What did Dale Ross, CEO of NAR’s RPR, mean by a “lot of mouths to feed”?

Jan 20, 2010  |  Michael Wurzer

Last week at the Inman Connect conference in New York, Dale Ross, CEO of NAR’s Realtor Property Resource (RPR), was asked by Brian Boero why RPR wasn’t trying to create a national MLS.  Mr. Ross initially responded with the same thing Marty Frame (RPR’s President) said during the RPR Reverb panel I moderated the day before:  RPR is a small company that doesn’t have the resources to become a national MLS.  However, Mr. Ross added that politics would get in the way and there were a “lot of mouths to feed” in all the MLSs involved today.

I was a bit confused by the “lot of mouths to feed” comment at at the time he said it and, even on reflection, I’m not really sure what it means.  Does it mean they feel they would have to buy out the existing MLSs?  Does it mean they believe they’d have to hire a bunch of people from the existing MLSs?  Or something else?

Overall, the statement leaves me uneasy.  To date, RPR has clearly stated they aren’t trying to become a national MLS, which seems backed up by their apparent willingness to include a non-compete in the MLS data license agreement.  At the same time, statements like those made by Mr. Ross give one pause to consider whether RPR isn’t really a Trojan horse.  Looking back, we all can remember that the initial gateway/archive/library, etc., vision was to be a national MLS.  Only after there was a lot of resistance to the creation of such a monopoly did NAR hone its message into what is now the RPR pitch for cool tools for Realtors and free public records for MLSs in exchange for MLS data.

I think this is important because a single, national MLS would be a monopoly that would hamper innovation in the long run, and so letting in the Trojan horse would be a big mistake.  Importantly, there are legitimate arguments that the pain some brokers experience from overlapping market disorder would be improved by a national MLS but that same problem can be addressed through standards without the long-term negative consequences of enduring a national MLS monopoly.  If there are concerns with MLSs today, they’d only be exacerbated years from now with a national MLS monopoly.

Importantly, RPR could do a lot to foster innovation and addressing broker concerns of overlap by promoting standards and data sharing but they’ve also been pretty clear they don’t intend to do that.  If I was running RPR, my sole mission would be to create a platform that would foster competition for new technology.  Instead, RPR appears intent on being the sole vendor of technology.  So, what do you think?  If there weren’t a “lot of mouths to feed,” would RPR be positioned as a national MLS?  Do you agree with me that monopolies are bad or do you think a national MLS would be a “good” monopoly?


Update: Watching the video of the Q&A at Inman, Mr. Ross makes clear that he does believe there will be a national MLS someday. He says RPR isn’t being built for that but it will happen. I don’t get that. If you’re looking to create a national MLS, why would you build RPR for something else? This shouldn’t be that hard to explain or understand.

11 Responses to “What did Dale Ross, CEO of NAR’s RPR, mean by a “lot of mouths to feed”?”

  1. Rob Hahn says:

    I think Dale simply meant that the local MLS employs a lot of people who may lose their jobs once RPR becomes a reality. The politics, then, is to try and preserve as much of the headcount as possible. This is something I raised in my first post on RPR when I spoke of civil war in the industry.

    But the more interesting question, I suppose, is why you think a national MLS will stifle innovation. Monopolies may abuse market power, but stifle innovation? Really? What are some examples of that you can think of?

    Microsoft’s monopoly on OS didn’t stifle innovation; ask Google. AT&T’s monopoly on phone service didn’t stifle innovation; ask Motorola. Not sure I see that particular connection.

    -rsh

  2. mwurzer says:

    >>why you think a national MLS will stifle innovation<< My presumption is that innovation comes from competition and with one MLS vendor there will be none. As I've already mentioned, the purported national MLS could have an open platform for development but, of course, that isn't being discussed openly because there is no national MLS only the claim that someday there will be when there are fewer "mouths to feed."

  3. rqd says:

    Rob, your mention of the AT&T and Microsoft monopolies miss one critical fact. Both monopolies were broken by the Department of Justice.

    Did AT&T and Microsoft stifle innovation? Yes. Until someone stepped in and said this is bad for the rest of us.

    Had that not happened, we wouldn’t have the innovation we enjoy today.

    rqd

  4. Rob Hahn says:

    C’mon now… the DOJ breakup of AT&T had no bearing whatsoever on the development of mobile technology. Microsoft was not broken up, but the threat it now has from Google would have risen whether or not DOJ did anything.

    The government typically tries to fix the LAST problem, not the current or future problems. DOJ went after Microsoft because it got into a browser war with Netscape. Does any of us really think that Google is browser-dependent?

    The existence of railroad monopolies did not prevent Henry Ford from innovating the car. The existence of cable monopolies did not prevent either satellite or internet TV (see, Hulu.com).

    However, I would argue that the lack of monopoly can sometimes hurt innovation — in Europe and Asia, due to government monopolies on cell phone services, they had 3G long before we did. They have mobile apps that we are only now just beginning to sniff, because TDMA/CDMA/whatever vendors are fighting with each other.

