Tennessee MLS finds a new path to expansion
After an initial expansion failure, one MLS has embraced a broker-focused strategy that is starting to pay off.
- Realtor associations declined collaboration offer, prompting Realtrac’s direct-to-broker approach.
- Realtracs now serves more than 20,000 subscribers, up from 18,000 a year ago.
- The Keller Williams Greater Chattanooga brokerage was the first to sign on.
When three local Realtor associations balked at joining Tennessee MLS Realtracs to help form a statewide MLS in 2019, Realtracs took the unusual step of going around them, approaching brokerages directly.
Realtracs, which is owned by seven Realtor associations, initially sought to expand by bringing in three others as equity partners. They declined, citing a desire to maintain local control. So Realtracs began courting brokerages.
A year after signing up its first brokerage partner, Keller Williams Greater Chattanooga, Realtracs Chief Operating Officer Mark Hill said the uncommon tactic is going "fantastic."
Using feedback from Keller Williams' agents, Realtracs evolved and adjusted its service, including an expansion into Georgia based on agent and broker requests, to make it more attractive for others in the state.
The strategy is working, Hill said, with new brokerages signing on from Chattanooga to Memphis and beyond. Realtracs, the largest of the dozen MLSs in Tennessee, now serves more than 20,000 subscribers, up from 18,000 a year ago.
"We receive new, unsolicited participant agreements daily from brokerages across the state who come to us directly because of word-of-mouth advertising," Hill said. "Our new expansion broker-customers have turned into advocates and evangelists to other practitioners and Realtor associations that they are leaders of."
As a result, "Realtracs has already created a strong presence in markets we had not planned on entering until 2023," he said.
One such "evangelist" is Hope Brazzell, CEO of Keller Williams Greater Chattanooga, the first brokerage to sign on. Brazell told T3 Insight earlier this year that her interest was immediately piqued by the Realtracs offer because placing her brokerage's listings in Realtracs would give her agents' listings more exposure than they received in their local MLS. (Note: T3 Sixty founder Stefan Swanepoel also founded Real Estate News.)
But more than that, Brazzell said too often the line between the local Realtor association and the MLS it operates isn't clear, resulting in subpar focus and service.
"When agents don't know the difference between the association and the MLS, the line has gotten too blurred," Brazzell said.
Because Realtracs operates as a siloed business from the Realtor associations who own it, that eliminates the problem. "It gives the MLS the ability to be an MLS, and the association to be an association," she added.
Market forces are also making a larger MLS more attractive to brokerages, according to Hill. "The 'normalizing' market we find ourselves in is a strong catalyst for new customers who desire a better way to market and search for properties."
Today Realtracs is dominant in Tennessee, and while it doesn't yet have the 80% coverage it would have gained had the original associations they approached signed on, they have achieved a statewide presence. "We currently have customers in all Tennessee MLS markets," Hill said, adding that he conservatively estimates Realtracs covers 60% of the state.
And bigger, for an MLS, is definitely better, Hill said. "Brokers should not have to belong to multiple MLSs to do their job. As an industry, we must be better than that." That means continuing to partner not just with individual brokers, but also associations.
As for what's next, Hill said "our immediate goal is to be the statewide MLS technology partner with the local Realtor associations in Tennessee. We have had and continue to have discussions with that in mind."