What’s giant, hard-won and brand spanking new? The nation’s newest mega multiple listing service.

  • MRIS and TREND have merged to form Bright MLS. This week, Bright MLS's new website announced "A new era of MLS is here."
  • In addition to MRIS and TREND, seven other MLSs will cease operations and join Bright over the course of 2017, likely making it the nation's largest MLS.
  • Bright's coverage area will span 10 million property records and nearly 40,000 square miles.
  • Brokers and agents in Bright's market who previously belonged to more than one MLS will no longer have to pay duplicate MLS fees.

What’s giant, hard-won and brand spanking new? The nation’s newest mega multiple listing service, Bright MLS.

The two large MLSs that spearheaded the effort to form Bright, Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS) and The Delaware Valley Real Estate Information Network Inc. (TREND), first announced their intention to merge and usher in the “next era of MLS” in September 2015. This week, the MLS’s new website, brightmls.com, announced “A new era of MLS is here.”

“The real estate industry is undergoing exponential change. The physical, political and philosophical boundaries of MLSs no longer fulfill what brokerages need to conduct business. We are changing that,” the website says.

That means MRIS and TREND are companies no more. After shareholder approval last month, they merged into Bright at the beginning of the year.

MRIS and TREND had hoped to entice other MLSs to join them in a quest to reduce the costs and headaches of belonging to multiple MLSs for tens of thousands of agents and brokers.

They succeeded. In addition to MRIS and TREND, seven other MLSs will cease operations and join Bright over the course of 2017. Once all are on board, Bright will have about 85,000 members, likely making it the nation’s largest MLS. (Unless California Regional MLS, which currently has 82,000 members, catches up.)

The MLSs each belong to neighboring Realtor associations:

  • The Coastal Association of Realtors in Maryland
  • The Cumberland County Board of Realtors in New Jersey
  • The Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors in Pennsylvania
  • The Lancaster County Association of Realtors in Pennsylvania
  • The Lebanon County Association of Realtors in Pennsylvania
  • The Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties in Pennsylvania, and
  • The Sussex County Association of Realtors in Delaware

Combined, the 9 participating MLSs served over 20 million consumers and facilitated approximately 250,000 transactions valued at more than $85 billion in sales volume last year, according to Bright.

Tom Phillips

Tom Phillips

“The creation of this new organization is a direct response to your demands that the MLS break down market barriers and provide real estate professionals with expanded property information that exceeds what consumers can get from publicly available websites,” Tom Phillips, Bright president and CEO and formerly president and CEO of TREND, told TREND members in an email.

“With Bright, you will get access to more information, more products and more areas to explore and expand — that’s the power of us.”

A much bigger marketplace

Bright’s coverage area will span 10 million property records and nearly 40,000 square miles, including parts of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.

Bright believes that’s the largest geographic footprint of any MLS in the country, Phillips told Inman.

A much larger marketplace is one of the key benefits that everyone gets immediately as part of the consolidation, Phillips said.

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-8-28-34-pm

“Consumers can go on third-party sites and seamlessly search markets, yet historically we’ve put agents in a box defined by these MLS geographic borders. At its very core that’s one of the problems we want to solve,” he said.

“We don’t want to hinder these agents and brokers with these arbitrary boundaries any longer.”

On a practical level, agents who receive questions from consumers about a neighboring market will be able to easily answer them. Consumers will also receive email listing alerts and other data from their agent’s single MLS, rather than separate batches from the multiple MLSs their agent belonged to previously, according to Phillips.

David Charron

David Charron

“Today’s real estate market moves fast and is driven by a consumer with data, technology and high expectations,” said David Charron, Bright’s chief strategy officer, in a statement. Charron was formerly president and CEO of MRIS.

“Bright MLS was created to align with this new reality and break down outdated geographic barriers of access.”

Brokers and agents in Bright’s market who previously belonged to more than one MLS will also no longer have to pay duplicate MLS fees, Phillips said.

“In some of these areas they will go from paying three or four fees to paying a single fee, which as you can imagine is making those brokers and agents very happy,” he said.

Those brokers also won’t have to integrate multiple listing data feeds for their websites, keep track of separate sets of MLS rules or wrangle with different systems for listing input, Phillips added.

“Each time we can eliminate one of those boundaries we’re saving the brokers money, streamlining their operations … making it easier for them to serve agents and making it easier for agents to serve consumers.”

