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Why Brokers Support The Broker Portal

Background

For the past two years, it has been my distinguished honor to serve the industry in the development of the Broker Public Portal. Today, I serve as the company’s Chairman, and am one of the representatives of the Large Broker class of the Board of Managers.

Background about the Broker Public Portal

MLS consumer websites have been around forever in real estate. There has been a long discussion between brokerage firms and MLSs about the nature of competition between those consumer sites and the brokerage sites. That conversation ended a few years ago when the National Association of REALTORS® MLS Policy Committee made a ruling that MLS Consumer Facing Websites are a Basic Service of the MLS. This effort is really one that shapes business rules around consumer sites that empower the relationship between the consumer and the real estate professional.

Basic Service of the MLS

To understand the mission of the Broker Public Portal, you need to have an understanding of the term Basic or Core Service of an MLS. If a service of the MLS is defined as Basic, it means that an MLS may offer that service and charge the MLS participants and subscribers. When NAR made the clarification to the MLS policy, it also included the marketing of the MLS consumer website as a basic service too. What that means for brokers and agents is that they pay for it in their dues. The effort here is to develop this basic service of the MLS into a center of excellence for all MLSs.

The Concept

In Western New York, we have had an MLS consumer site for many years. I have seen the role of that website and its impact on my brokerage and the brokerages of my competitors. It does a pretty good job of delivering consumer engagement with our listings. I would rate the site as somewhere in the middle of the pack, which is about where we want it to be. I believe that our local MLS strategy will be improved by participating in the Broker Portal. Some MLSs want their consumer site to be the leader in local search, like the Houston Association of REALTORS®.

Going National

In our business, we have advertised in media (print, radio, television) on a local level, regional level, and national level. The one thing that is missing from a local MLS’s consumer facing website strategy is that none of them are national sites. I know the story about real estate being local, but it is self evident that national consumer sites have advantages over most local MLS consumer sites. The simple thesis of the Broker Pubic Portal is the belief that MLSs collaborating on the development and marketing of a single, national MLS consumer site will have a groundswell effect that will overpower individual MLS sites. This idea was socialized around the industry by the Connecticut MLS board of directors and their CEO, Cameron Paine. Even for MLSs that have a local MLS consumer website strategy, this national strategy is expansive and delivers a greater benefit to home sellers and real estate professionals.

Getting Organized

Our first step to formalizing the project was to raise some funds to explore the project and develop the ideology and governance for the company. To our welcome surprise, more than 50 brokers were joined by more than 50 MLSs who equally contributed $5000 to fund the exploration. This funding allowed the company to gain its footing, and now we are expanding our efforts to invite more MLSs and brokers to contribute as voting members of the BPP. (For information about supporting the effort – visit http://www.brokerpublicportal.com/support.html.)

Guiding Principles

We held a number of group meetings of the contributors to develop principles for the project. In no particular order, we agreed to the following:

  • National is more effective than regional MLS consumer sites
  • There is a void in the online landscape for a consumer site that adheres to the fair display guidelines
  • Brokers do not have a site of their own today. There should be a national consumer facing website that is offered by those who sell real estate.
  • Brokers of all sizes should be represented on the Board of Managers
  • MLSs should be invited to join the partnership with their Brokers
  • The purpose is not to generate profits for the brokers or the MLSs
  • Mobile first!

Corporate Formation

Technically, the Broker Public Portal is a for-profit LLC. However, the guidance of the company is to deliver maximum value for the industry at the lowest possible price.

  • Unit holders in the LLC have no provision to sell units. If they no longer wish to be a unit holder, then the unit is absorbed back into the treasury.
  • Unit holders have no provisions to receive dividends for their units.
  • Unit holders may only vote for the board of managers, or be elected to the board of managers.
  • All profits of the corporation will either be stored in reserves or deployed for product development and marketing.
  • There are 4 large firm representatives, 3 medium firm representatives, 3 small firm representatives, 4 MLS representatives, and two outside directors that comprise the board of managers.

Build Vs. Buy

One of the first actions of the Board of Managers was to get a group of people together that were passionate and experienced in enterprise technology. We evaluated vendor solutions and formed calculations about the cost of developing the product in house. After significant debate, the Managers unanimously agreed to partner with Homesnap.

