Much Potential in Mobile Access to MLS

While most practitioners still use computers to get MLS data, new options make it easier to connect from the field.

September 1, 2004

Although there’s tremendous potential in mobile and wireless access to MLS data, most real estate professionals are cautious about jumping on board. But as more vendors offer solutions to let practitioners access listing data, map addresses, and send information to clients from the field, this trend is sure to gain strength in coming years.

The leisurely acceptance to mobile and wireless MLS solutions is in part a consequence of the way MLS data is controlled and distributed.

Without a national standard or centralized database for all listing data, vendors of mobile and wireless MLS products must take a market-by-market approach to selling and implementing their solutions. Some vendors have focused on easily defined geographic regions, partnering with local real estate associations to deliver a practical means for MLS access in the field.

Technology Available, But Underused

According to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®' 2004 Technology Impact Survey, 48 percent of respondents say their local MLS offers wireless access to listings, but less than a third of those people have actually used it. A larger portion of respondents—62 percent—say their MLS offers PDA access to listing data, but just 28 percent of those REALTORS® have tried it out.

So how are they getting their data? The computer is still the overwhelming preference for connecting with the MLS, according to the survey. A full 92 percent of respondents use a personal computer to access the MLS, while only 8 percent use a PDA and a slim 3 percent use their phone.

It’s little surprise, then, that only 5 percent of respondents say they access the MLS most often from somewhere other than their home or office.

But that hasn’t stopped vendors from offering an array mobile and wireless options to tap into listing data from the field. Mobile solutions let you carry MLS data with you after downloading it to hardware like a PDA, smartphone, or notebook. Wireless, on the other hand, gives you real-time access to MLS data and the latest listing information over a wireless connection.

One trend that seems certain to drive broader use of MLS access in the field is the availability of a new generation of multifunction handheld devices—specifically smartphones and combination PDA/communicators. That trend also drives demand for the software and service solutions to address communications needs in one portable device. Such integrated solutions—all in one hardware, software, and services—could one day replace the basic cell phone as your single tool.

What Hardware and Software is Right for You?

If you’re looking for mobile access to the MLS today, your choice of hardware rests with which mobile/wireless solutions vendor your MLS provider endorses. If your MLS already offers mobile access, it’ll direct you to the appropriate hardware. If it hasn’t yet rolled out a mobile MLS solution, it might welcome input on which platform you’d like to see supported.

As far as the service itself goes, unless you’re in an especially hot market where houses often sell within hours of listing, you may not need the added expense of a truly wireless mobile MLS solution. Typically, these wireless options add a monthly subscription fee on top of what you’re already paying for voice/data communications service. What’s more, pulling a lot of pictures along with MLS data while in the field can also add to the expense of wireless data services.

You may be well served with a mobile solution that allows you to update listing data on your PDA, notebook, or phone at the start of each day, or whenever it makes sense, and take it with you. If you’re uncertain what level of MLS access you’ll need, and both mobile and wireless options are available to you, start with the mobile option, then upgrade to wireless if you feel it offers a real advantage.

The move to mobile MLS may require that you purchase new hardware. You can spend extra for a phone or PDA that delivers the largest, brightest picture, but it still won’t be large enough to convey the full appeal of the property. Unless you plan on doing some serious Web surfing on your PDA or phone, you don’t necessarily need the pricey screen. Getting the latest listing information is what’s most important.

Compare Different Services, Vendors

Consider the different options vendors are offering and where those solutions are available. This review of several services and vendors should give you a better idea of how mobile or wireless MLS might serve you and how well the solution available from your MLS provider measures up with the current state of the technology. Contact vendors or check their Web sites for availability in your area.

  • InternetMLS. This software suite is offering a new hand-held PC system called Pathfinder, that combines the functions of a palm-top GPS system with localized MLS data. Practitioners can use it for point-to-point directions to listings in the field.
  • List-It MLS System.This system, offered bySolid Earth Geographics, supports wireless access to MLS data over any device compatible with Wireless Access Protocol (WAP). Includes more than five CMA report options and digital mapping.
  • Mobilelistings Wireless MLS. From NaWire LLC, this solution supports all wireless platforms. Available primarily in Mid-Atlantic region. Customers can access entire MLS database from anywhere in the field and e-mail digital flyers of properties to their client's home or office.
  • Navica Assistant and Navica Wireless. Systems Engineering Inc. makes these solutions, which allow you to allow you to access MLS data, prospects, and contacts from the field. For Palm and Pocket PC devices.
  • PocketMLS.Software, wireless service, and listing alerts for Palm OS-compatibles. Available primarily in Northern California.
  • Wireless Realty.A mobile MLS solution for the real estate industry that provides listing information on a variety of wireless devices, such as Pocket PC, Palm, and BlackBerry.
  • Pocket Real Estate. This company offers software and wireless MLS services for Palm, Pocket PC, and Web-enabled phones.
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