Welcome to Boise!!

Boise BlogFor months I’ve been telling my Boise family and friends how excited I was for the first week of October.  Now, we have nearly arrived at the week in which 550 (and counting) of my close friends, business partners and industry colleagues arrive in Boise for the Council of Multiple Listing Services annual conference.  Since the location was announced last fall I’ve taken my fair share of ribbing about potatoes and a blue field.  A few of you expressed genuine excitement about visiting a place you had never been, and a few of you were less “enthusiastic” about the location (it’s ok, I forgive you.)

Naturally, I want EVERYONE to come and enjoy the incredible content put together by CMLS leadership and conference hosts Intermountain MLS and Willamette Valley MLS.  But I also want to show each of you some of my favorite spots in and around Boise.  So without further adieu, here is my completely biased view of “the BEST of Boise”.

Lets start with EATS since I know that’s what 100% of you will be doing at some point while you are here.  Walking distance from the hotel, downtown Boise hosts a veritable cornucopia of great places to eat.  I’m proud to say MOST of them are NOT chains.  Folks, if you were hoping for another overpriced steak from Morton’s this is not your town – you can however find some of the best grass fed local beef I’ve ever tasted.  PS – I might as well break it to all you Starbucks junkies that we also don’t have any of those downtown. Drive to the burbs if you are desperate, otherwise I highly recommend you walk to one of nearly 30 local coffee shops in the downtown area.

Ok, back the carnivore recommendations.  There are several places in downtown Boise to get a good steak (yes you can get a real IDAHO baked potato too).  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Chandler’s Steakhouse -  If you have the patience, try the 10 minute martini, it’s worth the wait!  My recommendation for dinner is the American Kobe Beef grown right here in the Snake River Valley.  As a nod to our Willamette Valley co-hosts, I highly recommend any of the Pinot Noirs coming out of the Willamette Valley on the wine list.
  • Fork (Do we really need anything else?) -  Excellent Northwest Cuisine.  If you arrive Tuesday in time for dinner go get the Cast Iron Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Cheddar Waffle – trust me on this one.  Maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini but I LOVE the Huckleberry Gemini  ~ Idaho 44 Degrees North Huckleberry Vodka, St. Germain, fresh grapefruit juice and topped with splash of Prosecco :)
  • The Cottonwood Grille -  Looking to try some wild game? This is the place!  A gorgeous setting right on the Boise River – heaters on the patio for those of you that just can’t get enough of our fresh air.  I’ve had both the elk and the buffalo and recommend them both for the slightly more adventurous – good stuff!

If you are looking for something a little more casual, your options are nearly limitless in downtown Boise.  A dozen brewpubs, a tequila bar and yes even a restaurant/distillery that creates their own delicious Vodka and Rum along with some great casual dining!  I’ve haunted a few of the following joints with great satisfaction:

  • Bardenay – The only restaurant in the country that is also a distillery of vodka and rum (both are yummy). I think I’ve said enough here, but in case you need further convincing the locally raised pork chop is one of my favorites!
  • Bittercreek Ale House – Beer lovers meet up here! 39 drafts on tap from all over the West.  If you love a burger with your beer – these are some of the best!
  • Bar Gernika – Boise has one of the largest Basque (it’s a region of Spain for those who want to save the google) communities in North America and that means some great Basque food!  Try the Lamb Grinder or the Paella.
  • The Matador -  Okay, I’m allowing a “sort of” chain restaurant on the list but this place is AWESOME!  With over 50 kinds of tequila to choose from and a menu that includes goat cheese stuffed jalapenos wrapped in BACON, this place is a little slice of heaven on earth.

I realize breakfast is part of the AGENDA at CMLS but so many of you have asked me where to get off campus for a good breakfast so here we go:

  • BACON -  Anyone who knows me already knows this is my favorite spot.  Both breakfast and lunch are served featuring – you guessed it – my favorite food group, BACON. Seven kinds of bacon are served (I refuse to count the vegetarian option as bacon).  PS – for those of you needing a Bloody Mary to jump start your day, this is the place to be!
  • Goldy’s – Definitely try the Sunrise Mimosa, have two if you don’t have to behave responsibly for a few hours J The stuffed French Toast will have you speaking in tongues – delicious!  My favorite menu item is the Andalusian Eggs with the aforementioned mimosa.

Once you finish eating and drinking yourself into a near comatose state, you may decide you need a place to burn it all off.  If there was ever a week to leave the hotel gyms behind – this is it!  Boise (coming from the French word Les Bois “the trees”) is a gorgeous city with over 25 miles of greenbelt that follow the Boise River and hundreds of hiking trails.  Like your Mom always told you “go outside and play!”