Why Homesnap

homesnap-logoHomesnap is mobile first, and a leader in that category. They are already deployed in around 50 MLSs, many of which were early supporters of the project. Their agent and consumer satisfaction ratings were the highest we saw across the many proposals that we reviewed. They support the concept of Fair Display Guidelines. Their pricing proposal was aggressive. They already have over 400,000 agents on their platform and serve more than 4 million consumers through their app. Another 100,000 agents have gained access to Homesnap since the joint venture was announced. The Homesnap.com website does not yet reflect the functionality or look of the popular mobile app, but that is a top priority for Homesnap out of the gate.

The Joint Venture

Many of us industry veterans have concerns about agreements with technology vendors. When we discussed those concerns with Homesnap, we resolved that the best way to form our relationship was through a joint venture. We have agreed to the formation of a holding company that is 50% owned by Broker Public Portal, LLC, and 50% owned by Homesnap, Inc. Homesnap is contributing its brand and technology to the joint venture, and the Broker Portal is contributing funding and support. In addition, Homesnap has been contracted to run the operations of the company.

The Price

Nearly every MLS in America has some form of mobile app used by real estate agents to deliver MLS property information to the consumer. The agent version provides agent-only data that they would expect to see if they were logged into their MLS. Depending on the market, MLSs already make substantial investments in a mobile app. If an MLS also has a consumer facing website, they are investing additional MLS dollars. The broker portal aims to wrap those two services into one at an exceptional price.

Homesnap now delivers a comprehensive product for $1 per MLS subscriber per month. Participating MLSs will receive both a world-class app for consumers to use (Homesnap) and the leading professional app, Homesnap Pro.

Next Steps

Now is the time for every MLS to reconsider its MLS consumer-facing website strategy and mobile strategy. MLS boards of directors will need to determine if participating in the industry wide effort is a more or less promising value to their agents and brokers. I am confident that most will agree that this effort is a great opportunity for epic collaboration across the nation. Ask your MLS if they plan to participate.

The Competition

There has been a lot of discussion about the Broker Public Portal’s ability to compete with the existing national portals. Someday we may get there, but that is not our short-term goal today. Our goal is to join in the development of the best national MLS consumer search experience. Some believe we are competing against local MLS consumer websites. but we think that the BPP offers a national reach that is complementary and unprecedented, and that will help brokers and agents dramatically increase their connections with online consumers.

Industry Response

The company is only days into its existence. I am humbled by the overwhelming industry response. In my life, I have had few experiences that have caused brokers and MLSs executives from across the nation to reach out in appreciation of our work thus far. Nearly a dozen MLSs representing over 100,000 real estate professionals have started their contract with the Broker Portal. Dozens of other boards have placed the review and affirmation to join the movement on the docket for future board meetings.

Call To Action

If your readers are involved in industry leadership and would like information on how they can participate in the BPP – invite them to check out https://www.homesnap.com/bpp or reach out to victor@wavgroup.com. We encourage brokers across the country to share their enthusiasm with their MLS and are happy to provide a letter to express their interest to their MLS board of directors.

About Merle Whitehead

President/CEO at Realty USA & one of the representatives of the Large Broker class of the Board of Managers of Broker Public Portal.

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  • Appreciate the perspective, Merle.

    I get the industry side of this initiative — but I’m still trying to determine what differentiates Homesnap from a consumer perspective? Why would a buyer want to use the website/apps? Is it because their agent tells them to, or is there some other reason?

    • Drew, a big reason consumers use certain sites is because they know about them.

      Zillow spends hundreds of millions on marketing and in turn gets millions of views. Yes the site is good, but without the marketing they would not get nearly as many viewers.

      So sometimes a site does not have to be better, but if they spend enough on marketing it, they will get the clicks as long as it is acceptable.

      • Right… but likely everyone who an agent tells about BPP will have already heard of Zillow. So why would they switch?

        • VictorLund

          do agents tell consumers to use Zillow?

          • No agent would every say use Zillow. As a matter of fact, I would bet most agents would say do not use Zillow. I have heard that even from agents making a ton of money from Zillow.