    True innovation is, I think, often disruptive and orthogonal.

  5. mwurzer says:

    >>True innovation is, I think, often disruptive and orthogonal.<< All your examples bear this out. What I'm talking about is competition and innovation within the space, not outside of it. My basic premise is simple: it's better to have an open platform on which competition and choice can be built. The question of whether the platform will be open or not isn't being asked about RPR (much), because they "aren't an MLS."

  6. Chris says:

    The govt. will only step in if something is being done to harm the consumer. Define consumer in this instance.

    RPR could be the mother of all backfires for the NAR as once consumers latch onto the rich data – they’ll demand greater access to public data.

    Reverse engineer the MLS and a central system is a given… just a matter of when.

  7. rqd says:

    Rob,

    Try to imagine a world in which the AT&T break up and Microsoft consent decree did not happen.

    Had the DoJ not broken up AT&T, it’s likely that they would have collected surcharges on competing mobile providers whenever they wanted to connect a call. That alone would have stifled competition in the mobile arena.

    Microsoft’s issues were much deeper than Netscape. The ‘browser war’ was only a symptom of Microsoft’s attempt to control the OS market.

    Google wouldn’t have made it out of the dorm room if Microsoft hadn’t been sued. If allowed to continue tying the OS to the browser, Microsoft would’ve had control over any web site’s ability to provide functionality. Everything would’ve gone through DLLs and we wouldn’t have AJAX, etc.

    Google’s being browser independent is moot if there was only one browser.

    You may be right that a lack of monopolies can sometimes hurt innovation. My point is that an *abuse* of monopoly power can stifle innovation.

    Sorry to hijack the thread.

    And now back to our regularly scheduled fear and loathing…..

  8. Katie Lance says:

    Great comments by everyone! I wanted to encourage everyone to see the free video we posted that showcases the entire RPR session at Connect NYC.

    Click here to view it:
    http://www.inman.com/news/2010/01/20/google-rpr-and-future

    Thanks!
    Katie Lance
    Marketing Manager, Inman News

  9. Rob Hahn says:

    rqd –

    First, I’m not even a big fan of anti-trust regulation/laws; I’ve studied them somewhat, and I’m just not convinced that they are a real problem unless government-created monopolies (e.g., Fannie/Freddie, or BBC etc.).

    If AT&T was a monopoly, it’s because consumers felt comfortable forking over dough for the service it was providing. AT&T didn’t have the ability to hold a gun to a consumer’s head. Microsoft didn’t either.

    If a national MLS is created, it will be because it is offering something that most of its customers find valuable enough to warrant paying for (in some way). The minute that an innovation comes along that changes the value/price equation, people will switch.

    FWIW, when Google came out, Microsoft did more or less control the browser market with between 64% and 86% of market share (1999 – 2000 is when I’m counting it, since GOOG was a tiny little startup no one had heard of before then). And Google is simply not reliant on any browser features to work its magic.

    /hijack 🙂

    -rsh

  10. Brian Larson says:

    Rob,
    I think you are too young to remember the history regarding AT&T. Ask anyone who was trying to do data communications over phone lines before the AT&T breakup. You had to use equipment AT&T provided (which ran at rates below 2400 baud (that’s a measure of pulses or bits per second)) at excessive prices. After AT&T’s break up, competition in the modem equipment marketplace resulted in development of equipment that ran at blazing speeds (up to 28.8 Kbps and beyond, effectively even though the copper wire was still only supporting 2400 ‘pulses’ per second – WOOHOO!).

    What’s more, I can provide a litany of reasons why some antitrust regulation is reasonable and necessary (though I acknowledge legitimate debates about whether some regulation, like the prohibition on minimum retail price maintenance, really provides the desired effect).

    Just think about it this way: If I am the only supplier of a much-needed product or service, I don’t have an interest in a new related product or service being introduced, unless it increases my bottom line or reinforces my monopoly position. Monopolists rationally impede innovation out of self-interest. They also do it out of pure inertia – I’ve seen it in many MLSs: they don’t need to innovate to survive, so their brokers have to fight and kick and scream to have the opportunity to innovate. Look at MLS resistance to limited service brokerage and virtual brokerage. Perfect examples.

    In my view, few monopolies ever benefit consumers.

    -Brian

  11. Bart Wilson says:

    It’s obvious. There can be NO National MLS unless they raise funds and write checks to the 900 or so MLS organizations now.

    The perpetuation of the MLS good old boy network is as old and as outdated as the days of the Book. We’re not going back to LESS technology. And the whiners and screamers of those who refuse to change, refuse to learn how to embrace the Blogosphere and social media are only going to become (as extinct) as the dinosaurs.

    I’m 45 and I made a lot of money selling real estate. Today, as a real estate coach, I wipe away tears of my clients then give them a hard kick in the ass to move forward. Or miss the boat and die.

    — Bart Wilson, IMS, iREP
    Voyager International