Three of the largest multiple listing services in Wisconsin announced a real estate data-aggregation plan that will allow most brokers in the state to share their property listings information with other participants and display property listings information from other participants on their own Web sites.

The Wisconsin Real Estate Exchange, dubbed WIREX, is a major step toward a statewide data-sharing system — WIREX participants will invite the other nine MLSs operating in Wisconsin to join the system early next year, according to Kevin McQueen, a real estate consultant hired to assist the effort.

WIREX is one in a series of MLS data-sharing efforts that have been announced in the past year. Several Realtor associations and MLSs in other states have also taken steps to aggregate MLS data. The California Association of Realtors is studying the potential for creating a statewide MLS database or statewide MLS, for example.

Members of the planned WIREX system, which is expected to launch in mid-2008, include Milwaukee-based Metro MLS, with about 8,000 members from 11 local Realtor associations; Madison-based South Central Wisconsin MLS, with about 4,000 members; and the Realtors Association of Northeast Wisconsin MLS, with about 2,070 members.

The Wisconsin Realtor Association sparked the data-sharing discussion with its support of a statewide survey in April that gathered input from 2,300 association members in the state.

Participants in the WIREX system will support offers of compensation and cooperation across MLSs.

Two of the MLSs participating in WIREX maintain public-facing property-search Web sites, though no plans have been announced to consolidate these sites or consolidate the shared data at the individual sites. “They have not discussed a combined public site as of yet, but it is on the agenda for a future business meeting,” McQueen said.

Data shared among the MLSs is expected to include active listings and sold, pending, expired and withdrawn properties from the past three years. Documents, photos and public records will also be integrated into the data server, which will be compliant with a popular real estate data exchange standard known as RETS.

The founding three MLSs represent about 75 percent of all MLS members in the state, and will govern and manage WIREX with support from technology vendor Metropolitan Regional Information Services.

McQueen said that WIREX costs “may vary by participating WIREX MLS and no external costs to the members are anticipated in the short term.”

Integral to the sharing agreement are Internet Data Exchange (IDX) rules that spell out how members of the three MLSs can share property information with other WIREX participants and incorporate other participants’ data at their own Web sites.

The statewide survey of Wisconsin Realtors, conducted by McQueen’s Focus Forward consulting firm, found that 90 percent of the respondents favored a statewide property listings database and a single source of IDX and other downloads to support their Web sites.

Brokers often have been the driving force behind MLS data-sharing and consolidation efforts, as they seek to eliminate the need to join multiple MLSs and pay multiple fees while complying with a variety of rules and data standards.

Some MLS officials have referred to the problem of overlapping MLS and market boundaries as “overlapping market disorder.” McQueen said that surveys have shown that the drive toward data aggregation is not just a big broker issue, as some smaller brokers also work in market areas that cross MLS boundaries.

Besides the 12 MLSs in Wisconsin, McQueen said there is also potential for other MLSs outside of Wisconsin to join up with WIREX.

K.C. Maurer, president-elect for the Realtors Association of Northeast Wisconsin, said that participation in WIREX is intended to provide the association’s members with “further reach of information … and can provide further reach for other Realtors within the state.” He said that overlapping MLS boundaries have not been a major issue for members of his association, and he estimated that fewer than 5 percent of the group’s members also were members of other associations.

The cost of WIREX will be paid for through an increase in monthly MLS fees, he said. “We quite honestly hope that this is not just the initial three (MLSs to join),” he said. “We’re really looking in the future to provide services for additional MLSs within the state.”

Corey Scholtka, a flat-fee real estate broker in Delafield, Wis., said today that consolidating statewide MLS data is a good plan, and he hopes that the participating MLSs will maintain and improve their public-facing Web sites. “What I would like to see is that they combine the different MLS Web sites into one site and make it statewide,” he said. “I think the majority of small companies would say, ‘Let’s spend some money on these sites and enhance and improve them.”

Scott Frinak, broker for Wisconsin Real Estate Brokerage Inc. in Beaver Dam, Wis., said he also supports the concept of a statewide MLS database. “I think it would be a great asset for most brokers. I’m in favor of it and I think it’s a good thing.”

He said some agents at his company list and sell properties in neighboring counties and property information in those areas is not always easy to access. While there may be local customs and rules in different markets, Frinak said “it doesn’t make sense anymore” not to share property data on a more regional basis.

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