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.
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®.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
Homesnap 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 [email protected]. 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.