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The MLS system landscape and the MLS Vendor of the future.

by Greg Robertson on December 15th, 2011

A few thoughts about what I’ve been hearing and observing about the state of MLS systems and vendors

Flash’s dead, baby.

I’ve written about the problems and issues of some MLS vendors MLS platforms be written in Flash. and now this, Adobe announced they will no longer continue to develop a Flash version for mobile devices. So to me the debate ends here, MLS vendors who’s new versions rely upon Flash have two choices. Develop a separate HTML5 or equivalent version of their MLS system or create separate “native” versions of their MLS systems that run on mobile devices (iPhone, Droid, iPad, etc.). Either prospects are not great, but….

I’ve seen Discover MLS’ offering and now recently got a sneak peak at LPS’s REinsight new MLS system and was impressed (both are built using Flash). They not only look great, from a UI perspective, but there is some real innovation going on. One of things that struck me about LPS’s REinsight was the blending of the LPS public records data along with MLS data. This is great for creating all inclusive CMAs and other reports. Plus from a map search perspective you can see an MLS listing and also click on the property next to it (that might not be in the MLS database) and up pop public records data, which is super cool. One database, no need to exit out of the MLS system and log in to a separate app, the data is all on the same map/listing view.

I haven’t yet seen CoreLogic’s Fusion product (also developed in Flash) but I have to imagine an MLS system integrated with RealList data would be a hit. CoreLogic does have some hurdles, Tempo, doesn’t work on any browser except Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. And now Fusion won’t run on an iPad. Not anyone’s fault, who could have predicted the iPad’s popularity. But some MLS Vendors, like Solid Earth, appear to be heading to an “iPad first” strategy.

One argument I hear a lot from these MLS Vendors is that according to their analytics less than 2% of MLS subscribers are using iPad to access their current MLS systems. This is just whistling through the graveyard in my opinion.

The Octagon

The issues I talk about above really make for some interesting thoughts about the competitive landscape of MLS Vendors. I see a few scenarios.

Innovation. MLS Vendors who have MLS systems that run on multiple devices, won’t have to develop or mange multiple code bases. These MLS Vendors are free to leverage their develop resources towards other innovations instead of solving cross compatibility issues. A huge advantage as I see it.

Less choice. With the recent acquisition of Tarasoft by CoreLogic lowered the choices in MLS systems vendors. And with CoreLogic still dominating the public records side (has anyone really canceled their RealList contract as RPR has suggested?) are they getting “to big to fail”? Put in another way, do MLS Providers want to have a single vendor control so much of their mission critical applications and data?

It seems the value proposition for other smaller (alternative?) MLS Vendors are starting to get more attractive.

1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
2. More innovation
3. More personal service.

Sounds good to me.

New Business Models

The reality is that its hard being a pimp. MLS system sales have always had a long sales cycle and with the down real estate market not many large/medium MLS Providers are in a hurry to go thru a conversion. So some MLS vendors are opting to start new business models. FBS comes to mind. MLS Providers are also branching out. Metrolist’s Marketplace comes to mind.

Focus is also becoming a big factor. I noticed this in two areas recently.

1. LPS sold their broker and agents division (now R.E.D. Real Estate Digital)
2. CoreLogic recently sold their Membership Director product back to MMSI.

Welcome to the 3rd Party

I also see a big boon for 3rd Party Software developers in the future (hooray!) Managed and standardized databases and APIs are all in the near future. The aforementioned Marketplace is a perfect example of a new distribution model for real estate specific web apps to be sold. If MLS Providers and Vendors can successfully change the behavior of MLS members to look to buy these apps through a portal, and that portal is easily accessible through their MLS system, 3rd Party software companies stand to benefit immensely. Talk about “non-dues revenue”!

You are witnessing the rebirth of MLS Vendors

I see in 2012 MLS Vendors hammering out their strategy for the next NAR annual meeting Orlando. At that conference I think we are going to see a lot of new innovative stuff, not just from the product side but the re-invention of what it means to be an MLS Vendor going forward. I’m excited about the possibilities.

6 Comments
  1. Good stuff Greg. I disagree with one point though – “With the recent acquisition of Tarasoft by CoreLogic lowered the choices in MLS systems options available.” – that move lowered the number of MLS *vendors*, but not the number of MLS systems.

    Matrix gives Corelogic yet another non-Flash option to offer to work on iPad. – Corelogic also has been able to offer non-Flash Innovia and Innovia mobile.

    We’ve been talking about focus and integrations for years now – I still think we’re heading that direction as well – but it’s not going to be all that successful without data standards. I’m still hoping that RESO can achieve some momentum and develop data standards for moving contacts and saved searches, which together with some preferences yields “prospects”. Add a bit more and you have the client “activity” RETS payload being discussed. Being able to move and synch that data could lead to easier system transitions and the ability to have third party products handle the client-collaboration elements of MLS entirely (or provide a better mobile interface to it) rather than locking people into a single tool using their data as handcuffs. There are so many other areas where data standards are needed but I’ll leave it at that.

  2. Greg Robertson permalink

    @Matt You are correct the number of MLS systems have stayed the same, it’s the number of vendor options that has shrunk, I’ve made the correction in the post.

