Can Trulia Become a National MLS?


Trulia has grown very fast and now is in position to become the closest thing there is to a national MLS now that they have signed agreements with Keller Williams and Reaology, which includes the Coldwell Banker, Century 21 and ERA brands.

So, what might a national MLS replacement mean to brokers, agents, and consumers?

It depends. It depends on Trulia and how they use the listing information and it depends on the brokers and how they allow their listings to be handled, and whether the relationship grows or not. And it depends on the consumer and their web-searching habits and preferences.

One of the things that can come from Trulia taking over for the MLS, especially in Utah (where we have probably the most absurd, controlling MLS’s in the country), is there would most certainly be far less restrictions with the data and how it is used- and for sites that want be offer the consumer a good experience instead of a template, like BlueRoof- it means a lot less money because the MLS charges tens of thousands of dollars per year for me to display listings the way I do. I am one of only a couple companies that are willing to pay this outrageous fee, but with the MLS becoming less relevant I may decide to not use their data anymore and instead work with Trulia and their data.

And the consumer may be allowed to see much more than our facist rulers  MLS representatives currently allow.

The MLS was formed to serve its members, but has become just another for-profit company that looks out for its coffers, many times at the expense of the members- and that is something I will be glad to see dissapear.

If Trulia keeps the agents and brokers in their court they should continue to grow, but VC funding and a tech-guy perspective might start to erode their “friendly” model once they attract enough traffic that agents begin to rely on them. That’s the new way of making money for many tech companies- give it for free and be everyone’s friend, generate a lot of traffic/users, then charge for everything to make profit.

It’s always scary when brokers and agents rely too heavily on tech people. Trulia has demonstrated huge success thus far, we’ll see what they do with it…


20 thoughts on “Can Trulia Become a National MLS?

  1. If and when 85% or 90% of the listings are on Trulia, there may come a breaking point, where brokers begin utilizing Trulia instead of the MLS because of the savings and having less restriction, and more value (heat maps, up to the minute graphs and charts, etc).

    It may or may not happem, but this is as close as anyone has ever come to it- and they have only been around for a year- in a year from now or two years from now, or three…?

  2. As a real estate appraiser in Utah I couldn’t agree with you more. I only use WFRMLS right now but I hate it and would love to see it face some good competition from anywhere…especially a national MLS.

  3. I’m all in favor to an alternative to the MLS, but for a reason no one here has mentioned – better, more accurate and just plain more information about the properties for sale so that sellers and their agents can better market their properties and so that buyers can better search for properties that meet their specific criteria.

    The MLS is great for back-end information for agents and brokers, but not one site, not even Trulia, provides consumers and agents information that paints a true picture of the property. I can’t even search for a first floor study or a gourmet kitchen, common wants and needs of buyers in my area. I constantly hear complaints from my buyers that no site on the market provides detailed information about properties in general.

    We have to yet to see that type of transparency and information available to consumers and agents alike. Hopefully, that will change in the future…

  4. Danilo,
    One of the challenges with giving more/better information about listings is participation from the agents and brokers. It is not simply a function of a website that solves this issue. Many agents do include information about these things in their remarks, which are searchable on the MLS (in Utah at least). Our MLS does not let us have agent remarks on our website anyway- though many other MLS’s do.

    When I was a broker in Boulder, CO the listings usually included room dimensions, measured by the listing agent. When I began in real estate I was taught that as the listing agent we should measure every home when we listed it to show accurate square footage, but almost noone in my market does this anymore.

    Sometimes agents do not even put ANY remarks about their listings or fill out any of the information about them. They just throw them up on the MLS and hope someone sells it.

    The systems created by any website will always be restricted to the information given by the listing agent or owner. Accuracy of complete information will both continue to be challenges because of their source.