  • Hike Tablerock -  This is one of my favorite hikes because the reward is an amazing view of our beautiful valley.  The trailhead is only minutes from downtown Boise – a quick cab ride or an easy walk of about 1.5 miles.
  • Walk or run the Boise Greenbelt -  This time of year is cool but not cold in the mornings (exception: Floridians and Arizonans) so throw on a sweatshirt and take in the beauty of Fall along our amazing river.  Folks around here are friendly so if you aren’t sure where you are going – just ask someone!
  • Head to the park for a workout!  Yes, Boiseans love the outdoors.  So much so that they built an outdoor gym with equipment donated by local company body building.com

If all these exercise options make you tired, put a down payment on some relaxation at this great Day Spa right in the heart of downtown Boise.

And if the CMLS schedule and your gastro-adventures haven’t completely consumed all available time, here is a list of 84 attractions in Boise.

Whatever you do while in Boise, I hope you all have an amazing time!  Please feel free to shoot me a message if you have any questions about other local information.  See you all next week!

Are You Taking the Proper Measures to Protect Your Digital Assets and the People Associated With Them?

What do 85 of the top multiple listing services have in common with the Pentagon, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, G-Mail, Microsoft, NASA and most financial institutions, colleges and newevil1spapers?

They have all implemented data access security utilizing two-factor authentication.  Why, you ask? Because this form of data security supports their initiatives to implement “best practices” or “take reasonable steps” to protect access to their user’s personal information from cyber-villains.

Everything these villains might want to know about someone is generally hosted somewhere in their user profile(s). Name, address, phone numbers, date of birth, email addresses, characteristics and interests, employment history, etc. are all personal profile staples. This data is considered ‘Personal Information’ and comprises everything a villain needs to know about someone to commit nefarious deeds and gain additional access to even more personal information.

Most people assume, or would like to believe, the companies they engage with can be entrusted with their personal information or ‘secret identity’. They expect their personal data to be treated as a valuable asset and want their value to extend beyond a customer list, marketing program or data mining effort.

SpidermanAll companies now have a legal responsibility to protect the personal information their subscribers have provided them. The US government mandates companies implement “reasonable and accepted best practices” to protect the personal information they collect.

To date, 46 states have enacted a Data Breach Notification Law. Under these laws, a breach is defined as a single unauthorized access to a database containing personal information.  This means a single compromised user ID and password, whether willingly shared/borrowed or intentionally hacked, constitutes a breach. Reasonable steps must be taken to avoid such an occurrence. If a breach does occur, every individual with personal information stored within the breached database must be notified of the breach in writing. This is not only costly to implement, it can challenge the integrity of a company and have significant financial ramifications. Each state defines ‘Personal Information’ differently.  (Please refer to this chart and consult an attorney in your area for more specific details.)

Within our industry, we may feel these rules don’t apply or that we’re immune to such obligations because listing data is plastered all over the Internet. But the fact remains, the responsibility of the MLS goes well beyond protecting subscriber’s personal information and the sanctioned public display of listing information.  The MLS community must also consider:

  • Subscription revenue loss associated with shared access
  • Consumer (buyer/seller) data stored in the MLS system’s CRM and Client Gateway modules
  • Listing data not intended for public consumption (e.g. sensitive showing instructions such as alarm/gate/CBS codes, kids home alone, or when the house is vacant)
  • Compensation details

In many cases this is simply scratching the surface of what may be exposed. Introduce transaction management, online bill pay and document storage into the MLS services and exposure swells further.

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The fact is, laws or not, the need for secured access is an obvious and necessary requirement to conduct business in today’s world. For businesses that ‘fly under the radar’ thinking they won’t get caught it’s more a question of when than if.  The important thing to remember is you don’t have to be a superhero to mitigate your risk. Companies large and small are adopting best practices to protect access to their digital assets and those of their consumers and subscribers. So we ask again:  Are you taking the proper measures to protect your digital assets and the people associated with them?

 

And the Winner is… ClareityStore!

Clareity Security is ecstatic about our ClareityStore nomination, and subsequent WIN, of the 2013 Inman Innovator Award for Most Innovative MLS or Real Estate Trade Association App, Tool or Vendor. Want to know who else took home this prestigious award? Read more here.

