A group of Realtors in Cincinnati is fighting a recent decision by the Greater Cincinnati Multiple Listing Service to eliminate public access to home listings on the MLS Web site CincyMLS.com starting Jan. 1. The group says the move is a loss for consumers and smaller brokerages that rely on the exposure they receive from the site.
At the center of the controversy is the online display of listings information. Some brokers prefer to display their listings on their own Web sites, while others would prefer consumers find them through a comprehensive MLS site.
Sandra Butler, president of the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors, said the decision was made because many brokers already display the majority of MLS listings on their own Web sites through the broker reciprocity program that was adopted about four years ago.
“The broker sites are able to display the majority of the MLS listings on the market, which eliminates the need for a public Web site,” Butler said.
Consumers looking for homes will be able to visit a broker Web site to browse for-sale listings. But protestors say consumers won’t find as comprehensive list of homes as was provided on the MLS Web site, and that they’ll have to go to several sites.
A list of links on the Cincinnati MLS Web site shows 65 brokerages that display listings using broker reciprocity. The listings displayed on broker Web sites in Cincinnati account for about 73 percent of active and pending listings on the market, according to Butler. The MLS Web site, CincyMLS.com, currently has about 15,000 home listings.
After learning the MLS board of directors voted to eliminate home listings from the site, a group of some 100 agent and broker members held a meeting to discuss how they could stop the action. The group plans to call a referendum by petitioning to have the decision voted on by all MLS members before it goes into effect on Jan. 1.
Butler said they’ll need at least 10 percent–or 420–of the total 4,200 member signatures to call for a vote, and they have 90 days to present petitions to directors. If successful, they’ll later need a majority vote from MLS members opposing the elimination of listings display to stop the action.
The decision to close down the Cincinnati public home search function follows a similar move in Chicago this summer that eliminated the city’s MLS Web site ChicagoMetroRealEstate.com. In Chicago, the elimination of the public Web site was part of a list of demands made by large brokers in the region who felt that the site directly competed with their own Web sites.
A similar move reportedly was being discussed in Northern Kentucky Realtors, but that association has not passed a decision or taken action, and the home listings feature is still live on the MLS Web site.
Ed Rothenberg, a local broker with Ed Rothenberg Realty in Cincinnati, is one of the MLS members organizing the opposition efforts there. He believes that erasing home listings from the public Web site will impact the business of the some 250 smaller brokerages in the region by decreasing their visibility and giving the eight or nine large brokers who have large listings sites a marketing advantage.
Consumers aren’t guaranteed that all the MLS listings are displayed on broker Web sites because brokers can choose not to display certain listings. This makes the playing field uneven in Rothenberg’s view.
“All these private (broker) Web sites have the right to control what companies go onto their sites,” Rothenberg said. “For example, if they don’t like Ed Rothenberg Realty, they can exclude me and I’m out of business.”
Rothenberg operates a small brokerage with three sales associates and himself. He said if the first attempts to block the directors’ decision aren’t successful, the group may consider legal action.
“The sad part is this public Web site we have for Cincinnati is incredibly wonderful and friendly–it’s so easy to get onto it,” Rothenberg said. “It’s a neutral playing field for everybody.”
The original motion made in July in Cincinnati called for the entire public MLS Web site to be shut down, but an amended motion was passed to only eliminate access to property information. Areas of the site that will remain available to consumers include Realtor directories, school and neighborhood information, mortgage information and a directory of open houses, according to Butler.
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