OK, I’ll take the bait: Upstream and CoreLogic are not the MLS

Upstream Corelogic MLS

Rob had some good questions yesterday that many in the industry are probably asking, in “OK, I’ll Ask: How is CoreLogic Threading the Upstream Needle?” For a lot of us in the industry, it can be frustrating when these questions are left hanging over a vacuum fit for conspiracies.

Let’s fill some of that void, especially with the words of those involved in Upstream and its new vendor, CoreLogic. (I have no employment, compensation, or other incentives related to these organizations—save for the support of tools that create efficiency for brokers and agents, and allow them to provide better service to consumers.)

“The market leader in MLS software platforms just agreed to be the technology vendor for an organization that most MLSs think is out to put them out to pasture. Does no one think that might cause a bit of a reaction from various quarters?”

This argument will be a theme. There’s a desire to make all MLS opinions the same and put them in one corner, with their vendors as a protective shield. Brokers, in this drama, are in the opposite corner with Upstream as their spear to strike a deathblow into the heart of the MLS. It’s a sexy visual, but the reality is much more nuanced.

You know what they say when we assume…

“I’m going to assume that during the six months of courtship between CoreLogic and Upstream, none of CoreLogic’s current MLS customers were informed about the possibility, or consulted. Maybe I’m dead wrong about that, but knowing what I know of board politics and MLS politics, I rate the possibility of prior consultation as being pretty low.”

Rob did admit he could be dead wrong here. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on CoreLogic having the ear of its largest customers at all times and keeping them informed of strategic decisions that might affect their relationships. A venture like Upstream, with the massive politics that have surrounded it thus far, would probably be an important topic to broach with your current customers as opposed to surprising them with a closed deal. It’s not like the whisper network hadn’t been churning this story for months—but we can let the core players speak to the prior conversations.

“The history is a bit convoluted, but suffice to say that Upstream was initially conceived of as a way to get around, replace, or simply “get upstream” from the MLS so that brokerages had total control over their listings, including whether those listings would go to the MLS or not.”

No. This is a written sleight of hand. An effort to control an input module that allows for a more robust data set and feeds this data to the MLS and other tools is poisoned with innuendo of replacing the MLS. Its misuse is common and adds to the confusion about Upstream. Upstream coming into an MLS market has zero effect on brokers’ ability to decide whether or not listings go to the MLS. They already make this decision, every day.

What is Upstream, redux

Let’s provide another definition of what Upstream is. Amy Gorce of CoreLogic delivered what may be the most concise explanation we’ve heard in some time (condensed for brevity, full version here):

“Upstream is a back-office database designed to…put you, the broker, in full control of your data assets and to help keep your data secure and confidential. Only you can determine who is granted access to your data.

…Upstream will support brokers in maintaining data related to the Firm, Team, Agent, Employee, User, Customer, Vendor, and MLS record.

…our industry requires the same data to be entered into lots of different software systems. The goal of Upstream is for brokers to enter data once, giving all downstream software systems a single place to access it.

…An agent’s headshot is displayed in…the MLS, Association of REALTORS, agent website, agent CRM, agent flyer, agent mobile app, broker website, franchise website, hundreds of advertising websites like Realtor.com, CMA, transaction management, listing presentation… Today, an agent would need to log into each application to make this change. With Upstream, the agent can change their photo once with the Broker and it will be distributed to all authorized recipients.“

This understanding is ultimately important. Clarity is essential to having this conversation without conspiracy.

More Data, More Problems

“So is Upstream paying CoreLogic? If so, did it finally convince the brokerages to drop a few million bucks into the bucket to pay CoreLogic? … Could it be….Data?”

Again, we’ll let the participants describe the monetary relationship. But let’s get to the data angle, because it’s a good question to ask. Most of the highest-flying technology companies in the world are monetizing users’ data.

Upstream’s mantra since its inception has been brokers controlling their data. The idea that they’d lose sight of individual brokers having control of their data in the selection of a new vendor—considering Upstream’s broad brokerage leadership and Alex Lange’s business intellect–seems highly unlikely. Could there be an agreement that allows aggregation, anonymization, and reselling of broad data insights? We can leave that question up to the participants, but let’s grant the possibility.

It’s a fair question. It’s just that it can be stated simply or couched in an unnecessarily political conversation. Speak of the devil….