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Welcoming a New Freshman Class to Team Clareity

The average age of a Clareity employee dropped significantly last week!  There is a youthful spirit surging through our organization after adding three new ‘Generation Y’ employees to the All-Star Clareity roster.  We are excited to have these bright, young people join our seasoned team of veterans!  They bring with them a ton of professional talent and infuse a fresh perspective on business.

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Steven Yansak recently joined the team as our Staff Accountant in the Scottsdale, AZ office. Born and raised on the east coast, Steven has just recently moved from his hometown Rotterdam, New York to pursue opportunities in Arizona professionally and personally. Steven attended the University of Hartford earning his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an Accounting concentration.  He earned his minor in Psychology. Graduate school is in his future plans but Steven is currently enjoying his 20’s, his new job and is exploring his new home state.  Steven’s outgoing personality is a welcome addition to team Clareity – we love it when we find bean counters that are fun too!

 

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Michael Elliot joined our Development Team in Knoxville, TN as a User Interface Developer.  He enjoys website design and the challenge of coding websites to work with design to make the user experience seamless and enjoyable. Michael started website design by accident in 2004, when he started coding his e-bay listings to look like a store.  With his new-found passion he set about learning website design. In addition to attending ITT and earning a degree in Multi Media, he refined his design and coding skills by spending much of his spare time practicing and learning new tools. When we asked Michael what he looked forward to most, he said “Now I can’t wait to see how I can take what I know to help Clareity Security be the best.”  That spirit to be the best is what we look for most in our team members and Michael embodies the Clareity spirit!

 

We are proud to welcome Steven and Michael to Team Clareity and look forward to their contributions in 2013 and beyond!

 

 

 

 

Why Clareity Chose Not to Build an App Store

Have you ever wondered why we spell CLAREITY with an “REI”? Well, it’s a form of an acronym and there are a few different interpretations that can be associated with the “REI”. For example, Real Estate Information, Real Estate Integrators and my personal favorite, Real Estate Innovators.  The “E” in Clareity can also stand for E-commerce. All are accurate interpretations of what Clareity does.

At Clareity we truly are Real Estate Integrators. In 2005, Clareity identified an industry challenge as MLS vendors and 3rd party service providers integrated their services on various authentication platforms.  Our CTO, Matt Cohen brought our industry’s leading service providers together in Las Vegas. At the conclusion of the second meeting, all parties agreed to utilize the SAML platform moving forward. The National Association of REALTORS liked what we were doing and provided Clareity a grant to create a SAML tool kit for real estate software developers. Today, Clareity platforms now integrate with over 80 product and service providers.

Clareity Security was formed with great intentions. We wanted to create solutions that added value and solved problems specific to our industry. As an Industry partner we are proud to provide services to over 100 MLSs (and a significantly larger number of Associations), representing 550,000 real estate professionals.

Clareity built a solid business based on providing a higher level of data security and revenue assurance for sensitive and proprietary MLS information.  Simultaneously we began offering a Single Sign on Service to facilitate more secure and convenient access to third party applications.

Two years ago at the request of a few MLS customers we started delivering the Clareity SSO Portal – which leveraged the SAML platform and made Single Sign On (SSO) and the applications offered by the MLS more visible. The Clareity Portal empowered these organizations to demonstrate their value proposition while simultaneously creating a better subscriber experience.

The Clareity SSO Portal translated into immediate success for both the organization and the end user.  The benefits were immediate to our MLS and Association customers:

  • They created a modern, locally branded experience that showed members the full range and value of the services offered
  • They became the secure and trusted point of entry for all services.
  • End users raved that a single User ID and Password provided access to ALL services
  • Adoption of 3rd party site licensed applications increased by as much as 12% within weeks
  • They gained a new channel for pushing custom content to their members
  • They added a mobile optimized entry point for applications and services.

Noting these benefits, our customers came to a natural conclusion for what should come next. They asked us to evolve the Clareity Portal into the Clareity Store to create a trusted place for secure E-commerce transactions.

Feedback we received from customers in 2011 and 2012 indicated a shift in traditional thinking regarding site licenses.  In addition to offering CORE services, our customers wanted to offer a broader choice of products and services to their subscribers, however existing site licensing models were often expensive and were becoming more difficult to manage as the list of vendors grew.   The “country club” model with one price for an all-inclusive experience was failing to offer the flexibility needed to keep up with all the innovation in real estate technology.  It also failed to create a personalized experience for subscribers based upon their unique needs.  Our customers also expressed frustration from licensing a product for every member, when adoption was low for many of the products.  And of course, there were also brokers that yelled STOP using my money to level the playing field – let agents pay for the optional things they want!

