Jeremy Crawford, CEO and President, FMLS.
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

In Focus: The biggest challenge for agents and brokers? Too many MLSs 

FMLS President and CEO Jeremy Crawford believes cooperation and consolidation are key to a healthy and efficient MLS network: “We are all better together.”

September 16, 2023
4 minutes

MLSs and associations are the backbone of residential real estate, from small but innovative players to regional powerhouses. How are these organizations supporting their members and moving forward in a time of change? We asked their leaders to share their perspectives.

It's not an easy time to be in real estate, but a down market isn't the biggest long-term challenge for real estate professionals.

While the market is tough, a more entrenched problem, says First MLS President and CEO Jeremy Crawford, is the density and number of MLSs — which, he argues, is inefficient and bad for consumers and agents alike.

Crawford took on the top leadership role at FMLS in 2019 after five years at RESO, where he was CEO, and more than 20 years in the industry.

He shared his thoughts about the glut of MLSs, the benefits of consolidation and cooperation — and the unwillingness of some organizations to embrace it — and a lack of accountability.

What is your members' greatest challenge, and what are you doing to meet it?

Their current challenge is low inventory, higher prices, interest rates, and overall affordability. But we all know that at some point in 2024, interest rates will come back down, more inventory will come to the market, and the market will stabilize between buyers and sellers.

The longer-term underlying challenge our members face is way too many MLSs. Simply put, there is absolutely no need for 550 or more Multiple Listing Services. I have brokers who conduct business in Georgia complaining they have to join nine or more MLSs to provide listing exposure. For example, in metro Atlanta, there are several MLSs with 70-80% overlap, and we are one of them. That means Atlanta still has MLSs overlapping with each other and is one of the few cities where multiple MLSs are direct competitors. It's confusing to the consumer, expensive for brokers and agents, and economically inefficient.

FMLS is broker-owned and broker-governed. The other MLSs are association-owned and governed.

We believe that our model, the MLS being separated from the Association of REALTORS® in ownership and governance, is a far more effective model for the industry.

MLS operations, in our opinion, should be completely separate from associations for the benefit of the broker, agent and consumers.

The reality is that larger organizations can deploy better technology at a lower price and have the necessary talent to make more nimble decisions for our members.

And then there's the related issue of MLS cooperation. There are still MLSs who don't want to unite and are fighting an unnecessary turf war. We can conceptualize that any agent licensed in the state should be able to transact real estate for their buyers and sellers anywhere in the state.

We still find MLSs who don't want to participate in data shares, which are easy to implement and help all members. Many of those MLSs are governed by agents and brokers deciding at the board level how to block agents from other MLSs from showing properties to their buyers and limiting exposure of those listings of their sellers — and often times they ignore implementing mandated NAR MLS policies, which in theory they are required to do.

Finally, we need our data to be as clean as possible. After leading RESO for several years, I understand how crucial accurate and current data is. There are a lot of MLSs that ignore NAR or RESO policies and need to be held accountable.

The reality is that these issues need to be fixed quickly. If we, as MLS operators, don't figure out how to do it, someone else will. Maybe even someone completely outside of our industry with no experience or expertise helping buyers and sellers transact.

Real estate continues to become increasingly sophisticated, and the old way of doing things simply does not work anymore.

I have been very open: FMLS is willing to collaborate with any other like-minded MLS about how we can work together to improve our services to agents and brokers, their buyers and sellers, and the real estate economy. We have no preconceived notions or motives regarding how we might work together. Some MLSs reach out to me, and we're able to help each other's members. Other MLS operators slam the door on the conversation — all to preserve their autonomy.

The bottom line is we are all better together. Having more licensed agents exposed to listings across markets is simply better for all parties, especially sellers and buyers.

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