Two regional multiple listing services in northeast Ohio, owned by separate groups of Realtor associations, have announced plans to combine property information into a single, shared database.

The Centralized Real Estate Information Service (CRIS), with offices in Canton and Akron, and the Northern Ohio Regional MLS (NORMLS), based in Independence, are planning to launch the combined database on Jan. 14.

Dubbed the Northeast Ohio Real Estate Exchange (NEOHREX), it will preserve the two MLSs as separate entities while using standard MLS rules and data fields for the shared database and eliminating the need to join both MLSs.

Multiple memberships and associated fees are often cited as an impetus for regional and even statewide MLS collaborations. There are several examples of data-sharing and consolidation efforts among multiple MLSs in the Northeast and in California, among other areas, including a plan by the California Association of Realtors to establish a statewide property information database.

Carl R. DeMusz, president and CEO for NORMLS, said Thursday that there have been efforts to align the two MLSs for more than 11 years, including a failed attempt to merge the two MLSs into a single MLS.

DeMusz said that the organizations have already standardized rules and regulations, and the MLSs have selected real estate technology vendor Rapattoni to build the database. The new system will not lead to additional costs for members, he said.

A committee made up of representatives for both MLSs will share some of the enforcement responsibility for MLS rules and regulations, DeMusz said.

The effort is "a true partnership" and both MLSs will jointly own the database, he added. NORMLS will own and host the hardware for the database while CRIS will pay fees to the vendor based on the software and services for the system.

"I think that this is really kind of a first step to a long relationship," he said, noting that the partnership plan has progressed rapidly since July.

The two MLSs represent about 12,000 members total — or about 37 percent of the Realtor population in the state. The National Association of Realtors reported that there were 32,452 Realtors in Ohio as of May 31, 2008.

Chris Carrillo, executive officer for CRIS, said that the two MLSs definitely have had symptoms of "overlapping market disorder" — a situation in which multiple MLSs serve some of the same areas and may have members who are also members of other MLSs in the same area. "We were literally the poster children for that (disorder)," he said.

In fact, DeMusz said there are about 1,500 real estate professionals who are members of both MLSs.

It was inevitable, Carrillo said, that the two MLSs would work together. "In one way, shape or form this was going to happen," he said. "It is the result, really, of 12 years of work."

In addition to the problem of dual memberships, there were also the issues of separate MLS systems for inputting for-sale properties and conducting property searches, and the potential for duplicate listings in brokers’ property-search sites when properties were listed with both MLSs.

Carrillo and DeMusz said they see potential for more collaboration between the groups and possibly with other MLSs, though they said it is important to focus on the success of this initial effort.

CRIS did have data-sharing relationship with a couple of smaller real estate boards in the state, Carrillo said, though in that case the platform was operated as a completely separate system and "members first had to learn a new system just to pull information from one spot."

He added, "We learned from the good and bad points of what we attempted to do there" in developing the plans for the shared database.

"I hope that other MLSs across the country that run into the same problems we have look to us — not necessarily as the standard, but definitely as a success story and case study," Carrillo said.

The Cleveland Area Board of Realtors reported back in March that its leaders met with shareholders of NORMLS and CRIS "and we are excited to report that there is common ground and interest in data-sharing, or the sharing of the same system, between the MLS organizations."

And the Cleveland board’s director, in a January letter, stated that there is a need to eliminate dual memberships in the two groups.

CRIS, the smaller of the two MLSs, serves a nine-county region and is operated by seven Realtor boards. NORMLS is owned by four Realtor associations.


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