The solution to this dilemma is really quite simple:

CORE + STORE = SATISFIED MEMBERS (AND BROKERS)

Offering competitive and meaningful core services plus introducing a Store offers MLS organizations a bridge to the future of the MLS delivery of service.  This goes way beyond offering a stand-alone App Store.  This is about creating a hyper personalized and convenient way for products to be “one-click” ordered and provisioned to MLS subscribers while creating a seamless experience for members to access all of their products and services.

There has been movement by several vendors to develop proprietary APIs to improve access to and transport of MLS data.  Clareity Security, our customers and most of our industry partners believe that the industry is best served by having a single way to move real estate data between the MLS and other products. The RESO organization has worked hard on those standards over the past few years.  The MLS and vendor executive leadership is now in place to get both data standards and standards for transport in place in the very near future.  Clareity has donated hundreds of hours to RESO as have many other companies who are to be commended for their efforts.

Clareity knows that for a Store to be successful, it needs to be part of the end-user’s daily experience and nested in their natural workflow. Hence, the Clareity Store was designed to provide the customer’s CORE services through the SSO Portal and offer deep work flow integration within the leading MLS service providers software. Our approach has been validated by the ten large MLS markets representing an initial 270k actual users fully committed to this experience.

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Additionally, we are pleased to announce a new partnership with CoreLogic to offer its MLS customers a customized Store within all CoreLogic platforms.  Clareity’s 550,000 user base combined with CoreLogic’s 650,000 MLS subscribers provides the national footprint that software developers and service providers have only dreamed about  - until now.

When you look at the BIG picture…what Clareity offers is an experience that is much more than just an App Store. Think BIGGER .  Combining CORE services with the choice of HUNDREDS of useful products and services that can be seamlessly ordered and provisioned to create a convenient, personalized experience for MLS subscribers was our design goal for our Store and we DID it!  Clareity offers real estate  organizations the opportunity to brand and evolve their business to the ever changing technology market.  And Clareity helps our customers accomplish this while doing it their way, at their own pace, and by respecting existing data licensing models and business rules while supporting evolving technology.

We hope you will reach out to us and learn more about the Clareity Store – and see for yourself why the App Store component is only a fraction of the Clareity Store offering!

How Do You Define Value? – Part 2

add_valueIn my last blog, I asked  “How do you define value?” It’s time to follow-up on that question.

Lets start with some simple internal questions to get in the right frame of mind: Who is your organization? What service do you provide? Who do you provide these services to? What value do you deliver to your customer?

I am aware most of you have already completed this exercise in some secluded strategic planning session for your business. But, as you ponder or answer these questions, dig deeper. Does your customer know these answers?  Is your customer aware of the full breadth of the services you offer? Is your customer aware of the value you are delivering? If they were aware of these benefits would it help you retain existing customers and secure new ones?

Over the years, our collective industry services have evolved.  Whether you are an agent,  a broker selling property/retaining agents, or an MLS, all these questions apply. Do you communicate your value to your customer? Does your customer know what products and services they are receiving in exchange for their investment in you?

Does your business continue to rely on emails, letters and flyers? Do you simply chalk up a 2% email “viewed” rate to the conditioned “RDR” response (short for REALTORS don’t read)?  Or do you want to reinvent the way your value can be communicated or presented to your customer?

Personally, my parents have always told me to be humble. However, humble does not always apply when it comes to my business. In business, I want to tell the world what we do, why we do it and who we do it for. I want to communicate what value I can deliver and why. I want to win over my customers. I want them to believe as I do.

I think many of you feel the same way about your business, so why not reinvent the way you communicate your value to your customers and prospects?

We believe your customer deserves to be presented with your value on a daily basis in a non-invasive manner. Your customers access your MLS data an average of 2-5 times per day.  Why not furnish them with all you offer through a custom landing page.  You may be surprised with the results.  Clareity customers currently using the SSO Portal have experienced:

  • Increased Adoption / Usage of all Services – as the user is presented with all the service options upon login we generally see a 10% to 12% increase in adoption
  • Improved End User Experience – one login to all solutions improves efficiency and ease of use
  • Content driven down through broker/Associations/MLS Site – messaging is clear, concise and consistent as it is delivered to a customer across all services and through all access points
  • Demonstrated value proposition to end users – the customer understands what services your business is offering

If you are looking to increase not only value perception, but redefine and deliver real value contact Clareity today to see how we can help.

The New National Association of Real Estate Professionals – is this Zulia’s Nightmare?

