August 29, 2013
by Mary Schaefer, MORe Contributing Writer
Russ Bergeron, CEO of MRED, talks about the Most Innovative MLS for 2013 and his vision for the future.
Russ Bergeron, Chief Executive Officer of Midwest Real Estate Data LLC (MRED), leads the largest listing Multiple Listing Service in the country and talks about the future of the MLS. Bergeron was named one of the nation’s 100 Most Influential Leaders in Real Estate for the years 2009 through 2013 by Inman News. And this year, MRED took the lead award as the Most Innovative in the Multiple Listing Service or Real Estate Trade Association category. With over 40 years of experience in management and technology, Bergeron is still forging ahead with future plans to shake up MLS circles. He presently serves on the Board of Directors for Council of MLS, Real Estate Standards Organization and MLS Domains Association. He also is a member of the advisory boards for realtor.com, Trulia, Supra and CoreLogic/Realist and on the strategic planning committee for the Illinois Association of REALTORS®.
While MRED currently represents Chicago and the surrounding “collar” counties and provides property information encompassing northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin and northwest Indiana, Bergeron sees even greater potential for MRED. MORe Now spoke with Russ Bergeron to discuss upcoming plans to make MRED an invaluable resource that keeps it as the top-rated MLS in the country.
What achievements are you most proud of this past year on behalf of MRED?
It would have to be winning the Most Innovative MLS award at Inman Real Estate Connect in San Francisco. This is the first time MRED has won this award for the Most Innovative in the MLS or Real Estate Trade Association category. The award considers how an organization takes advantage of technology to assist REALTORS® and the consumer and how they are using leading edge software. For instance, we have social IDX where you can put an IDX search right on your Facebook page. Midwest Homes is offering mobile capability that works on all platforms. The award recognizes a team effort of the MLS and not just one person.
What are your priorities moving forward to ensure MRED stays a top rated MLS system?
We are focusing a lot of attention on the mobile side of the business. We have an advantage over a lot of other MLS systems in that our system—connectMLS is already browser neutral. The day the iPad hit the street—connectMLS worked on it. Our first goal we hope to accomplish is to connect all the contacts and prospects from connectMLS to Midwest Homes. If a consumer is looking at their connectMLS client report on their client page or if they are on Midwest Homes, they can mark their favorites and rejects. That way the agent can check on that no matter if they are on Midwest Homes or connectMLS. We want to integrate more with that to make it instant.
It will always be a central point as that is where all the data resides. On Midwest Homes we just added a nice collaboration tool that allows the agent to communicate back and forth easily through messaging. Mobile and communications are key—to make sure our members are capable of talking to their customers in as many ways as possible.
MRED recently had a strategic planning session. Are there other priorities you are looking at for the future?
We are always looking for ways we can grow as an MLS. We already have about 90% of the REALTORS® in Illinois. We have 12 Associations we service and nearly 40,000 brokers and 8,000 offices. We brought on Kankakee last year.
There are 22 MLS’s in the state of Illinois—if you remove us there are not a lot of big ones. If we add someone, we want to make sure we don’t spend more money than we might take in supporting that small MLS.
We are looking at a government structure that might lend itself to assisting us in that growth pattern. We always keep our options open in that area.
We are always looking at our products and services on an ongoing basis to see which ones are being used, which ones are not, and which ones we can tweak to get usage up. Midwest Homes and Cloud CMA has added some flyer components. They added Spanish language. We just tweaked Realist to make sure it works on mobile devices and tablets. We are always looking at things like that to make our existing products better. We already have a pretty good mix of products so far and are looking to enhance what we have. One new area we are looking at is in the international area. Chicago happens to be the number one destination for international searchers in online systems. We are looking at the potential of adding a button on client reports that would allow those clients to click and bring up the data in the language of their choice. The firm we are talking to right now has up to 22 different languages that they offer.
Is a statewide MLS realistic?
I am not even sure you need a statewide MLS. I would love to see a statewide database. You could have all the listings in one pool and allow users to take advantage of whatever front end they want. We look at MRED as the logical place to house that because we already have 90% of the state database sitting right here and we have a powerful Oracle database structure that allows us to be flexible and add customization geographically for any area. It would probably be easier doing a statewide database because that way your current structure and investment in other systems is not affected. We did that in California where we brought in 13 MLSs into one database yet each MLS continues to use its current MLS system so they didn’t have this mass transition to a new system. I see a point where someday brokerage companies could have their own front-end of choice. So if Baird and Warner, for example, had an application they wanted to use as their desktop and access this common database it could be customized for them. I see that as even being more powerful because then it empowers the broker to do things to help differentiate themselves.
You were CEO of the Southern California MLS for 17 years prior to joining MRED in 2010—you continue to shake up changes in the MLS circles—what do you see as the future of the MLS?
