Association board meetings, conferences, MLS strategic planning sessions, broker offices… you name it; we’ve been there presenting the virtues of Upstream. Here are the twenty most common questions we received over the last six months. If you have a question not answered here, send us a note via the Contact page and someone will get back to amazingly fast!
What are the benefits of Upstream to brokerages of all sizes?
Upstream wasn’t made for the benefit of large brokers or franchisees only. Even a five-person brokerage will see value. There are two categories of benefits that Upstream creates; efficiency and distribution management. It’s true, larger brokerages gain more benefit on the efficiency equation than smaller offices, but both get significant benefit from the distribution equation.
- Single Entry Point: Listing information is entered not only in an MLS but portions of that listing are re-entered in numerous systems such as marketing vendor systems, internal accounting systems, intranets, etc. Our research has found examples where portions of a listing are re-entered over a dozen times! Additionally, 10% of all offices (not brokerages) list in more than one MLS concurrently. But it doesn’t stop there. How many sites are agent profiles entered? Imagine only having to update your profile in one place.
- Standards: Most of the MLS systems are complying with the RESO mandate. Vendors and internal systems, however, don’t have the same compliance requirements. Upstream exploits RESO Data Dictionary naming standards and even offers a “flat” RETS delivery format to ensure rapid adoption and integration.
- Beyond Parcel Data: Upstream is not a simple listing database. Our goal is to help brokers manage all of their data including contact/prospect data, transaction, etc. It houses parcel, roster and vendor information. Roster and vendor information isn’t typically managed by traditional systems and Upstream stores data from a parcel perspective. A “listing” is simply an event in time. We store all historical values of the attributes (i.e.; all price changes, etc.,) and non-listing information such as assessor data, owner information, etc. for use by the entitled vendor systems.
- Who, What, Where: We’ve made it easy for broker’s to maintain control of their data. They determine which vendors get access. They determine which records and which fields are provided. Finally, they determine how frequently the entitled recipient gets access. They determine this by the recipient (Imprev vs. Zillow vs. MLS vs. Franchisor). Brokers can choose to restrict syndication by their MLS to licensed practitioners (VOW/IDX) moving the exchange of value back in the broker’s hands.
- Agreements with Brokerages: Access to a broker’s data is an agreement between the brokerage and the recipient. Upstream is not a third party nor does it participate in data access or use agreements. Agreements already in place are maintained (broker to MLS timing requirements, etc.). Upstream is simply a better way to share the data.
- Immediate Entitlement: When a broker “turns on” a vendor, access is immediate without additional agreements with the MLS, etc. This is hugely beneficial to the larger brokerages. Let’s say a large brokerage (3,500 agents in 35 MLSs across nine states) uses a marketing vendor company-wide for Just Listed postcards. The minute they entitle the vendor, they have access to all listings across all 35 MLSs and nine states the brokerage operates. No other agreements are needed, and work can begin immediately.
- High Fidelity: The traditional syndication paradigm pushed data from the broker, through an MLS and then to a vendor. Often, that process requires data assets to be “downsampled.” Many MLS vendors have limitations on the number of photos and even the resolution quality. Upstream has none of those restrictions allowing marketing vendors access to the highest quality photos, videos, and tours.
What is the benefit of Upstream to an Agent?
The biggest benefit for an individual agent would be in marketing and profile management. Upstream ensures that the data and photos shared for marketing are of the highest quality without restrictions. Now your postcards, newsletters, single property websites, etc. can leverage unlimited, high-resolution photos and videos without you having to re-upload. As roster and profile features become available, you must only maintain updates in a single place.
Is Upstream trying to replace the MLS?
Upstream partners with and will NEVER replace an MLS.
- Upstream is a technology platform for real estate data. It doesn’t have features or a business model that supports all the functions of an MLS. Upstream is much closer to what Google Drive is for your files.
- Upstream’s Operating Agreement and NDAs with each MLS explicitly state it will never compete with an MLS.
- When possible, Upstream integrates directly into an MLS ecosystem. Users never need to leave their MLS in this scenario.
- The architecture limits a brokerage’s access and management to only their data. Even to replicate something as simple as IDX, every broker would have to be on the system and each broker must individually entitle every other brokerage.
Is there a setup fee for MLS’s or brokerages?
There is no setup fee. An MLS, however, handles their cost to integrate Upstream into their environment. Upstream provides a rich API interface allowing much deeper access to historical attributes such as price changes, etc. If an MLS leverages this data, their development effort may grow proportionately to its use. Alternatively, Upstream offers a “flat,” RETS-like format leveraging the RESO Data Dictionary standard names. Integrating this format would be similar to well-known data sharing implementations. Of course, there’s no need to budget for additional storage.
What is the ongoing cost for an MLS after setup?
Upstream does not charge ongoing fees to our MLS partners.
What is Upstream’s business model?
We are reviewing various revenue models and plan on publishing our decision at the end of Q1 2017. To be clear, this is far from a vague or ambiguous business endeavor. We simply don’t want to keep publicly changing the model as we tack back and forth into an optimal scenario. Here are some important facts we consider:
- We have committed not to bill until 2018
- This is a broker sponsored initiative and brokers will be ultimately billed
- We are mandated to be capital efficient and run at the lowest cost to ensure fees are as close to zero as possible.
