Representatives for an assortment of Realtor multiple listing services operating in rural Northern California communities have banded together to discuss common issues, such as the rise of MLS data-sharing and consolidation efforts in the state.

Representatives for an assortment of Realtor multiple listing services operating in rural Northern California communities have banded together to discuss common issues, such as the rise of MLS data-sharing and consolidation efforts in the state.

Several MLS initiatives within the state and across the country relate to MLS consolidation or data-sharing, and the rural MLSs want to be well-informed about the changes, said Michael Straight, a broker for VIP Properties in Grass Valley, Calif., who is an organizer of the Rural Alliance group.

“It’s kind of like a horse race. It’s a very topsy-turvy world right now in MLS land, and nobody knows quite where it’s going,” he said.

Straight, a former president for the Nevada County Association of Realtors in California, had the idea for the MLS group a couple of years ago, and the group took shape about six months ago.

“Typically the rural associations don’t have a real strong voice at (the statewide California Association of Realtors) because everybody is isolated. We’re all rural. There was no real communication between the rural boards.

“I felt like if we could form this little political alliance and at least talk with each other and share, it would be easier to bring issues forth to CAR. It has already had a very positive response at CAR. I think people have noticed us,” he said.

Leadership for the California Association of Realtors trade group are considering whether to create a statewide MLS database or to lay the groundwork for unifying the dozens of MLSs now operating in the state.

An engineering effort is now under way to map out the variety of data fields used by MLSs throughout the state, and association officials are expected to vote in October whether to pursue a statewide database or consolidation plan.

Meanwhile, a group of 10 MLSs in Northern and Southern California have formed a massive data-sharing effort called the MLSAlliance that will serve an estimated 145,000 agents in the state, and a separate effort called the Northern California Real Estate Exchange, or NCREX, seeks to consolidate a group of four MLSs in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area.

While a variety of public-facing property-search sites such as Realtor.com, Google Base and Trulia offer up aggregated property information collected from a variety of sources, MLS participants do not always have easy access to property information maintained by other MLSs. Agents and brokers in some market areas may belong to several MLSs, which may have overlapping boundaries, different sets of rules and data standards, and require multiple subscription fees.

The California Association of Realtors’ effort has prodded the rural MLSs in the state to discuss the future direction of the MLS, Straight said. “We’re all being pulled into it.”

Straight said that even rural MLSs will feel pressure if most of the MLSs in the state participate in a collaborative effort. “If 90 percent join then there are not going to be any holdouts,” he said. “There are different formats being presented and different platforms, and we just need to ferret them all out. There will be some changes. We’re just trying to figure out which way the wind is going to be blowing.”

In response to the state Realtor group’s movement on MLS issues, the South Lake Tahoe Association of Realtors hosted a Tahoe-area MLS forum this month, said Sharon Kerrigan, executive vice president for that group.

“Our leadership felt it was really important to inform our members of what’s going on,” Kerrigan said. “We’re pretty isolated up here.” While Tahoe-area MLSs have not taken formal steps toward regional data-sharing or consolidation, she said that leaderships for the MLSs are “in an exploration and research stage.”

The South Lake Tahoe Association of Realtors’ MLS has about 500 subscribers, she said, and there are four MLSs that serve the Lake Tahoe region. It’s common for Realtors who specialize in lakefront property in the region to be licensed in both Nevada and California and to join multiple MLSs, she said.

W. Al Colhoun, MLS president for the Tahoe Sierra Board of Realtors MLS in Olympic Valley, Calif., said that his board is attending meetings and keeping abreast of MLS discussions, though “there hasn’t been the burning desire between the divergent groups to regionalize — not at this point.”

Straight said that the informal Rural Alliance group has about 16 members. The group’s first meeting was in Red Bluff, and they last met in June during the California Association of Realtors meetings in Sacramento. Some of the rural boards seem to have a “sense of urgency” about MLS changes taking place, while others are taking a wait-and-see approach.

While regional data-sharing is a topic of discussion among the members of the Rural Alliance, Straight said they have no formal plans at this point. “We’re just sitting back, trying to pay attention,” he said.

There is a great deal of geographic diversity in the rural communities of the state, Straight said, and some very unique issues that MLS subscribers face compared to those in urban areas. “How many cattle pastures and wells do they have in downtown L.A.?” he said.

While the Rural Alliance is intended to serve Northern California MLSs, Straight said the group has already attracted some interest from MLSs in other parts of the state.

“We’ve created such a stir that we’ve had some calls from other associations down the Sierras who would like to join us. I think there’s quite a bit of interest statewide and I don’t know where it will go.”

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