Judith Lindenau led the effort to create a statewide property database in Michigan while avoiding big costs, major political snags, and operational gridlock from conflicting multiple listing services rules and standards.

Sound impossible?

Actually, it isn’t so complicated, said Lindenau, executive vice president for the Traverse Area Association of Realtors. And that’s the point. “We built a simple search engine,” said Lindenau.

“It seems to be something that’s very good for members: To do a single search and at least find available properties. We stay away from (MLS) business rules and we stay away from everything that gives people grief,” she said.

While some states have worked to create regional or statewide MLSs with formal business rules, the Michigan database is a way for MLSs to pool property information at a single place while preserving the traditional roles of MLSs — namely to facilitate cooperation and compensation among members.

The Traverse association operates the Northern Michigan MLS, which has about 845 subscribers, and there are several MLSs that cover properties in the region, said Lindenau. “If you want a summer cottage on the Lake Michigan shoreline you can probably go to six or eight MLSs. We’ve got an inland lake here that is covered by five MLSs, so that’s frustrating for everyone,” she said.

The database, called MIPDQR, or Michigan Property Data Query for Realtors, is intended to improve property searches for members of participating MLSs.

Lindenau said a technologist at the Traverse association began working on programming for the database about eight months ago, and the first Realtor boards and MLSs joined the system about three months ago. MLSs representing more than half of the Realtors in the state have joined or made commitments to join the database, and the database is accessible through existing MLSs systems.

Database creators consulted with managers for the statewide MLS in Maine, the Main Real Estate Information System Inc., Lindenau said. There are also statewide MLSs in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, for example, and the largest MLS in the country is MRIS, a large regional MLS with about 59,100 members that serves the greater Washington, D.C., area.

Also, large groups of MLSs in California have been working to consolidate or share data on a large scale, the California Association of Realtors has participated in discussions to form a statewide MLS, and the National Association of Realtors has formed a group that is pondering the future of the nation’s MLS system.

At this time there is no consumer access to the system, Lindenau said of the Michigan statewide database.

“We decided we’d just start with a tool for Realtors,” she said. “We just have some huge areas where people have to belong to two or three or four MLSs to even begin to cover their market area. We don’t intend to replace that — we may make it less crucial. Our idea was not to be a competitor, just to provide that adjunct search capability that just didn’t exist.”

There is no offer of cooperation or cooperation via the database, and standardized real estate information for several dozen data fields can be viewed in the system, along with photographs. “The whole idea is to find something you really want to use and then call somebody,” Lindenau said.

So far, the Traverse association and Michigan Association of Realtors have supplied the bulk of the support for the database, and Lindenau said committees will be forming to represent member Realtor groups and database users. Eventually there will be a cost of perhaps $2 to $3 per member per year to access the database, she said. “It would be a program … of the state association. We’re trying to keep it as absolutely simple and uncomplicated as we can.”

She added, “We’re pretty excited about this. This is a very doable member service we can offer at a very low cost.”

The MIPDQR system uses the Real Estate Transaction Standard, a common language for communicating real estate information among data centers.

Doris Nurenberg, the executive officer for the Flint Area Association of Realtors and director for the association’s MLS, said the MLS is in the process of joining the database effort and is working to make its property information RETS compliant. That process should be completed within about a month, Nurenberg said.

“It’s a win-win for everybody who I can think of,” she said. The Flint association’s MLS has a progressive strategic plan, adopted in 1999, that promotes data sharing agreements with other MLSs, and the association has forged many such agreements with area MLSs to help its members search for properties in a wider area. But property searches with partner MLSs can be cumbersome for members because they may require separate searches on multiple systems. The statewide database, though, can expedite these searches, she said.

“The way we’ve done it so far — you have to log out and log in (of the various systems) and cannot see data in one spot,” she said, while the database “is a beautiful way for everybody to log in and see what’s listed. It is just designed for data flow and data delivery.” The Flint association has about 1,200 members.

Nancy Merdzinski, executive officer for the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors, which also has about 1,200 members, said her association has been involved in the database effort from its early stages. “We really see it as kind of a grand experiment,” she said, “an opportunity to step away from our rule-bound MLS and cooperate with sister organizations to see what we can create.”

Members of the Ann Arbor MLS, she said, “are unsure of the value at this time because they have so many resources available to them currently,” and the Ann Arbor MLS already participates in several data-sharing agreements with other MLSs.

The association does have a role in facilitating new business opportunities for its members, she also said. “I think there’s no question that the traditional MLS is in transition.”

Lindenau said that a next step in the evolution of the database is to allow individual brokers to share property information with the database even if MLS is not a participant. Real estate technology vendor Threewide Corp. is creating a tool to help brokers pull listings information from MLSs and supply that information to the MIPDQR database, she said, and that function is expected to be available in March.

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