The largest multiple listing service in the country and a regional MLS are studying ways to cooperate and share resources, the groups announced this week, and they have invited other MLSs to join the discussions.

Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS), which has about 60,000 members in Maryland, Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia and parts of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, has entered into talks with Real Estate Information Network Inc. (REIN), a regional MLS in Virginia, to determine whether there is an opportunity to share content and copyright enforcement programs, among other resources.

There are other examples across the country of increasing MLS cooperation, consolidation and data sharing. In California, for example, several San Francisco-area MLSs are forming a unified MLS that will provide a common database and a single membership cost for its users.

Also, there is a trend in broker-members pushing MLSs to provide more seamless data exchange between MLSs and to make MLSs more efficient.

The MRIS and REIN discussion, meanwhile, is focused on far less extensive ties between the two entities.

David Charron, president and CEO for MRIS, which is governed by brokers and owned by 25 shareholder Realtor associations, said, “This is more about intent than it is about hard facts. There’s no road map and quite frankly nothing is out of bounds. We don’t know how far it’s going to go.” Staff for the two groups began formal discussions about six months ago on ways to work together. The intent of the effort is to be proactive rather than reactive in seeking MLS cooperation, he said.

“We’re not talking about a common database. It is more (about) cooperation and collaboration than it is toward building a common database. REIN and MRIS are both broker-governed. There are a lot of similarities in how we serve those brokers. We are talking about issues that are really of mutual importance. We are all faced with a lot of the same issues,” Charron said.

Providing a property-search portal that allows members to search both MLS databases is one possible area of collaboration, he said.

Art Zachary, chief operating officer of Rose & Womble Realty and president for REIN’s board of directors, said that the talks are “mostly focusing on ideas about streamlining processes such as license verification with the state, how to best communicate with large member groups, (and) sharing ideas about innovative training techniques,” among other topics. REIN is an independent broker-run MLS that serves about 560 real estate offices and 7,200 agents.

There is some overlap in the markets areas served by the two MLSs, and about 20-30 brokerages — including some large brokerage companies — are members of both MLSs.

“The trend is showing more firms are joining multiple systems,” Zachary said.

Charron referred to the overlap in MLS service areas as “overlapping market disorder.” He said he hopes that other MLSs in the region join the discussion, too. There have been preliminary talks with the Philadelphia-area Delaware Valley Real Estate Information Network (TREND) MLS, for example, and with a couple of others. “I think this announcement will certainly foster increased awareness and interest,” he said.

“For us to issue an announcement like this puts us and the directors and everyone else on notice. In the months ahead I think this will either become more formalized or will remain really loose,” he said, adding that the whole process may last six months or longer, with some key issues identified in the next eight to 12 weeks.

In a public statement by the two MLSs, Adam Cockey, a senior vice president for Prudential Carruthers Realtors, stated, “Our organizations believe now is the time to think outside the box. We have discussed areas of mutual interest regarding cooperation and collaboration and now we want to discover how far we can progress toward building a new model for MLS operation in the Mid-Atlantic region.”

The announcement also states, “As the real estate industry recognizes the … value of the Internet to the buying and selling public, it also recognizes that tightly defined real estate markets are no longer relevant. While the adage, ‘All real estate is local’ may still be true, it is evidence that consumers desire greater access to information prior to making the largest single purchase of their lives.”

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