“But you still have to get the MLS to say Yes. The deep relationship (between CoreLogic and Upstream) helps, but let’s not forget that the deep relationship was built based on a customer-vendor relationship. And for the past few years, in the Upstream Era, CoreLogic was unquestionably on the side of the MLS. That now appears to have changed. Will the deep customer-vendor relationship lead to those customers agreeing to commit suicide? Probably not.”

There it is. There are rivalries, disagreements, leverage-seeking positioning by cooperating competitors in the industry. Upstream, though, never intended to subvert the MLS (an organization for sharing listings via cooperation and compensation, not a piece of software). It intends to put a more valuable input module in brokers’ hands that fuels the MLS’s and broker’s databases.

Do we need the drama?

Many MLS leaders have expressed to me that they understand and support the concept of Upstream. They’re already allowing alternative input models within their organizations. Focusing on Alex Lange’s previous frustration with CoreLogic and Craig Cheatham’s “10 Days” might provide a satisfying level of emotion for some, but it distracts from the business realities that are being traversed. (I should note that “10 days” had little to do with Upstream but has been intertwined into the storyline of brokers vs MLSs by some including myself.)

These are leaders making statements for their organizations that they know will bring some derision upon themselves, falling on their swords to break through the real estate industry’s “tyranny of politeness” (thanks, Rob) when they don’t feel their brokers’ needs are being addressed. The blame game is distasteful, and complacency is frustrating at the same time.

So it’s not a surprise that the adrenaline ramps up on this topic until we equate an MLS “agreeing” to Corelogic becoming Upstream’s vendor to suicide. Positioning an Upstream/Corelogic partnership as MLS harakiri is more more kabuki theater than kaizen for the industry. Ganbatte, kudasai.

Threading the needle on defined roles

“This still remains the key issue. Is the MLS the single source of truth? Or is Upstream the single source of truth? Or are both sources of some of the truth?”

“If…Upstream has its own database and stores the brokerage data there… to pass down to the MLS as needed and as directed by the brokerage… well, then that’s a different thing altogether. Then the MLS is no longer the single source of truth, no longer the marketplace, and no longer all that vital in the grand scheme of things. Sure, sure, the MLS will do cooperation and compensation, but so will a simple two page form co-broke agreement that can be e-signatured in 5 minutes.”

This is a critical question, and essential to defining the difference between Upstream and an MLS. As the initial data input module connected to brokers’ multi-resource database (more than just listing data), Upstream could clearly be the single source of data input and initial point of distribution. But that doesn’t make it the single source of truth for the marketplace.

Each individual broker decides where the brokerage’s data goes. So Upstream does not provide a marketplace like the MLS. There is no marketplace-wide funnel of data. It may sound like splitting hairs, but there are many individual brokerage feeds of data, all separately permissioned. There is no Upstream display, merely transport/delivery of individual broker feeds.

  • The brokers’ back office tools receive the data they need from Upstream and, for them, it is the single source of truth for customer, firm, vendor, and employee records.
  • The MLS receives listings from brokers (individually) via Upstream and aggregates them for the marketplace.
  • The MLS provides the rules for broker cooperation and compensation around that aggregated listing database and continues to be the single source of listing truth for that marketplace.

There are still some good questions that have been asked that will need answers. Some of them will likely be answered as this new partnership develops, and participants in the process will want clarity about how their data will be used and/or monetized.

I’m tempted to ask for less drama and speculation in those discussions. Who am I kidding? We enjoy this, and tough questions make for better discussions.

-swd

Get the latest posts via email

11 Comments

Join the discussion and state your opinion. Some comments may be held in moderation. I try to get to them as soon as possible, but may be traveling or unable to approve comments immediately. I do not censor comments, but reserve the right to remove anything that looks like spam, trolling, or just outright inappropriate.

  1. I’ve read about Upstream a lot.

    But this is the first time I feel I finally understand it. Thank you!

    Seems like a good idea.

    1. That alone made this worth the time. Thanks, Brian.

  2. Oh Sam, I love ya man. 🙂

    Thing is, your main complaint about my questions appears to be that it somehow fans the flames of drama and rivalry. As you say:

    “No. This is a written sleight of hand. An effort to control an input module that allows for a more robust data set and feeds this data to the MLS and other tools is poisoned with innuendo of replacing the MLS. Its misuse is common and adds to the confusion about Upstream. Upstream coming into an MLS market has zero effect on brokers’ ability to decide whether or not listings go to the MLS. They already make this decision, every day.”

