Many Realtors can recall the days when they toted a book with printed MLS listings. That was their primary source of property information – the way they found out what homes were on the market. Some Realtors don’t have to recall those days because they still use the books.

While many Realtor associations across the country have phased out the books carrying property listings in favor of constantly updated computerized property listings that can be printed out or stored in handheld electronic devices, there are those who still find value in the printed books.

Joe Cundiff, vice president of sales and marketing for Offutt Systems Inc., which has published these MLS books since 1971, said, “By and large the books are definitely beginning to go away. Real estate is such a ‘now’ business. The handheld technology has gotten affordable.”

Cundiff said Offutt has about 75 accounts across the country for printing MLS books, and the books typically are printed every two weeks or every month. “Over the years (the MLS book business) really began to drop and that pattern will continue,” he said, and Offutt has begun to focus on technology-related services such as its browser-based MLS system, IDX and handheld real estate technologies.

Printing costs can be restrictive for those companies that only order a few dozen printed MLS books, Cundiff added. “There comes a point in time where it’s not feasible or viable.”

Over the years, associations using printed books have worked to condense the printed listings. “The listings had always been four to a page,” Cundiff said. “Then boards started going to six listings a page, then it went to nine, then some went to 12 – I’ve seen them do as many as 24 listings per page, so it becomes more of an index than it does anything else.”

Once in awhile, Cundiff said “we’ll get surprised” by a new order for printed MLS books, and printed books are still a significant part of the company’s business. The company also prints comparable books, which include reports of all of the sold listings in a given market, and these books “are still very strong and thriving,” he said.

Another major vendor of the printed MLS books is Interealty, which has printed them for over 20 years.

The Greater Augusta Association of Realtors will bid farewell to its printed MLS books at the end of this month. It wasn’t a difficult decision, said Becky B. Donner, association president. “We’re very relieved we’re doing it. It’s really a waste of paper.” Many of the association’s 1,000 members just toss the books into the recycling box when they receive them, she said.

“With the Internet and Palm Pilots and laptop computers, the MLS is so accessible to all of our agents. I don’t see the need to continue to have the printed book. And the costs of printing that book were becoming astronomical, considering how few agents were using the book. It just did not justify the cost,” Donner said.

Members who are attached to the books can print out the listings from a computer disc, she said. Association members had six months of notice that the books would be abandoned, she said, and the association is offering technology training sessions in January and February. “We have quite a few members who are using either Palm Pilots or laptops for daily (MLS) access,” she said.

Ira Tindall, past president for the association, said, “Personally, I still refer to (the book) periodically. Before they had a computer down at the board, that was the only way you could get the information unless you went to call the listing.” He added, “I keep it in my car. Sometimes I pull it out. It does help at times.”

At one point, the association abandoned the placement of photos in the printed MLS books in order to condense the listings information, and the twice-a-month books tend to carry about 3,000 listings per issue.

“I think the trend is to go ahead and do away with them because the technology is advancing so rapidly,” Tindall said. “I’d say, from what I can gather, maybe 25 percent (of association members) still use them. When it comes to preparing for showings, most of them use the computer.”

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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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