  5. I also agree on the WFRMLS is a sad example of what could be. With the amount of money that is generated monthly by subscription fee they really should be offering a site that is about supporting their clients not frustrating them. You can fault them for the technology or lack of, but our MLS did do a broker survey on changing there use IDX data. I don’t know if you remember that (POLL RESULTS – Updated Apr 04, 2006) and our brokers, by a land slide, declined the ability to have more usable data available to all. I think it’s time as a national association to demand that the MLS be standardized and provide us better IDX tools, and feeds to the entire nation wide data. I love your website and the Google map over lays. If the WFRMLS would leap into the current technology all of us would have a quality real estate search on our web site. I have been looking at what it takes currently with the WFRMLS to tackle the task you have achieved with The WFRMLS will be happy to sell me back our data for $2,000 a year for an IDX key. Then you have to create the site big $. I’m preaching to the choir I know. I think we should wake up before it’s too late and create a national MLS and brand it before it’s too late. I’m not really keen on Trulia. If and that’s a big if, we as a national association could agree on creating a nation MLS and all paid our $20 a month dues, wow what a site we could create. A national broker controlled MLS by the brokers for the agents to market homes. I’m not delusional and don’t believe that their will ever happen. I sadly don’t believe that we could get a majority of the brokers to agree or join such a movement. We may have the ability and probably the obligations as real estate professionals to be at the forefront of the technology that market homes. We don’t sell homes we market them and not very we’ll with the WFRMLS. It’s unfortunate that that will not happen, because without transforming the current state of affairs, we as brokers and agents with continue to be at a disadvantage to today’s cutting edge web sites. One marketing feature missing on the WFRMLS is an open house search. Wow wouldn’t that be useful to most agents! Even the mess that is they have that tool! Have you looked at the “beta site” of the new beautified WFRMLS. It’s pretty much the same old bad site with a different look. I’ve email the webmaster at the WFRMLS. I cringe when I use the term webmaster in the same sentence as the WFRMLS on the open house tool. I got a standard response. To sum up, in a web 2.0 world you are both transforming and evolving or you’re rapidly becoming extinct. The principals of Darwin live today on the internet at light speed. In today’s Web 2.0, wiki world and sites like Zillow out there, we as professionals are falling behind in the “tools” to affectively market homes. I ask you why a consumer would pay an agent so much money for less effective marketing then you can get from inexpensive or free commercial sites on the internet. See ya around the bone yard dinosaurs!

  6. The existing MLS model in use today dates back to the 1960s when almost all brokers involved in transactions represented the seller; either as the seller’s agent or as the subagent of the listing broker. The seller paid listing broker and they in turn were responsible to compensate the broker working with the buyer.

    This all changed during the 1990s with the evolution of buyer’s agents, the advancement of the Internet and the subsequent and rapid sharing of real estate listing data on it. The copyright door was thrown wide open.

    Since then we have seen significant change in the industry and clearly the future of the MLS needs to be addressed, and soon. There are about 900 local MLSs that appear to be stuck in the old paradigm.

    Even in the Industry the notion of a national MLS is gaining momentum. Many hurdles still need to be overcome such as local licensing laws, nomenclature, customs, governance, compliance management, etc. Tricky but of course doable.

    Meanwhile consolidation into larger MLSs is already happening on a regular basis. Larger MLSs will inevitably lead to increased standardization, which in turn will fuel further consolidation and open the door for the creation of one national MLS.

    Trulia is unquestionably a player, but at this stage so is Google,, Zillow, Yahoo and Craigslist.

    This is going to be very interesting indeed.

  7. Interesting insight, Stefan. You’re dead-on.

    It seems as though now is ther time for NAR to plan this and get control of this. There is no good that can come out of 4 or 5 competing companies to try to become a National MLS. If or NAR reinvented itself and took a serious approach at this, it could have a positive and far reaching impact. For brokers agents and consumers (most importantly). If it’s good for the consumer, then it must be good for the broker.

    This must be forced on the brokerage community, however, since we cannot even agree on one MLS for the State of New Jersey ( I believe we have 5). Brokers, Boards and MLS’s are over protective of their information. Many of them can’t get wireless reception from their caves. The broker is the problem, not the agent.