Many of you have read the “Syndication Bill of Rights” that Clareity Consulting drafted as part of its April 2011 white paper titled Syndication to Real Estate Portals: Problems and Solutions”Clareity’s Bill of Rights laid down 10 rules that would make real estate publishers “industry friendly” and more respective of a the broker’s intellectual property – the listing.  Over the past year, I was invited to present the Bill of Rights notion at many NAR, state, and local broker meetings.  Since that time, we’ve seen several small and large brokers cease syndication to some or all publishers, but we haven’t seen a broker stampede or mass exodus yet. We’ve also seen a few national publishers (e.g. Homes.com and Trulia) respond and begin to improve their behavior by prominently displaying proper attribution and contact information for the listing agent and brokerage “above the fold,” instead of hiding it 4-5 screens deep. Still, on some sites, advertising for other agents – typically buyer’s agents – are displayed all around and even inside the listing detail so it doesn’t look like advertising, thereby deceiving the consumer. For the listing agent or broker, it’s as if someone plastered ads covering the yard sign the agent paid to have placed outside one of their listings. How can this conflict between the listing broker’s interests and the need for increasing quarterly profits of publicly traded companies be resolved?

Two weeks ago, a gentleman named Ben Caballero contacted me and introduced himself as the chairman of the newly created National Association of Real Estate Professionals (NAREP).  Ben said he was a big fan of the Clareity Syndication Bill of Rights, so of course he had my immediate attention.  Ben told me that the NAREP had formally opened for membership in October and is organizing as a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade association. NAREP plans to launch a national real estate listings network of Internet Data Exchange (IDX) websites overseen and managed by individuals who truly understand real estate — licensed real estate professionals. Ben’s goal is to create a competitive listings website that better meets the interests of listing agents and serves consumers better by delivering pure, current, and accurate information.

Following is an overview of NAREP and its objectives Ben sent me:

NAREP’s revenue model involves collecting a nominal $10-$20 total fee at closing from its member listing agents, a sharp contrast to those business models of Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, and others (i.e., the “ZTRs”), which typically charge monthly fees regardless of whether any home sale results. NAREP’s listings site would conspicuously display NAREP member agent’s contact information.  NAREP member agents agree to cease syndication of their listings to all websites not adhering to Clareity’s Syndication Bill of Rights (www.narep.net/br). 

 As the controversy surrounding the ZTRs demonstrates, monetization of listing data incentivizes their much-discussed and questionable business practices. The Internet lends itself well to the Pay-Per-Click (PPC) concept when selling a commodity, and the ZTRs have adopted a form of the PPC model (in that they charge their fees on the front end, regardless of the outcome). The ZTRs treat a home as just another commodity, but a home is not a commodity from the perspective of the individual buyer or seller. Rather, it is a personal part of their lives. All homes — and their buyers and sellers — are unique in some way. In short, the buying and selling of a home is a personal experience that is much different than that of buying or selling a commodity.

 Until now, consumers and industry professionals have tolerated the ZTRs’ business practices for lack of anything better.

By introducing a non-profit business model to the Internet real estate space that relies on the Pay-Per-Sale (PPS) concept, NAREP will give real estate consumers and practitioners an alternative to the ZTRs. NAREP will do so: (1) by enabling its practitioners to ensure the integrity of their listings, as the IDX data feed will ensure accuracy since it comes directly from the MLSs; (2) by providing consumers with a simpler, more streamlined online experience; and (3) by satisfying consumers’ hunger for listing data. Because it incentivizes data integrity and promotes customer service from cradle-to-grave of the home buying/selling process, NAREP believes that, for homes, the PPS model of monetization is more compatible with the real estate industry’s long-standing and proven business practices. 

NAREP’s mission is to end syndication abuse, not syndicators or syndication sites. If they wish to remain relevant, they must adopt more responsible business practices than what they currently have in place. Clareity’s Syndication Bill of Rights is a good place for them to start.

So, Ben is a man on a mission.  NAREP is a fledgling trade association, but perhaps it can fill a void that groups like NAR, CMLS and the Realty Alliance have been unable to do for legal fears  - anti-trust or group boycott – and other reasons, including broker fragmentation on this issue.  Some colleagues have told me, “Gregg, NAREP is just a few brokers led by one guy that’s fed up with the system.”  My response to that has been, “Isn’t that how most groups start?”

