What’s Behind the National MLS Buzz?

March 23, 2018

Have you gotten a message from a company called My State MLS recently, touting an opportunity to cut down on your MLS bills? You’re not alone. In the past week, agents around the country have received solicitations from My State MLS—an independent MLS based in the state of New York—offering multiple listing services at a discounted price.

My State MLS has used an impending MLS policy change for REALTOR® association–owned MLSs as a marketing opportunity. When the National Association of REALTORS®’ Board of Directors voted last November to approve changes to MLS Policy Statements 7.42 and 7.43, they added a mandatory waiver policy enabling licensees who wish not to subscribe to a particular local MLS to opt out, known colloquially as “MLS of Choice.” In order to opt out, members have to provide proof of membership at another MLS, and My State MLS is vying to fill that void.

My State MLS, originally known as NY State MLS, is a broker-owned multiple listing platform. In 2015, the company took on the name My State MLS in order to make it clear that membership was open to licensed real estate professionals across the country. Then, MLS of Choice came up for a vote. “It was sort of a ‘right place, right time’ situation,” says Dawn Pfaff, president of My State MLS. “It also just fits our philosophy.” Pfaff says the company’s recent email and Facebook campaigns to recruit new agents are in preparation for July 1, when, under the new rules, REALTOR® association–owned MLSs will begin providing no-cost waivers to agents who can show they subscribe to another MLS.

Sam DeBord, vice president for strategic growth for Coldwell Banker Danforth in Seattle and 2018 vice chair of NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee, says he’s been seeing a lot of confusion over the change and whether it will lead to a national MLS. “The way I see it, there’s no MLS organization that owns MLS of Choice; it is an NAR policy change,” he says. “There may be organizations that call themselves a national MLS popping up in the wake of this change, but the real value of your MLS is in the cooperation between brokers. There’s no national organization that can provide comparable coverage to a local MLS.”

My State MLS charges agents $35 a month. But Rodney Gansho, NAR director of member policy and staff liaison for the association’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee, suggests that agents who are considering choosing My State MLS over their local MLS should fully understand the differences in the services they might receive. “For some part-time licensees, that may sound like an opportunity to save some money. However, depending on who participates in My State MLS, the listing information and services may end up being significantly less than what’s offered in their local market,” Gansho says. “In the end, the decision should be made carefully and based on which MLS provides the most value to the user.”

Pfaff says My State MLS currently has more than 32,000 members, with at least one in every U.S. state. The company employs fewer than 20 staff members, and its website currently has around 30,000 active listings.

Though My State MLS requires brokers to join the service before their agents can participate—which offers an avenue for cooperation and compensation agreements—the company doesn’t charge MLS fees to principal brokers. Still, Gansho says some brokers may be hesitant to join if they can’t be certain their agents will abide by the non-use waiver at their old MLS. “They can be held responsible for their agents’ actions,” he says. “If a licensee receives a local waiver to join My State MLS but continues to use their local MLS, the broker and the licensee could both be sanctioned for violating the terms of that waiver.”

Though the site has a number of listing rules and membership conditions, My State MLS doesn’t charge penalties to those who are found in violation of them. “We’re not quite sure what fines do for the industry,” says Pfaff. She says her staff will issue warnings, and most of the time, participants fix the offending issue right away. If they don’t, agents could be at risk of losing their membership to My State MLS. But that doesn’t happen often, she adds. “If your livelihood is important to you, you’re going to act in good faith.”

While some agents who have been hit by what they see as outsized MLS fines might rejoice at this news, others worry such a policy could have unintended consequences. “Most MLSs charge fines because it’s the best way they’ve found to get agents and brokers to respect their policies,” says DeBord. “Having accurate, standards-based listing data is critical for agents and brokers. Rules and fines, when necessary, ensure that we all have a reliable source of MLS data to work with.”

Gansho notes that these issues and others will be among the many points of discussion for the MLS community during NAR’s Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C., this May, and that MLSs working to both implement the new waivers and proactively articulate their value proposition to subscribers and participants can find resources at NAR’s website.