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Is MLS Still the Most Crucial Marketing Tool?

I just returned from the National Association of Realtors’ 2015 Legislative Meetings and Trade Expo, and as with many conferences, some of the most stimulating conversations come from the unofficial meetups and lobby conversations.

Sitting in the lobby with a group of brokers, Rob Hahn asked, “Is the MLS still your most important tool in marketing your listings?” Although many in the group stated an emphatic “yes,” without hesitation my reply is “no.”

Here’s my reasoning:

The premise of the MLS system is it gives us an organized platform to distribute and share information about properties for sale and provides a venue where brokers offer compensation and cooperation to each other.

A real estate environment without the MLS would be equivalent to the Wild West, where listing brokers each hold their own properties for sale, marketing them to buyers directly. Other brokers with buyers would have to figure out what inventory is for sale, and then negotiate for the rights to be compensated for bringing a buyer to the transaction.

This dysfunctional world does exist, interestingly, in New York City, where there is no MLS. Overall, the MLS system brings efficiency to the market and creates a level playing field for brokers.

Approximately 75 percent of my firm’s listings are sold by other real estate brokers, so making information available on the MLS is crucial to getting my properties sold. Buyer’s agents need to be able to see all of the inventory, not just what their office has for sale.

When I represent the seller, it is my duty to bring him the highest and best offer I can. Usually, this is accomplished by casting the net to the most buyers I can reach, which includes advertising on search portals such as Zillow, Trulia, and others.

Back in the day when the MLS inventory was hoarded in printed books, the buyer had to contact a real estate agent to learn what was for sale. About 20 years ago, I would assert that the MLS was the most important tool in a broker’s inventory. If a property was not in that book, the rest of the area’s brokers did not know it was for sale. That is no longer the case.

Today, buyers can quickly find which houses are for sale by heading to one of the major search portals. They can search a ZIP code or enter their criteria and save a search, and receive alerts when new houses come on the market. Yes, buyer’s agents can set up similar searches for their clients on the MLS platform, but savvy buyers can do it by themselves now.

Some buyers — frequently the most serious ones — know the inventory even better than many agents. My buyer clients sometimes text me when a new property hits the market they want to see, even before I’ve seen it on the hot sheet. They’re out there watching for new yard signs, setting up alerts and quoting me MLS identification numbers rather than property addresses.

Although the MLS is crucial to me as a broker — both for the data it provides and assisting in making dealings between brokers run smoothly — it is no longer my No. 1 marketing tool to get properties sold. Yes, my MLS has a public-facing site, but it’s so ugly and clunky that I’ve never had a consumer tell me they’ve searched with it. The top real estate search portals — Zillow and Trulia and — have the buyers’ eyeballs.

We can rant all we want about the accuracy of the data on these sites, but buyers don’t care. They’re not on Zillow because the data is 100 percent correct. They’re on there because the site is easy to navigate and gives them what they want — the most information. You and I can argue that it’s not always correct information, but again, the public doesn’t care.

Zillow captures almost a quarter of the Internet real estate searchers. If that’s where people are searching, that is where my brokerage needs to be, front and center. That does not mean buyer’s agents are marginalized in the picture. I don’t care who sells my listings — one of my agents or an agent from XYZ brokerage. My goal is to get it sold.

I hope that a buyer, who already is working with a buyer’s agent, sees a property on Zillow and contacts their agent for an appointment. I don’t need the buyer’s agent to find the property and send it to the buyer anymore, at least not as much as I did 20 years ago. I need the buyer to be on his or her favorite search portals and see my listings displayed — period. That’s all.

The world where real estate agents drove the searches and guided the buyer to the perfect house is nearly obsolete, as I think this is happening less and less today. Now, the buyers are in the driver’s seat, doing their own searches and finding their own houses — and then contacting an agent, or hopefully “their” agent, to make an appointment.