- We may never make a profit using excess proceeds to improve the service or lower fees
- Our partners will bill us for operating the system in 2018. We will receive an estimate of our quarterly billing soon and will “back into” breakeven in our models.
- We originally evaluated a “per listing” model. However, Upstream plans to grow far beyond managing parcel data where buy-side only brokerages can benefit. We are evaluating additional models.
Are banks or lenders involved and will they have access to the data?
No. Only the broker can entitle access to their data. System users must be brokerages (and their representatives). There is a scenario where lenders are entitled vendors no different than a marketing company, but they will only have access to the data each broker entitles them.
Are there plans for derivative works and will you be selling them in and out of the industry?
No. Upstream accesses no broker data.
Will the agent be able to select where to share their listings, e.g. Realtor.com, BPP, or Zillow?
Once a listing is “under contract,” the brokerage is responsible and acts as a fiduciary. The brokerage determines the “Who, What, When” scenarios by vendor. They can allow their representatives to change entitlement but it remains at the broker’s discretion.
How will Upstream address intellectual property issues?
Upstream does not address IP issues. Access and data use agreements are between the brokerage and the entitled party. Upstream simply provides the platform for managed distribution. Again, it’s similar to Google Drive for your documents. You can share files and folders, and as the owner, you can revoke access. Google Drive doesn’t “police” the use nor access your documents. It simply provides the ecosystem for sharing.
Does Upstream require and enforce “fair display” rules?
Upstream does not enforce rules between the brokerage and the entitled vendor. Access and data use agreements are between the brokerage and the entitled party. Upstream simply provides the platform for managed distribution. Again, it’s similar to Google Drive for your documents. You can share files and folders, and as the owner, you can revoke access. Google Drive doesn’t “police” the use nor access your documents. It simply provides the ecosystem for sharing.
Can brokers use Upstream if an MLS doesn’t participate?
Yes. Upstream is working hard to build partnerships with every MLS. There may be times that an MLS can’t schedule the integration work in time to meet broker demand. Sometimes, an MLS may decide to wait to participate. In either case, brokerages can still use Upstream especially regarding the “distribution” benefit outlined in the first question in this FAQ. The dependency between Upstream and any MLS lies in fully optimizing the efficiency benefits (single entry). Some efficiencies will be gained especially for larger brokerages rekeying data in many systems, but they would still need to input listings in both Upstream and their MLS.
How is Upstream funded?
Upstream has two sources of funding through 2017: NAR and brokers, franchisors and networks across the country.
- NAR saw the benefit of Upstream to its members and is funding the fixed, sunk cost of system development and initial implementation through 2017. NAR funds RPR activity related to Upstream via their internal budgeting process. No funds from NAR pass through Upstream bank accounts.
- All non-RPR operations (Upstream salaries, travel, marketing, legal, HR, etc.) are funded by contributions from brokers, franchisors, and networks across the country.
Do you have additional openings for brokers in the pilot?
Each MLS and brokerage in the first pilot were carefully selected based on technical ability, desire to participate and creating as many “edge” cases to thoroughly test the system and processes. Our second pilot is reviewing seven additional MLS areas, and we are evaluating brokers in those markets. Please note these require a high level of engagement and flexibility. If you are interested, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org noting your brokerage name, size, and MLS.
As a vendor, how does my company work with Upstream?
We are only working with vendors used by our pilot participants. Signup for updates on this site to keep informed of new pilot brokers, etc. If you’re working with any of the pilot teams (or about to do a deal with one), send a note to email@example.com and we’ll setup a call.
How do I become a member of the Board of Managers?
Each of the current 22 board members is part of the founding team. Board members are never compensated and have term limits. Board member terms end in a staggered manner in 2017 when we’ll hold elections. Our operating agreement requires representation by all sizes of brokerages, so they are voted in by their peers. Peers are Upstream user/members that have purchased a “unit” and given voting rights. Each brokerage is only allowed one unit ($100) so not to create any barriers to entry, and so no member gains an advantage.
As elections are held, Upstream members will be notified with a call for candidates.
As elections are held, Upstream members will be notified with a call for candidates.
When will it be available in [enter your city here]?
The Upstream team is evaluating optimal deployment options. We will favor locations where both the brokers and their MLS is engaged. Brokers have great influence on our deployment so contact your local MLS and inquire when they will be ready to partner with Upstream.
Will Upstream expand into Canada?
Upstream is limited to the United States.
Why are there only two women on your Board of Managers?
Each of the current 22 board members is part of the founding team. As soon as term limits are reached, new board representatives will be voted in by their participating peers. There are no requirements to be on the Board of Managers except that you need to be an “ Owner or Executive Officer” of the participating member (user of the system and have purchased a “unit”) brokerage.
Where are you speaking next so we can learn more about Upstream?
Upstream representatives are typical at the national events (NAR, T3, Inman, RE/MAX R4, KW Family Reunion, etc.). Our CEO is often available to give personalized presentations if remote (GoToMeeting) or coincides with other travel. Additionally, Upstream will hold a monthly “Town Hall” on the 4th Friday of every month starting January 2017. Everyone and every question are welcome. Check the site for the next Town Hall registration.