Even as the California Association of Realtors pursues a statewide real estate data-sharing effort that could evolve as a statewide multiple listing service, regional collaborations among multiple listing services are pushing forward with their own plans.

Even as the California Association of Realtors pursues a statewide real estate data-sharing effort that could evolve as a statewide multiple listing service, regional collaborations among multiple listing services are pushing forward with their own plans.

June Barlow, general counsel for the state Realtors trade group, said there has been "overwhelming response, covering most of the state," from association leaders who represent most of the MLS subscribers in the state.

The approval was conceptual, she said, as the plan for the statewide initiative is still developing. Association directors in October approved the creation of a statewide database that would allow associations and MLSs to choose whether they want to use the new database in place of their MLS database or in conjunction with their existing database. The directors voted to create a nonprofit corporation to oversee the development and operations of the database and MLS system.

While MLS collaborative efforts are cheered by some in the industry, as they may reduce or eliminate the need by real estate brokers and agents to join multiple MLSs, pay multiple fees, enter data multiple times and comply with multiple standards — such efforts do have critics. Some have questioned whether the California Association of Realtors-driven initiative is competing with other MLS-driven and broker-driven efforts and whether its adoption will be quick and efficient, for example.

In the past week, the association completed the acceptance of nominations for governance of the statewide plan, Barlow said. "Our next step is to get our board of directors in place," she said, and the association will also seek proposals for vendors to build out the new system.

"Before we were in the exploratory phases. Now it’s pretty clear this is going to happen. Our operating assumptions are the costs to the members should be the same or less overall and it will give them better technology," Barlow said. "Our main objective is to make sure that members’ lives are made easier and to remove duplication where possible."

She noted that some regional MLS data-sharing and consolidation efforts already exist in the state, adding that the leaders of the statewide effort will certainly give consideration to the work that has already been done. "The bottom line is we’re going to do what’s best for the members overall," she said.

Directors for a regional MLS data sharing and standardization effort that stretches from Southern California to Northern California, dubbed CARETS, announced last week that they plan to implement a large-scale collaboration between several MLSs before the end of the year. That effort will create a single database of property listings, standardized data definitions and rules, and single MLS membership for subscribers of several Southern California MLSs that have about 115,000 total subscribers.

Participating MLSs include the Combined Los Angeles/Westside MLS, CRISnet Regional MLS, iTECH MLS, MRMLS, and Southern California MLS. MLS Listings Inc., a Northern California regional MLS that has about 23,000 subscribers, has also announced that it will partner with the CARETS effort, said MLS Listings CEO and president Jim Harrison.

"It’s not hard to do, it’s not complicated, there are no technology barriers. It’s just proof that the MLSs can work together," Harrison said.

Russ Bergeron, CEO for Southern California MLS and a CARETS director, said the goal of CARETS is to create "a common database and make that available to each of the individual MLSs so their users can have access to the full pool of listings, and at the same time not have to learn a new system and not have to be retrained."

A common complaint among the region’s MLS members has been that rules may vary from one MLS to another. CARETS, he said, will ensure common rules for the online sharing and display of property listings among participating MLSs and common enforcement.

Participation in multiple MLSs was also a big issue for the region, Bergeron said. "And as brokerages expand their geographic range, "it makes a whole lot of sense to get (MLS) access to as many areas as possible" without the need to join multiple MLSs, he said.

By the second quarter this year there are plans to roll out common Internet Data Exchange (IDX) rules for the sharing and display of MLS participants’ property data with other participants, and by the third quarter or early fourth quarter all of the MLSs systems should be fully integrated into the CARETS collaborative, he said. "One day, customers will log onto our system and won’t notice the difference — (except that) they’ll have a whole heck of a lot more listings to look at."

Bergeron said that there are "differences of philosophy" between the CARETS approach and the California Association of Realtors initiative. "We feel that at the MLS level we have expertise — we have been doing this for years," he said.

He also noted that the many collaborative efforts already under way in the state collectively represent a large share of all of the state’s Realtors.

"We’re a little further along than (CAR)," he said.

Ed Krafchow, president of Prudential California Realty and a board member for MLSListings, said he has always been in favor of a statewide MLS consolidation in California, though he is unconvinced that the CAR plan is the best solution.

"The California Association of Realtors has never been in the MLS business," he said, and he questions whether the initiative "is actually creating another layer of problems." Some MLSs, in waiting for the CAR initiative to evolve, may actually delay regional consolidation, he said. "This (process) could go on for months and even years and what we need is consolidation now."

MLSListings, formerly known as NCREX, had originally sought to consolidate a handful of San Francisco Bay Area MLSs, though so far only two MLSs have consolidated. Two other MLSs that had participated in the formative stages of NCREX announced that they have signed a letter of intent to participate in the CAR initiative.

Other MLS data collaborations in California include MLS Alliance and Quattro.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com, or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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