In a wide-ranging interview with RISMedia, Art Carter, CEO of California Regional MLS (CRMLS), the nation’s largest Multiple Listing Service (MLS), explained how a partnership with Bright MLS is positioned to transform the real estate industry, while also touching on topics such as new platforms coming early next year, the impact NAR-level lawsuits could have, and much more.
Michael Catarevas: CRMLS has made some impressive and significant strides in 2022. At the beginning of the year, CRMLS announced an agreement with Bright MLS to collaborate on technology solutions for the MLS industry. Can you provide insight on what this collaboration entails?
Art Carter: Bright and CRMLS, the two largest MLSs in the country, have developed synergies and capabilities within our organizations to achieve high-level service innovations which allow for less dependency on third-party vendors. CRMLS and Bright MLS have strengths independent of each other, but together are a powerhouse in the real estate innovation field. Our joint venture has created a powerful unison amongst the two companies; Bright has the capability to develop toolsets that deliver data in a seamless manner, and CRMLS has capabilities in aggregating and normalizing data. It’s been a strong, collaborative partnership.
We’re going to begin 2023 at full speed with approximately 50% market participation in our efforts. We’re also launching Nestfully.com in Q1 2023, which is a joint effort between the two organizations that will augment what the Broker Public Portal was positioned to do—aggregation of data across the entire country. We’re going to give people the option to participate within Nestfully so it can display nationwide MLS listing data on a single website.
MC: In July, CRMLS announced REdistribute, a joint venture with Bright MLS. Can you talk about this initiative and why it was formed?
AC: We know there’s a need for a wider variety of people to have access to MLS data such as government-sponsored entities, mortgage companies and appraisal-valuation companies. We’ve partnered with large companies to aggregate that data while we do the sales process.
There is currently a robust gray market where organizations are aggregating and selling the data without a license from the MLS or any remuneration back to the brokers who created the data. CRMLS and Bright believe any monetization that comes out of the data needs to go back to the brokerage community, less the costs to deliver it. Our main goal is to take back that marketplace for the benefit of our brokerage community. We’re doing it for the industry, and the brokerage and MLS side are very enthusiastic about it.
MC: Historically, CRMLS has returned a portion of revenue to brokerages that participate in listing distribution, or ‘syndication,’ and contributed 10 or more listings to the CRMLS database within a year-long period. How will revenue distribution for REdistribute differ?
AC: REdistribute shares a similar concept. Revenue distribution is dependent on the volume of data usage, and if it becomes necessary to distribute checks more often than we did in the case of listing distribution, we will readjust the model to match the current trends. We will generate a per-listing value from our earnings to redistribute to the brokerage community for every clean listing they give us. This incentivizes them to provide us with clean data.
MC: There has been a lot of buzz around the June announcement that CRMLS is signing an agreement with Perchwell to bring their flagship front and back-end platform as an additional MLS system option for users. Can you elaborate on the details of the platform?
AC: We’re excited about Perchwell. MLSs have really fallen behind when it comes to providing consumers with competitive technology services. When we were presented with Perchwell, first as an investment opportunity then as a benefit to our members, we knew we had to embrace it. Not only does it compete well, but it exceeds a lot of the technology that is delivered to the consumer. We think the MLS should have the power to provide an all-inclusive view of a property to our working brokers and agents; and as an intelligence tool, Perchwell is going to complete that loop for us. We’re going to collect every piece of information about a property that we possibly can. Users will have access to deeper levels of search than ever before, and they’re not going to have to go through multiple platforms to perform their work. It will be an integrated platform with readily accessible information at their fingertips.
MC: Will it be mandatory for CRMLS users to switch to Perchwell, or can they still choose to use their current MLS system?
AC: It will be a choice at the brokerage level, and a choice at our local association level. We’re going to work with each interested association and brokerage to better understand their needs and wants. Perchwell will be available in early 2023. There’s already an outpour of excitement from our members because they want it as soon as possible.
MC: The industry has been rapidly changing, yet CRMLS has maintained its ability to stay current and innovate. Talk about Nestfully, the new consumer website that CRMLS and Bright MLS are working on launching.
AC: We’ve worked through Nestfully’s naming and design conventions together, and the big selling point is that the unattached consumer can do all their searching on a robust, informative website. Once they’ve chosen an agent to work with, their whole experience will be transferred over to that agent without the hassle of having to learn and relearn systems. They can continue using their existing systems under the auspices of their relationship with that agent.
MC: With all the lawsuits going on at the NAR level, what plans does CRMLS have to address the possibility of compensation going away in the MLS?
AC: We are currently discussing that idea within our platforms. I am in contact with the brokerage community on a regular basis so that they are aware of the lawsuits and their possible outcomes. We’re watching what’s happening very closely, but I’ve been in this industry for 25 years and have seen a lot of change. This is not an extinction-level event for the brokerage community—it would just be a different way of doing business and a different way of negotiating commissions if that is to be the result of the lawsuits, or even through government action from some of the things we’re hearing out of the FTC and Department of Justice.
MC: Does CRMLS have any plans to improve the current dashboard experience that makes up a lot of a user’s daily MLS interaction?
AC: One of the things brought to our attention in the last two years is that our brokers and agents are very sensitive to the ownership structures of the technologies that we provide. We’ve had some very public acquisitions of some key pieces of technology that CRMLS provides, and it has taught us that in areas in which we can develop it ourselves, or in partnership with someone such as Bright, it makes sense to do so. We are in the process of moving ourselves away from some of these vendor-specific technology pieces, especially when it comes to communication in the dashboard. The dashboard is the linchpin of how we deliver information to our end users, brokers, agents and appraisers, so we want to manage that experience carefully. A new dashboard, developed and owned by CRMLS, will be fully available in the first quarter of 2023 and is a key part of that process to gain better control of the technologies that we’re providing to our membership.
MC: What other projects/initiatives does CRMLS have planned for 2023?
AC: We have a lot of innovations planned for 2023. One thing I was adamant about early on in my career with CRMLS is having an internal development team that could devise our own technology to meet the needs of our users. Patching together several different solutions is too expensive and doesn’t offer a seamless experience for users. It makes more sense to develop solutions internally. We’ll be taking some of these elements to the industry and giving them an opportunity to participate in tools that support communications, compliance and training; plus, they all integrate with each other. We’re actively in discussions with companies that would provide blockchain where blockchain makes sense. I’m not a believer that everything has to be blockchain as the way of the future—but there are certain elements where data security is very important, and blockchain should be part of the MLS experience. We’ll be moving forward with some of that as well in 2023.