    I can’t figure out whether you never knew or you genuinely do not remember the initial concept behind Upstream. Or RPR. But the sleight of hand appears to be on your side of the fence this time, because I said “**initially** conceived of as a way to get around, replace, or simply “get upstream” from the MLS” and your response talks about input modules… which is **today’s** version of Upstream. Do you really need me to start pulling out Cary Sylvester quotes about how Upstream will be the “single source of truth” from 2015-2016?

    Then you write:

    “There are rivalries, disagreements, leverage-seeking positioning by cooperating competitors in the industry. Upstream, though, never intended to subvert the MLS (an organization for sharing listings via cooperation and compensation, not a piece of software). It intends to put a more valuable input module in brokers’ hands that fuels the MLS’s and broker’s databases.”

    There it is again! The sleight of hand. A curious transformation of “never intended” into “intends” — past into the present, smoothly, without an intervening, “People changed their minds” in there somewhere to explain the transformation. Look, if you want to insist that Upstream and the people behind it (some of whom are no longer there) “never intended” to subvert the MLS, you’re going to have to come up with something more than assertions. Because to a lot of us on the ground at the time (and we’re talking 3-4 years here, not 30-40 years), it sure seemed a whole lot like Upstream clearly intended to subvert the MLS.

    Go ask MLS executives. Many of them had lengthy conversations with their brokerages during that whole period, and changed the way they did business, the way they went about policies, and the way they listened to broker concerns **in order to avoid being subverted**.

    I’m not entirely sure why you’re trying so hard to make it seem like I invented some rivalry that didn’t exist. The rivalry existed, and still exists. I know it, you know it, MLS people know it, Alex Lange knows it, NAR people know it, MLS vendors know it, and brokerages know it. EVERYBODY knows the rivalry exists. Alex even talked about “Class V rapids” in his post announcing the CoreLogic partnership and how great it is that CoreLogic has these deep relationships. Why mention those things if the rivalry is something cooked up by Notorious?

    “This is a critical question, and essential to defining the difference between Upstream and an MLS. As the initial data input module connected to brokers’ multi-resource database (more than just listing data), Upstream could clearly be the single source of data input and initial point of distribution. But that doesn’t make it the single source of truth for the marketplace.”

    Then you talk a whole lot about transport and deciding where data goes and marketplace-wide funnel of data and brokerage feeds of data. And then about display. And you never answer the “critical question”: where will the data be stored?

    Do you know the answer for a fact? Then tell us. Tell me. I’m happy to be proven wrong, because that means I learned something new.

    Because when you quoted Amy Gorce of CoreLogic from her open letter, you left out a couple of key sentences:

    “The phase one launch in early summer 2019 will give you control over your listings….

    With Upstream, the agent can change their photo once with the Broker and it will be distributed to all authorized recipients. Upstream delivers this same efficiency to any data it stores.”

    Do tell us more about this “any data it stores.” Would that include listing data or not? Because that’s the crux of the matter here. If you know for a fact that CoreLogic-Upstream would use its (soon to be coming) Add/Edit module to add listing information into the MLS database, then pull it down as needed for distribution using Trestle, then tell us! Because that’s a completely different thing for the MLS than if CoreLogic-Upstream would add that listing information to its own database and then distribute it to the MLS.

    If you can’t see the importance of that distinction, then I am forced to conclude that it’s because you don’t want to.

    And your last paragraph… my goodness, Sam…. 🙂 You write: “I’m tempted to ask for less drama and speculation in those discussions.” Yet there’s all kinds of assumptions about what motivated CoreLogic to do this deal, what they get or don’t get out of it, what the principals and customers did and did not know.

    I do completely agree that clarity is essential to having this conversation without conspiracy. So tell us what you know. Use your power and influence (pretty sure you’re one of the most powerful 200 people in real estate, Sam) to get the principals to be transparent and provide clear answers to questions that a lot of people out here have, and won’t ask.

    -rsh

    PS: How much did you want to bet on this? “If I were a betting man, I’d put money on CoreLogic having the ear of its largest customers at all times and keeping them informed of strategic decisions that might affect their relationships.” Steak dinner at our next mutual conference? 🙂

    1. Love it–in reading your comments, there’s some common ground. I’m clearly discounting a PAG’s initial *bad idea* about a national MLS, because it’s in the past. I have little interest in revisiting or dredging it back up, but it’s a part of the back story.

