California Regional Multiple Listing Service — the nation’s largest MLS — took another step toward becoming statewide this week. CRMLS, which has more than 80,000 agent and broker subscribers, has added two local Realtor associations to its membership roster, bringing the total to 36 across the state.

  • Two Northern California Realtor associations have joined the largest MLS in the nation, California Regional MLS.
  • Brokers and agents who choose to join CRMLS will have access to a pool of more than 100,000 active listings across the state and to a variety of tools.
  • CRMLS's goal is still to build a statewide MLS, but that progress has been slowed by "politics," according to CRMLS CEO Art Carter.

California Regional Multiple Listing Service —  the nation’s largest MLS — took another step toward becoming statewide this week.

CRMLS, which has more than 80,000 agent and broker subscribers, has added two local Realtor associations to its membership roster, bringing the total to 36 across the state.

As part of their agreements with CRMLS, the North Bay Association of Realtors and the Marin Association of Realtors will be offering CRMLS’s MLS service to their combined 4,500 members. The North Bay association covers Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties while the Marin association covers Marin County.

Members of the two associations currently belong to broker-owned MLS Bay Area Real Estate Information Service (BAREIS). Brokers and their agents will have the option of staying with BAREIS, switching to CRMLS, or belonging to both MLSs.

The leaders behind the deals emphasized that participating brokers and agents would get access to CRMLS’s pool of more than 100,000 active listings across California and to its expansive list of products, including a mobile MLS app, Cloud Streams listing alerts, Realist tax records, Infosparks market statistics, and a consumer-facing listing portal and mobile app, HomeSeekers.

The partnership will bring “true choice” to the associations’ membership “for the first time,” according to a press release.

“North Bay is very excited to offer our members the breadth of options that CRMLS offers to their subscribers. We are here to help our members do business, and one way to facilitate that is to put the choice in their hands about how they want to run their business,” said David Kerr, president of North Bay, in a statement.

Art Carter

Art Carter

Both associations will now be able to appoint members to CRMLS’s Operations, Rules, and Finance Committees.

“It is very important to us that association members have a voice within the MLS, which is why all changes made at CRMLS are first approved by local association representatives,” said Art Carter, CEO of CRMLS, in a statement.

“We would like to welcome the North Bay and Marin AORs to our community, and let them know that their voices will be heard.”

Brokers belonging to the North Bay and Marin associations will be able to use CRMLS in a few weeks, CRMLS told Inman.

Broker choice

San Dimas-based CRMLS has long had a goal of building a statewide MLS in the Golden State. It has pursued that goal under a variety of arrangements with associations and MLSs over the years.

This includes a partnership with the associations that make up the Central Coast Regional MLS that is similar to the deals with the North Bay and Marin associations in that brokers are given the choice of joining CRMLS (as opposed to associations that have joined CRMLS wholesale). CRMLS plans to announce similar partnerships in the coming months, Carter told Inman.

The arrangement has been “well received” in the CCRMLS marketplace with broker adoption of CRMLS north of 50 percent, according to Carter.

“I would hope that we reach those numbers or even greater” in North Bay and Marin, he said.

How many listings the associations add to the CRMLS database “depends on how many brokerages avail themselves of the opportunity,” he added.

In order to cover the marketplace, rather than switching to CRMLS, Central Coast brokers have been joining CRMLS while maintaining their membership in CCRMLS, according to Carter.

“We believe the value proposition CRMLS offers is worth the expense for those brokerages,” he said.

He declined to disclose how much CRMLS charges its subscribers. “That is between us and the local associations. We don’t publish that amount,” he said.

Possible Upstream tie-in

Carter believes an upcoming roll-out will attract brokers to CRMLS. In September, CRMLS will begin allowing brokers to provide their own front end to the MLS database with their own brokerage brand.

“It could be a back-office system that they’re using. It could be [broker-backed data management platform] Upstream,” Carter said.

“Our board of directors has long held the opinion that the MLS is about cooperation and compensation and we should be mindful in allowing alternative technologies in how data is delivered to the multiple listing service.

“As long as our rules and regulations are followed it’s not of primary importance how that data is delivered just so long as it gets there and it gets there in a timely and compliant fashion.”

Progress slowed by ‘politics’?

In April 2015, CRMLS launched a marketing campaign for its data-sharing initiative called “It’s My Business.” The campaign invited agents and brokers to contact their MLS and association leaders to encourage them to join CRMLS’s statewide MLS initiative.

Before the North Bay and Marin agreements had been announced, the last significant announcement of the campaign was that a data share between CRMLS and Silicon Valley-based MLSListings would go live in December 2015. That partnership was originally announced in April 2014.

Why the big gap between strides toward a statewide MLS?

“I would love to announce a lot more but the push towards a statewide database is filled with politics and is not exactly the fastest of processes to go through in dealing with those politics,” Carter said.

“It’s no different than what we face nationwide. For every positive movement towards consolidation and being better able to service the brokers’ needs with a consolidated database there are pressures that get placed upon leadership in local marketplaces that slow that process down.

“Some of those pressures would be fear of loss of local control, fear of loss of revenue streams whether at association or brokerage level. [Those are] valid concerns.”

Some association and MLS leaders fear that a statewide MLS opens the door for agents to more freely move in and out of marketplaces, Carter said. He believes the Realtor Code of Ethics covers that concern.

“Very specifically there’s an article that deals with agents not selling outside their area of expertise,” he said.

Article 11-1 of the code says that “When Realtors prepare opinions of real property value or price they must … be familiar with the area where the subject property is located” unless that lack of familiarity is disclosed to the party requesting the opinion in advance.

Statewide MLS still the goal

“The goal of CRMLS still remains a statewide MLS,” Carter said.

“Given the slow-moving nature of politics, we absolutely want to respect local marketplaces’ wishes, but we do feel the whole entire state should be served by a single database that contains every listing in the state of California.”

He believes it will happen someday. “Whether it’s through our efforts or some of the other initiatives going on, I believe at some point the brokerage community will get what they want and need out of aggregated data,” he said.

“This is one of those ideas whose time has come.”

With a statewide MLS, the costs associated with doing business across a greater span of areas and with access to data for agents’ and brokers’ clients would be significantly decreased, Carter said.

“Our current system disadvantages agents and brokers in some marketplaces in California in being able to disseminate information to [clients] as easily as some third-party sources are allowed to,” he said.

Despite the slow progress, Carter says “It’s My Business” is going well.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised with the response that we’ve gotten about it. Nine out of 10 people that we see at trade shows are fully supportive of what we’re doing,” Carter said.

“There’s very few Realtors in this state that don’t deal with borders someway somehow. At some point during their business year they’re faced with having to get information about a listing or about a property outside their MLS or their sphere of influence and getting access to that information through their professional tools is difficult.”

The primary focus of the campaign is not necessarily on decision-makers, but rather on agents and brokers on the ground, Carter said.

“There is a better way. There is the possibility of tearing down these borders. We’re not going to go anyplace that we’re not asked, but I think brokers and agents up and down the state need to know there are solutions to the pains that they’re facing and if they find those solutions viable, they need to talk to the leadership of their local associations,” he said.

How is that strategy going?

“It’s going to be a long-tail, no matter which direction we take, but we think we’ve had some doors opened that have not been opened in the past,” Carter said.

“We’re not to the point of being able to announce as of yet, but we’ve had conversations where there have not been conversations before.”

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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