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At the RESO 2023 Fall Conference, Bill Fowler, VP of Real Estate Strategy at, moderated two panels representing important categories that RESO serves – proptech companies and Multiple Listing Services (MLSs).

Each panel served as a point and counterpoint about their experiences on each side of the proptech/MLS transaction.

Representing the proptech startups were Heather Elias, VP at Pearl Certification; Alex Montalenti, CEO at Real Grader; James Rogers, Cofounder & CEO at RealReports (formerly BHR Labs); and Aaron Smith, Director of Sales at CubiCasa. | WATCH VIDEO (26:39)

Representing MLSS were Melissa King, COO at OneKey® MLS; Gene Millman, President & CEO at REcolorado®; Eben Moran, VP of MLS Services at Stellar MLS; and Dan Ray, Director of Product Development at California Regional Multiple Listing Service (CRMLS). | WATCH VIDEO (20:49)

Opening Statement
There is a general sense that the industry makes it difficult for proptech startups to bring innovative technology to real estate professionals and consumers.

Scalability is daunting. You have to work with 500+ different MLSs, meaning 500+ different processes, forms, administrators, committee structures, timelines, data sets, data definitions, disclaimers and on down to the size of the font you need to put on a website.

Couple that with the pain and discomfort of change, and the industry can look like chaos to young companies.

The Proptech Experience
Boiling the observations shared by the proptech panel, the cream that rose to the top included the following topics.

Most proptech companies are endeavoring to deliver a service that would be useful to a subset of MLS subscribers, not necessarily everybody, but the days of selling products as a price per user per month is mostly over. 

Where selling products directly to brokers is clear, because agents and consumers are close to the transaction. “Coming into MLS, it felt like a gatekeeper of freedom,” noted Smith.

Continued Smith, “Once you realize that they have to manage the tension between the data…the regulations that they live in and…how you fit in this mold when there are hundreds of other people calling them every single day to get something from them, it really changed my perspective to understand what it means to lead or work at an MLS.”

To a salesperson, the list of 500+ MLSs might actually seem manageable until you realize that so many other vendors are buzzing around the same lead.

“I was super excited, because the list is so small…when you’re looking at 1.6 million REALTORS®,” said Smith. “But then each conversation is like an entirely different story. There’s so much nuance and depth that it was surprising.”

MLSs are full of innovative, interesting and sharp individuals that want the best for their subscribers and the industry, but the panel had a shared assumption that MLS personnel tend to approach new deals with mistrust and trepidation.

There is a strenuous vetting process. “If you haven’t been to 75 conference happy hours with somebody, then you don’t already have that trust, which is not my typical experience in the non-MLS world,” said Rogers. “Trust comes quicker outside of real estate tech.”

The slow speed of the decision-making process has been a hurdle as well. Board meetings, where decisions are made, happen only once per month. The 30-minute Zoom call with MLS leadership is just the foot in the door. Then the board needs to mull it over, and that might take another month before you can have the next conversation about it.

It was suggested that empowering tech committees with decision-making authority would be useful, even for an experimental pilot stage. Even MLSs that are specifically tasked to go out and find new products are not as quick as the position implies.

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Alex Montalenti, Real Grader; Aaron Smith, CubiCasa; Heather Elias, Pearl Certification; James Rogers, RealReports (formerly BHR Labs); and Bill Fowler,

“I don’t think these products are high risk. These are add-ons with clear and obvious benefits, and the friction is absolutely out of control,” said Fowler.

There are opportunities for improvements, such as a standardized online application. 

“There should be a standardized form for tech companies. Here’s my product video, here’s my revenue numbers, here’s my client adoption numbers, here’s all the questions that you all care about in one standard form,” said Montalenti. “That way, I can just apply 100 times or 600 times and, if you like it, you’ll set a meeting, and I’ll follow up.”

Things slow down further with implementation and adoption. When a deal is completed, 10% adoption is considered an outstanding victory in this vertical, where other industries would see that as a huge failure.

Institutional knowledge and product feedback are valuable to this group. Strong partners that are willing and eager to share how their adoption models have worked for their members and subscribers are the lifeblood of proptech companies.

“It honestly doesn’t matter what size the MLS is, [adoption] is dependent upon their leadership and team,” said Smith.

“You have to have initial conversations to gauge where an MLS’s membership is around some of this and how much is baked into what you’re doing already,” added Elias. “There are wildly different levels of awareness. It can be tough to navigate business and technical, and there is no cut-and-paste way to do it from MLS to MLS.”

