MLS books still a cash cow

Publishers see no end to demand from niche clients

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 1, 2010

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Publishers see no end to demand from niche clients

Tom Kelly
Inman News

A friend of mine, a longtime Realtor who has always been an early adopter of the latest and greatest in real estate technology, cranked up a listing on his cell phone to show me an example of a well-priced, 4-bedroom property in his neighborhood.

"The way things are today," my friend said, "this property could be instantly e-mailed to anybody interested in a comparable home in this price range. The technology is impressive and continues to improve. We've certainly come a long way since the old MLS books."

Remember the old multiple listing service books? Those black-and-white, usually reliable paperback editions often brought hopes, dreams and excitement for homebuyers -- along with expectations of fresh inventory for hard-working agents.

I vividly recall adjusting my newspaper editing schedule more than two decades ago so that I could meet with our agent at precisely the moment the "new book" would be delivered to the local real estate brokerage.

We had heard rumors that a couple of homes that fit our profile would be hitting the market soon, and we wanted to be first in line to view any new possibilities.

"The new book comes out on Thursday morning," Elinor would say, "So why don't you plan to meet me at the office around 11. If it is delivered sooner, I'll be sure to call you."

While most weekly MLS books in this country have given way to instant Internet listings, files and categories, a few associations and agents still prefer to thumb through pages of paper listings instead of digital, visual, interactive, online presentations.

Marty Reed, vice president of MLS Solutions for Lender Processing Services' (LPS) Real Estate group, said some of the older agents preferred not to change and learn a new system late in their careers.

"The books were part of their routine and they did not change that routine," Reed said. "Some of them had the mindset that although a new system might be faster and much more accurate, there was also the possibility that they might not be able to access the information they wanted.

"Keeping that book in their car, reading the address and number of bedrooms to a customer and then flipping the book into the backseat before driving to the home for sale was part of a routine that is quite comfortable for them."

LPS now is a huge umbrella organization that provides applications, reports and analytics, data services and revenue generation tools for MLSs and other companies.

Reed was executive director of a large Southeast multiple listing association (MLS) when digital listings were first introduced.

"I thought our agents were going to be so pleased that there would be a book-burning party," Reed said. "But it didn't turn out that way at all. Many older agents liked the way they had been doing business. They didn't see any real reason to change all that.

"However, when they saw what was possible, the reaction really varied. A few got out, many really took to it while others thought if they didn't get on board, they simply would be passed by. It was a different situation for the younger agents because many of them had grown up with computers and they were used to some level of technology."

The demand for individual paperback editions has dwindled from thousands of regular weekly customers to approximately two dozen. LPS also provides listing information on disks and prints a variety of other material including special monthly projects.

An executive director of another MLS labeled the books a "security blanket" that some of her agents refused to let go.

"In a sense, some of the older agents felt like they had something taken from them," the executive said. "So, we made modifications to the budgets to make the books available if they wanted them."

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