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by CareyBot

Citing confusion about the concept of “multiple listing service” and “MLS,” an Indianapolis-area Realtor board is phasing out those terms and redefining its own MLS as a “Broker Listing Cooperative,” or “BLC.”

The Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors, which has about 8,000 members, notified members last month about the change in branding and definition of its MLS to PropertyLinx BLC.

Some industry professionals question the need and motive for the change, though the board’s president said there is “nothing underhanded” about the effort, which is intended to “redefine who owns the service and who has access to complete information. It’s just defining what the information is for our members.”

Kevin Kirkpatrick, MIBOR president and owner-broker for Indianapolis-based Century 21 Realty Group Cos., also said he has heard “no real strong negative comments” about the effort. “We rolled this out 30 days ago. We had several meetings with brokers … large and small. They applauded the position.”

A MIBOR paper explaining the PropertyLinx BLC states, “The concept of ‘MLS’ has become misunderstood and outdated. The proliferation of free information has created confusion among consumers that what they see on public sites is the full detail of the Multiple Listing Service. The result has been a blurring in the public mind of what an MLS is and should be.”

The paper explains, “The content of the BLC is an asset of the membership and a hallmark of Realtors’ professional status. The individual data is owned by brokerages and is … not a public utility.”

There are many examples of real estate Web sites that advertise to the public that they can “search the MLS” or access MLS data, for example. Some MLSs have taken steps to prevent their own members from using such terms, stating that it could mislead consumers to believe that they are gaining the same kind of access to property listings information that is available to MLS subscribers.

John Slimak, owner and CEO for HomeChoice.com, a Fisher, Ind.-based real estate company, said he questions whether the name change is the first step toward more changes to the MLS.

Now, there is the issue of rebranding marketing materials and signage with BLC instead of MLS, and in explaining to consumers that the term MLS is no longer used.

“How do you tell the consumer we’re no longer the MLS?” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how this all pans out.” He said that he learned about the BLC after the change had been made.

A blog posting at AgentScoreboard.com, a real estate agent search and ratings site, questioned whether there may be other motives for the BLC than simply a name change.

Steve Sullivan, MIBOR CEO, said that the only restriction for members is that “they will not be able to use ‘BLC’ or ‘Broker Listing Cooperative’ in domain names, company names and URL names. The purpose for that is no broker or any agent can allow the consumer to believe that they are the cooperative.”

There is no fixed deadline for companies to rebrand the MLS as BLC in their signs and other marketing materials, he also said. “We’re making that flexible, so nobody is forced to pull it out of their pockets.”

Rebranding of the MLS has also been considered by a National Association of Realtors work group. The group’s MLS Internet Issues Work Group recommended, in a report presented earlier this year to NAR Board of Directors, that the association should develop a new brand or “identifier” to describe “that component of MLS that facilitates broker-to-broker cooperation and enables listing participants to make blanket, unilateral compensation offers to other participants.”

And the group also recommended the development of “a new ‘brand’ (including name and logo) that accurately describes those elements of MLS-provided content that consumers can access on participant.”

Some MLSs have passed rules restricting participants’ use of MLS terms in company names and URLs, and defining proper use of those terms. A group of real estate professionals and companies earlier this year settled an antitrust lawsuit filed last year against the Regional Multiple Listing Service of Minnesota over restrictions on the use of “MLS” and related terms.

The National Association of Realtors does not own the trademark for “MLS.” The term is a trademark of Major League Soccer.