From a proptech perspective, the bottom line is that you are in need of a six-year burn rate, not six months. That’s the current reality in the industry.

The MLS Response
Next up, MLS operators shared what they believe startups should do to make connecting with MLSs most effective.

When asked about organizational stance towards young technology companies, ingestion process and future outlook, the responses were fairly similar.

Millman noted that legacy technology systems were once startups, so it’s important to not be dismissive. Having an open mind for things that streamline the process for their subscribers is part of the REcolorado® process. Millman also wants to know the founder’s story, why they are in the business and if their pursuit of technology solutions is in line with MLS goals.

“It’s about the relationship,” agreed Moran. “We’re very open to startups and meeting with new people.”

At three different MLS assignments, King said the appetite for new technology can vary based on many factors.

At OneKey® MLS, their focus is simplification during a transition of merging two large MLS systems. At Bright MLS, speaking with decision makers could be challenging due to the sheer size of that MLS. At Stellar MLS, conversations around new tech were common for a growing MLS in a booming marketplace.

“Everyone has a story. Everyone has a workload and is going through something, so I’m a little less responsive these days than I would have been several years ago,” said King.

To a person, the panel reminded proptech founders why there actually needs to be a bureaucratic series of barriers in terms of available time or governance. But, as Millman put it, “‘No’ now doesn’t mean ‘no’ forever.”

Workload is a factor. If the MLS has an adequate amount of time to vet a product, the product will be better, barriers can be navigated, and the founders will receive more product advocacy and mentorship for marketplace success.

“Long-term, we want to help you,” said Moran. “We just may not be in a position to, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to reach out to somebody else in the industry and be like, ‘Hey, connect with these guys – you might be ready for it.’”

As an addendum, Moran added, “If we say it’s three months, trust us, it’s three months. Don’t go shopping around trying to find somebody else in a back door to get in, because that’s not going to work.”

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Gene Millman, REcolorado®; Eben Moran, Stellar MLS; Melissa King, OneKey® MLS; Dan Ray, CRMLS; and Bill Fowler,

Fowler noted that the previous panelists touched on the assumption of mistrust, especially around what is being done with the data.

Said King, “It sucks, but that’s our reality, and that’s our responsibility to take care of the data and ensure that it is being used properly.”

“New entrants think they can do stuff with the data, but there are limits,” added Ray. “Some vendors get it and cooperate, but they don’t always know the details of our Byzantine practices, so we have to start from an educational place.”

Fowler asked if there were certain benchmarks that MLSs are looking for to earn trust?

Said Millman, “We are going to look at the terms of that data. How are you going to use it? What are you making off of that data outside just as a product? Are you going to build derivative products? Don’t be offended when we ask those questions.”

“Our accountability is to our brokerages,” continued Millman. “We only exist as an MLS because the brokers decided to put their listings into our system. We have a great responsibility to make sure that their data is being used respectfully, correctly and not used against them.”

It was reiterated that enterprise pricing models are mostly a thing of the past. Today’s deals are going to be consumption-based, flat fees or revenue shares that create mutual success.

The MLS perspective is that the first stop in using a new product for an agent or a broker is going to be their MLS or association.

Even if it’s a freemium product, there are costs associated with that. But MLSs are willing to build partnerships through revenue share to create a vested, sincere interest in the success of that product.

“Rev shares help offset the cost that we incur to have that product in our suite,” said Moran. “Marketing, training our trainers and frontline people that have to answer questions on that product – that’s money that you guys are not having to put out.”

“Rev share is like a prenup,” suggested Fowler.

CRMLS is so progressive toward partnerships that they started a venture investment fund to put money into several startups that have turned into great offerings. And CRMLS actually has an ingest form for proptech companies, like the one suggested in the previous panel, which has helped with triage. But there is a caveat to that positive news for proptech founders.

“We’re always looking and open to people approaching us,” said Ray. “It can be overwhelming sometimes, because we hear from a lot of startups.”

The social aspect of real estate was noted a final time from the MLS side of the aisle.

“RESO is the great connector,” said Ray. “A lot happens at the hotel bar. It’s a social environment. Lean into that.”

From a big picture standpoint, it’s easy to criticize the process, but creating positive change was the point of these panel sessions. Pointing to partnership success stories and successful adoption helps everyone.

Assurances of contractual legal protections make a difference. Explaining the long-term industry benefit of a product helps. It breaks through the fear and hesitancy.

Creating best practices for presenting an idea, like the form and submission of a short video that Montalenti suggested and CRMLS is doing, would be a great start. That is a takeaway that RESO can work with.

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