Navigating success in the real estate industry with Merri Jo Cowen

As the CEO of the third-largest MLS in the U.S., Merri Jo Cowen knows a thing or two about building a successful career in real estate. In this episode of 'It's Closing Time', Cowen shares how she climbed the ladder at Stellar MLS, why giving back is critical to Stellar's mission, and what Stellar's partnership with RentSpree means for its member agents.


May 21, 2024

3 min read


In this episode of ‘It’s Closing Time’, RentSpree CEO Michael Lucarelli, speaks with long-time real estate expert Merri Jo Cowen, the CEO of Stellar MLS. Stellar MLS is the largest multiple listing service in Florida and Puerto Rico and is the third-largest in the U.S. Stellar MLS that has more than 84,000 members. 

With over 40 years of experience in the industry, Merri Jo enlightens listeners with how she started her career and climbed her way up to Stellar MLS, sharing key insights into what makes her company successful. She speaks about the importance of giving back, what the company’s initiative (Stellar Cares) is doing to make a difference, and sheds light on Stellar MLS’ newest partnership with RentSpree. 

A peek Into Merri Jo’s career path

Merri Jo originally started off as a property manager in San Diego, later joining the Institute of Real Estate Management to become an accredited residential manager. When she relocated to Reno, Nevada, she began working part-time for the Reno Sparks Board of Realtors managing data listing entries. Eventually, she became the MLS director at the Board of Realtors, which is now the Reno Sparks Association of Realtors. When the company formed a regional MLS in Northern Nevada, she had the opportunity to build the organization from the ground up. And later, when an industry professional approached her about coming to Florida to head up the Mid-Florida Regional MLS which is now Stellar MLS, she hit the ground running. She has been the CEO ever since, and just recently celebrated her 15th anniversary in 2023.

Episode Highlights

When Michael asks Merri Jo what got her hooked on real estate, she makes it clear that it’s the people, connections, and her curiosity. She explains it like this: “I had no idea what a realtor was or any of those things, so that is part of the experience. Then just getting to meet the members and getting to interact with them was really a pivotal thing for me. But I think the true hook, I guess, and the connection would be when I started getting to go to and be involved in other industry meetings and organizations so that I learned more, I learned more about the national picture or what other MLSs were doing, and got excited about all of those changes and things that were coming. So that was one of the pivotal parts of my career moving forward, was getting to really understand what the realtor association and what the MLS did.” 

During the episode, Merri Jo mentions that not only does she appreciate the networking aspect of real estate, but also the mentors she had along the way and the knowledge she’s gained from them. “Once you get to meet other people that are doing what you do, it just really motivates you to continue to learn more and share more,” Merri Jo says. 

When asked what the key is to being successful and what her strategy is for how she’s able to create a culture that delivers amazing service to subscribers, Merri Jo gives listeners some valuable advice to take with them: “We want to provide our customers [who we call our members with] customer service and really have an impact in their business. We always look to that first before we make any decisions.” 

She adds that “We have built a really, I think, amazing culture over the last few years with inclusiveness. Everybody works together because we all recognize the value that we bring to Stellar as a team. [We] have a team that is committed to the organization that feels truly valued, that what they do is valuable, that's helping the organization. Without that solid foundation, we couldn't be successful. We can't deliver great customer service, we can't deliver great products if we don't have team members that know how to work with vendors.” 

Merri Jo goes on to say that the company also makes sure their culture and level of care translates all the way to board members and board directors. They’ve intentionally structured the company to make sure all members have an equal voice. “We invest a lot of time in education and helping them understand the MLS market versus what they might've been used to before in managing, being on a director for a local realtor association because they're different.”

In terms of what makes the markets that Stellar MLS covers with their footprint so appealing, Merri Jo attributes it to this: “I think there's an attraction to Stellar because we offer so much to the different markets. We have the ability to offer what they might need or things that they haven't experienced or had access to in the past. And [we have] the ability to draw in new association shareholders that want to focus on what they do best on the association side and let us take care of their members on the MLS side with all of the options that we have to offer them.”  

Final thoughts

Towards the episode's closing, Michael and Merri Jo dispel misconceptions about MLSs and speak about what true value they provide. They also dive into Stellar MLS’s data sharing mindset and the importance of giving back to the community. Consider listening to the episode to find out more about the company’s  philanthropic initiative, Stellar Cares, and what they’re doing to really make a difference in all communities—from homeless coalitions, to schools, food banks and more.

To listen to the full episode, click one of the links below:


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