Syndication of property listings information is the most pressing issue facing multiple listing services, followed by data security and the real estate market downturn, according to an industry survey.

The Council of Multiple Listing Services (CMLS), a 51-year-old organization for MLS organizations and vendors, received 80 responses to a 10-question survey that was sent out to about 700 MLSs.

Syndication of property listings information is the most pressing issue facing multiple listing services, followed by data security and the real estate market downturn, according to an industry survey.

The Council of Multiple Listing Services (CMLS), a 51-year-old organization for MLS organizations and vendors, received 80 responses to a 10-question survey that was sent out to about 700 MLSs.

"Bridging the gap between being a private listing service for Realtors and a public marketing and advertising vehicle for Realtors to sell houses to and for consumers" is a major issue, according to a comment received by CMLS in its "MLS Leadership Survey." The findings were presented during a CMLS annual meeting last week in Minneapolis.

"We concentrate so much on doing the former (protecting our market positions and our data) that we forget about the demand for the latter and open the industry to non-Realtor services that fill that need."

Other major issues for MLSs include: cooperation and consolidation with other MLSs, competition from consumer Web sites, overlapping MLS market areas, data sharing, data integrity, and concerns about the U.S. Justice Department.

The Justice Department and National Association of Realtors have agreed to a proposed settlement (see Inman News) of an antitrust lawsuit relating to rules for the online display and sharing of property information by MLS participants. Also, Justice Department officials have taken action against some individual MLSs, charging that their rules violate federal antitrust law.

Another survey participant commented that the evolution of Internet-based real estate marketing and services "threatens the relevance of the MLS — we must evolve to remain vital to our members without compromising our core purposes of cooperation and compensation."

MLS-operated public-facing property-search portals continue to be a hot topic for MLSs — the survey revealed that about 51 percent of respondents’ MLSs already operate a public search portal, while 21 percent are considering the launch of a public-facing search site and the remainder are not contemplating this option.

One commenter asked why "brokers object to the competition (of an MLS-operated search portal), but still send their listings to ‘destination’ sites by syndication."

On the topic of MLS consolidation, 15 percent of respondents reported that their MLS is in the process of merging with another MLS, while 7.5 percent reported that their MLS recently merged with another MLS and the remainder reported that their MLS is not considering such a merger.

MLS will face significant changes in the next five years, said 75.9 percent of respondents. "A common data utility will grow and incorporate more data over time," commented one respondent — perhaps in reference to a national property database planned by National Association of Realtors leaders (see Inman News) that will incorporate real estate information on all types of properties.

Many survey respondents are taking a wait-and-see approach with this NAR project, which has been referred to alternatively as the "gateway," "library" and "archive" — about 21.5 percent of respondents said they agree with what NAR is seeking to accomplish with that project, while 20.3 percent said they don’t agree and 58.2 percent responded that they "don’t have enough information yet."

"It’s the unstated goals that worry us," commented one respondent. "Despite their protestations that this is not an MLS, many believe that it could easily become one, to the detriment of (the) local system."

Most of the respondents are already on board with NAR’s plan to mandate use of a real estate data standard — known as the Real Estate Transaction Standard, or RETS — by June 2009 among Realtor-operated MLSs (see Inman News). The survey showed: 87.3 percent reported they already have a RETS-compliant server that is accessible and in production.

The housing market downturn has taken its toll on MLS membership, with 73.9 percent reporting a membership decline in the past 12 months — 46.4 percent of respondents reported a decline of 6 percent or more, and 18.9 percent reported a decline of 11 percent or more.

About 20.1 percent of respondents reported that membership increased 10 percent or less in the past 12 months.

NAR reported that it had 1.25 million members as of Sept. 30, 2008, which is down about 8.42 percent compared to the same time last year — most Realtors are MLS participants, and some Realtors are members of multiple MLSs.

About 65.3 percent of respondents reported that for-sale inventory increased in the past 12 months — 54 percent of respondents reported that the inventory grew 20 percent or less, and 36.3 percent reporting that inventory grew 10 percent or less in the past 12 months.

About 25 percent of respondents reported that for-sale inventory fell 10 percent or less in the past 12 months.

Half of respondents said the real estate market will improve next year, while 37.5 percent said it will not improve until 2010, 6.3 percent said it will improve in 2011, 5 percent said it will begin to improve this year, and 1.3 percent said it won’t improve until after 2011.

Realtor.com will remain the dominant online real estate search portal in the next five years, respondents said, followed by Google, Trulia, Cyberhomes and Zillow (tie), Craigslist and "other sites" (tie), Yahoo, Remax.com, and Roost.com, in that order.

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