One of the city’s bigger brokerages announced last week that it has established a Virtual Office Web site (VOW), which many see as a step toward a Multiple Listings Service (MLS) providing buyers with access to essentially all exclusive listings in the city.
Although the announcement by Halstead Property sounds like a voluntary initiative, the action results from a federal law that goes into effect this year. In fact, the toothless Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) has instructed its member firms (of which mine is one) to comply with the law, according to a commenter on the Real Deal Web site, where I first saw the announcement.
The Corcoran Group has been silent on any of its VOW plans, but Prudential Douglas Elliman says it is in the game. It has told its brokers that they will have to pony up approximately $100 a month more than the $99 a month they already pay the company (in addition to splitting commissions) merely for the privilege of their affiliation.
And last summer, Manhattan got its first version of VOW, an online brokerage known as CBS 2 Real Estate Market, at CBS2REM.com.
Of course, for consumers there is more than one catch. They have to register with contact information to scan listings. Moreover, they will not have access to all the information that brokers can see. Perhaps most important, they cannot simply click on a VOW site: They get to see listings only by linking from a broker’s site.
When I was a broker in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, we had an MLS, and it worked fine. When I moved my real estate business to New York City, I found the antiquated system here to be inefficient and, because it enables so-called “pocket listings” to the benefit of the listing brokers, vaguely corrupt.
I am frankly conflicted about VOWs, however. Here’s why:
- On the plus side, they are likely to be more accurate than anything buyers will find on sites such as Streeteasy.com.
- Also on the plus side, they certainly will make it easy for buyers to see almost everything that is available, particularly listings by the major brokerages, all at once.
- On the negative side, since the listings can be accessed only through the sites of individual brokers, they will tend to drive consumers to those brokers indiscriminately. In other words, VOWs lack a neutral source of information.
- VOWs fall short of the utility and ease of an MLS.
With respect to the health-care legislation passed by the Senate last week, Sen. Tom Harkin had this to say:
“What we are buying here is a modest home, not a mansion. What we are getting here is a starter home.”
Perhaps that’s the only way to look at VOWs when, obviously, my strong preference is for an MLS. But, given the big firms’ parochial resistance to an MLS, I’ll bet we’ll see bigger and faster changes on Capitol Hill than in the Big Apple.
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022