A massive national property information database envisioned by a National Association of Realtors advisory group would be governed by brokers, owned by the Realtor trade group, and accessible to varying degrees by consumers, agents, brokers, appraisers and government agencies.

This so-called Gateway system could include information on all types of properties, including for-sale-by-owner and agent-represented active for-sale listings, said Gary Thomas, a Southern California RE/MAX broker who leads the advisory group.

Industry participants are demanding such a system to expand the property information at their disposal, whether it is within their community or in another state, he explained.

Thomas, speaking this month during an annual National Association of Realtors conference in Las Vegas, said there are some obstacles ahead and many details to be worked out in the Gateway proposal.

The association’s current agreement with Move Inc., which operates popular real estate search and marketing site Realtor.com and Move.com, would prevent consumer access to the Gateway, Thomas said, though he said the advisory group is hopeful that the agreement could be restructured.

“The (presidential advisory group) realizes that no consumer participation is permitted at this point under NAR’s current agreement with Move, but we’re hopeful that we can somehow get that set aside or get involved with that more deeply,” he said.

“We’re recommending that something be drafted so we can accomplish that.” He said, “It is apparent we don’t want to create something like Move.” The advisory group believes that allowing consumer access to the Gateway would be better than allowing property information “to be presented by others,” Thomas said.

While some Realtors who heard Thomas’ presentation questioned whether the Gateway would develop as a national MLS, Thomas said that is not the intent.

“The Gateway will initially be a national database with the potential to become a global database with real property information which could be enriched by data from other sources, including the MLSs,” he said. “It is going to be there for you to gather all the information possible residing on (a) particular parcel — historical as well as current”

He said, “This is not a national MLS. It could evolve to that at some point. If you wanted to make it that way, it’s up to you. It’s not our intent — but if that’s something you want to do, go for it. I won’t be up here doing that.”

Thomas also leads an MLS Working Group in California that is pursuing the creation of a statewide real estate data-sharing system that could evolve as a statewide MLS.

The national advisory group, formed in early 2006 to rethink the form and function of the MLS system, met in September and will meet again Dec. 3 to discuss and develop plans for the Gateway, and Thomas said the group may have a more formal business plan by May or November 2008.

The advisory group envisions the Gateway as a wholly owned subsidiary of NAR, though he said those details have not been determined.

“We felt at this point the Gateway should be a single entity and not the product of a series of agreements between existing entities, such as data-sharing agreements as you know them now. A single entity will be a more durable structure since the Gateway will have common rules and not have to build consensus among multiple parties before it can make its decisions. The Gateway, we felt, should be governed by brokers,” he said.

Also, the Gateway will likely be established as a not-for-profit entity with operations paid for through user fees. The Gateway “should not sell advertising to respond to pressures to earn profits,” Thomas also said, though there may be other revenue opportunities in the form of partnerships and the sale of trend data.

At its core, the Gateway will be a database of all properties, and each parcel will have a unique identifier, Thomas said. The second layer of data would include MLS-provided or broker-provided content, as well as tax information and information for for-sale-by-owner properties. If consumer access is allowed to the Gateway, consumers may be prevented from accessing FSBO data, Thomas said.

Another layer to the system would allow broker comments and interaction. The Gateway, unlike MLSs, would not allow the offer of compensation and cooperation, he said, “at least not initially.”

Also, the Gateway would have “property data analysis capabilities” and would allow users to track property appreciation trends, for example, and could show whether an individual parcel in the database has appreciated or depreciated over time. Also, the system would allow parcel-to-parcel comparisons and trends, Thomas said.

MLS participants would have full access to all content in the Gateway, while consumers, appraisers, government agencies and brokers who do not participate in MLSs would have more limited access to property information and would not be able to access MLS participants’ commentary, for example.

Information in the Gateway would be rated according to reliability, so that “information from a generally reliable source such as tax records or an MLS would have a higher reliability index as opposed to information provided by an agent or consume,” and opinions would be clearly flagged as opinions rather than facts, Thomas said. “No anonymous postings would be permitted whatsoever.”

Cameron Paine, CEO for the broker-run Connecticut Multiple Listing Service, a statewide MLS, addressed Thomas after his presentation: “I understand the goal of the Gateway but I do not understand the purpose of the Gateway. The goal is clear to have an overlay that has all the data, that has all the information, but why? And who is going to be using it? Also, how will the listing data be populated?”

Thomas said, “We think that there is a demand by practitioners wanting to have all the data they can, and having a database that has all properties throughout the country and is as deep and as rich as we can make it is only going to enhance the practitioner, whether they use it in their own community or they use it in looking up something for a relative in another state … to help them understand what’s going on in that different area.”

The advisory group is still working out a plan on how to get data for the Gateway, he said.

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