WASHINGTON — Real estate trade groups the National Association of Realtors and the Council of Multiple Listing Services have decided to join forces to hash out the future of the industry. The two groups announced they had signed a cooperative agreement at NAR’s midyear conference last week.

  • The National Association of Realtors and its affiliated MLSs have sometimes been at odds over the years. A new cooperative agreement between NAR and the Council of MLSs has set out to change that.
  • The partnership includes adding CMLS members to NAR committees, establishing programs for "game changer" initiatives and MLS mergers, and working together on future projects that affect both NAR and MLSs.
  • NAR and CMLS say they will work together for the mutual benefit of agents and brokers.

WASHINGTON — Real estate trade groups the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the Council of Multiple Listing Services (CMLS) have decided to join forces to hash out the future of the industry.

The two groups announced they had signed a cooperative agreement at NAR’s midyear conference last week.

The partnership includes adding CMLS members to NAR committees, establishing programs for “game changer” initiatives and MLS mergers, and working together on future projects that affect both NAR and MLSs.

Dale Stinton

Dale Stinton

“NAR has always wanted to have an open exchange of ideas and information with its MLS partners. The vast majority of our local associations conducts or partners with those that conduct MLS activities,” NAR CEO Dale Stinton told Inman News via email.

“NAR had no organization to interact with that spoke collectively for those in the MLS community; we believe CMLS has grown and matured to the point where the exchange of issues and information can now be very productive and have credibility.

“We are very excited about this new commitment to work more closely together.”

“No money is changing hands between the groups; this is a partnership built on a common interest to serve Realtors,” Stinton added.

The partnership is in effect now and “will stay in effect as long as both parties find the relationship to be useful and beneficial,” he said.

Rick Harris, chair of NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee, made the announcement at the conference.

“We’re here to plan the future that we want,” Harris said.

“It’s exciting because many times we’ve been at odds. This is a formal way to sit together [and] join together … to re-intermediate Realtors and keep us at the center of the transaction,” he added.

An uneasy relationship

In a presentation to Realtor association executives — many of whom were also MLS executives — at the midyear conference, Stinton lamented that some “negative talk” had crept in between NAR and MLS executives and, without naming names, he quoted some association and MLS executives who had said things such as “The MLS policy people at NAR are stupid” and “I hate NAR.”

But Stinton assured attendees that for every one of those messages, he got 10 messages from other execs saying those people didn’t speak for them.

“NAR, for 25 years, has been a sponsor of CMLS. Somehow in the last three years, they’ve really gotten their legs under them and they speak with one voice,” Stinton said.

“We’re going to do everything we can to share a positive voice … for anybody that is a family member, they are a part of this voice.”

CMLS has 178 MLS members representing more than 1 million agents, brokers and other real estate professionals across the country. Of those 1 million-plus real estate pros, most are likely to be members of NAR, which itself has nearly 1.2 million members.

“I think if we can all work collaboratively, we can do a lot better job for all of our customers,” CMLS President Kathy Condon told conference attendees.

MLSs grew up as a sort of subcommittee attached to associations at NAR, CMLS Past President Shelley Specchio told Inman.

“MLSs overall have been a little bit siloed, not part of the overall conversation,” she said.

“CMLS sees itself as bringing everyone to the table. In order to have all the stakeholders at the table, we needed to be there, too,” she added.

Specchio pointed to a seemingly simple question asked Thursday morning by a member of NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee who was not an MLS executive during a discussion about a policy change: How will this policy change impact MLSs?

“That would have never happened a few years ago. The fact that that member asked that of the MLS operators was poignant,” Specchio said.

“There was a time when [MLSs] wouldn’t have actually been consulted to what it would actually take technologically [to implement a NAR policy change]. That shows the change in mindset.”

For CMLS, the partnership means the MLS perspective will be part of conversations about industry changes from the beginning, making MLSs “proactive” rather than “reactionary.”

Denee Evans

Denee Evans

“If we’re already part of the conversation, we don’t have to back up and delay the vote. We’re baked into the recipe,” CMLS President-Elect Lauren Hansen told Inman.

What’s in it for agents?

“Excellence,” CMLS CEO Denee Evans told Inman. MLSs are always considering how they can help agents be more productive and MLSs can spot technology-related “trouble points” and bring them to NAR “before people are really angry and frustrated,” she said.