I find NAREP very interesting as one of the first efforts in a long time focused on the interests of brokers and online publishing.  At Clareity Consulting’s first conference back in 1998 – “Law and Order in Information Commerce” – the content owner’s IP rights were a major topic on the agenda.   Since the beginning of online publishing, the collective voice and IP protection for broker’s content have been fragmented.  No offense to NAR, The Realty Alliance or Leading Real Estate Companies of America, but there has been a leadership void in this specific area, and other than the handful of brokers that have pulled their listings from syndication, 99% of brokers and agents have been forced to put up with the increasingly egregious terms and unfortunate business practices set by the national publishers, or “ZTRs” as Ben calls them.

Ben is not your average REALTOR®.  According to NAREP’s Press Release dated October 10, 2012:

Caballero was the top individual real estate professional in the United States for 2010 and 2011, as measured by unit sales and dollar volume, with more than 4,500 home sales exceeding $1.2 billion in total value. He is the co-founder of the National Association of Real Estate Professionals. He serves as a member of the board of directors of the Greater Metro Multiple Listing System of the MetroTex Association of REALTORS®.”   

So Ben is not some wing nut with an idea who just fell off the turnip truck.  Ben knows real estate and he’s sick and tired of syndication and the publishers looking for ever-increasing profits, made off of his listings.  Can this one man rally the industry?

I love the subject of online real estate advertising and I’ve been involved with it since launching CyberHomes at NAR in Atlanta in 1995.  (Wow, that was 17 years ago this week.)  I was curious what a large brokerage I respect would think about NAREP, so I made an introduction, and Ben met with them last week.   I was impressed when this firm responded very positively and agreed to join and support NAREP and the company’s CEO was invited to join the NAREP board. This brokerage is part of a powerful national franchise/organization and is also a member of the Realty Alliance.  A few large brokers can put a dent in any publisher’s inventory.

Will NAREP grow to fill the aforementioned void and be able to turn the table on the publishers?  Will NAREP be successful enough that the publishers are forced to further moderate their practices in order to receive the broker’s listings? Will the national publishers, with over two billion dollars in market capitalization, and more than $300 million in cash, overwhelm anything NAREP, and a freshly united real estate professional group, do to reach consumers?

NAREP reminds me of a song I learned at bible camp in Minnesota when I was about 10 years old: “It only takes a spark, to get a fire going …”

NAREP will be in booth #422 in Orlando, or you can reach the man on a mission at:

Ben Caballero,Co-Founder and Chairman

National Association of Real Estate Professionals, Inc.

(214) 997-1229 | (214) 616-9222 mobile

ben@narep.net | www.narep.net

SAFE Syndication: Solving Your MLSs IDX and VOW Audit Compliance Problems

Today most MLS leadership is aware of the challenges associated with, and consequences resulting from, an MLS compliance department that doesn’t provide uniform rule enforcement: the longer rule violations go unaddressed, the harder it is to get them fixed, allowing the chance of hearing the “You’re picking on me.” complaint to rise exponentially. When it comes to listing maintenance within the MLS system, many agents view listings and have the opportunity to see and report rule violations on a daily basis.  Regardless, MLS’ have implemented resources such as MLS Data Checker, iCheck, and other compliance tools to ensure uniform enforcement. When it comes to IDX and VOWs, uniform enforcement is more problematic.  Agents don’t spend a lot of time on competitors’ websites, and when they do, they aren’t looking for compliance with all rules in the way an MLS should.  The burden falls more than ever on the MLS Compliance Department and SAFE Syndication™ is the only tool to help MLS compliance staff manage the enormity of this task.

SAFE Syndication™ places all of the IDX and VOW license information in an easy to use application. It is no longer a challenge to hunt down the latest version of an Excel spreadsheet or chase down paper in a filing cabinet which is sometimes lost or destroyed.  The MLS can easily assign various duties to individuals as the information flows through the system. One employee can enter all of the site information into the system and, because the MLS can set a site to require an audit on load, the Compliance Department can audit the site based on a list of upcoming audits in the dashboard. In an environment where one user is responsible for all of the processes, there is no longer the need to keep track of licenses in one system, sites in another, and audits in yet another. All sites are audited based on the same set of rules so the process creates objectivity and neutrality while eliminating prior subjective decisions with undefined or undocumented sets of rules.  Additionally, because SAFE Syndication™ becomes the system of record, it provides an up-to-date representation of all MLS’ IDX and VOW vendor and publisher licenses.  With the ListHub integration, the initial import of the original data and the ability to define an audit schedule, SAFE Syndication customers are up and running very quickly.

