Administrators for a group of multiple listings services, extending from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Central Valley, have hammered out an agreement to consolidate property listings and services, creating the largest MLS in the state and one of the largest in the country.

Clareity Consulting, a real estate services company, facilitated a planning session on Jan. 4-5 to bring all of the players together. Meeting participants included six MLSs: REInfolink, Contra Costa MLS, Bay East MLS, East Bay Regional Data, Central Valley MLS and the San Francisco Association of Realtors MLS. The MLSs cover 11 counties: Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Western Merced, and San Francisco. The MLSs now represent about 46,000 participants.

“(The) participants have agreed, in principal, to consolidate MLSs and standardize on a single set of business rules, a common database structure, and begin the process of merging into a single MLS system,” according to a Clareity announcement, and new standardized rules for the regional MLS are expected to be adopted by March 1.

The consolidated MLS will be phased in over the next two years, said Gregg Larson, Clareity CEO. The consolidation plan will establish a centralized property listings database for all members to access. Under the current system, Realtors in some cases must join several MLS systems to gain access to property listings in areas they serve, and different MLSs can have different sets of rules.

While the two-year timeframe for the transition to a single MLS is “very doable,” it’s also “very aggressive,” Larson said, given the size of the consolidated MLS. “It’ll be one of the top three in the country — it may be one of the top two” in terms of size, he added. Other MLSs may choose to join the regionalization effort during the course of the transition, he said.

The consolidated MLS will be owned by local Realtor associations and governed by real estate brokers, with representation from small, mid-sized and large brokerage companies. A new corporation has been formed, Larson said Friday.

So far, members have already agreed to a set of common rules, and various association and MLS boards will consider these rules over the next two months. A next step will be to create a common database and data standards so that all of the Realtors in the area can share and access property information through a single MLS source.

The interim governing board includes MLS and Realtor association representatives, and associations “will be backing out of day-to-day operations” once the formal board is installed, Larson said.

“Brokers have been rattling their sabers for years in the Bay Area. The brokers wanted this regionalization,” he added. “I think the MLSs and associations are now responding to this in a positive way, and many of the brokers in the Bay Area are going to be very happy about this.”

James Harrison, CEO for REInfolink, a Silicon Valley-area MLS with about 16,000 subscribers, said the group of MLSs have been meeting since November 2004. “We’ve gone through a lot of turmoil to get to this point. We’ve been having some difficult discussions for awhile,” he said. “I think we’re all surprised how much we accomplished.”

Harrison said REInfolink presented a study to other participants of the consolidation effort that detailed 15 success stories of MLS consolidation across the country. The study included details about the ownership and government structure of these earlier regionalization efforts, he said.

Larson said, “A lot of technology decisions will be made over the next 60 to 90 days. We have a lot of work to do on the technology side.” So far, the effort has focused more on the business, politics and structure of the endeavor, he said.

“This is a historic project and I think it will (encourage) further regionalization in California where there is more than just data-sharing. I think the MLSs in California are kind of uniting, and this is a huge example of it. The regional MLS operators believe they’re the best ones to deliver MLS services. A lot of them have been doing it for many years,” Larson said.

Larson said he would not be surprised if the Bay Area regional MLS grows to a membership of 46,000 to 70,000 over the next few years.

Harrison said it’s too early to know how the consolidation will impact the office structure of existing MLSs, though he said existing offices may continue to serve as training and service centers, as the consolidated MLS will cover a broad geographic area.


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