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Interview with an MLS Executive,
 Merri Jo Cowen

An Interview with an Merri Jo Cowen, My Florida Regional MLS

By John Peretz, Real Estate Technology Writer

MLS Executive Merri Jo CowenTell us a little about My Regional Florida MLS (MRFMLS)?
“Well, we’re Florida’s largest multiple listing service (MLS) with over 32,000 members now in 13 central and southwest Florida counties. We cover most of central Florida, about 300 miles in all. Membership wise, this is our lower part of the year. We’ll probably end the year with closer to 33,000 or 33,500 members.”

What’s the real estate market been like in Central Florida?
“It’s a hard to be too specific because our market area covers such a huge footprint, but overall we’re definitely seeing the recovery, slow and steady as it may be. Sales are just slightly down for the same period last year, but we think we’ll probably exceed those numbers by the end of this year. Market time is dropping, and we only have five months of inventory where before we had eight or nine. The best news is that we’re seeing some really good increases in the average and median prices, so even though there may be fewer sales, the prices are starting to climb. But you have to remember, prices dropped significantly and no one expects them to go back to the high point, but now we’re starting to see a recovery, a little bit at a time.”

When do you think your market hit bottom?
“It was probably in late 2010, or early 2011. That’s when we saw the prices dip the most, but now they’ve been consistently climbing ever since then.”

There’s been a lot of consolidation in the industry, hasn’t there?
“You know, some, but not enough. There is a lot of buying power and savings to be recognized with larger organizations and resources to provide enhanced services. We strive to provide the best service to our members and shareholders. You have to make sure that everybody’s comfortable with everything. There are challenges to consolidation – but when everyone is ready to come to the table, things happen. There needs to be more consolidation but it’s a process. You know, we’ve been fortunate; we added two new shareholder associations about a year ago with about 6,000 new members, and a new customer earlier this year. We are very excited to grow and add to our current 15 shareholders and 3 customers – we are proud of what we have to offer and look forward to new opportunities. I definitely think we’ll see more consolidation across the country.”

How do you think technology has affected the market?
“When I first started, there were no photos, everything was printed out on fax paper, listings were hand written, and we manually entered everything. Look where we are today, and who knows where we’ll be in a few more years!

The Internet has totally changed the way real estate is being done. Electronic lock boxes, showing and scheduling from within the MLS, all of these technologies have really changed the way our members do business. A lot of the newer members don’t really seethe drastic changes, they just expect technology and that’s what we deliver.

Technology is a great partner for Realtors, and that’s what my job is. But I think you have to careful not to get too wrapped up in the technology, and forget that it’s still a personal face-to-face business. Take the technology, and maximize it. But if members get caught up in playing games with their iPad and downloading every app and forget to go out and meet their clients and customers technology can also be a problem.”

What are you seeing in terms of mobile devices? Are you seeing a lot of iPhones and iPads and Androids throughout the industry?
“Yes, smartphones, iPads and tablets are really taking off. With mobile, the future is now. Everything’s going to be built that way, and also on flexible, web-based platforms that are extremely mobile. That’s how consumers are going to be doing business and mobile opportunities for real estate professionals will help them work in tandem with the varying needs of potential buyers and sellers.”

So having an online forms product that is iPad compatible is beneficial?
“Absolutely, it’s huge. Anything that members can do on their iPads or their tablets is great.”

What technology package do you include as your member benefit package?
“My first ‘Oh, oh story’ was when Roger Smith was the Chairman of GM, and he put his house up for sale with a big note on the documents that said ‘Do not multi-list’ and I didn’t know what that meant. And I put it out there for the world to see. I only made that mistake once because that was a big one.” “We provide the Instanet Solutions package that includes TransactionDesk™, online forms, DocBox™, DocBox2Go™ and InstanetFax™. We include everything except electronic signatures as part of their annual fee, and even then we’ve got a very good price for those that want to subscribe to that.”

What has your experience been with Instanet Solutions?
“”Excellent. They’ve been great partners. They’ve always been very responsive. They have the same vision as we do – making sure the product is really good and stable, and easy to use. They stand right up there as one of our best partner relationships.””

What are you seeing in the area of eSignatures?
“I see some growth there, and a need, and we provide those options to our members. I think what holds our members back from adapting it as much, is that some of the institutions that they deal with won’t accept electronic signatures. So when more of the financial institutions catch up with the rest of us, I think that’s when we’re really going to see the adoption increase. It’s not the buyers and sellers, or even the agents. It’s that there are certain banks and mortgage firms that won’t accept eSignatures yet. We’re looking forward to that changing and making it easier for everyone.”

Instanet SolutionsAbout Merri Jo Cowen:

“Merri Jo Cowen is the CEO of My Florida Regional MLS (MRFMLS) and was recently named one of the most 100 influential real estate leaders by Inman News. Ms. Cowen also serves on the “MLS Issues and Policy Committee” for the National Association of REALTORS,® is the Past President of the Council of MLSs (CMLS) and is the President-Elect of the MLS Domains Association.”

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