            However, $100 million in marketing says use Zillow, so buyers use Zillow!

          • “As a matter of fact, I would bet most agents would say do not use Zillow.”

            Well that’s a datapoint proving that consumers don’t listen to agents on this matter then…. since consumers use zillow in droves.

          • Drew, excellent point. If someone uses and likes Zillow, even if their agent tell them to use their personal website, they will probably continue to use Zillow.

            Not to mention most buyers start their process online without talking to an agent, so Zillow gets all those buyers too.

          • VictorLund

            Now we are straying off topic – but smart brokers are integrating Zestimates and Agent ratings into their sites to satisfy consumers and avert the trip down Zillow Road – perhaps this is for another post.

          • Mike Price

            Im just jumping in to thank you Victor for keeping this awesome thread on point. Hello everyone!

          • Drew, we all know the numbers “consumers” searching on Z are blown way out of proportion. In fact, one user can be counted several times. And when you look at the numbers there’s just not that many buyers out there, especially when you take the numbers “consumers” looking on Redfin, Realtor.com, etc.! And what really gets me is when those (you included) say Z puts the consumer first. Putting the consumer first would mean having all listing data instead of the 20+% they’re missing. And that would also mean that the listing data Z provides wouldn’t be riddled with flaws.

            Because Z doesn’t provide all listing data “as well as” they provide inaccurate listing data, I am in the camp that says Z is NOT the best place for consumers to search nor does Z put the consumer first. After all. Just because Z was first to the game doesn’t mean that can’t and shouldn’t be replaced (IMO.)

            Anyway, I’m sure you’ll have some kind-of come back in defense of Z. And “if” you do? Answer this! Why not have a broker portal that provides all listing data? Why not have a broker portal that provides accurate listing data? And why not have a broker portal – one that doesn’t live off the backs of agents?

            Thanks for the vine!

          • “Why not have a broker portal that provides all listing data? Why not have a broker portal that provides accurate listing data? And why not have a broker portal – one that doesn’t live off the backs of agents?”

            It’s not that I don’t think it should exist. It’s that what I hear BPP described as already exists in the form of hundreds/thousands of agent/broker websites in every market. Why invest so much money into a portal that delivers the same thing consumers can already get?

          • Drew, great point. I don’t think BPP is for consumers. As you state accurately, they already have this information.

            BPP is for agents who have no website, or work for Brokers who have no website. They are trying to level the playing field and help those part time agents or agents that have as you stated have crappy/no websites.

            According to Victor polls have been conducted, and the agents with crappy/no websites out numbered those of us with good websites, so members prefer something that takes leads from those with good websites and distributes them to those with crappy/no websites.

          • VictorLund

            I do not disagree – but agents have no problem telling the consumer about using the MLS.

      • And why would an agent/broker tell a consumer about bpp rather than their own website? Or is this banking on agents/brokers with crappy/no websites marketing it to consumers?

        • VictorLund

          for the same reason why agents use the client portal in the MLS – today – 100 million emails are sent each month out of CoreLogic Matrix to consumers – Do you consider CoreLogic to be a competitior? Of course not. (full disclosure – Broker Portal is a WAV Group Project)

          • Drew, I guess your “crappy/no websites” comes into play in this situation. No agent or Broker with a good website would ever send their clients to Matrix. They would subscribe them to their own website.

            However, if you have nothing, than Matrix is your only options.

            The 100 million sounds like a big number, but it is hard to make any decisions based on it. For example, my small team in my small market sends out 250,000 per month. So 4 small teams like mine would end up sending out 1 million emails per month.

            I mention this because I do not want anyone to make an assumption that most agents have no website.

          • VictorLund

            Sounds like your small team is killing it! Way to go. I cannot tell you how frustrated we get when agents do not save searches on their own agent website for their clients – drives me nuts. The 100 Million is a real number – came from CoreLogic – by extrapolation, the number would be about 200 Million if you consider that Matrix has about 50% of the MLS industry. It scares me to extrapolate like that – but if you talk to a bunch of agents (as we do), the client portal in the MLS is one of the most popular features.Go figure! (BPP is a consulting client of WAV Group).

