Even as the number of multiple listing services that share listing data continues to grow, members of two of California’s biggest MLSs are on the verge of losing access to information about each other’s listings in a spat that highlights tensions over efforts to build a statewide MLS.

With the blessing of the California Association of Realtors, San Dimas-based California Regional MLS is building a statewide MLS that currently provides services to about 73,000 agents and brokers, making CRMLS the largest MLS in the nation.

In January, CRMLS announced that it intends to pull out of California Real Estate Technology Services Inc. (CARETS), a joint venture of six California MLSs that aggregates some 108,000 active listings in 18 counties to one common database.

CRMLS CEO Art Carter said that before pulling out of CARETS, CRMLS hopes to enter into separate data-sharing agreements with all of the other MLSs belonging to CARETS, including Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Combined Los Angeles/Westside Multiple Listing Service (CLAW), an MLS that serves about 15,000 agents and brokers.

But a recent decision by CLAW to delay its syndication feeds to third-party websites by 48 hours sparked an exchange of rhetoric that’s exposed tensions that could prevent CRMLS and CLAW from reaching an agreement to share listing data.

CLAW CEO Annie Ives last week posted a letter to the MLS’ Twitter feed, titled “The MLS/CLAW Chooses CARETS,” defending CARETS and questioning CRMLS’ claims that it was pulling out of the joint venture because technology has improved, and that a more cost-effective arrangement is needed.

Ives alleged that CRMLS is “trying to attract interest by offering to provide data share at ‘no cost.’ We all learned long ago that there is no such thing as a free lunch. There is a lot of unknown in the data-share solution proposed by CRMLS.”

Over time, Ives said, CARETS “has proven itself as a neutral and capable aggregator and distributor of sensitive data critical to your businesses and trusted by competing MLSs.”

With CARETS facilitating the sharing of listings, agents have a choice of which MLS to join, thereby promoting “healthy competition” between MLSs that can offer “great products and services at competitive rates.”

In another letter to CLAW subscribers last week, Ives said CRMLS intends to pull out of CARETS on June 18. When that happens, CRMLS members will no longer have access to CLAW’s data.

In that letter, Ives also addressed CRMLS’ efforts to build a statewide MLS.

“The bigger picture is that there is an effort underway by some that would force all MLSs to join a statewide MLS,” Ives said. “The leadership of The MLS/CLAW believes that local control of your MLS is in the best interests of brokers, agents and the entire real estate community at large. A single, centralized statewide service would take away local control, reduce choice, and in all likelihood result in increased fees and costs.”

Summarizing her views, Ives told Inman News that she is worried about a scenario in which “the big guy drives out all the competition and becomes the only game in town. Then they can charge any price they want.”

In a letter to CRMLS’ members reposted by real estate consultant and blogger Rob Hahn, Carter rejected Ives’ allegations.

In regards to choice, Carter said, “CRMLS has been pushing for and has delivered varying levels of choice, including choice of software front ends that our member associations can offer to their membership. I would challenge any member of CARETS, much less any other MLS in the state of California to match the level of choice we offer.”

That a statewide MLS would result in increased fees and costs “is absolutely false and absurd,” Carter added.

“CRMLS’ goal is to provide data access to every real estate professional in the state of California and for that professional to only pay one MLS subscription fee,” he said.

“Making an argument that boundaries are more important than data access ignores the needs of the real estate brokerage community and advancement of technology. Living in the past to protect politics and ego rather than doing what’s best for the agent should not be tolerated by our state’s real estate professionals.”

The issue that prompted Ives’ recent letters was her belief that Zillow — the most popular real estate portal in the country —  has encouraged CLAW members to defect and join the Greater South Bay Association of Realtors, which is part of CRMLS.

On Feb. 3, CLAW became the first MLS in the country to delay its listing feeds to third-party sites like Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com with the stated goal of boosting consumer traffic to brokerage websites.

In her letter to subscribers, Ives claimed Zillow was “soliciting” CLAW subscribers to join the South Bay association. “It is not the role of a third-party data site to tell you which association of Realtors to join,” Ives wrote.

Zillow Chief Revenue Officer Greg Schwartz told Inman News that Zillow receives a feed from listing syndicator ListHub through the Greater South Bay AOR. He said Zillow had merely informed brokers in CLAW’s market of how to get their listings to Zillow without delay. The portal is now receiving more than 90 percent of the market’s listing through direct feeds from brokers, he added.

Carter said CRMLS’ board of directors had discussed the option of delaying its syndication feeds in the past, but had decided not to after learning that most of the franchise brokerages in its footprint would not be affected by the delay because they had already developed expensive mechanisms for syndicating directly to third-party portals. Small to medium-sized brokerages, on the other hand, would be affected.

“The CRMLS board of directors wisely decided, in keeping with a long-standing CRMLS policy, that syndication choices are best left to the individual brokerage community, not dictated by the MLS,” Carter said.

“If CLAW members choose to vacate the CLAW system, it won’t be because Zillow forced them to, it will be because they are exercising the choice Ms. Ives so strongly touts in her letter.”

In one of her letters, Ives implied that the delay in syndicating listings could be adjusted to real time for brokers at their request. She told Inman News that CLAW has been working with Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com to enable brokers who request it to send a direct feed of their listings in real time to those sites in particular.

Ives said that although brokers don’t yet have the ability to provide listings to third-party portals in real time through ListHub, “that doesn’t mean we’re not going to have [that capability] later on.” She declined to say whether CLAW is working on providing such a capability now.

Carter said CLAW has indicated that it would not participate in data-sharing discussions with CRMLS and some brokerages who are members of both MLSs.

“If you don’t have access to CLAW’s data on June 19, it will not be because CRMLS is unwilling,” he said.

Carter said CRMLS’ transition from CARETS has no other intent “other than being conscientious about how we spend the money entrusted to us by our members.”

When all is said and done, CRMLS believes “giving agents and brokers access to the same levels of data access they enjoy right now will win the day,” Carter said.

“When the rhetoric dies down, we will still be here with data-share agreements in hand and ready to move forward,” he said.

CARETS isn’t the only way that California MLSs can share listings data.

Last year realtor.com operator Move Inc. announced a reciprocal deep-linking service that allows members of participating MLSs to see confidential information about shared listings from the source MLS. Agents with any California MLS that signs up for the service see an additional layer of detail about shared listings that includes offers of cooperation and compensation, agent contact information, and showing details.

That service — which provides sold listings data to realtor.com — launched with two MLSs. Last week Move announced that seven more MLSs have signed or intend to sign on to the service, and that it will soon be allowing 47,000 real estate professionals in 19 California counties to see each other’s listing data.

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