  8. “there would most certainly be far less restrictions with the data and how it is used”

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. Sorry Greg, but Trulia is WORSE than your MLS. Trulia doesn’t share their data at all. Nada, zero, zilch listing data sharing. There is no equivalent to IDX where you can build a site like yours from Trulia’s data. Trulia talks all Web 2.0, but they keep their data closer than the MLS. Read their API – it’s all just about you advertising their website on yours by providing market data. Trulia does not share listings at all.

    Trulia is also far from being profitable. I think it’s far more likely they get bought by Realogy, then they will never get all the listings.

  9. CB Broker,

    “Trulia doesn’t share their data at all. Nada, zero, zilch listing data sharing.”

    They have no reason to share IDX right now because everyone uses local MLS’s for that, but if Trulia progresses and continues to obtain listings with the feverish pace they have during their first year in business there may come a day when brokers decide to go to Trulia instead of local MLS’s in exchange for Trulia giving that data as an MLS alternative. I hope that happens because the MLS’s are too restrictive and cost too much. Especially in Utah where we have the absolute worst in the country- this is not only my opinion, but the opinion of dozens of companies I have spoken with. They all say that the Wasatch Front MLS is the worst to deal with and that is why so many companies cannot come into our market, but I digress…

    Trulia has no reason to share data, yet look at what they do offer (at no charge), heat maps, graphs, city comparisons…etc. This is still year one. I don’t think Trulia has the best website, in fact, frankly, I think BlueRoof is the best, but they are the closest thing we have to national MLS.

    Why do you think NRT decided to give Trulia all of their listings?

  10. Greg,

    “Why do you think NRT decided to give Trulia all of their listings?”

    Simple. NRT is getting it’s butt kicked online by Remax, helpusell, and a few others with a national IDX strategy. National IDX is really, really hard work because of challenges from MLS’s like yours. NRT had to do something quick, so they partnered with Trulia, IMO.

    I believe this is the key question: Who will buy Trulia?

    Trulia is bleeding money. Zillow came out later and jumped way ahead of them in traffic. VC backed ad supported start ups are falling quickly out of favor and the with real estate market is falling apart. VC have little interest in putting additional dollars into real estate startups, based on the crummy valuations of HouseValues and ZipRealty.

    Zillow has enough money to continue bleeding for a while and they had an amazing launch. Trulia is completely different story. They didn’t get nearly as much funding up front, and they don’t have anywhere near the traffic. Tough place when you are running out of money. I think it’s unlikely Trulia will get another round, rather their VC’s will want to get out and move on. Selling out to NRT is an easy and quick exit for Trulia’s VC’s. Some background:

    Tough lot for realty dot-coms:

    Three ways to build an online media business to $50m in revenue

    The Economics of Online Advertising

  11. Greg you are very right about Trulia. They can become a huge player and competition.

    It’s interesting to hear how highly you think of your website. Quite frankly, I think Help-U-Sell has the best (by far) business model of any broker.

  12. Greg,

    I can’t believe that agents don’t even put remarks in the listing! That’s just plain lazy and seems like a lack of responsibility to the client.

    As for Trulia (and Zillow), I like the idea, but the execution is not quite there. Ask yourself this…are Trulia and Zillow concerned about changing and bettering the way that properties in America are being marketed and providing consumers a better and more accurate way of searching for properties? Or are they concerned solely about making money and actually just offering the same crappy and inadequate information to consumers that any real estate agent’s web site provides through an IDX feed that can be searched by consumers? I say the latter…

    Once agents and consumers start really demanding real and accurate information and a company actually creates a site that focuses on that not just partnering with brokerage firms for advertising and sponsorship money is when we’ll see the MLS go away from being a marketing tool and become a back-end tool for agents when writing contracts and collecting legal data about the property. Just the way it should it be in my opinion.

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