A Los Angeles-based referral site with more than 200,000 overseas property listings is expanding into the U.S., with exclusive partners in seven states so far.

The International Multiple Listing Service (IMLS) calls itself a "commission share platform" that offers all agents and brokers a free, unbranded search widget for their websites.

The IMLS tracks when a search through the widget leads to a sale, and takes a referral fee from the listing broker. IMLS then shares the referral fee with the agent who placed the widget on his or her website.

"Everything is tracked, and no work is required by the agent with The IMLS search to earn a share of the commissions," said Daniel Nussbaum, founder and CEO of The International Realty Inc., which created IMLS. "You cannot drive a client to Italy or write the agreement. The Italian agent cannot drive to your area and write an agreement."

Screen shot of IMLS search widget on Real Living Five Corners website.

Agents and brokers can prevent listings in their own market from appearing in the widget’s search results in order to complement agents’ own Internet Data Exchange (IDX) property search, he said.

"The IMLS search has an ‘exclude’ feature so a USA agent (or) broker can exclude their local county or state, and still have all the other listings from across the USA," Nussbaum said.

"Listings in Florida or Virginia can be sitting on agent (or) broker sites in (New York), and everyone can earn a share of the commission."

The International Realty Inc. is a licensed California brokerage that first developed the search platform in late 2008, and after testing and buildup, officially launched it as The International MLS in late 2010.

IMLS features more than 200,000 property listings in 45 countries and more than 300 new home developments in 25 countries. In addition to displaying listings on its own property search site, theinternationalmls.com, IMLS syndicates listings to about 300 international real estate portals.

The biggest portal IMLS syndicates to is Realtor.com International with whom IMLS has signed a three-year agreement, Nussbaum said. IMLS’ non-U.S. listings have appeared on the portal since July 2012, he said.

What differentiates IMLS from third-party portals that don’t charge referral fees is that IMLS is a true "broker to broker" platform where all leads go back to the listing broker, Nussbaum said.

"All listings have been taken by direct broker-to-broker agreements with agreed upon referral commissions," he said.

"The IMLS will never advertise another agent or broker on someone’s listings page. Never," he added.

All U.S. listings must first be entered into their local MLS and have an MLS number before being manually or automatically uploaded to IMLS by the listing broker or their agent.

"The IMLS mission is to bring together all of the property listings and agents from all over world in a global commission share, as well as to put back the power of the listings and the real estate industry back into the hands of the listing broker," Nussbaum said.

IMLS made its first foray into the U.S market in October through a preferred partner program. The company first chose target markets and then focused on reaching out to large brokerages with good reputations in those markets, Nussbaum said.

Only one brokerage may claim a county or area through the program. There is a $175 setup fee for the first county claimed and $25 for each additional county. Brokerages subsequently pay monthly fees starting at $50, depending on the county’s size and demographics, among other factors.

Preferred partners obtain exclusive licensing rights to use the IMLS logo and brand in marketing materials in their area to attract home sellers and recruit agents. Preferred partners get all home seller leads in their county or area derived from IMLS marketing efforts or the IMLS website.

Sample postcard with IMLS branding.

Partners get all area buyer leads from IMLS that do not inquire about a specific property and all buyer leads that inquire about their own listings in exchange for a 25 percent referral commission from the buyer’s side, Nussbaum said. 

IMLS shares that commission with any agent that generated the initial client inquiry from the IMLS widget on their own site. IMLS pays U.S. brokers, on behalf of agents, 25 percent of what it receives; international agents generally receive 30 percent — the exact percentage varies broker by broker, Nussbaum said.

For example, in the U.S., if a buyer pays $200,000 for a home, a 6 percent full commission would be $12,000. IMLS would get 25 percent of the buyer’s side of the commission: $1,500, with the remainder going to the listing agent. The agent whose widget originated the sale would get 25 percent of the $1,500, or $375.

"All leads go to the listing broker, so that broker starts working on behalf of that buyer," Nussbaum said. "The listing broker then has a chance to make both sides of the commission, minus the 25 percent from the buyer’s side, so netting 87.5 percent of that 6 percent."

Preferred partners are also guaranteed to have their listings on IMLS for free for a minimum of three years. Though premium or enhanced listings are currently not available on IMLS, the site plans to roll them out once the preferred partner program has become widespread.

"In this initial period, only Preferred Partner listings will be on the platform except for those few previously taken," Nussbaum said. "It simply cannot be an international MLS without taking all listings from USA brokers who choose to participate. However, those brokers who come on and become Preferred Partners at this point will have benefits that others simply won’t have in the years ahead."

Thus far, eight brokers have signed on, the latest of which is Chestnut Hill, Mass.-based Hammond Residential Real Estate, a Real Living affiliate with 16 offices and about 400 agents in the Greater Boston area. Hammond is the 66th-largest real estate brokerage in the country by 2011 sales volume, according to the latest figures from Real Trends.

The others are Real Living Five Corners covering Westchester County, N.Y., and Fairfield County, Conn.; Prudential Verani in New Hampshire; Prudential Preferred Denver in Colorado; Prudential Gammons Realty in Rhode Island; Downing-Frye Realty in Naples and Fort Myers, Fla.; First Hampton International Realty in The Hamptons in New York; and Coldwell Banker Dolphin Realty in Tampa, Fla.

Real Living Five Corners has been an IMLS Preferred Partner for about two months. The brokerage has 35 agents and three offices. Real Living is now part of a new franchise brand, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, operated jointly by HomeServices of America Inc. and Brookfield Asset Management.

"Providing our clients a bigger market than our competitors is just one of the advantages to our offices," said Jonathan Lerner, owner and broker of record at Real Living Five Corners, in a statement. 

"This competitive advantage is so substantial that in our Greenwich, Conn., location alone, three seasoned agents with over 50 years of experience (collectively) joined the firm upon learning of the partnership with The IMLS, adding to our bottom line an estimated $500,000 (gross commission income)."  

In a statement, Saul B. Cohen, president and founder of Hammond Residential, said the Greater Boston area is very attractive to highly mobile international executives, particularly those based in Europe.

"Our new affiliation with The International MLS will make detailed information about our seller clients’ luxury properties available to these potential buyers," he said.

IMLS does not yet have a similar Preferred Partner program in other countries, though it plans to explore that possibility in second-quarter 2013, Nussbaum said.

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