Supporters of a ballot initiative proposal in Maine, who sought to create a statewide public multiple listing service, have canceled their petition drive for lack of financial support, said David Barry, a San Francisco lawyer who supported the effort.
Barry, who has engaged in a series of antitrust lawsuits against Realtor groups throughout his career, in 2005 launched a similar petition drive in California — that effort also failed to gather enough signatures to qualify as a ballot measure.
Barry established the nonprofit Open MLS Institute and a separate group called Trust MLS, to support the establishment of a new nationwide MLS system.
The current system of local, regional and statewide MLSs is dominated by Realtor-affiliated MLSs. Maine already has a statewide MLS, the Maine Real Estate Information System Inc., which has about 5,800 subscribers. That system is a subsidiary of the Maine Association of Realtors trade group.
Many Realtor-affiliated MLSs require participants to be Realtors, while the Open MLS supporters seek to establish a system that would be accessible to all home sellers and real estate licensees, whether or not they are Realtors.
Barry has waged several legal battles against MLS rules that say MLS participants must also be members of the National Association of Realtors.
The state Realtor group had collected a special assessment of $200 from each member to actively oppose the Open MLS initiative and also to assist the association with other legislative and regulatory efforts, including issues related to home inspections, wildlife habitat and drinking water.
A representative for the Maine Association of Realtors was not immediately available for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The Trust MLS Web site had earlier stated that the Open MLS initiative in Maine was intended for the November 2007 election, though supporters hadn’t collected enough signatures by the Jan. 25, 2007, deadline for that election.
Barry said that about 55,000 validated signatures were required to qualify for the November 2008 election, which would mean about 70,000 raw signatures — a portion of signatures are typically found to be invalid in any petition drive.
Supporters have collected a total of 60,000 signatures, Barry said on Tuesday, though statistically that would not amount to enough valid signatures. He estimated that it would have required an additional $25,000 to continue the petition drive.
There will likely be another attempt to place a measure on the ballot in Maine or another state, Barry also said, though “we do not now have a state to announce or a timetable.” There are about two dozen states in which a similar Open MLS ballot measure could be introduced, he said.
Within the next 12 months, the Trust MLS group has plans to roll out online tools for real estate professionals and consumers that he said will support the aim of the Open MLS initiative.
Cost-effective lead-generation tools will be featured at the site, he said, including consumer-facing tools that allow them to compare agents.
The rates that Barry said he has seen charged for leads in the real estate industry appear to be “higher than you find in other fields,” and “I think it represents a lack of competition in the marketplace — agents should be able to get a stream of business without having to pay such high lead-generation fees.”
“On the consumer side, it’s a guide to high-quality agents who are willing to share some of their qualifications, experience (and) advantages,” he said.
The online tools will be developed in-house by Trust MLS participants, Barry said, adding that there are programmers affiliated with that group.
After the online tools are launched, Barry said he’s hoping to return to the initiative efforts.