Seven Northern California multiple listing services are joining forces to establish a data sharing and exchange system for their 70,000 members that will eliminate the need to join several MLSs within the network.

The agreement will allow a broker member of any one of the MLSs to access, download and display information from all of the other MLSs. The new sharing and exchange system is expected to be completed within the first quarter of 2009.

Tricia Thomas, CEO for the Bay East Association of Realtors, said new system will allow MLS members to search within all of the participating MLSs for property information, to enter listing information for a property at the most appropriate MLS, and to update and maintain that listing information. The arrangement will eliminate the need to enter duplicate information about a property in multiple MLSs.

Thomas said there are a lot of agents who work in many MLS areas in the region, so the new arrangement makes sense for members.

And while MLS rules are generally similar in the region, Thomas said there are some unique business practices — "some of us are representing listings for houseboats," she said, and "some represent ag land."

To resolve any discrepancies, the prevailing rule for a property listing will be that of the MLS in which the individual listing is placed, she said.

The new regional data sharing and exchange arrangement does not have a public component and is intended for MLS participants, though Thomas said that brokers could choose to display property information shared by members of all seven MLSs on a Web site.

Participating MLSs will continue to use their current vendors, and Thomas said the intent at her MLS is to launch the new capabilities at no charge for its 6,400 subscribers.

The Bay East Association of Realtors MLS, Contra Costa Association of Realtors MLS, East Bay Regional Data Inc., MLSListings Inc., San Francisco Association of Realtors, Bay Area Real Estate Information Services Inc. and MetroList Services Inc. are participating in the sharing and exchange arrangement — several of the MLSs have already been engaged in other collaborative efforts.

The San Francisco Association of Realtors, Bay Area Real Estate Information Services Inc. and MetroList Services Inc. have been involved in a reciprocal data-access system for members called Quattro, for example, and MLSListings Inc. was created last year through the consolidation of two MLSs — other MLSs in the region have considered whether to join this consolidation.

Several members of the seven-MLS effort are also a part of MLSAlliance, a data-sharing effort with MLS members in Northern California and Southern California that offers a search engine for all participants.

Thomas said there is no formal governance for the seven-MLS effort and all participating MLSs will continue to operate autonomously.

Meanwhile, CALMLS, an effort sparked by the California Association of Realtors, is pursuing a statewide property information database that could evolve as a statewide MLS system.

Thomas noted that her association has expressed support for the CALMLS concept and the participation in the sharing and exchange effort "is not incompatible with support for the statewide initiative."

The seven-MLS effort, she said, "Is historic for the level of cooperation we all have and it’s putting aside whatever special interests we might have."

In addition to the CALMLS initiative, Quattro, MLSAlliance and the seven-MLS sharing and exchange agreement within California, there is another effort dubbed CARETS — initiated by a group of MLSs in Southern California — that is working to standardize data definitions and rules for participating MLSs. And there are many other examples of data-sharing and other MLS collaborative agreements and consolidations across the country.

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