Insider's Perspective: Reinventing MLS header image

Insider's Perspective: Reinventing MLS

By Bill Fowler | January 29, 2024

I’ll admit I wasn’t planning on going to ICNY this year. Having been a regular at this conference for as long as I can remember, I felt like my participation had lost its purpose. My network of MLS executives and young PropTech companies hadn’t seen much value in the agenda in recent years. Add to all that, New York isn’t a cheap trip and by mid-December, I’d planned on spending corporate travel dollars elsewhere in 2024.



That is, until Katie at Inman reached out and asked me to moderate two MLS-focused panels. One focused on reinvigorating the MLS value proposition and the other on creating and navigating MLS-to-MLS partnerships. When I saw the all-star panelists they’d assembled, along with a full day of timely and relevant MLS topics, I happily accepted the invitation.



To open the MLS track, Sam DeBord announced that the conference had amassed over 4,000 registrations; clear evidence that the team at Inman had listened to the criticism. With the addition of a robust MLS track of content, Inman had injected some badly needed freshness into the conference. Bravo.



And that freshness was on display throughout the day on Wednesday.



Discussion both on stage and in the lobby bars was, predictably, about this massive inflection point we in the MLS space are experiencing. It’s not just the legal issues that are causing the more progressive and forward-thinking MLS to take action, it’s the widening gap in technology value between the big name, traditional service providers and the sea of small newcomers finding profitable and lasting positions at MLSs of all sizes.



The world is spinning faster than ever.



The past year has seen a huge influx of new tech. And these aren’t just the standard offerings. Fresh and viable products to bring value to the broker member via the MLS delivery channel, are literally appearing at every conference I attend, it seems. Voice-based search. Artificial Intelligence. Non-MLS datasets. The list of mind-blowing products is only getting longer, and most importantly of all, they’re getting serious traction.



If my conversations this week are any indication, MLSs are not just aware of the opportunities, but several of the more attentive MLSs are aggressively taking action. I had one MLS exec tell me flatly, “We’re saying yes to almost everything right now. There’s never been a better time to line MLS shelves with the best products for members – because there are so many to choose from.”



However, not all MLS execs are so eager to act.



There was one prevailing thought I came away with from my 48 hours of seemingly non-stop conversations with MLS executives: There’s a palpable fight-or-flight instinct that’s kicking in. 



The big idea, change-agent MLS execs who have been waiting for the right opportunity to redesign their organizations are finally now being given the chance. You can see the excitement in their eyes as they finally have the leverage to make big forward movements with staff hires, renegotiating old vendor contracts, building partnerships with next generation companies.



MLSs are investing, actively shopping for equity in young tech, or spending the time and money to develop their own products. These are the opportunists. These are the MLS execs that have been itching for a path to what’s next.



Conversely, those MLSs that have traditionally looked to NAR for guidance, are finding themselves on their own with these key decisions. MLSs that haven’t planned (or budgeted) to accommodate initiatives like front end of choice, database independence, and “store front” offerings to an increasingly demanding broker community, are finding themselves in a state of paralysis.



Some MLS execs just want to keep things the way they are, however, as one MLS exec said from my panel on Wednesday, “hope is not a strategy.” It’s certainly not too late for these MLSs to awaken to the situation at hand, but that window won’t be open for much longer.



The MLS community is separating into those that are setting themselves up to thrive and those that, unknowingly, are setting themselves up to fade into the background.



The conclusion to the content and tone at ICNY was one of cautious optimism. Yes, lawsuits are flying in all directions and there will likely be more. There will be expensive settlements. There will be a resulting major adjustment in the way MLSs deliver some core features, and probably more than a few early retirements.



In the end, however, there will be the MLS. It’s changing and it’s very exciting for those positioning themselves for the future. 





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