WASHINGTON, D.C. — Leadership for the National Association of Realtors is "very committed" to a plan to create a massive national property database to serve as a resource for agents and brokers, the leader of the group spearheading the plan announced Thursday.

Gary Thomas, a Southern California RE/MAX broker who has led the advisory group, said during a Thursday session at the National Association of Realtors’ annual midyear conference that there are plans to form an advisory board and launch a pilot project for the database.

The MLS Future Presidential Advisory Group was formed in 2006 to conceptualize a possible new form and function for the patchwork of multiple listing services that stretch across the country. The group’s vision, and the shape and name of the project have morphed over time.

Once referred to as the Gateway and later called The Real Estate Channel, the project is now referred to as the Library/Archive.

Some industry participants have expressed worry that the project could displace MLSs or interfere with their role, though Thomas has said that the advisory group’s plan is not to create an MLS.

"This is not an MLS — it’s not trying to be an MLS. This is a resource for agents. Look at it like a library … overlaid with MLS data for those MLSs that want to participate," he said.

The advisory board for the project will be composed of brokers, MLS officials, Realtor association executives and volunteers, Thomas said. "Everybody will have input into this. We’ll seek input — we always have — and we’ll try to make this work for everybody."

A handout presented at the MLS Forum session where Thomas spoke on Thursday states that there "are a number of MLSs … (that) wish to consider participating in the pilot project."

That message, by real estate consultant Ann Bailey, refers to a NAR white paper stating that the Library/Archive pilot project "will identify all major policies and procedures necessary to operationalize the system."

The white paper, posted on a blog site by David R. Phillips, CEO for the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors in Virginia, proposes that the Library/Archive will compile information about individual properties, communities, local trends, regulations, "and other factors related to local real estate" into a single database that will allow Realtors "to provide broader, deeper and more timely and accurate information to their consumers."

The database, as proposed, would include information on most U.S. properties, and would be password-protected.

"Imagine what we can build together with MLSs and Realtors participating, along with augmentation from third-party data suppliers and other data-collection methodologies," the white paper states.

The system would include information on properties regardless of whether the properties have been involved in recent sales transactions, according to the paper.

NAR’s board of directors has already approved a budget estimate of $3 million to form the database, and the paper suggests that the project should be implemented quickly. "We believe this aggressive action is needed now and is a critical component of our strategy to preserve the brokerage community’s long-term consumer-relevant options."

While the advisory group had earlier considered limited consumer access to the database, the white paper states that the Library/Archive would be password-protected and not accessible by consumers.

Bailey’s message about the Library/Archive project suggests that there is a need to determine whether the project could conflict with contractual relationships existing between MLSs and third-party vendors in local markets, and to determine the percentage of agents that already have access to a range of property information, such as data on new homes and rental properties, among other areas of study.

David Charron, president and CEO for Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., the nation’s largest MLS with about 60,000 members, said during a conference session later that day that there are fears about the possible course of the database project.

"This is an industry that constantly needs something to fear. Seldom do we collectively celebrate something."

He also said that he expects a national data repository is inevitable, and "whether or not it evolves into an MLS" remains to be seen. "I think making promises about what it may or may not be 10 years from now … are probably foolhardy."

The Library/Archive project may serve as a lightning rod for additional data-sharing and collaborative efforts across markets, and that is a good thing, Charron said.


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