For the past twenty years our company, the Vallarta Lifestyles Publishing Group, has provided MLS service to real estate agencies and developers in the Vallarta/Riviera Nayarit region. We started off in 1989 with an open service that was available to anyone that was active in the real estate business. In 1992 we were approached by the local real estate board (AMPI), asking if we would consider making it an exclusive service for just AMPI members. Although it meant losing members (those that weren’t currently with AMPI), I went for it as I thought that a strong real estate board was important for the industry. That decision led to many non-AMPI offices to join the real estate board – in order to assure they’d have MLS service.
The agreement was never formalized, it was done more on a handshake, and remained that way, I would say successfully for many, until yesterday. There are three real estate boards in the region and they are actively looking for other options for MLS service. I can understand their decision. Ours is a small, independent service that cannot match what the larger systems commonly found in Canada and Mexico can offer Realtors for managing the listings and clients. The investment we’d need to make would never prove worthwhile for us to do, we’d never be able to recuperate it, based on the size of this market. For this isn’t a large market, with only a couple hundred Realtors and just over a 1,000 properties in the MLS.
So with the Boards thinking of what other systems could offer them, we thought this would be a good time for us to go back to the independent service we once offered, without any “official” ties to the real estate boards. Rather than working to provide MLS service to a real estate association and real estate board, we’d be working directly with the individual offices, creating marketing campaigns for them just like we do for many with our real estate publications.
Our system began as a closed system, for Realtors only, but has moved towards a system that allows the public to also see what’s for sale on the market. MLS systems in the USA, those operated by real estate boards, continue to want to keep the system closed, even though they are being challenged by this, with the Justice department ruling in May 2008 that it was a monopolistic practice and therefore had to open up their system for others to use as well.
We’ve been watching this with interest and believe our move is just following where MLS is going in the USA and Canada. There are now a number of open MLS systems, such as Zillow, with the biggest being Google. Google is getting into real estate, like they are getting into everything else. And when they get involved, well, they usually end up dominating the market. Google launched a real estate “beta” system recently, although it certainly has its flaws, it is easy to see where they are going with it and it is certainly going to change and challenge the way real estate information is distributed.
We use Google Maps extensively, especially in our new MLS Interface that we will be introducing next week. As they continue to grow their system, we will be right there, as a 3rd party vendor, using their system to offer great marketing tools for real estate agents, developers, and of course, provide easy-to-access information for the buying public. Breaking from the real estate boards allows us the flexibility to make the changes we need to make as the market changes, without the red tape. We have to make this change in order to survive. We are not really being challenged so much by the real estate boards selecting another MLS system, as we are by Google and Zillow and other MLS, independent systems. That’s really what this is about.
And it needs to be said; the way real estate is sold, is changing, and real estate agencies need to embrace this, understand where its going, and not fight it. There will always be a need for realtors, but technology is offering many other options, making the distribution of information easier to obtain, and those that understand where the industry is going will be the one’s leading as it goes through this evolutionary process.
So how will, the fact that our MLS service is now no longer a service of the local real estate boards, effect realtors and real estate offices? I’ve been receiving a lot of emails asking exactly this, so I’m going to take each of these questions here so the answers are available to everyone. This post has been rather long, so I’ll start a separate post for each question I’ve received.