A broker-controlled statewide MLS in Connecticut has released "The MLS Bill of Rights," a document that denounces MLS boundaries as barriers to business and calls for MLS participants to have access to all property listings in the state or states where they are licensed.

"The public has the right to expect that their Realtor can provide every active listing of every MLS participant in the state where they are licensed," according to the document, which was unveiled at the Real Estate Connect conference in New York

A broker-controlled statewide MLS in Connecticut has released "The MLS Bill of Rights," a document that denounces MLS boundaries as barriers to business and calls for MLS participants to have access to all property listings in the state or states where they are licensed.

"The public has the right to expect that their Realtor can provide every active listing of every MLS participant in the state where they are licensed," according to the document, which was unveiled at the Real Estate Connect conference in New York City last week and publicly announced this week.

"Boundaries between MLSs are a barrier to public knowledge and constitute an inaccurate and misleading picture of the real estate market," the document also states.

According to a Wednesday announcement by the Connecticut Statewide Multiple Listing Service, which began operations in February 2007 (see Inman News), The MLS Bill of Rights is intended to establish and protect "the guiding principles of the statewide MLS and its responsibility to participant brokers."

A model for the industry?

Also, CTMLS officials have hopes that the document "will serve as a model for the (MLS) industry," the announcement states.

Cameron Paine, CEO for the Connecticut MLS, presented the document following a series of MLS panel discussions at the Connect conference on Thursday, Jan. 8.

Paine said at the conference, "Over the last several years I’ve heard amazing stories about what MLSs are doing or not doing for members. One of the recurring themes: There are members out there who feel like they’re not being served by the MLS."

MLSs are supposed to be designed to provide participants with the services they want, he said, though "not all MLSs are doing that." He also said the purpose of The MLS Bill of Rights "is to protect brokers from their own MLS."

In a statement, CTMLS President David Jones said problems such as overlapping market boundaries, multiple MLS memberships and sets of rules, and incompatible data feeds are among the problems that MLS participants face today.

"The public, in turn, may not receive a complete picture of the real estate market when overlapping MLSs do not cooperate or share listing content. Clearly, being able to provide clients with all listing data in a given area benefits both real estate agents and their clients," Jones stated.

CTMLS is owned by the Connecticut Association of Realtors and was established by a collection of six Realtor groups in that state.

MLS participant ‘rights’

Among the other provisions for MLS participants contained in The MLS Bill of Rights document:

  • The right to do business throughout the state where they are licensed to practice real estate;
  • The right for brokers to own their own listing data;
  • The right to timely, accurate MLS data;
  • The right to expect that the MLS will act in their best interests;
  • The right to representation on the governing body of the MLS, and for broker representatives from large, medium and small-sized firms to "share equally in governance";
  • The right to advertise and distribute online listings content within the rules and regulations;
  • The right to an Internet Data Exchange (IDX), Virtual Office Web site (VOW) and/or broker download feed and/or access.

California statewide MLS initiative

CTMLS is one of several statewide MLSs in operation, and the California Association of Realtors launched an initiative to build a statewide MLS database.

"Our hope, of course, is to collaborate on what in the end will be a consolidated, single database for the MLS," said Joel Singer, executive vice president for the California Association of Realtors, during an "MLS Change: Collaboration of Consolidation?" panel at the Real Estate Connect conference.

Singer noted that a recent study found that about 190,000 Realtors in California were paying about 270,000 MLS subscription fees, which illustrates that some Realtors are still paying multiple fees to join multiple MLSs in the state.

Commenting on some other MLS collaborative efforts under way in the state, Singer said, "I think you need to go further."

"Our focus has to go beyond keeping the (existing) entities intact. It has to be a focus on what works best for the members," he said.

"What we are hearing from our large brokers is the industry has changed. The firms have gotten larger. The region of individual agents has gotten larger," he said, and the MLS structure has not changed as much.

Some modern MLS boundaries still reflect neighborhood boundaries in the 1950s, he said.

"We know the technology can change. We know it’s time to do the right thing, particularly in this marketplace, when brokers are squeezed and where agents are squeezed," Singer said.

Jim Harrison, president and CEO of MLS Listings, a Northern California MLS formed through the merger of two MLSs, said he believes that consolidation is the key to creating more efficiency in the MLS industry. The original plan was for five Northern California MLSs to merge, though Harrison noted that only two followed through. "Our objective is still consolidation. We think it’s the best solution," though MLS Listings has also pursued collaborative efforts with other MLSs in the state.

Art Carter, CEO for MRMLS, a Southern California MLS that is a participant in a major regional MLS collaboration dubbed CARETS, also participated on that MLS panel and noted that the regional effort is ironing out many of the wrinkles related to overlapping MLS boundaries and rules and data standards for participants.

"A lot of the complaints we’ve heard about paying multiple fees have been taken care of for our agents," he said, and CARETS participants are also open to discussion in collaborating with Northern California MLSs, Carter said, and he said there has been a struggle to ensure that when MLS entities get larger they don’t lose sight of micro markets and local agents’ needs.

Singer, meanwhile, said he doesn’t view massive MLS databases as conflicting with agents’ ability to serve local markets.

"The Internet has proven you can create a massive, intergalactic scale and at the same time have a very high degree of personal touch," he said.

Commenting on the potential for a nationwide property database — the National Association of Realtors is pursuing a project dubbed the Realtors Property Resource (see Inman News) — Singer said, "If NAR is successful, and I would like to see them successful … I would gladly cede any statewide MLS to (the national effort), because it’s the right thing to do."

He added, "It lowers the cost for everybody; it creates flexibility."

A separate panel discussion at the conference also explored the potential for a nationwide MLS system (see article).

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