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Georgia MLS and First MLS adjust to COVID-19 reality

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While agents and brokerages continue to move forward with innovations like curbside closings, online notarizations and video home tours, multiple listing services across the country also have been working to help ease the coronavirus’s impact on the industry.

Georgia MLS, which has 41,639 members, recently announced it is suspending the monthly $100 broker office dues from April through June. GMLS also reduced the monthly appraiser fee by 50% to $22.

John Ryan, chief marketing officer for Georgia MLS, said the reduced fees aim to help provide relief while brokerages work their way through a tough market, adding that their majority of broker members run small offices with 10 agents or fewer.

The MLS also is offering tools aimed at helping agents keep their business going while maintaining social distancing standards. Those include transaction management online forms, e-signatures and internet-based search platforms, webinar and video training highlighting virtual tour functionalities and online continuing education. Georgia MLS also extended its on-hold provision for listings to 28 days. The provision typically allows sellers to take a property off the market for only seven days before it is removed from the MLS.

Georgia MLS also is offering a special COVID-19 stipulation document, which legally allows buyers and sellers to extend the date of the transaction. The forms are also available through Georgia Association of Realtors. “It’s so people aren’t writing contracts on napkins,” Ryan said.

He added that they have been monitoring transactions closely through the pandemic and the good news is that pending listings have dropped off only slightly, showing that there is a continued interest from sellers. “That shows buyers aren’t backing out,” he said.

First MLS also is offering new services to its members, most notably the ability to provide virtual tours of properties directly through the MLS. Jeremy Crawford, President and CEO of First MLS, said in a recent webinar by RE Technology that FMLS was under no government mandate to remove open house listings, but they wanted to support agents by implementing the virtual open house technology. “We want to support the ability to show homes no matter what,” Crawford said.

Victor Lund, founding partner of MLS consulting firm WAV Group said that a lot of MLSs have “very quickly” created ways for buyers to experience virtual showings. He noted that these efforts had to be coordinated with services like Zillow, which typically strips URLs out of listings. “It shows how incredibly talented our MLSs are at not only trying to figure out how they’re going to operate but to deliver solutions for agents to show and sell homes,” Lund said.

WAV Group published a blog post highlighting suggestions made at a recent meeting of the Council of MLS. The Realty Alliance, an association made up of the top nation’s largest real estate firms, proposed a list of 18 recommendations for MLSs to consider, including reconsidering days-on-market listing rules and reducing or waiving some fees and penalties, among others. “We thought the list would be helpful to get out as a good conversation starter,” Lund said in a telephone interview.

Denee Evans, CEO of the Council of Multiple Listing Services, said her organization represents 220 of the roughly 550 MLSs across the country — that accounts for about 85% of the market, she said. “How can they continue to make the market work safely and responsibly? People are still going to have to buy and sell homes in this crazy upside-down world,” she said.

MLSs need to maintain their position as the gold standard for information in residential real estate, Evans said. “The changes I’m seeing are super exciting; I’m seeing MLSs evolve and innovate to support members in this new reality,” she said, noting that virtual tours and open houses and added opportunities for training are among the innovations she’s seeing at MLSs across the country. She said some of these technologies were already being used by agents, but the pandemic has put the trend into high gear. “This is the fast-forward button,” she said.

Prior to the outbreak, Evans said MLSs were preparing to hold meetings with brokerages across the country to spread the word about the upcoming pocket listings rule implemented by the National Association of Realtors. Instead of visiting offices, they’re now meeting with real estate folks through virtual meetings, a workaround necessary for the industry that goes beyond agents simply showing houses. Evans said she believes that many of the changes MLSs, and society in general, are making now are likely to become the new standard.

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