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Mega MLSs pool their strengths in a common database

Imagine you are a real estate agent who operates in multiple markets and only needs to subscribe to one multiple listing service to access real estate listings wherever you do business. If a consumer asks you about an offer they saw on Zillow or realtor.com, you will know more about that offer than they do because you can see that offer in your MLS regardless of geographic boundaries.

It’s an old, simple idea, but it’s not a reality for many brokers and agents across the country. According to T3 Sixty, there were 556 MLS in the US at the end of 2020. For agents, brokers, and appraisers operating in multiple markets or in a market with multiple MLSs, this can mean paying for multiple subscriptions to provide the best service to consumers.

NorthstarMLS, based in Twin Cities, which has more than 21,900 subscribers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, is changing that with the creation of a common database, the Common Data Platform, and other MLSs. On Monday, Northstar and St. Louis-Mid-America Regional Information Systems (MARIS), which has approximately 14,000 broker subscribers in Missouri and southern Illinois, announced that MARIS is joining the CDP.

Once the CDP for MARIS goes live in the first quarter of 2022, 36,000 members from 32 broker associations in five states will be on the platform.

CDP card, courtesy of MARIS

In April 2018, the MLS RoundTable, a strategic think tank consisting of eight mega MLSs, committed to creating a consolidated backend, also known as a common data archive, by the end of 2019, each MLS would maintain its own identity and rules via the common database and each MLS would keep its own user interface or “front-end”.

“These are things that were important to the industry and we could all agree … but not how,” Northstar MLS President and CEO John Mosey told Inman in an exclusive video interview Thursday. NorthstarMLS is one of the RoundTable’s member MLS.

The think tank has chosen to focus on data output first and not on input via the MLS Grid, a platform that offers a single license agreement and a single, standardized data feed for brokers and sellers taking real estate data from MLSs in different markets want to retrieve.

John Mosey

“I got impatient and said, ‘I’ll execute it’ [the common database] above all others as a proof of concept, ”said Mosey. “I firmly believed it was the right way to move forward. But I couldn’t convince anyone. “

In late 2018, NorthstarMLS, based in the Twin Cities area, created the Common Data Platform. The MLS already had its own database and its own add-edit tool. So Northstar began approaching small neighboring MLSs with a new proposal that was different from the one they had shot down many times before.

NorthstarMLS had tried to persuade neighboring brokerage associations to merge with Northstar by promoting its presence, tools and customer service, but had little luck.

“It was all resistance and hindrance to progress at all,” said Mosey.

So Northstar pondered the possible reasons for her objection.

“Is it because we’re going to change your technology? [Because] You’d have to do without CoreLogic or Paragon or Flexmls because you are bound to it and all of your users are happy with it? ”Said Mosey. “Is it because you feel like you are losing control that you have to adhere to our structure, our guidelines, or our rules and regulations? Would you lose your identity – a smaller MLS feels like it is representative of the geography it lives in – would that go away? “

The Common Data Platform resolves these objections, according to Mosey. Northstar offered these smaller Minnesota MLSs the shared database for free and covered the cost of converting their databases to CDP.

“Then nothing will change in your life except where your agents enter and maintain records,” said Mosey.

“You stay with your current technology provider, you manage your rules and regulations like you always have, you continue to operate as a standalone MLS entity that rules and directs your board of directors, and all we do is the boundaries between us because your members’ inventory will be accessible on the Northstar side of the line and our inventory will be available on your side of the line and no one has to pay twice to do business in Minnesota where those boundaries intersect, “said Mosey.

One of the CDP’s first success stories was when it joined an MLS in southeast Minnesota. Previously, around 260 users paid to belong to both MLSs. The combination saved these people about $ 130,000, according to Mosey.

“We always thought that was the tip of the iceberg because all of these additional overheads and complexities of doing business in two different systems added the cost, especially at the brokerage level, to being eliminated,” Mosey said.

“So over the 32 months since we did this with Southeast Minnesota, we’ve calculated the savings: … $ 338,000,” he said.

Now 11 brokerage associations in Minnesota and one in western Wisconsin all operate their MLSs on one platform, which combined makes up more than 93 percent of the state’s brokers. Previously, it was common in most parts of Minnesota for agents to be on at least two and up to six MLSs just for the sake of doing business, Mosey said.

Northstar had courted one of them for 15 years, and after hearing about the CDP, that association decided to join Northstar as a shareholder rather than just a CDP member.

“I fell off the chair,” joked Mosey.

Agents using the CDP enter their lists using the CDP’s add-edit tool – a necessity when building a single data repository, a single source of truth, without the complexity of switching back and forth Data, according to Mosey. Because the MLSs joining the CDP have local fields added to the tool, this makes the CDP more inclusive and makes it easier to onboard other MLSs as they join, he said.

The add-edit tool isn’t as important to agents – many of whom have a staff member entering their records – as the search and reporting capabilities they use and can continue to use through their preferred MLS interface, Mosey said. CDP currently supports interfaces (“front ends”) from CoreLogic (Matrix), Black Knight (Paragon), FBS (Flexmls) and Remine.

Northstar was previously part of a data exchange with other MLSs in the state but, according to Mosey, “it collapsed under its own weight”.

“It was expensive, difficult to support, and brought a lot of overhead to managing his dysfunction,” he said. “It was routinely unable to keep its updates current. In essence, someone called it a crock pot. What you did was take data from 16 different sources, put it in that mix, that pot, stir it up, and give it back to all of the other participants.

“So you got your own data back, as well as the data from all other sources, and there was some consistency in getting it back to you in a form that you could get into your own systems, but there were a lot of problems once you started to shuffle them all up to make sure the photos stay associated with the correct listing or that the status changes were properly recorded. So it made a whole series of demands on management at all levels. “

“This data-sharing concept has not been successful virtually anywhere in the country,” he added.

David Price

Northstar and MARIS do not share borders. However, in late 2019, the Iowa Association of Realtors, which operates six MLS, joined the CDP. Now that MARIS has joined, their joint presence extends from the Canadian border to Arkansas.

“The MARIS board of directors watched the progress of NorthstarMLS in Minnesota and Iowa and made a strategic investment in CDP technology to accelerate the rationalization of the markets in which our members now operate in Missouri and southern Illinois,” said David Price, President and CEO of MARIS, in a statement.

He hopes for the success NorthstarMLS has had in bringing other neighboring associations into the CDP.

“Missouri is more of a rural area,” Price Inman said in a video interview. “There are many smaller associations. Our goal is literally to have options available so people can come up to us and say, “Hey, this is it. This is what we are looking for and still have their own autonomy. “

The partnership has already borne fruit as MARIS and NorthstarMLS recently signed a contract renewal with CoreLogic for its Matrix and Realist products, negotiating together as a single account that together represents more than 35,000 users.

“CDP partner organizations can work towards common pricing with technology providers because the technology providers only need to be connected to a database once to deploy their solutions to all or some of the CDP partner organizations,” Mosey said in a statement.

Mosey anticipates that in the future, the CDP and giant MLSs like California Regional MLS (CRMLS), Bright MLS, Houston Association of Realtors MLS, and Stellar MLS will be able to talk to each other and give each other permission to view offers granted.

“At some point the technology will catch up with us where we have the interoperability between these databases,” Mosey said. “You can request from Minnesota to California, Florida to Texas.”

Email to Andrea V. Brambila.

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