There’s a movement afoot among Multiple Listing Service (MLS) executives and brokers to take measures to protect, control and monetize the data surrounding listings. A key component of this strategy is the consumer-facing MLS website (MLS public portal).
In a 2009 study of MLS public listings websites, Matt Cohen, technology chief for Clareity Consulting, said: “I have been an advocate for MLS websites that provide real estate listings information to the public since 1996. Such websites have always made sense as a hedge against industry outsiders that want to intercept the consumer on their way to the real estate professional, selling expensive advertising, charging referral fees and/or reducing the broker’s capability to provide a one-stop shop for services ancillary to the real estate transaction.”
In 2009, Clareity Consulting studied every MLS listing website in the U.S. and found most severely lacking in features and deficient in other criteria. Clareity updated their study in 2011 and 2013, addressing the main features of a well-designed MLS public website:
1. Finding Properties – There’s no good reason not to provide a visual display where listings are shown on a map as criteria are changed.
2. Search Filters/Content – To remain competitive, more MLSs will allow for local display of pending or sold listings and/or display that information via public records.
3. Open House – Approximately 70 percent of sites have some kind of open house search.
4. Individual Property Details – The simplest implementations of property maps are links to Google Maps. And when it comes to photos, the advantages of having many pictures rather than one should be obvious. Nonetheless, 9 percent of top MLS listing websites show one picture.
5. Personalizing Searches – Forty-six percent of sites allow consumers to save searches and 24 percent allow consumers to receive email updates and compare listings side by side.
6. Sharing and Printing – Seventy-three percent of sites allow you to email listings and 78 percent provide a formatted page to print. Forty-five percent of sites let you post a link to social media.
7. Neighborhood Features – Having a full range of visuals and data about a property is the central issue for homebuyers. Most would also like a sense of the neighborhood.
8. Visiting and Choosing a Property – Once a homebuyer has identified properties of interest, he or she may want to compare their features.
9. Costs of a Listing – Information about comparable sales, a property’s sales history, and local market trends can help make an informed decision.
10. Advertisement and Policies – Advertisements enable an MLS to monetize its site and connect consumers with services they may need. They can also detract from a site’s appearance of objectivity and authority.
11. Appearance of Sites – Use white space and “normal” size fonts as appropriate. Don’t treat the listing page like a data dump.
12. Accessibility – International buyers and non-English speakers represent a growing number of purchasers, yet only 8 percent of sites offer multiple languages.
13. Mobile – Technology companies sell more mobile phones than computers, yet less than 50 percent of MLSs have mobile sites.
14. Search Engine Optimization – Thirty-six percent of MLS sites received a PageRank of 4 or 5, and only 41 percent had listings indexed by Google!
15. MLS Data Security – “Scrapers” make up a hidden audience as they scan your site, copy your data and use it or resell it for unlicensed purposes.