Cathy Libby, Operations Manager for MREIS, an early adopter of SAFE Syndication™, had this to say: “MREIS decided to become an early user of SAFE Syndication based on the fact that Clareity Security’s program provided a solution to many of the steps MREIS was already doing in-house by cobbling together various tasks.  Rather than recreate the wheel, we felt it would be in our best interest to switch to this program, despite it being in its infancy.  We were able to work collaboratively with Clareity Security, provide our input and help develop SAFE Syndication into a first class product. 

MREIS uses SAFE Syndication to track all of the vendors providing IDX and VOW services to our Participants.  We also use it to conduct mandatory compliance reviews and routine audits of IDX and VOW web sites.  SAFE Syndication provides one central location for all of our information and having the dashboard really helps when more than one person is involved in the compliance process.”

As MREIS has experienced, SAFE Syndication™ offers many benefits.  The first and foremost benefit is ensuring that the rules are applied to all participants equally.  When an MLS sets up their service the initial task is to set the audit schedule for IDX websites and VOWs, for both customizable and non-customizable sites. The MLS determines whether new and/or existing sites will require an initial audit and the percent of sites audited in a given timeframe.  This feature, accessible from the SAFE Syndication™ dashboard, drives the list of sites needing to be audited. Using a consistent rules-based method for determining which sites to audit is a major step in addressing complaints about inconsistent rule enforcement.

SAFE Syndication™ also ensures compliance with all of the rules and consistently validates when a site is due to be audited.  This presents a consistent message to the industry that the cursory method in which sites were being audited in the past was insufficient.  A glance is not good enough to meet the comprehensive audit requirements facing MLS’ today.  If a compliance staff says IDX sites take only minutes to audit and VOWs just take an hour or two, a warning flag should be raised – the MLS needs to take steps to improve the comprehensiveness of its audits.

SAFE Syndication™ manages the entire audit process.  It can be dizzying to stay on top of those sites due for audit, those in progress, in remediation, and those requiring a re-audit, not to mention sites going back and forth through these steps on their way to “completion and compliance”.  The program dashboard makes it easy to keep track of audits in progress and to ensure the audits are being completed in a timely manner.

SAFE Syndication™ also saves staff time in a variety of other ways and makes it significantly easier to multi-task audits with other workflow. MLS’ have a clear “to do list”, can easily find and manage audits in progress and can swiftly find older audits by searching only the website address in question. SAFE Syndication™ also makes it easy to see the audit history of a website and manage multiple audit report versions over time. SAFE Syndication™ provides a scalable solution which is far superior to the current processes that are dependent on the mindfulness of a single compliance person  and are managed with over-stuffed filing cabinets, unwieldy spreadsheets and complaint filled emails and sticky-notes.

Once you get started with SAFE Syndication™ you’ll finally feel like your IDX and VOW compliance is being done right and is totally under control.

For additional information on SAFE Syndication™ please contact us at sales@clareitysecurity.com.

How Do You Define Value?

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “value” as:  1: a fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged 2: the monetary worth of something: market price 3: relative worth, utility, or importance (a good value at the price).

I am a paid subscriber to a number of websites (e.g., ESPN.com, Scouts.com and Ducks Unlimited).  All of these subscription services have employees who provide specialized content, tools, data, expertise and analysis that I find valuable.  Where this differs from MLS subscribers paying to access the MLS is compensation.  Not one of these services holds me to a professional standard or generates income for me.  This makes the MLS service, and the data within, significantly more valuable and worthy of even greater protection.  The MLS likewise provides specialized content, applications, support and business tools, but it also facilitates shared compensation between professionals whose livelihoods depend on the integrity of the information.  If these services did not provide significant value, subscribers would not experience: 2. the monetary worth of something: market price.

In my eyes, Scout for SAFEMLS mitigates the revenue risk associated with people attempting to bypass license agreements, therefore subsidizing the service for those paying for the access.  On countless occasions, Clareity Security has provided case studies demonstrating the success of Scout by capturing a portion of this “lost” revenue while also deterring and removing these “thieves.”  Here is an excerpt from Clareity’s most recent case study:

Many of our customers have applied Clareity Security’s suggested best practices for the Scout service (and others that we reviewed are now implementing said practices).  A recent review of twelve Clareity Security customers showed sharing decreased by almost 18%, unauthorized users decreased over 22%, and active accounts increased by almost 2%.  This increase may seem modest but during the same timeframe membership in the National Association of REALTORS® has dropped 1.75%.  It is obvious that these numbers would greatly impact any MLS organization both from a revenue opportunity and a cost of operation perspective.  A shared account will not only cause revenue deprivation but also adds to the cost of providing service to your paying members.  Not to mention your data being compromised by unauthorized users who are not bound by the standards of your Terms of Service agreement!

