On Saturday at the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Annual Conference, I attended the meeting of the Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee (heretofore called simply, the MLS Committee).
Why in the world would I attend that meeting?
Because I’m a glutton for punishment? Because I like sitting around for three hours, battling parliamentary procedures? Because it’s fun to spend 20 minutes debating whether a sentence should include an “and” or a comma?
None of the above, though the “comma discussion” really did take place. I attend the MLS Committee meeting for three reasons: 1) they discuss some pretty important stuff; 2) they establish policies that I (and my MLS) have to abide by; and 3) I’m a member of the MLS Committee.
Yep, I’ve been a member of the MLS Committee since May 2009, and was recently informed that my term has been extended through December 2014.
And it’s been a pretty wild ride.
Some observations from the MLS Committee meeting
About 10 minutes prior to the start of the meeting, I was talking to a fellow committee member. Just the idle chit chat two people have before they plop down next to each other for a three hour meeting. She was looking around, obviously looking for something, or someone.
“Looking for something?”
“I’m looking for the guy that tells me how to vote.”
“I wish I understood this stuff. It’s too techy for me. Honestly, I’m clueless and have no idea how to vote on this IDX stuff, so I ask my tech friend what to do.”
I stood there in dumbfounded silence. Here was a member of the MLS Committee, freely admitting they were clueless about “IDX stuff” ”“ the “stuff” that the MLS Committee has been trying to take action on for the last three years.
Then I looked around and saw three committee members opening the envelopes and removing the shrink wrap from the materials that the NAR had mailed committee members about three weeks prior to the meeting.
This material contained the meeting agenda, proposed language changes to the IDX policy, the Report and Recommendations of the IDX Presidential Advisory Group (PAG) and other information.
In other words, it contained a great deal of information on what was to come before the committee.
And committee members were opening it 10 minutes before the meeting.
In other words, they were apparently completely unprepared for the meeting.
My suggestion for MLS Committee members that “don’t get it” or don’t prepare for the meeting
Fire up your email. Put the email address of the MLS Committee Chair in the “To” box. In the “cc” box, put in Cliff Niersbach’s email address. He is the NAR liaison to the MLS Committee. You’ve gotten dozens of emails from both these people, that’s where you’ll find their email addresses.
Now type this in the body of the email:
I hereby respectfully resign my appointment to the NAR Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee effectively immediately. I appreciate the opportunity to serve, and wish the Committee future success.
Seriously. If you aren’t going to take the time to educate yourself on the issues, if you can’t even unwrap the reading materials and READ them prior to showing up for the meeting, then resign. If you aren’t doing these fundamental things, why are you even on the committee?
We are about to enter into our third year trying to address an IDX policy that is outdated. Three years. Surely I am not the only one that feels that is a ridiculous length of time to be working on updating the IDX policy. In the meeting that was just held, the IDX policy revisions were sent back to a smaller group, for the fourth time, to be presented to the MLS Committee at the 2012 Midyear meeting in Washington, D.C.
So an effort that started at Midyear in 2009 will now be resolved, at best, at Midyear in 2012.
And honestly, I have zero faith it will get resolved there. If history is any indicator, the Committee (or the NAR Board of Directors) will push it back to a work group again ”“ and the whole sordid mess will roll into the Annual meeting in 2012, probably only to get referred into 2013 and beyond.
By the time a revised IDX policy finally gets done, there will probably be some new, or obsoleted, technology that has come around and the vicious circle of non-understanding and complacency will start all over.
What could be changed to resolve this?
If I were in charge, and clearly I am not, the first thing I’d do is cut the size of the MLS Committee in half (at least). The 2012 flavor of the MLS Committee will consist of 117 members.
Why does the MLS Committee need 117 members? When I posed this question a couple of years ago I was told that it was for “fair representation” ”“ that the committee needed to be composed of members from various states, MLS’s, large and small brokers, etc.
Okfine. I get the concept of representation. But don’t tell me that can only be accomplished by putting 117 people on the committee. The United States Senate is a smaller group than the MLS Committee and they represent 310 million Americans. The simple fact is, a committee of 117 people is far too large to get anything done. That’s why the real work gets done in PAGs and Work Groups. The problem is, those PAGs and Work Groups have to report back to a 117 member committee who has to discuss and vote on whether or not to forward a recommendation to the 73 member Executive Committee, who then decide whether to send it to the 750 member Board of Directors for their discussion and rejection/approval. Anywhere along that 940 person trail, a parliamentary procedure or a vocal minority or those ignorant of the issue can send it right back to the committee. And since the full committee only meets twice a year, real actions can only happen once every six months, at best.
Yes, you read that correctly. The 2012 NAR Board of Directors is a 750 member body. That’s close to twice the size of the United States House of Representatives. Think about that”¦
It is a wonder, and perhaps a testament to the dedicated committee and board members, that anything gets accomplished.
The second thing I would do is form a permanent IDX Subcommittee under the MLS Committee. Let’s face it, the size of the MLS Committee (or BoD) isn’t going to be reduced. If that were ever proposed, too many people with delusions of power would pitch a hissy fit of epic proportions.
Why a permanent subcommittee? Because IDX (in some form or another) isn’t going away. Because technology changes rapidly. Because some continuity is needed with a small group of people that “get it” so they may cogitate and propose and communicate rules and policy to the larger body that make sense. Yes, work groups and PAGs can be formed, but those groups lose continuity with their frequent formation and subsequent sunsetting. To be fair, there was some member overlap across IDX work groups and PAGs, but consistency in membership seems to be lacking. (For example, I served on two work groups, but not the PAG. There were PAG members that served on work groups. There were also PAG members that were not on either IDX Work Group.) Creating a subcommittee with staggered terms would allow far greater consistency than having work groups and PAGs formed from twice yearly meetings.