          • “I cannot tell you how frustrated we get when agents do not save searches on their own agent website for their clients – drives me nuts”

            So agents should not use the MLS for email alerts, but subscribe their clients w/ their own website technology (I agree) — yet you want agents to do this on BPP instead of using their own websites? That’s the part I don’t get.

          • VictorLund

            I would advocate that agents register clients on their IDX or VOW sites – but if agents are using the MLS client portal for whatever reason – its a better idea to use Homesnap. Have you ever seen the listing displays that MLSs provide on Mobile? Homesnap is waaaaaaaaay better. In fact – I prefer it to any of the portal mobile apps – I am in LA today, and I can point it at a house and get the details – on market or off. It is very cool.

            The “around me” searches of most apps require sorting from results. Homesnap takes you right to the property you are looking at.

          • So BPP (aka homesnap) is going to replace all those emails from the MLS systems?

          • VictorLund

            If the MLS chooses. Remember, Homesnap is already the mobile client servicing portal for 50 MLSs, so this integration only makes sense. Agents should not need to set up saved searches in both places as they do today.

            MLSs are already in talks with their vendors to align the client portals.

            MLS vendors are not particularly interested in sending millions of emails – they get no benefit from the consumer traffic – its just an expense for them that Homesnap could unburden from the MLS system. Sounds like a win – win – but we will see. Its too early to jump too far out ahead of ourselves. One step at a time. (BPP is WAV Group’s client)

        • VictorLund

          By the way – its is probably a good data point for you to know that 300,000 agents already use HomeSnap as their mobile client servicing tool (over 50 MLSs), and last September, their monthly uniques were just over 4 Million consumers – clearly this is nowhere near the top portals, but it is a damn good start – more than any of the national franchise portals – It will definitely take a lot of energy to scale this, but broker leaders like Whitehead, franchise leaders, and MLSs all seem to agree and believe that this is the best strategy – and certainly one that is better than doing nothing. ( I work for BPP as a consultant)

          • “MLSs all seem to agree and believe that this is the best strategy”.

            Just curious Victor, how did they arrive at this decision. Did they survey their members to see what we want? Did they find that most members have as Drew said “crappy/no website” so they need this to do business?

            I know the people at my MLS do not sell Real Estate, so their opinion might be different from their members whom make their living selling Real Estate.

          • VictorLund

            Yes, they survey their members – who is your MLS?

          • Wow!!!!

            Do they make any of this survey data public? I would love to see it.

            I have been advocating heavily that the MLS should survey their members so they understand better what their member’s want, so it is refreshing to hear some have done it.

            My MLS is HiCentral.com, and they do no surveying of their members on important decisions that affect their member’s livelihood.

          • VictorLund

            You should contact them to ask. It is pretty customary for MLSs to perform member satisfaction research and to develop annual strategic plans. Often those are projects for your elected board of directors (that is what you elect them to do). We have not performed strategic planning for HiCentral nor have we done member satisfaction research for them. But that is not to say that they have not used another consultant or done it in house. I am pretty sure that they are members of the Council of MLS, and strategic planning and satisfaction research are taught as best practices.

            Lets face it – planning and satisfaction research are fundamental to every business – right?

    • VictorLund

      Its the highest rated consumer real estate app in the Apple store – which is a great start – and the data is from the MLS (accuracy, timelines, etc). Consumers love MLS consumer sites like HAR.com, MLSListings.com, MLSLI.com, and MRIShomes.com – they prefer them to portals like RDC, Z, T, and Homes. They trust the data and say that they like knowing that its the “good stuff” that the Realtors access. For the most part, these sites have more consumer traffic than the leading portals in those markets (Hitwise MSA studies). (I work for BPP)

      • “They trust the data and say that they like knowing that its the “good stuff” that the Realtors access.”

        That good stuff is already on hundreds of agent/broker websites though, correct?

        • VictorLund

          Agreed – and I think that consumers use those a lot. But they use other sources too – variety

  • Thank you, Merle, this is a great synopsis. The strategy for BPP has much more nuance than most give it credit for at an initial glance.

    I think there’s still a larger conversation being had over the MLS policy–we said “may” for a reason, and some markets still don’t believe that charging member dues to advertise a local public-facing MLS website is the best idea. But the overall direction has certainly opened up a great opportunity for BPP if it gets nationwide opt-in.

