Can Multiple Listing Services Stay Relevant in a World of Advanced Technology?

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The industry of real estate has been around for centuries – people will always need to buy and sell homes, and the nature of the transactions are usually so complex that specialist strands of expertise are likely to always play a crucial role. As with many industries, real estate has been on the receiving end of benefits and flaws from the development of technology – and one of the longest-standing features in real estate brokerage, multiple listing services (MLS), is notably one of those potentially most affected.

What are multiple listing services?

A term stretching back to the early 20th century, multiple listing services, or the MLS, is the formal term for the gathering of real estate information via real estate brokers, who would willingly pool their own data on houses they were trying to sell in order to secure a buyer. With the aim being to have another broker in the MLS identify a buyer, there have long been mutual benefits in sharing this type of data.

Today, private and local multiple listing services use XML-based data feeds to maintain and update their information, while in North America there is a set standard for an MLS that is the Real Estate Transaction Standard. Private home sellers cannot upload details direct to an MLS; it is strictly for the use of real estate agents and, in the US, they must be paying members of the National Association of Realtors to access them.

Selling property outside the multiple listing services

With technological development, particularly on the internet, increasingly seeing people search for and investigate properties themselves on various websites, there has been a recent clampdown on attempts to avoid an MLS.

In the US, the National Association of Realtors has adopted a policy that real estate agents cannot list a property elsewhere if it is not on the MLS, as this practice has been criticized for limiting access to the range of potential buyers. This has been welcomed in areas such as Denver, which has a tight market for property and has seen property buyers long frustrated by private non-MLS listings.

Real estate agents are expected to maintain a high standard of professional behaviour in their industry, and buyers and sellers are advised to part company with any agent who is failing to meet their expectations. There are a number of warning signs relating to a potentially deteriorating relationship and best practice advice on ending the working partnership.

How important are the multiple listing services?

The widespread availability of housing websites and apps such as, Trulia, Rightmove and Zillow means that available properties are open for viewing by the public – and members of the public can easily upload their own property details, including photos. So does that spell the end of the multiple listing services?

Leading figures in the industry don’t think so. As with much of the user-generated content across the internet, there is little reliability in the types of information uploaded to property sites. Because the MLS has an established standard that has been built and set for over a century, there is an inherent guarantee of accuracy and truth within property data uploaded to a multiple listing service.

The MLS also has features that are simply not available on property sites and apps. Aspects such as showing instructions, scheduling, any disclosures that may need to accompany a contract, and other practical working tools are not offered through publicly accessible platforms.

A degree of frustration has been expressed by agents in the US who must be signed up to the National Association of Realtors to gain MLS access, with some arguing that this stipulation potentially shuts many properties off from potential buyers. There is undoubtedly a large degree of control of this data by the National Association of Realtors, with larger questions revolving around whether this is right and fair.

There is a growing sense that buyer and seller independence is growing. Growing software development and sophisticated online algorithms are threatening to step on the toes of real estate agents, with companies such as REX using aggregated personal data regarding locations and interests to target potential buyers with available property information. This could potentially cut real estate agents and the multiple listing services out of the picture.

However, innovation within the MLS continues. The popularity of virtual assistants and voice-based software has led to the development of a voice activated service within MRED’s Chicago-based MLS, allowing real estate agents to access information on the go from Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, such as market data and client messages.

The future of the MLS

While technology certainly poses various challenges to the model of the multiple listing services, there are also a number of opportunities for the MLS to develop and stay relevant in this age of increasingly self-serviced platforms for customers. Accuracy and reliability are likely to be the main selling points of the MLS for years to come.

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