Commentary December 18, 2012

What I Want in an MLS Platform: a Broker’s Perspective


Since 1996 I have belonged to Multiple Listing Services from Long Island to Rochester. In full disclosure, I am about to start my 4th term as Vice President of what I believe to now be New York State’s second largest MLS. I have used over a dozen different platforms, and I  know, all too well, the range in functionality. Some software is incredible user friendly, flexible and agile, and other systems are miserable to use and make the simplest of tasks frustrating.

And on mobile it is safe to say that they all leave a lot to be desired.

The software an MLS uses for their platform affects the job we do as agents on behalf of our clients. We don’t simply search for properties; we do comparative market analysis, we tally market statistics, and we need to use the data to advocate for our clients on negotiations. Inflexible, hard to use, or less functional software puts clients at a disadvantage because their agents don’t have the necessary tools to do their job as well as they could. With that in mind, here is what I want in an MLS platform.

  • Ease of use. This falls under 2 categories: smooth operation and user friendliness. Some MLS systems are clunky and overloaded with flash and unneeded memory eating background programs that slow the computer down. That isn’t good. Others make it hard to do simple functions like print or look up an agent or brokerage. All agents should have a hotlink back to their profile. I shouldn’t have to stand on my head to print up a report or add an optional search criterion.
  • Search options. I want to be able to search with almost microscopic granularity. Number of bedrooms, towns, zip codes and square footage are common, but I want to be able to filter for almost anything: fireplaces, in-ground pools, municipal water, full basements, slate roofs, owner name, possible owner or assumable financing, and other very specific property characteristics. Anyone in the public can search bedrooms or square footage. I am a broker. I should have options that add value for my client.
  • Data crunching. Home searching is only part of what MLS data is useful for in the service of my clients. Not long ago, while representing a buyer, a listing agent made a claim that the property sold during a brief value spike several years prior in her efforts to justify their list price. I needed to go back and verify the median price for properties in the locale during that period. I could not. No deal was made because buyers do not act when there is ambiguity. That’s a problem-for both sides. I need to be able to drill very deeply for data to get answers. I need to show how homes offering a higher commission sell for a higher percentage of list price. I need to ascertain whether short sale closings in the past 90 days trend below the overall median price. There are many other permutations needed.
    -Because I need to advise sellers better on how to price their home taking into account more than bedrooms, bathrooms and square footage.
    -I need to advise buyers better on what a smart offer would be on a property they are considering.
    -And I need to be armed with better facts when dealing with the claims made on the other side of a transaction by my counterparts that, under current conditions,  cannot be verified.
  •  Better Mobile. Buyers are out there with iPads and tablets. They have questions and want immediate answers. I have to have agility in the field with my client and I have to provide a better value add than unlocking the door and commenting on the open floor plan. I have to have better tools. I can’t just look up a property we drive past on my phone; I have to do a quick  CMA on in the driveway if my clients are ready to act. I have to get back to clients from my car with answers from the field, not make them wait until I get home. My device has to function like my desktop. 

In short, if it is a fact, I need to be able to find it and sort by it. If it is a collection of facts, I need to be able to demonstrate how that correlates to price, time on market, and percentage of asking price paid by buyers. I have to be better than what is currently available.

The MLS is not simply a home search database any longer. Is is the single most important tool brokers have that allows us to serve our clients better via the interpretation of all existing data. While consumers may view the MLS as a simply the homes for sale, they don’t realize that it is actually a massive database of all activity in archive- including sold homes, unsold homes, pending sales, and what they see available. This should enable me to do extensive research on their behalf.  If we cannot do that, our clients lose and our value is not fully utilized.

And for MLS vendors: You may, after reading this, feel encouraged that your platform fits the bill or that you have some work to do. While some are pretty good, I can tell you that no system I have used does 100% of everything I have described. That is a problem, because the rate of change is staggering, and consumer demands are making last week’s better mousetrap next week’s example of obsolescence. 

If I were to build an MLS from the ground up, these would be my design parameters.