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Fargo's FBS, national leader in its real estate field, makes its first acquisition

Michael Wurzer, CEO of FBS, talks Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, in the company's Fargo headquarters about how their products are used by the real estate industry. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 2
A view of a multiple listing service (MLS) powered by Flexmls, a piece of software created by FBS, a Fargo-based company. FBS / Special to The Forum2 / 2

FARGO—A Fargo business has made its first acquisition, a move that aims to empower homebuyers while offering more tools to customers.

FBS, 3415 39th St. S., might not have high brand recognition among the average resident—but locals have likely gotten help from the company's nationally recognized work over the past 39 years, even if they didn't realize it.

FBS was started in 1978 by Paul Wurzer and became known for creating a piece of software to help real estate agents collaborate and share the latest information about available properties. The software was online, though how it was used was quite different than today.

President and CEO Michael Wurzer, Paul Wurzer's son, who joined the company about 20 years ago, said his father created online transaction processing for a local financial institution in the 1960s. He started his own company about a decade later, primarily working with banks and hospitals until the Fargo-Moorhead Area Association of Realtors asked him to automate the process of publishing lists of available properties.

Back then, agents flipped through the latest book to find houses or check their published listings. Wurzer said FBS still does that work—it's just that now, Realtors and brokers search online databases of listings rather than flip pages.

"We help real estate agents share and analyze listings I think is probably the easiest way to put it, and they do that on any device, any time, anywhere," he said.

Cooperative competition

FBS is one of the American real estate industry's three largest providers of multiple listing service, or MLS, technology. The company created the Flexmls system, which is software used by an MLS.

It's technical work, but numbers can help illustrate just how big the company has become.

The primary customer of FBS is about 155 individual MLS groups across the country. Each community has its own MLS, such as the local Fargo-Moorhead MLS.

The company is known for its Spark Platform, an application programming interface (API) that Wurzer said allows for innovation by FBS and other providers.

"It's not about this fancy bobble or this new feature," he said. "It's about the long-term infrastructure of how do you make sure that the technology investments they're making really are future-proofed."

Wurzer said FBS represents about 220,000 agents across the country, while the MLS organizations it counts as subscribers reported 1.2 million sales totaling more than $380 billion last year.

While the other two firms leading the industry have been "static," Wurzer said FBS has more than doubled its market share in recent years, something he attributed to its technological strength as well as its status as an employee-owned company.

All those efforts have a goal, and that's to help agents and brokers from different real estate firms cooperate to ensure accurate, relevant information. An MLS gets data from subscribing agents who upload details about individual properties, as well as other information like county tax records, flood zone mapping and walk scores.

Wurzer said it's "miraculous" that competitors work together like this, something that only happens in real estate in the U.S., Canada and a few other countries.

"It's one of the reasons our real estate market is so robust," he said.

FBS recently acquired Solid Earth's Spring software platform, a first for the company that Wurzer said will allow an individual MLS to create a consumer site where house hunters can search before they've signed on with an agent. Its work was previously focused on the "known customer," when someone had already picked a Realtor.

As part of the acquisition, FBS also hired on the five-person Spring team who will work remotely from Huntsville, Ala. FBS has about 100 employees, with about a third working remotely.

Business profile

What: FBS

Where: 3415 39th St. S., Fargo

Phone: (701) 235-7300

Online: www.flexmls.com

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is the Features Editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He previously wrote for The Forum and the Grand Forks Herald.

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