      We should be able to separate it from today’s situation. There’s still discord, but Upstream is a well-defined product that does not take away the MLS’s position as the marketplace for listings—it just takes more control over a portion of the input/storage chain–*control*, as you’ve focused upon, and of which I don’t feel brokers need to apologize for desiring. They need it to create the efficiencies of more robust data input and storage that they’re not able to achieve in today’s MLS system—this is not disputed (I believe you agree).

      So we’re focused on where the data is stored. And again, I’d say, exactly where the brokers want it to be stored to make their businesses run as well as possible. I understand why that seems controversial to some, but that position is more about status quo than business strategy. Because it includes the MLS. It’s stored in Upstream, an individually-siloed broker database for each brokerage’s listings, customer, firm, vendor, etc. data for that brokers’ use. Its design—today—is intentionally non-competitive with the MLS database. Yes, there was a tumultuous period where TRA had a huge list of demands and claims of brokers looking for other options instigated a lot of conversations and changes. Upstream was a part of that conversation, but there was much more to it.

      The data–it’s delivered to an MLS listing database for the purposes of the collaborative cooperative environment. Brokers, by and large, depend on the MLS for their livelihoods. This MLS database is more powerful than the broker’s database for these purposes. The brokers are not trying to secede. They’re asking for efficiency, and the MLS is only one (very significant) component of their data needs.

      I wish I were as powerful as you’ve stated, but I have to wait for these organizations to reveal their contractual details like everyone else. So let’s try to finish the question of where data is stored. All that really matters is the permissioning. MLSs agree that it’s the brokers’ data. If the listing data simultaneously goes from an Upstream input module into the MLS database and the broader data set into the Upstream database–based on the broker’s instructions–is everyone satisfied? Even if the data flows to Upstream’s database, then to the MLS, when authority/permissioning is done right, it seems to render the data’s initial location moot. There’s no lag, and it’s always been the broker’s decision where to send data. This is just more efficient.

      Brokers control the Upstream database with their individual brokerage data and the rules under which they deliver it to other sources. MLSs control an aggregated database of broker-fed listings data, with the rules of the brokerage cooperative applied for further usage (which brokers agree to as participants). Neither of these data sets has superiority in these states as they serve different purposes and their permissioning restrictions give them distinctly different values.

      I’ll take my steak medium rare—whether or not I’m paying. ?

  3. Between the articles by Rob and Sam, I have a much better understanding of the subject. Thank you both.

  4. Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

  5. As it relates to Upstream, here’s an historical comment that may be the most fitting. “Other than that Mrs.Lincoln, how was the play?”

    Upstream was launched as a result of “the finger” given the brokerage industry with regard to their demands made on the MLS industry. While Upstream may have been derailed by poor leadership, a lack of funding, the absence of technology and a legacy of “political interference” from organized real estate, there is no question that the brokers still demand change. And that change in the fundamental way the MLS operates and in what they do now – or do not do.

    I think of it this way. Other than fulfilling and assuring its core mission – to host compensation and cooperation amongst fierce brokerage competitors – the MLS should stand down on all other data management activities. That is the key. For the MLS to essentially cease and desist from meddling in the broker’s business and through its actions other than fostering a platform for compensation and cooperation, to stop leveling the competitive broker playing field.

    The old and the new Upstream do not assure this for the brokerage industry. In contrast, Upstream only assures the continuance of the commingling of these core data functions with the MLS with no allowing for the brokers to truly have the last say.

    Once the broker’s data is placed in the MLS dB, all of that control is literally lost.

    Fact. As long as the MLS industry continues to expand its role in the brokerage industry, the brokers will continue their search to contain or ultimately replace it. And a company that serves the MLS industry to the extent that Corelogic does now, will never be a party to such a solution.

    Think about it. If Corelogic had not jumped into the Upstream game now, what do you think would have happened to its core MLS business when the broker’s eventually opted out of the MLS for a truly viable alternative?

    Upstream. Neutered once by the NAR, and neutered yet again, this time by the very clever Corelogic.

    Advantage MLS.

    1. While I don’t always agree with the conclusions, Ken, over time I’ve come to enjoy your (relatively) pithy writing style. Thanks for the feedback.

  6. The real estate industry leaders are continuing to concentrate in themselves and in their power.They don’t get that new technologies are being developed to replace them, as we speak. In the eyes of the consumer, Keller Williams, Re/Max,cold well bankers, they are all the same real estate agents who wants to sell real estate. Majority of consumers want to save money in the process and to get superior professional services. If you can not compete you are out of the game. Put the consumer first in your minds and not the real estate agent or brokers.

Comments are closed.