Everybody keeps worrying about Trulia and Zillow. I’m not sure I see them as a threat because obviously they get data from MLSs. It could be a threat if the brokers decide we’ll just go to those guys and don’t bother with the MLS. The problem is you lose the whole purpose of the MLS…the cooperation piece. Compensation and cooperation are the glue that holds us together. Without those who knows what would happen. That is why we have rules. Those guys don’t want to get into the policing department of setting rules and having people have to comply with rules. That doesn’t fit in well with an online advertising based business. They just want volume. It is such an efficient business we have put together over the years that people tend to take us for granted because we make it look so easy.
My guess is you might see some consolidation in those areas. I see maybe one or two of them might actually go away. Only because there is a lot of duplication of effort and overlap of people visiting multiple sites thinking they are going to find something different. Obviously, if it comes from the MLS you are going to get the best and most current information. REALTOR.com is probably the best as they get their data directly from MLS. The other guys take it from multiple sources. Unfortunately, some of the sources they get it from don’t update data on a regular basis. They have been struggling with inaccuracies.
Real estate has now become a spectator sport. People love to go online and look at real estate. It is fun. Statistics show that people who go to realtor.com stay on realtor.com longer than some of the other sites. It’s one thing to have the most visitors but you want the user to have a good experience when they are on your site.
Are you seeing increases in inventory on MRED now?
In our heyday we probably had about 100,000 listings. Now we are in the 60,000-70,000 range. I am seeing inventory edging up a little bit. People are feeling more confident or are scared because interest rates are edging up—atmosphere is more positive. But here in the Midwest we still have a large number of distressed properties that still have to be flushed through the system and I suspect it will be a couple more years before we really get through all of them.
What are your goals to get more REALTORS® to use the products and services of MRED? You want more people to use what is out there.
We send something out to brokers almost every day on our products and services. We have an “Ask Mr. Ed” which is focused on one product. We have a mobile oriented newsletter and weekend watch that highlights several products and always have as part of that a “product of the week”. We do a lot of outreach with our 13 trainers and get them out to visit as many offices as possible to do training and promote products. That way an office can customize the training to whatever they want to learn about.
MRED recently executed an agreement with the NAR REALTORS® Property Resource to integrate MRED’s licensed MLS data with RPR—what was the pivoting point that resulted in this agreement?
We had been in negotiations for three years—the sticking point has always been MRED always operated on a “opt in” basis when providing data to any third party. And RPR did not want to do “opt in”. Their method is to get all the listings and have the brokers opt-out if they don’t want their listings on RPR. So RPR finally came around and agreed to do “opt in” in order to get MRED data in the RPR system. There are still some large MLSs out there who still have not signed up with RPR. There are also some large brokerages around the country that have opted out of RPR. We have not polled our brokers yet to know who is in and who is out. We will be doing that shortly. It will probably be a couple of months before we get our data up on RPR.
MRED recently raised their fine for not entering properties into the MLS within 72 hours of obtaining a listing agreement. Are you seeing increased numbers of pocket listings?
The only time we hear about pocket listings is if a for sale sign goes up and a competitor goes to look for it in the MLS and it is not there. We contact the agent and ask them if they have their seller exemption form signed and if they say, “yes”, we ask them to send it to us. If they didn’t then they receive a fine. In the last twelve months ending June 30th there were only 140 fines given out. To be honest, the conversation for this did start with pocket listings. I think pocket listings have hit harder elsewhere than here. The fine used to be $100 and it was not as big of deterrent—so we said maybe we need to put it at a $1,000 and people would be less likely to do an off MLS listing. One of the whole reasons for being a member of the MLS is cooperation. You expect that from everyone and if you aren’t going to join that, then don’t join the MLS. Don’t take advantage of it.
Plus we updated our exemption form. Some people didn’t even know we had an exemption form. We’ve had it for 20 years.
If you want to have an off MLS listing…the biggest caution we provide is make sure it is at the seller’s request not at your request. If that is your business strategy that you want to sell listings but don’t want to share with the MLS, then don’t join the MLS. We’re just asking you to sign the form. We are trying to protect brokers. If you go to a seller and tell them, we aren’t going to put that listing on the MLS, you should tell them why and you should also explain what the value of an MLS is. If you sell that house off the MLS and come to find out they did some research and find out they could have got a lot more for their house, they may come after you. There are a lot of iffy things that might get you in trouble in an off-MLS listing. As long as you do it with the seller’s permission then you are covered.
You’ve accomplished a lot in your career—what is still on your bucket list to do?
I would love to be able to see a larger Midwest property database. We talk about Illinois--why not move into northwest Indiana, maybe up to Wisconsin and parts of Michigan. The Midwest market is a very similar market. It is much more homogenous. Northern and Southern California are not the same market--whereas the Midwest market is much more similar. It promotes some efficiency and keeps costs down for members.