Who’s in charge?

The nine MLSs participating in Bright are owned by a total of 43 Realtor associations. For now, Bright is owned by the 36 Realtor associations that formerly owned MRIS and TREND.

“Every year the board is committed to revisiting the issue of ownership as a practical matter,” Phillips said.

All nine of the participating MLSs are represented on Bright’s board of directors. MRIS, which had 46,000 members before the merger, will have 11 seats on the board. TREND, which had 29,000 members, will also have 11 seats on the board.

The other seven MLSs, which cumulatively have 10,000 members, will each have one seat on the board. Those MLSs are owned by associations ranging from 250 to 1,700 members.

“This transitional board is going to be in place for three years and will likely be modified after that point,” Charron told Inman.

“The board has flexibility to add other markets. It just gives everybody a voice at the table.”

After three years, there will be no more designees from the old MLSs and board members will be elected at large, Charron and Phillips said.

The current board members are predominately “influential” brokers, Charron said. He declined to disclose the names of board members until the last couple of seats have been filled. He said that would take another couple of weeks.

For-profit

Bright is set up as a for-profit company.

Brian Donnellan

Brian Donnellan

“The intent is to have a financially sound organization that continually reinvests into its product,” Brian Donnellan, formerly COO of MRIS and current COO of Bright, told Inman.

“Having said that, customer satisfaction will always be key to the success of the company.”

As far as Bright’s fee structure, Bright’s leaders offered sparse details. Charron said the MLS would offer a base service that includes “everything [subscribers] get today.” To make that happen, the MLS needs to assemble everything that is included in that base fee for each of the nine MLSs, he said.

“We will have some premium products that will not be included in the base price, and they will include things like agent and broker websites; there could be enhanced statistical reporting, virtual tours, upgraded CMA products,” Charron said.

“That’s not a significant portion of revenue for us. It’s not intended to be. But I don’t think that will be included in the base price because there are just so many choices in the marketplace.”

Donnellan declined to specify how much the MLS would charge.

“It’s complicated. We have nine different organizations coming on at nine different times, all with nine different fee schedules,” he said.

“We do have transition plans to get to an equilibrium. There will be folks that will be coming up [and] folks that will be coming down.”

He said it would take a couple of years to reach a “target” number that he declined to disclose.

“Giving you a figure right now would be very, very confusing to the subscriber right now. I think it’s important that we do this as smoothly as possible,” he said.

At the time MRIS and TREND announced the initiative that would become Bright MLS in September 2015, MRIS charged $55 per month and TREND charged $26 per month.

What’s next?

For now and for most of 2017, it will be business as usual for the agents, brokers, appraisers and other real estate professionals that belong to the nine participating MLSs, according to Charron.

Bright has created a custom transition schedule for each MLS to fulfill their obligations, he said.

MRIS and TREND’s customer-facing operations — new memberships, accounts, customer support, training, communications — will merge in the spring.

All of the participating MLSs have MLS system vendor agreements that expire in the second half of the year, Charron said.

Three of the nine MLSs — representing 90 percent of Bright’s eventual subscribers — use CoreLogic’s Matrix 360 system, and Bright MLS will use that platform, the company said.

Both MRIS and TREND are also currently using MRIS’s proprietary Cornerstone database, which is backend technology that integrates with the MLS’s listing input module. Cornerstone is used by various data sharing initiatives, including CARETS in California, WIREX in Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Repository in Michigan.

“We made a decision some years ago to not outsource the most important asset, which is the data, to any third party that might be undergoing some sort of change,” Charron said.

“That was important to MRIS and other participating organizations, and quite frankly it was a real asset that we brought to this initiative.”

The nine organizations will work together to make decisions such as what property fields to use, Phillips said.

Bright hopes to have a common MLS platform available by the summer and to have everyone on the same system by this time next year, he added.

A word on timeframe

Phillips acknowledged that the initiative has “taken time” to come to fruition, but said it was necessary to incorporate the perspectives of all the players at the table to keep the project moving.

“We’re actually very happy with where we are. And we’re on an aggressive timeline here-on out,” he said.

Charron noted that, unlike some other industry initiatives that are “aspirational,” the nine participating MLSs have existing businesses that they have to consider to avoid jeopardizing the work of their member agents and brokers.

The technology Bright will be using is “proven,” he added. “The technology we’re employing is already in place. We’re not inventing anything. We’re integrating.”