These IDX issues are tricky, and not easy to understand. An IDX subcommittee, made up of existing members of the MLS Committee (fully vetted so those with appropriate knowledge and experience are appointed) and other experts in the field, would allow a consistent group to address issues in a more timely fashion than having the MLS Committee creating a new work group every six months. If some issue or new technology pops up between the twice yearly meetings of the full committee, the subcommittee, already formed, could address them in a far more timely manner than waiting for the full committee to create yet another work group.
Although it shouldn’t matter, I suspect a “subcommittee” might have more pull and influence than a “work group”, or even a “Presidential Advisory Group”, lofty as that title sounds. If nothing else, full committee members would at least know who was on the subcommittee, and the communication lines might be more open.
And let’s face it, communication seems to be a sticking point here. Despite the committee leadership and NARs Herculean efforts to get the word out about what will be discussed at the MLS Committee meetings, it is painfully apparent that far too many members are either paying no attention, or don’t have the experience and skill set to comprehend the issues. I’m sorry if that last part seems harsh, but let’s call it like it is:
There are too many people on a committee too big to work effectively that don’t understand enough about the issues to make educated decisions.
Points in support of that statement:
At the recent MLS Committee meeting, two corporate executives, Saul Klein CEO of Point2 Technologies and Luke Glass, VP and GM of ListHub, were called in to educate the committee on the differences between IDX and listing syndication. Sorry, but if someone doesn’t understand the differences between IDX and syndication, they aren’t qualified to be voting on IDX policy that can fundamentally shape and change the ways we conduct business.
RSS Feeds. After years, yes years of floundering in the work group / PAG / committee ether, the ability to send listing data via RSS would appear to be removed from consideration in the future IDX policy, based on a decision made by the MLS committee (and approved by the BoD) at this meeting. Why? Because people are afraid of, and ignorant of, RSS. The popular argument is “it’s difficult to control access to RSS feeds” or “RSS feeds can be scraped and repurposed by evil people intent on destroying the real estate industrial complex”.
Well, yes they can. So can information on ANY web page. Don’t believe me? If you are on a PC, right click your mouse (Control + click on a Mac) and you’ll see “View Page Source” or something similar depending on your browser. There’s the code to this web page, which can be copied and pasted, manipulated, and aggregated for evil purposes, just like RSS. In a few minutes, a first year computer science major could whip up some code to scrape any web page or site on the planet. Don’t know a CS major? Just Google “download website” and you’ll find a host of tools and methods to download and copy entire websites ”“ data with which pretty much anyone that wanted to could manipulate for their evil ways.
The only way to keep IDX data 100% safe from people bent on misusing it is to keep it off the internet completely. Yet no one questions or expresses concerns about the IDX data being online, they only question it when they don’t understand the form and function of said data.
(OK, even that isn’t 100% safe. Agents give out their MLS usernames and passwords all the time. Sad as that is, it’s true. If some evil entity really wants access to the MLS data, I can assure you there are agents out there that would help them get it.)
All the disallowing of putting IDX data into a RSS feed does is hurt consumers that use RSS (and agents that use RSS in order to get IDX data indexed in Google). It doesn’t “protect” the data, it just hurts consumers and agents ”“ that is what the MLS Committee and NAR Board of Directors just approved.
In Conclusion (finally)
MLS Committee members need to understand the issues they are voting on. While that seems stunningly obvious, it’s clear that many (but certainly not all) do not.
I think an IDX subcommittee would be helpful.
The NAR needs a new IDX policy. It is long overdue. Whether that policy includes the use of IDX data in the social media space or not is up to the latest (yet to be formed) work group to propose. Personally, I think they should scrap the entire existing IDX policy and start all over with a comprehensive new “electronic display” policy and associated rules.
Such a policy is not an easy thing to craft. Technology and the tools available to display IDX data change frequently. Creating rules and policy to cover every possible iteration of ways to display IDX data that is generic enough to cover every possibility while specific enough to provide reasonable guidance for MLS’s, Associations and brokers to interpret will not be an easy thing to do. Perhaps rather than having work groups and PAGs working on this issue in one day meetings twice yearly, an IDX subcommittee could be locked in a room for several days until they can bang it all out. Then that proposed IDX policy and rules would need to be made available in multiple formats ”“ hard copy, email, webinars ”“ and MLS Committee members be *required* to read the material, well before the time comes to vote. A “Q&A” site could be established so that MLS Committee members (and anyone else for that matter) could propose questions and concerns to the Subcommittee. And *then* after feedback, questions and concerns are gathered, the Subcommittee could reconvene to discuss and possibly revise the policy and rules before the full committee meets and votes. Rules and policies of this magnitude will rarely be gotten right on the first pass ”“ we need an opportunity to fine tune the rules and policy prior to voting. That time is NOT in the MLS Committee meeting.
Please don’t get me wrong. There are MANY extremely dedicated and qualified members of the MLS Committee that work very hard, give up inordinate amounts of personal time, and spend their own money going to meetings — all in an effort to do the right thing.
But something has to change. What’s happening now, what has happened for the last three years, clearly isn’t working.
It’s time to do something different.
Photo Credit: Yours truly. On Flickr.