The Open MLS Institute

I learned about this the Open MLS Institute the other day from the Inman Blog. Here’s what they do:

The Open MLS Institute aims to bring competition to real estate markets in the United States by opening multiple listing services (MLSs) nationwide. We are committed to championing innovators and energetic competitors, and to combating longstanding policies – both formal and informal – that unfairly and unethically obstruct these innovators. We aim to upgrade ethics in the real estate community.

Another page says this:

The Open MLS Institute was founded by real estate firms and realty agents who believe that consumers deserve a higher standard of commitment from the licensees who serve them. Institute founders believe that listing data should be open to every consumer, so they will have the widest possible choice of homes. And listing data should be dispersed widely so sellers get the best prices and offers on their homes. The openness of this real estate information will tend to protect consumers and real estate professionals from the few who don’t share this view. That is, the very openness of the data will raise the ethical standards of the profession.

With time, the current rag-tag collection of 900 MLSs should be replaced by a smoothly integrated network of inter-operable open MLSs carrying all listings of homes for sale and rent.

The first truly open MLS should take place in Maine, where an Open MLS Initiative has been presented to the Maine Secretary of State. Passage of that initiative in the November 2007 election is expected to be followed swiftly by enactments of similar initiatives in about 18 states in the 2008 election. By then, the entire nation should have been upgraded to open MLS.

One of the challenges of my job is that I have to combat negative broker stereotypes. One of the most basic stereotypes of realty is that agents and brokers don’t do anything for you–but you have to hire one to get full access to listings.

Truth is, there’s a lot of expertise, and elbow grease, that goes into being a successful New York broker.

If the listings were all freely available, however (which they inevitably will be at some point soon anwyay, whether it’s through Google, Zillow, Craig’s List, or something else) it would make clear the true value of a good broker, while giving the industry a welcome shakeout.

So I got all excited when I read about the Open MLS Institute. It really would be fantastic for all of this data to be in one easily searchable, centralized database for everyone to view and use as they like.

But it’s not all a bed of roses. For one thing, the commenters at Inman are livid about it. For instance, the MLS has a lot of information about how to get into people’s vacant houses and the like. Obviously, that shouldn’t be public.

Another good point is, even if you support the idea of an open MLS, why does it have to be these people? It appears they are a for-profit entity. And if they have all the searchable listings, no doubt they’re then going to want to charge brokers for premium listings, etc. And they’ll make a fortune from advertising to all the internet traffic they would doubtless generate.

They also have a lot of language about ethical real estate professionals. They even have an ethics test. I took it. At five questions long, it’s not so rigorous. I think I answered all the questions the way they anticipated an ethical broker would–but I’m sure plenty of brokers who don’t behave ethically would answer those questions the same way. And one of the questions asks whether I would send them all of my listings. I could be ethical, and determined to support an open listings service, without necessary choosing the Open MLS Institute as my open listings service of choice, correct? Seems a tad unethical to try to turn serving their interests into an ethical issue, if you see what I mean.

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