, but there are many individual brokerage feeds of data, all separately permissioned. There is no Upstream display, merely transport/delivery of individual broker feeds.
- The brokers’ back office tools receive the data they need from Upstream and, for them, it is the single source of truth for customer, firm, vendor, and employee records.
- The MLS receives listings from brokers (individually) via Upstream and aggregates them for the marketplace.
- The MLS provides the rules for broker cooperation and compensation around that aggregated listing database and continues to be the single source of listing truth for that marketplace.
There are still some good questions that have been asked that will need answers. Some of them will likely be answered as this new partnership develops, and participants in the process will want clarity about how their data will be used and/or monetized.
I’m tempted to ask for less drama and speculation in those discussions. Who am I kidding? We enjoy this, and tough questions make for better discussions.