    • “The simple thesis of the Broker Pubic Portal is the belief that MLSs collaborating on the development and marketing of a single, national MLS consumer site will have a groundswell effect that will overpower individual MLS sites.”

      Agree a national mls site will overpower local MLS sites (over time). Playing devil’s advocate — why should a MLS have a consumer website at all? It’s all the same content that hundreds/thousands of agents/brokers already show on their own websites.

    • VictorLund

      As a point of reference – the Broker Portal does not intend to advertise – rather it will produce advertising creative like TV Commercials, Radio and print ads, online ads for adwords and Facebook, etc. It will be up to the local MLS to apply advertising strategies – if at all. But when they do, they will have the same creative and messaging as other MLSs around the nation who are advertising. (I work for Broker Portal as a consultant)

  • Merle, you mentioned “Some believe we are competing against local MLS consumer websites. but we think that the BPP offers a national reach that is complementary and unprecedented….”

    The fact is there are a limited amount of buyers in each market, and every website that caters to that market competes for those buyers.

    BPP will take buyers from my website, and from the major Brokers in my market who spend millions on their website and driving traffic there. I can’t image they would support BPP when their goal is to increase their website traffic.

    Saying you do not compete against local websites because you have a national reach is not honest. As long as you are taking buyers from the area that local websites cover then please be honest, you are competing.

    • VictorLund

      The brokers of the broker portal agree with you. Their thesis is that since an MLS consumer facing website is now an NAR sanctioned basic service of the MLS, the brokers would prefer a national site vs. a local site – The belief is that it will have a better chance of success. (I work for Broker Portal as a consultant).

  • Mark Lemon

    EL15*. Isn’t BPP a competitor to Upstream? If the BPP is successful, won’t the data stored in Homesnap’s tables add another layer of complexity when trying to move to the AMP standard being developed by RPR, or is that dead and I missed the memo?
    *(explain like I’m 5)

    • Upstream is all back-end: input of data and data distribution. There’s no front end. BPP is a public display portal.

      AMP would be a foundation for an MLS’s database. Homesnap is just receiving listing data, storing it, and providing the public interface for BPP.

      • Mark Lemon

        I’ll give you credit, your answers are simple. But help an old programmer. When you say Upstream “input of data” that says to me a “front end” to input into AMP. And when you say Homesnap is receiving data and storing it, by definition it will be a different set of tables than the ones to be used by AMP.

        I’m not saying BPP is a bad idea. Maybe it’s a good one. It just isn’t clear to me whether this project will dovetail into the Upstream/AMP initiative, or end up being another proprietary system on top of dozens of other proprietary systems that all require data translation or duplicate input.

        My analogy is this: Mastercard and Visa fought like cats and dogs developing their products, but they were both successful because they agreed upon a standard format for magnetic stripe data. Multiple data formats never benefit the consumer or the brokers.

        If you’re saying Upstream/AMP is being ignored by BPP or is a dead man walking, I’ll accept either explanation. But if you’re saying it is immaterial, I’d beg to differ.

        • Good clarification, Mark. There is a front end to Upstream that brokers access to input listings. It can then feed the data to any outlet–AMP, a different MLS provider’s software, vendors, broker back office tools, etc. I should have said Upstream has no public facing display–I understand what your’e asking now.

          Everything being built now is/should be build on RESO/RETS data standards. I’d be shocked to find that any new initiative (like Upstream, BPP, AMP, Retsly, Bridge, Paragon, Trestle etc) isn’t formulated to accept/distribute in this format. The only places I know that don’t have their data at least accessible in a RETS-friendly format are some MLSs who are behind the times. So if brokers input their data into Upstream, a Corelogic-supported MLS, an AMP-supported MLS etc., any of those organizations would/could feed Homesnap/BPP a RETS-friendly feed.

          BPP is simply an end-point display as a web public portal and an agent/consumer app. It doesn’t have a listing input feature, it just receives broker/MLS listing feeds. It can enhance the data it receives however it needs to for display, because it’s not delivering that data further to other outlets. It is downstream from all of these other projects.

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