“We’re in the customer service business. Just like the subscribers that we work for are in the customer service business,” Hansen said.

What the partnership entails

  • “NAR will add three CMLS members (CMLS will recommend five to NAR) to the MLS Technology and Emerging Issues Advisory Board.” This advisory board recommends actions to the Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee, which in turn recommends actions to NAR’s Executive Committee and board of directors, for changes to NAR’s MLS policies.

    On Saturday, the NAR board approved the MLIP Committee’s recommendations regarding licenses to listing content entered into the MLS.

  • “NAR will add one CMLS member to the Association Executives Committee (CMLS will recommend 3 to NAR).” CMLS estimates about 75 percent of MLSs are run by Realtor associations. This committee is made up of association executives and also makes policy recommendations to NAR’s Executive Committee and board of directors.

    The CMLS members appointed to this committee and the MLS advisory board will represent CMLS, not their own MLS. “These seats are going to represent the industry. That’s a shift that’s never happened before. Those people should be able to provide a broader perspective. It’s like a senator. You represent the people back home,” Specchio said.

    On Saturday, the NAR board approved additional “core standards” requirements for Realtor associations.

  • “NAR will add 2 CMLS members to the AEI (Association Executives Institute) curriculum group (CMLS will recommend four to NAR). NAR and AEI Leadership will cooperate with CMLS to conduct CMLS Best Practices and other such MLS presentations and educational offerings as deemed appropriate.”

    The AEI offers an annual professional development conference for local and state association staff. CMLS members will help develop a curriculum to help association executives develop leadership skills specifically for MLSs, according to CMLS.

  • “Sometime in the future, NAR and CMLS will jointly propose a ‘game changers’ program for MLSs similar to what was done with local associations 4-5 years ago (a program and fund to pay for creative big ideas that MLSs would like to pilot.)”

    In 2010, NAR gave $1.4 million to 14 local associations that came up with “innovative, game-changing ideas for new products, programs, processes or services.” The program helped earn Stinton an Inman Innovator of the Year Award.

    The game changer program is designed “to find ways to leverage our intelligence, our capabilities and our member dollars for our mutual benefit,” Harris said.

    The program will push MLSs toward innovation while still meeting member needs, Evans said.

    “It’s about helping to provide solutions, [being] forward-thinking. How do we deliver excellence today while still looking forward to what the long-term vision of where our industry is going,” she said.

    Anyone with a gamechanger idea should email info@councilofmls.org, CMLS said.

  • “NAR will facilitate an annual meeting among NAR Leadership, CMLS Leadership, and members of the Large Brokers community.” Who will represent the “large Brokers community” has yet to be decided, but this is “our way of saying, ‘Let’s not live in a silo with NAR and CMLS’ and bring more perspectives to the table,” Hansen said.
  • “NAR and CMLS will establish a program (and funding) for exploring and executing on potential MLS mergers and consolidations.”

    When asked by an MLS exec to explain this program, Harris said, “Merger is probably not the right first word there because the idea is collaboration. The idea of the program is to create four or five case studies to show how MLSs across the country have successfully worked together to provide better services for their members. That can take many, many forms.

    “That could be a shared database or a shared lockbox system. The concept is that if we can show MLSs the variety of ways, when they’re ready we can show the variety of tools that are available today.”

  • “CMLS will be invited to give a report to the NAR Executive Committee twice a year at the two business meetings. NAR will be invited to give a report at CMLS board and/or business meetings.” This is about making sure the two organizations are communicating with each other, according Evans.
  • “NAR and CMLS will work together to give input to the Upstream and AMP (Advanced Multilist Platform) projects.” How they will provide input has yet to be determined, CMLS said.
  • “NAR and CMLS will work together on future potential product/project discussions that affect NAR or MLS organizations.”

The partnership was approved by NAR’s leadership team and CMLS’s board of directors.

“This is a partnership that’s long overdue,” said NAR President Tom Salomone at NAR’s board of directors meeting on Saturday.

David Charron, CEO of mid-Atlantic MLS MRIS, called the partnership “a watershed event.”

“I think this is the first time we’ve been invited into the conversation. I think that is Herculean,” he said.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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