Editor’s note: The MLS is in crisis, say many large brokers, agents and industry observers. The cooperative organization plays an essential role in the U.S. housing market, matching buyers and sellers through the assistance of a Realtor. But cooperation has been replaced by acrimony, litigation and an uneasy migration to the Internet. In this three-part series, we look at some underlying problems causing concern for MLS members, what’s working and what’s not working. (See Part 1: What’s wrong with the MLS and Part 2: Chicago case study for MLS reform.)

Picture it: The some 800 local multiple listing services around the country consolidate and whittle down to one MLS per state. That’s just one vision of what the MLS may look like in years ahead.

A group of Realtors interviewed by Inman News envision a centralized, statewide organization that offers useful technology to agent members and consumers alike. Overall though, most agents said they are happy with the current structure of their MLSs.

The housing market depends on a smooth, functioning MLS that effectively compiles home listings data and redistributes it back to its real estate agent and broker members. But the struggles over politics, listings control and regionalization have made the future of the MLS uncertain. Observers now wonder whether the future MLS will be public or privately owned, consolidated or broken into even more local entities.

“I think they’re doing a really good job,” said Ira Serkes, a Berkeley, Calif., Realtor with RE/MAX. The Realtor, who is on the board of directors of his MLS, said he has no problems with the existing system, which works smoothly for him.

“But the key issue is, I would like to see a centralized MLS so everyone has access to all the homes on the market,” said Serkes. “There should be one centralized database of all the homes for sale in California.”

As real estate becomes more regional and even global, the fragmented structure of the MLS causes problems for brokers and agents who work in multiple geographies with multiple MLS databases.

Serkes’ comments echo some of the concerns expressed by Ed Krafchow, president of Prudential California Realty. Krafchow, a member of 17 MLSs, described downloading all the data feeds from the MLSs daily as “living hell,” calling for a statewide MLS system.

On the agent end of things, Serkes pointed out, “The agent has to key in the same data twice, even multiple times if you happen to be in an area that overlaps several MLSs.” Additionally, consumers must search multiple places if they are interested in properties in overlapping MLS areas.

According to Serkes, “If you’re an agent, you have to search two different places to make sure you’re looking for everything for your client.” A statewide MLS would solve that problem, he said.

Serkes emphasized that, at the same time, agents should not try to assist clients in areas with which they are not familiar. “That’s a disservice to the client and could even be unethical if they are not familiar with local rules and regulations.”

Like Serkes and Krafchow, Lorelei Windhorn, a Realtor with Prudential Northwest Realty in Seattle, would like to see a more centralized MLS.

“It would be nice to be networked in some way to all the MLSs in our state,” Windhorn said.

Overall, Windhorn is happy with the MLS, she said. “It’s easy to work with.” Though she supports the idea of statewide networking, she said she has not had any problems in that area. “The Northwest Multiple Listings covers geographically just about all the areas I’ve needed,” she said.

Geri Sonkin, a Realtor in New York’s Long Island, praised the ease of working with only one MLS.

“We have just one MLS. Ours is Long Island, Nassau County, Suffolk County and Queens County. It’s wonderful because it’s all integrated,” Sonkin said of her MLS, which has more than 20,000 members.

The agent noted the MLS back-office technology, which she said makes all the area home listings available to agents and brokers from the smallest to the largest in the same way.

Agents having to work with multiple MLSs often have to worry about several different policies and procedures for viewing, downloading or uploading listings feeds because each MLS is different.


Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to janis@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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