Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series looking at efforts to make MLS property information more widely available across market boundaries. Read Part 1, “Breaking boundaries in real estate data-sharing systems.”
Earlier this year, a working group formed by the Connecticut Association of Realtors appointed a board of directors to create a statewide multiple listing service.
There are 10 MLSs in the state, and all but one are run by local Realtor associations. If the statewide MLS effort succeeds, there will be a single data clearinghouse for MLS information in the state, so that all agents and brokers will have access to this statewide data rather than just local listing data, and won’t have to join multiple MLSs.
Connecticut is not alone in seeking to consolidate MLS data from several local MLSs; Realtor associations, brokers and MLSs also are wrestling with the issue in California. There are several existing examples of regional data-sharing agreements and statewide MLSs that provide agents and brokers with access to a large pool of property information.
While consumers already have access to a large body of property information online, agents’ and brokers’ access to more detailed MLS information is highly fragmented because of the hundreds of MLSs across the country, which each have unique fees, rules, ownership structures and data standards. Industry participants say that creating a seamless data-sharing system with uniform rules across market boundaries would eliminate a lot of headaches.
“I’m hopeful that we can get our vendor and first MLS up and running in the spring,” said Jerry Alaimo, broker-owner for Century 21 Alaimo & Corrado in Enfield, Conn., and president of the board of directors for the Connecticut MLS initiative.
Cost efficiencies, a single set of MLS rules, and a large pool of MLS property information are among the benefits in establishing a statewide MLS, he said. “It just makes good business sense economically, particularly in a state like Connecticut — it’s not that large.”
A non-stock corporation formed to support the establishment of the statewide MLS, which is intended to run as a nonprofit entity, Alaimo said.
“We’re in the process of moving around to associations, getting face to face with their leadership, and hopefully getting them comfortable with our representation. We’re trying to begin the process of getting associations to line them up and create some sort of turn-on date,” he said.
Some local Realtor associations and MLSs are worried about losing revenue if and when local MLS offices shut down as the statewide MLS gains momentum, he said. According to the bylaws of the statewide effort, local MLSs will retain a status as service centers and will continue to serve their members by offering MLS training and forms to members. Alaimo acknowledged that there “may need to be some realignment of their staffing.”
The statewide MLS plan has drawn some criticism because it is not affiliated with the Connecticut Association of Realtors, Alaimo said, adding that Realtor membership would be required in order to join the statewide MLS.
It’s very early in the formative process, and the new entity hasn’t yet identified an office location or MLS vendor. Also, there is the business of hiring a CEO and a lawyer.
“Even bigger than the politics of this thing is the funding,” Alaimo said. The proponents of the effort are seeking about $500 from interested company owners to help launch the enterprise. “We recognize that we’re not going to get … 100 percent acceptance level,” he said, though he said the effort should gain momentum as inventory grows in the system. “There’s more selling to do.”
The board of directors of the Connecticut MLS includes five members representing large brokerages, five members representing mid-sized brokerages, and five members representing small brokerages in the state, plus one non-voting member — John Bolduc, executive vice president for the Eastern Connecticut Association of Realtors.
Connecticut fortunately is a relatively small state, Alaimo said, adding that he is not envious of the proponents of an effort to establish a statewide information-sharing database in California. “I’m glad I’m not in California.”
In 1972, the tiniest U.S. state made a bold move, forming the first statewide multiple listing service, and this MLS continues to operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Rhode Island Association of Realtors trade group. The decision was way ahead of its time — and way ahead of the Internet, a major modern driver in bringing MLSs together to share property information over a broader area.
Susan Arnold, CEO for the Rhode Island Association of Realtors, which owns the state’s State-Wide MLS, said the creation of the statewide MLS was a logical step in Rhode Island. “A lot of people agreed it was a good idea for everyone. They saw success in the way it worked out.”
In 2001, State-Wide MLS in Rhode Island teamed up with MLSs in Massachusetts and Connecticut to establish a regional data-sharing agreement for MLS users, called Northeast Alliance. Connecticut has since adopted another technology platform but State-Wide MLS and the MLS Property Information Network of Massachusetts still continue their information-sharing agreement.
“It was done as a membership benefit. It was a pretty easy thing to do,” said Michael Letendre, CIO for State-Wide MLS. “We don’t share (MLS) access but we share the availability to put listings in each others’ systems. We are in constant conversation about moving into the whole of New England.”
The MLS Property Information Network of Massachusetts, which has coverage for most of the state of Massachusetts, formed in 1997 through the merger between two MLSs. Unlike State-Wide MLS, MLS PIN is a broker-owned, for-profit corporation and is not affiliated with a Realtor association.
Kathleen E. Condon, president and CEO for MLS PIN, said that the Massachusetts Association of Realtors had consulted members as to whether they supported a statewide MLS, and when the process stalled, brokers stepped up. “Finally, the larger brokers said, ‘If you people don’t do it, we will,'” she said.
The “mantra” of the MLS, she said, is “one set of forms, one database, one set of rules. That’s what we’ve continued to chant. We don’t want our customers to pay multiple fees to get the information they need.” Condon also said she expects to see more consolidation of MLS information in other parts of the country. “I would think there are trends (toward that) because that is what the end user is demanding — if we don’t give them what they want then they will build another mousetrap.”
New England is a hotbed for such MLS consolidation. In Vermont, the Northwestern Vermont Board of Realtors operates the Vermont Real Estate Information Network, the largest MLS in the state. In 1995, “members from surrounding Realtor associations requested use of (the board’s) well-established, computerized multiple listing service,” according to an online description.
In Maine there is the Maine Real Estate Information System, a statewide MLS that is a subsidiary of the Maine Association of Realtors. And the Northern New England MLS, operated by the Northern New England Real Estate Network and based in New Hampshire, has MLS information for properties in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts.
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