Fifteen Years Since Our Office First Joined a Multiple Listing Service
I remember quite well the day that our company, Madeline Island Realty, became the first real estate brokerage on Madeline Island to join a Multiple Listing Service (MLS). It was at the beginning of 2001 that I begain having discussions with the folks at Northwest Wisconsin Multiple Listing Service in Eau Claire, Wisconsin about becoming a member. At that time, nobody on Madeline Island or in nearby Bayfield, Wisconsin had an MLS membership or uploaded their property listings to a Multiple Listing Service.
At that time, in our sleepy little corner of Wisconsin, real estate websites for small brokerages were just beginning to make an appearance. Marketing properties for sale meant printing listings in black and white, in "landscape" format, on 8.5 x 11 paper, then center-stapling the pages together into a booklet. Property photos, if any, were small and grainy. Property descriptions were glib and "folksy". These "Real Estate for Sale" booklets were handed out to curious and potentially interested customers who visited one or more of the three real estate offices along Main Street in downtown LaPointe, Wisconsin.
In those days, small local offices in the Apostle Islands area had absolutely no interest in seeing their listings appear on an MLS. At that time, every listing was a "pocket" listing. In other words, a small real estate brokerage maintained absolute control over their own company's listings. This practice effectively forced prospective buyers to stop and visit every real estate office in the area in order to find out what property inventory might be available. Without MLS, there were no published offers of compensation between area brokerages. As a broker, you had to make your own deals and do your own negotiations with each competing broker in town in order to work out a cooperative arrangement.
Remember what this is? It's an old MLS book from 2001!
When we joined Northwest Wisconsin MLS at that time, we were required to upload at least ten listings in order to become a new member brokerage. We were actually able to upload nineteen or twenty listings, and so NWMLS agreed to add us as a member.
Our objective in joining a Multiple Listing service was to offer the same high level of service and information to consumers buying or selling on Madeline Island as they have come to expect where they live and work. Buying or selling a home in a vacation home community shouldn't mean that the client has to give up that high level of service. Adding listings to MLS gave sellers the huge advantage of syndication, which meant that their home or lot for sale would have additional exposure on the IDX portals of other participating MLS brokerages. And it gave buyers a way to find more available properties through sites that picked up listings from MLS networks.
We had good intentions in becoming a local/area MLS brokerage. And we thought it would "raise the bar" in our area, so to speak, by bringing the practice of real estate into the 21st century.
However, local agents really didn't like the idea.
I walked into a local restaurant a couple days after we joined NWMLS and was approached by a local real estate broker who scoffed at the idea of belonging to a Multiple Listing Service. The first words out of his mouth were, "MLS won't work here".
Until 2002, other local brokers and agents boycotted the idea of joining an MLS. That is, until a local real estate agent departing a competing firm approached me and asked for my advice about opening a new brokerage in nearby Bayfield, Wisconsin.
My first advice was for her new Bayfield brokerage to become a participating MLS member. She seemed skeptical at first, but a few months later, I noticed that she had done what I suggested.
Once there were two area real estate brokerages who were participating in MLS, things began to change. By 2006-2007, property listings were appearing in the 54850 zip code, plus 54806, 54891 and 54814 zip code areas. Competition turned out to be a good thing for real estate brokers and agents in Ashland and Bayfield counties. That competition and the resulting change forced these brokers and agents to learn about what's going on in the rest of the real estate industry which, in turn, benefited their clients.
Rolling the clock forward to 2016, there are still a very few real estate agents (and even a small handful of brokers) who refuse to participate in a Multiple Listing Service. The motivation is probably money and control, as it has always been. These few non-participating licensees hope to keep both sides of the real estate commission when they sell a property. They do little or nothing to encourage a buyer to be represented by their own agent. They also cooperate minimally and grudgingly, if at all, with other brokers or agents who wish to show their listings.