Can the MLS Become the Consumer Reports for Real Estate?

Jul 19, 2010  |  Michael Wurzer

A few years ago, I wrote a post called Are Listing Portals Like the New York Times or Consumer Reports? The gist of that post was that listing portals without ads supported by real estate professionals might garner interest than advertising supported portals rife with conflicts of interest posed by the ads.

But here’s a new twist on this same theme. Last week, Apple called a press conference to respond to reports of reception problems for its iPhone4 when held in a certain way. During the press conference, Steve Jobs specifically mentioned a report by Consumer Reports as being important in their decision to call the press conference. Quoting a New York Times article, the Signal versus Noise blog pointed out that:

    In large measure, the article in Consumer Reports was devastating precisely because the magazine (and its Web site) are not part of the hot-headed digital press. Although Gizmodo and other techie blogs had reached the same conclusions earlier, Consumer Reports made a noise that was heard beyond the Valley because it has a widely respected protocol of testing and old-world credibility. Mr. Jobs acknowledged as much, saying: “We were stunned and upset and embarrassed by the Consumer Reports stuff, and the reason we didn’t say more is because we didn’t know enough.”

In other words, Consumer Reports has credibility. Importantly, Consumer Reports has a subscription model and is ad-free. They’re thriving with that model because consumers value their content.

As the real estate industry deals with a cornucopia of listing portals publishing out-of-date listing information and yet claiming authority as they do, the model of value and authority demonstrated by Consumer Reports something for all the MLSs, brokers and agents out there to consider.

3 Responses to “Can the MLS Become the Consumer Reports for Real Estate?”

  1. Brian Wilson says:

    How does a listing portal that is willing to make the commitment earn a consumer reports-level cred though? Consumer reports earned it through longevity, neutrality, and quality content that is apparent by reading the content.

    How do you do that using real estate listings. Other portals may know that your listing data is more accurate and valid but how does the public make that distinction? Then again, I have been hearing more recently of buyers saying things along the lines of “Listings on Zillow are not updated enough. When you call about many homes that show as for sale, the agent tells you that they went under contract weeks ago.”

    Maybe the portals who use MLS feeds rather than direct broker feeds and manual uploads will, in time, NOT get that rep and earn relative credibility.

  2. ron stephan says:

    I am often reminded by brokers and agents that any listing data including bad listing data that makes my phone ring is great. “it makes me look good”…”I get to show them the truth” and “I get them to trust me as a valued resource” As far a consumer reports go it’s interesting that with, thousands of IDX websites and a few VOW sites that have true MLS listing data the consumer still goes to websites with bad data. These websites are flashy, they have maps, they have comps, they have statistics and most of all they make the consumer believe they are in charge of their property search. A picture is worth a thousand words but it doesn’t compare to the naked eye when the consumer drives by their dream home and finds the photo doesn’t match the reality and the listing is no longer for sale or rent. While the syndicators should be holding these websites to a higher standard often that is not the case. While the syndicators have the best intentions, these website vendors often have little regard for contracts or agreement, make changes without notice and only respond to the threat of terminating a data feed. Hopefully the .MLS Domains Association, and REALTOR organizations at the local sate and national level will be able to convince consumers as to which websites provide the true story. Furthermore they need to drive the consumer to the REALTOR. The true consumer report occurs through the assistance of a REALTOR when the property closes and the buyer has the keys in their hand.

  3. mwurzer says:

    Brian, you ask some good questions:

    1. “Other portals may know that your listing data is more accurate and valid but how does the public make that distinction?” I’d answer this in two ways: (i) make sure your data is, in fact, the best and most accurate; and (ii) create and promote a brand to identify the source of the information. In his comment, Ron Stephan mentions the MLS Domains Association (, which may be one approach. I’d also recommend that real estate associations (local, state and national) define and brand the data feeds from the MLS, including IDX, VOW and other feeds. The term “MLS” is now in the public domain, but that doesn’t mean the products from the MLS can’t be branded and promoted to consumers. NAR spends a lot of money on advertising, and directing some of that money toward promotion of the MLS data could be money well spent.

    2. You also point up the biggest obstacle for MLSs to be the consumer reports of real estate: the lack of neutrality of the MLS members. They are, after all, sales people. On the other hand, one of the key shifts in value being wrought by the web is changing sales people from pure promoters to educators. MLSs could help agents and brokers create content demonstrating expertise in local markets with better statistical analysis tools, data aggregation from other sources, and combining all that with listing information. These neighborhood reports could become, as RPR likes to say, the gold standard.

    Ron, I’m hopeful the MLS Domain Association takes off like a rocket!