Yet some remain unconvinced of the value of Scout.  As Stephen Colbert states, “I am not a fan of facts.  You see, facts can change, but my opinion will never change, no matter what the facts.” Perhaps the numbers won’t convince everyone there is a problem.  Some know there is a problem, but choose to look the other way?  Then there are elements of risk and problems that may not be so easy to see.

For example, last week Ray Ewing, CEO of SANDICOR MLS, which provides MLS Services to 20,000 real estate professionals throughout the San Diego, California market area, shared the following two stories with me:

There is an agent lead generation and marketing company that we will refer to as “Company X.”  Company X regularly prompts agents for their ID and password for their MLS service.  Most users do not even think twice about this and quickly provide that information.  Then Company X, utilizing the agents credentials, downloads the expired MLS listings along with more complementing data and feeds it back to the agent with a marketing package.  Company X is not even a subscriber of SANDICOR!  By utilizing Scout, Ray Ewing and his staff have been able to identify this unauthorized use and vetted Company X to confirm this abuse. 

Additionally, using the tools available in Scout, Ray and his team were able to identify a user who was exploiting an automated login to run query scripts against the system for data. According to Ray, these queries would at times get stuck and continue to run, impacting the MLS system’s performance.  Armed with the information provided by Scout, SANDICOR was able to add language to their LCA stating that users were not allowed to use an automated login and would be redirected to use RETS.  The scariest part about this is after doing some research, Ray discovered this user was accessing more than just SANDICOR data.

We spend a lot of time talking about Scout’s ability to increase membership by forcing system abusers to pay for service, but there is a bigger picture here.  There is more than meets the eye when protecting the value of paid services.  No matter how you define value, if a service has a paid subscriber base and is allowing that value to be shared, stolen, or even hijacked for someone else’s profit or gain, then that service is diminishing its own value.

So I ask again, how do you define value?

Scout for SAFEMLS: A Case Study in Best Practices

Last year Clareity Security demonstrated A Successful Case Study for customers using Scout for SAFEMLS™.  The case study identified measurable success in both reducing unauthorized access and providing revenue assurance to MLS organizations through the implementation of the full Scout for SAFEMLS solution.  Recently, we started to dig even deeper into the data behind the success of Scout for SAFEMLS.  For this new study we analyzed a sampling of our customers who followed some best practices recommended by Clareity Security as part of the implementation.  We researched further into which specific actions were most successful in remediating account sharing and unauthorized access.  The results are very clear; applying Clareity Security’s best practices generates extremely positive results.

Clareity Security’s best practices have been established by analyzing our customers’ policies against the sharing outcomes in their individual systems.  Clareity Security has worked individually with each customer to develop security policies based on these best practices and their local rules and policies, with the specific goal of deterring account sharing at the earliest possible action while minimizing user inconvenience.  The chart below illustrates Scout for SAFEMLS’s effectiveness at eliminating 97% of sharing for users who enter remediation by the fourth action step.

Many of our customers have applied these best practices, and more are in the process of reviewing updated recommendations from us based on our findings. Our review of twelve Clareity Security customers over a six week period of time showed sharing decreased by almost 18%, unauthorized users decreased over 22%, and active accounts increased by almost 2%. This increase may seem modest but during the same timeframe membership in the National Association of REALTORS® dropped 1.75%.

These numbers greatly impact your MLS organization both from a revenue opportunity and a cost perspective.  A shared account cannot only cause revenue deprivation but also adds to the cost of providing service to your paying members.

Clareity Security has gained considerable knowledge about the profile of a shared MLS account in the past eight years.  While the numbers are not surprising to us, we believe they are interesting and worth noting for purposes of this paper.  A shared account, on average, has almost twice the usage of a non-shared account and the unique devices used to access the account are double a non- shared account. This excess traffic translates to heavier server loads, greater network traffic, and even increased help desk calls. All of which mean extra expenses to the MLS.

Clareity Security is pleased to offer this solution to our existing customers and welcomes the opportunity to work with new organizations. Combining a tool like Scout for SAFEMLS with the experience and best practices developed by Clareity Security staff and customers is proven to recapture (or in some cases retain) revenue for MLS organizations. In addition, reducing unauthorized access means the MLS can experience cost savings while securing access to valuable MLS data.