Stellar MLS CEO Stands Tall as Industry Faces Tough Questions Post-Settlement

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Compensation is being removed from the MLS, and buyer agents will be required to sign written agreements with clients. Those changes affect everyone, but not everyone is reacting, adapting or preparing for them in the same way. With how local real estate remains, the path forward will depend on who you are following.

Merri Jo Cowen, CEO of Florida-based Stellar MLS, spoke to RISMedia virtually this week to share thoughts on educating consumers, the value of listing data and what agents in her area are most concerned about.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

RISMedia: What has been the reaction of your members so far to the NAR settlement? Also, how have they been affected by the misunderstandings and misinformation coming from the mainstream media regarding the settlement, and how are you helping support them when it comes to educating consumers?

Merri Jo Cowen: The reaction of our customers is understandably both confused and concerned. Buyer brokerage is certainly practiced in Florida though not nearly as frequently as in other states where it is mandatory. That portion of the settlement (requiring a buyer brokerage agreement) before working with a buyer is not a familiar way to do business here.

That said, we see that our customers are attending courses offered to increase their knowledge in droves. We are working diligently to bring our brokers and agents up to speed through factual presentations and a fact-based resource page on our website. The impact of the misinformation and lack of understanding from the media has been very disturbing to all of us—frustrating for real estate professionals who know how the industry works and hugely confusing for consumers, both buyers and sellers. Unfortunately, it’s falling on our customers to clear up the confusion with both potential sellers and buyers.

Stellar encourages our brokers and agents to take advantage of the resources already available to show their value—from NAR and also from CMLS’ Making the Market Work and In the Know Campaigns. Our resource page also provides up-to-date information that can be shared with consumers. We are also in the process of building our own campaign that will be a resource for us to share the value of the MLS and how our services benefit the consumer through our brokers and agents—as well as a resource for our customers.

RISMedia: How will the role or value of the MLS change based on the settlement? Are you working on ways to help buyer agents offer more value, and if so, how?

MJC: Stellar MLS stands tall in the value proposition we provide to our subscribers—and through them, to consumers. The new world without compensation in the MLS is definitely raising questions about our value as an MLS. We are focused on providing tools and services that will enhance the relationship between our customers and their potential clients/customers—such as the new voice search capabilities of Finding Homes Pro—as well as platforms/products that can save our customers time and money.

We held multiple discussions with brokers over the last year about the value of the MLS should compensation be removed. Their consistent response: the data and access to it is critical for their businesses. Stellar MLS is here to serve our customers with no intention of being lost in the question of value—we intend to continue demonstrating our value as an organization and our value to the brokers and agents we serve. Compensation is not the only value an MLS offers, and we intend to clearly articulate that message.

RISMedia: Do you believe MLSs will grow more collaborative, consolidate or otherwise work more closely together due to the settlement? If so, what does that look like from your perspective?

MJC: The door to collaborate has been and will continue to be open. That said, it’s also probable that there will be consolidation as some MLSs may not have the ability to manage the changes in the landscape and adapt fully.

RISMedia: What are the biggest opportunities for real estate professionals in the next year or so—related or unrelated to the NAR settlement changes?

MJC: Real estate professionals who are able to embrace change and learn a new way of working with buyers and sellers will be the ones with the greatest success. Those who understand that compensation is not going away, that sellers can choose to help buyers compensate their agent and that dive into buyer brokerage have a huge opportunity. Real estate will continue to be sold using real estate professionals to bring the transaction to a successful closing. What’s changing now is the way that brokers and agents approach their business—accepting a new norm and embracing the possibilities will be the road to success.

RISMedia: What are the most important tools or training real estate professionals need to focus on between now and July when the settlement changes go into effect?

MJC: (Writer and businessman) Alvin Toffler (said): “It’s time to learn, unlearn and relearn.”

It’s time to accept that things are changing, and take advantage of classes on buyer brokerage, dig deep into the related agreements to learn the ins/outs of that agreement, and be prepared to show your value to both buyers and sellers.

Karmen Joy M. Barrios

Marketing Coordinator