A consolidation initiative by two of the nation’s biggest MLSs appears to be gaining steam, already bringing a small neighboring MLS into its fold.

  • The Schuylkill County Board of Realtors, which runs the Schuylkill County MLS, has joined TREND with the knowledge that TREND intends to merge with MRIS.
  • MLSs interested in participating in the merger, also known as MLS Evolved, should get approval from their board of directors by the end of the year.
  • The new, consolidated MLS will have a new brand and pricing structure.

A consolidation initiative by two of the nation’s biggest MLSs appears to be gaining steam, already bringing a small neighboring MLS into its fold.

In September, Rockville, Maryland-based Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS) and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based The Delaware Valley Real Estate Information Network Inc. (TREND) announced their intention to consolidate and usher in the “next era of MLS.”

From the beginning, leaders of the two MLSs said they hoped other MLSs would join them and help them shape an entirely new entity.

Now, at least one other MLS has. The Schuylkill County Board of Realtors, which currently runs the Schuylkill County MLS, is now a TREND shareholder.

The Schuylkill County board, located northwest of TREND’s current coverage area, will add 783 square miles; 50 real estate offices; 200 real estate brokers, agents and assistants; and about 1200 active listings to TREND starting early next year, TREND said in an announcement.

Coverage area map for MRIS, TREND and neighboring MLSs

Coverage area map for MRIS, TREND and neighboring MLSs

“Having one MLS provider will help brokers in Schuylkill and neighboring Berks County save money and time,” said Jackie Dorian, president of the Schuylkill County board, in a statement.

“Many real estate professionals do business in both counties, and up until now, had to pay to belong to both MLSs, spend time to enter and update listings in both MLS systems, learn two sets of MLS rules, and send two sets of email to their consumers — one from each MLS.

“This move will reduce financial burdens and decrease cumbersome practices for many professionals and consumers.”

The Schuylkill County board joined TREND knowing about TREND’s intended merger with MRIS, TREND said.

Tom Phillips

Tom Phillips

“MRIS and TREND have already reached out to many neighboring organizations, inviting them to join the effort and have gotten positive responses and indications of interest,” said Tom Phillips, president and CEO of TREND, in a statement.

“I feel strongly that this agreement with the Schuylkill Board of Realtors is an indication that there will be a new wave of MLS consolidation in the region.”

Deadline

But those interested in joining the project, known as MLS Evolved, have a limited time to do so.

Participating MLSs will start to hash out governance rules and organization structure at the beginning of 2016, so anyone who wants a seat at the table should make a decision by the end of the year, MRIS CEO David Charron told Inman.

David Charron

David Charron

That does not mean that that MLSs should have signed any formal document with their intention to merge, he said, but their board of directors should have at least approved their participation in the talks.

That means no lookie-loos: those at the table should be “very serious” about merging, Charron said. He compared the process to selling a home.

“We’ve decided to sell a house and we’re in process of interviewing our respective brokers and agents, but we are going to sell a house,” he said.

“The people that come to the next round of meetings, we want them committed to selling that house.”

MRIS and TREND intend to pursue the merger regardless of interest from other markets, Charron said.

“We are not going to chase markets. We’ve invited them to the table with us, we’ve invited the brokers. If they choose not to, we respect that, but we won’t chase them,” he said.

“If they don’t, we’ll still be friendly neighbors, but we’re going to move forward and move forward aggressively.”

Some non-contiguous MLSs have expressed interest in merging, but that’s not the project’s primary focus, Phillips told Inman.

“We haven’t really created a plan of how to address their interest,” he said.

Both MRIS and TREND use CoreLogic’s Matrix software, but Phillips said he hoped that MLSs who do not share a platform would not be deterred from joining the project.

“I think anytime you’re sharing platforms, it makes conversations easier [but] I don’t think the absence of that should make conversations not happen,” he said.

The merger is currently slated for completion in mid-2016.

“We would have to gain approval from our respective directors and shareholders,” Charron said.

Concerns

More than 100 people from 14 MLSs attended an MLS Evolved meeting in Baltimore last month.

The discussions were “heartening,” Charron said, “but we’re not kidding ourselves. We’re talking about definitely changing the game.”

MLS concerns at the meeting hinged around the loss of identity, and with that the level of influence and the level of control that each market has, Charron said.

The new MLS would likely have a hybrid ownership by associations and brokers, but the details have purposely not yet been figured out in order to give every participant an equal voice, he said.

But regardless, the new MLS will have its own brand and therefore there will be identity loss involved, according to Charron.

“MRIS and TREND are willing to give up their respective identities for the greater good, for the broker,” he said.

“They’re going to have to be wiling to be absorbed by this new entity. The things that come with loss of identity are local influence over decisions and the dollars associated with their MLS.”

“This is not about an occasional rogue wave and more about a seismic shift,” he added.

The issues MLS Evolved is facing today — loss of identity, politics — are some of the same that were faced back during the formation of MRIS and TREND, he said.

“What has changed is consumer preferences, technology, broker expansion. Standing still is no longer an option,” he said.

Charron and Phillips themselves are going into this initiative with their own futures uncertain.

“There have been no promises made” about who will end up in charge, Phillips said.

“I think some people think we’re crazy, but with a focus on what’s best for the industry, we believe we benefit from that,” he said.

Charron agreed. “I think if we do the right thing here, the future will take care of itself,” he said.

“It’s possible that neither Tom nor I will (head) this. It’s a whole new world. We have mutual respect and admiration for each other. I’m not too worried about who’s got the first chair and who’s got the second chair.”

Prices

One concern that has popped up since the project was announced is that prices may increase exponentially for TREND members. MRIS charges subscribers $55 per month while TREND charges $26 per month.

Charron scoffed at the idea. “If anybody thought their prices were going to rise substantially in this thing, it would be a nonstarter,” he said.

When asked whether TREND members should worry about their prices going up, Phillips said, “As part of this consolidation? No.”

He said any changes would be like comparing “apples and oranges” because the project intends to roll out an entirely new pricing model giving agents and brokers choices in the products they use and in their subscription packages (annual, monthly, single use).

“We envision in the next generation of systems that there will be varying tiers of service that an entity or an individual can subscribe to,” Charron said.

“So if you want the basic level of service, you’re not interested in any premium services or any real-person support and you’re happy to do it all through email it could be one price.

“If you want to subscribe to a product a la carte for one or two uses, we anticipate being able to do that. If you want everything bundled … [the new MLS] can use its purchasing power [to offer that].”

“We’re not going to have a one-size-fits-all,” he added.

Decide who your customer is

The first thing MLSs have to decide before they consider a merger is who their most important customer is, according to Charron.

“We all have multiple customers. For us we’ve decided [the most important customer] is the broker because it’s the broker that allows us to work with their agents,” he said.

That means doing what’s best for the broker, he said. “As long as [MLSs] don’t see any disadvantage in it, why wouldn’t they try to satisfy those guys and gals that work in multiple markets?”

That does not mean the consumer is not a factor. For instance, currently, if an agent or broker belongs to multiple MLSs, chances are they’re getting separate, multiple reports from each MLS, Phillips said.

Providing more information and more tools seamlessly across markets will save agents and brokers time, money, and make them “look much smarter in the eyes of the consumer,” he said.

MLSs considering merging should also consider the degree of overlap between their markets in both customers as well as the services they offer, he said.

“I think it’s important too to look at the natural movement of consumers,” he said.

“The concentrations of where people live and how they move … [and] where your brokers are moving to geographically.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to note that MRIS and TREND both use CoreLogic’s Matrix software.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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