    Standards is a topic for another post I’m writing.

  3. Bill Rovillo permalink

    Good stuff. Especially the warning of not “putting all your eggs in one basket”. Man,that would have one ugly ending!
    But I’m not seeing the opportunity for 3rd parties you speak of. For instance, CoreLogic now offers Realist for free and nearly free (depending on which Association they are pitching). The more they offer for free, the less competition there will be.
    The only 3rd party opp I see, I guess in this situation, would be if a current Realist paying Association called out Realist for offering that product for free when they and others are still paying full price.

  4. Development for Flash on mobile is moving to Adobe’s AIR platform which will allow Flash developers to port and run their Flash-based apps on iOS. Adobe’s press release was, in my opinion, poorly worded and does not communicate that Flash apps will be able to run on iOS after a port/recompile to AIR.

    Neither Tempo nor MLXchange run on any browser other than IE. There is an ActiveX requirement and unless you use GoToMyPC (or one of the many similar apps) you’re out of luck. A server component (the PC you go to, is required).

    I witnessed the animosity towards both CoreLogic and the associations from REALTORS® that just want access to their data from any device. I should write a pitchforks and torches app for the next REBARCamp.

    The versions of Fusion that I have seen are sub-sets of the MLXChange feature set and are limited due to the Flash requirement. CoreLogic has stated they will release a work-around App that will be a CL branded version of a GoToMyPC type app. As far as I know, it will require the user to have a PC running as a server in order to work.

    The reason that most MLS vendors report only 2% of users are on iPad is because iPad is not supported. Since IE is *required* to run the MLS, most MLXChange stats would say that IE is the top browser so why change?

    I have access to stats from our clients that have MLXchange and the IE use percentage is 98.46%.

    In non-MLXchange required MLSs, IE use is 65% and dropping. Of mobile devices, it’s 83% iOS and climbing with Android in a distant 2nd place.

    (Shameless plug) iMapp integrates MLS and tax (and foreclosure) data in one place and has done so for many years and with many MLS vendors, including those mentioned above. It’s great to see others catching on.

    The impact of having all of that data fed to, say a CMA product, would provide a very clear picture of not only MLS sales data but also auction, REO, FSBO and other sales that will impact CMA values.

    Oh, and iMapp runs on every browser and every mobile device with a browser (except the Jitterbug).

    @rqd

  5. Good article Greg. We were going through this same debate a while go (How to make our system Cross Browser compatible) and almost came to the solution of using Flex (Flash) or Silverlight. Our final decision was of course to go with standard HTML and Java Script and good thing we did. In the course of development we were excited when it naturally started working on iOS and Android devices, although another problem presented itself which is the interaction a user has using a mouse and keyboard is completely different than an interaction with a multi-touch interface. So even though we went with web standards and it does work on mobile devices, we still may in fact look at app development specifically for mobile to accommodate the needed difference in interface.

    As for the ‘Flash is Dead’ topic; I have a coworker that I debate this with occasionally. He is a pure Apple Fanboy and so he of course wants Flash (and all middleware) to die a quick death. I’m however on the other side of the fence. I understand the argument “that it gets in the way”, however I still see the need for it. Browsers are starting to get more friendly and “standards” based, however I don’t believe it will ever be perfect. Even with HTML5, the browser controls the rendering and thus every browser will have it’s own “quirks”. The only real way to control the user experience and make that experience consistent across all devices is with a consistent software on each said device. Be it Java, Flash/Flex, Silverlight, etc. it takes that control away from the browser so that developers don’t have to spin their wheels tracking inconsistencies across numerous platform/browser combinations.

    Also like Robert said about iMapp, Hawaii Information’s own REsearch program also has fully integrated Public Records and Parcel Based Mapping into our MLS system for the past 20 years. So its fun seeing everyone jump into the parcel based MLS arena like they were the first. ;o)

    Now I’m in an interesting position being that Hawaii Information is both a “Vendor” and an “MLS”, and though it goes against the grain I’ve been told I should believe in, I believe full-hearted that the MLS industry is in need of a business model change. If I were to form my perfect vision of the future it would be something like this. Each area would still have an ‘MLS’ which would control the rules and regulations, provide agent training and member services, manage local rosters, and handle the data aggregation. This data would then be placed into a standards (RESO?) based database which Vendors would the be able to tie their system into for a per-member price to the MLS. Upon the contract being signed, that MLS’s members then have the ability to subscribe for a monthly fee to the Vendor. This would put all vendors on equal footing as the multi-year contracts go out the window and it no longer is about ‘Who you know’ and more about how good your system really is. This would also greatly increase the competition, which has proven many times over to benefit the members with options, lower costs, and increased support. And finally it would also help the 3rd parties as they no longer would have a million hoops to jump through. I also fully agree with Greg that the future MLS system will be more open to plug and play API style complete with a “app store”-esque purchase mechanism. 3rd party software could then be included as additional options “Would you like fries with that? How about upgrade to CloudCMA for an additional $9.99?”.

    Okay its Friday and I need to stop day dreaming. Have a great weekend everyone and Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!

  6. Hello there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that
    would be okay. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

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