David Barry, a San Francisco lawyer specializing in antitrust lawsuits against real estate industry groups, has filed a ballot initiative with the California Attorney General’s Office that seeks to establish a statewide residential multiple listing service that is “open to the public and realty agents alike,” according to an announcement this week.

 

If established, the “open MLS” would likely serve over 170,000 users, making it three times larger than any other MLS in the nation.

 

The announcement stated that the initiative seeks to guarantee that the public will have “free access to all sale and rental listings, along with the right to freely download the entire MLS with no copyright restrictions.”

 

MLSs serve as data hubs for real estate property listings information and other agent-specific information that is relevant to property listings. There are more than 800 MLSs in the United States.

 

The proposal comes at a time when state real estate industry groups are studying ways to open up access to the dozens of MLSs in California to all agents. Real estate agents and brokers in some cases must join several MLSs in their operating areas in order to gain access to all MLS listings for those areas.

 

There are exceptions to that rule – a group of MLSs in Southern California and in the San Francisco Bay Area have formed partnerships where agents can get access to regional MLS listings without necessitating membership in all MLSs in that region.

 

But industry politics have complicated the process, as MLSs worry that a statewide MLS-sharing agency could lead to staff reductions and might allow agents from all parts of the state to compete in other markets outside their area of expertise that have been dominated by agents native to those areas.

 

Data ownership and control issues also come into play here, as brokers may seek to pull their companies’ listings out of an MLS system if they do not feel it represents their interests.

 

To qualify for the ballot, supporters of Barry’s initiative are required to gather 373,700 signatures, which are usually obtained through signature firms at $1.50 to $2 per signature. The qualifying cost is estimated at close to $1 million, according to the announcement by Barry’s law firm, Barry & Associates.

 

Barry also announced the sponsorship of a competition for an “open MLS” operator. Bidding opened on Dec. 21 for the operator of a statewide MLS system, and closes in 21 days.

 

“Wealthy bidders might find the expense worthwhile,” the law firm said in a statement. “Since MLS system costs run $7 per user per month or less, even a low-bid offer of $20 could achieve gross profits of over $25 million per year in California. If the open MLS expanded to the nation, as planned, gross profits could exceed $100 million per year.”

 

The initiative and bid rules may be obtained from David Barry, Barry & Associates, Pier 9, Suite 112, San Francisco, CA 94111, e-mail david@barryfirm.com, (415) 398-6600. The initiative is expected to be posted on the Web sites of the California Attorney General and Secretary of State within several days, the law firm announced.

 

Sealed bids must be physically delivered to David Kirstein, C.P.A, Rossmann MacDonald & Benetti Inc., 3838 Watt Ave, Suite E500, Sacramento, CA 95821, (916) 488-8360, fax (916) 488-9478, e-mail dvk@rmb-cpa.com, along with a bid fee of $1,000, payable to Rossmann MacDonald & Benetti Inc., prior to bid opening at noon Pacific Time on Jan. 11, the announcement states.

 

Bids may be no less than $20 per subscriber per month, and no more than $50 per subscriber per month, and bids that qualify or condition the bid will be rejected, the law firm also announced.

 

All bids must be in sealed bid form, with the name, address, phone number, and e-mail address appearing on the outside of the sealed envelope, and the bid inside the envelope containing the name, address, phone number, and e-mail address of the bidder, the bid, and a signed statement certifying that the bidder will, if declared the winner of the competition, operate the open MLS according to the terms of the Open MLS Act.

 

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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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