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A statewide multiple listing service in Connecticut this week launched a public property-search site that features about 31,000 property listings.

CTreal.com features interactive mapping for home searches including a drawing tool called "Sherpa" that allows users to define a specific home-search area on its Google-based mapping platform.

Connecticut MLS Inc., a broker-controlled MLS with about 13,000 members that operates the Web site, posts information about single-family homes, condos and townhouses, multifamily and commercial properties, rentals and land parcels at the site. Connecticut MLS is the official statewide MLS of the Connecticut Association of Realtors trade group, and CTreal.com is the group’s official Web site. The MLS began operating in February 2007.

Cameron Paine, CEO for the MLS, said that one of the first decisions of the MLS was to approve the creation of a public-facing property-search Web site. In March 2007, the MLS board began the process to create the Web site.

The decision was not without debate, though Paine said there appears to be industry momentum in favor of MLS-operated search sites. "I think there has been a sea change in the thinking of brokers and agents alike in that they now see a very strong benefit to the idea of a centralized source for their real estate listings," he said.

Some have argued that public MLS sites may compete with brokerage company Web sites for traffic, and a paper released by a real estate consulting group this month noted that industry professionals are divided on the topic while consumers say they appreciate such sites.

Paine noted the success of HAR.com, a public MLS search site operated by the Houston Association of Realtors that draws more traffic among the region’s users than all of the real estate Web sites combined, including popular national search site Realtor.com.

"While we hope to outperform Realtor.com, similar to the way HAR is doing it in Houston, we believe there will always be a value to Realtor.com," Paine said.

And just as the Houston Realtor group supplies MLS data feeds to Google Base, a free service that indexes the property information for its users’ searches, Paine said the Connecticut MLS also plans to feed participants property listings to that site.

The MLS is considering whether to send the property information to other third-party sites as well, he said. Zillow.com, Cyberhomes.com and Trulia.com are among the sites that accept bulk listings feeds for display to their users, as examples. MLS Property Information Network, a Realtor-owned MLS based in Shrewsbury, Mass., with about 30,000 participants, today announced a partnership to feed listings information to real estate valuation and marketing site Zillow.

While the MLS is weighing whether to offer listings feeds to other Web sites, Paine said that broker participants will have the ability to choose whether or not to allow their property listings to be displayed on those sites.

Likewise, brokers can choose whether or not to participate in allowing their listings to be displayed at the CTreal.com site, he said. "We’ve been very sensitive to the needs of our brokers, to provide the flexibility they want. If it doesn’t fit their business model, they are able to opt out."

There is no advertising displayed at CTreal.com, Paine said, and the Web site is provided at no additional cost to members.

Connecticut MLS will market the site mostly through online advertising, and there are also plans to advertise on billboards in the state and by wrapping some MLS staff vehicles in advertising that promotes the new Web site.

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