Lastly, the collaborative way in which MRIS and TREND have approached the creation of Bright means that they’ve engendered “political capital” in the region to make the consolidation occur, he said.

“It does take more time and we’re being thoughtful about it, and we have a high probably that all this is going to work out. We’re pretty jazzed about it,” he said.

While other initiatives may have to expend “herculean efforts” to try to get disparate markets to work together, “we got this,” he said.

“We’re consolidating not only in market, but we’re consolidating politically and technically as well. And that’s pretty cool.”

From the beginning, Charron said, MRIS and TREND tried to be inclusive of who they felt the five major stakeholders in the project were:

  • The broker
  • The agent
  • The Realtor association
  • The staff
  • The consumer

“We believe that many other initiatives in the country failed to incorporate these five constituents. We think that makes us unique,” he said.

“From a political standpoint, it helped us break down barriers.”

That approach drew attention to what was really important, Charron said.

“In this business what’s critical is to make sure the brokers and the agents were central to the conversation and it made excuses as to why [other MLSs] wouldn’t be able to participate fewer and harder to make,” he said.

Bright does not anticipate staff cuts for any of the nine MLSs as a result of the consolidation.

“As a matter of fact, we’re going to be increasing staff because we’re going to be going into these new markets. We need all hands on deck,” Charron said.

The MLSs’ staff will be brought in under Bright’s umbrella, Phillips said.

Here are all 43 Realtor associations participating in Bright:

Delaware:

  • Kent County Association of Realtors
  • New Castle County Board of Realtors
  • Sussex County Association of Realtors

Maryland:

  • Anne Arundel County Association of Realtors
  • Bay Area Association of Realtors (Kent, Queen Anne’s and Caroline Counties)
  • Carroll County Association of Realtors
  • Cecil County Board of Realtors
  • Coastal Association of Realtors (Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester Counties)
  • Frederick County Association of Realtors
  • Garrett County Board of Realtors
  • Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors (Baltimore City and Baltimore County)
  • Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (Montgomery County, MD and Washington D.C.)*
  • Harford County Association of Realtors
  • Historic Highlands Association of Realtors (Allegany County)
  • Howard County Association of Realtors
  • Mid-Shore Board of Realtors (Talbot and Dorchester Counties)
  • Pen-Mar Regional Association of Realtors (Washington County, MD, Fulton and Franklin Counties, PA)*
  • Prince George’s County Association of Realtors
  • Southern Maryland Association of Realtors (Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties)

New Jersey:

  • Burlington Camden County Association of Realtors
  • Cumberland County Board of Realtors
  • Gloucester/Salem County Board of Realtors
  • Mercer County Association of Realtors

Pennsylvania:

  • Bucks County Association of Realtors
  • Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors (Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry Counties)
  • Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors (Philadelphia County)
  • Lancaster County Association of Realtors
  • Lebanon County Association of Realtors
  • Montgomery County Association of Realtors
  • Pen-Mar Regional Association of Realtors (Washington County, MD, Fulton and Franklin Counties, PA)*
  • Reading-Berks Association of Realtors
  • Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties
  • Schuylkill County Board of Realtors
  • Suburban West Realtors Association (Delaware and Chester Counties and the Main Line)

Virginia:

  • Blue Ridge Association of Realtors (Clarke, Frederick and Warren Counties and the city of Winchester)
  • Dulles Area Association of Realtors (Loudoun County)
  • Fredericksburg Area Association of Realtors (Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George and Caroline Counties)
  • Greater Piedmont Area Association of Realtors (Fauquier, Orange, Madison, Culpeper, Rappahannock Counties and part of Warren County)
  • Massanutten Association of Realtors (Page and Shenandoah Counties)
  • Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (Alexandria City, Fairfax City, Falls Church City, Fairfax and Arlington Counties)
  • Realtor Association of Prince William (Manassas City, Manassas Park City and Prince William County)

Washington, D.C:

  • District of Columbia Association of Realtors
  • Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (Montgomery County, MD and Washington D.C.)*

West Virginia:

  • Eastern Panhandle Board of Realtors (Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan Counties)
  • Potomac Highlands Board of Realtors (Mineral, Grant, Hampshire, Pendleton and Hardy Counties)

*Association crosses state lines and is listed twice.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to note that three of the nine participating MLSs are on the Matrix platform. A previous version of this story said all but two or three of the nine were on Matrix.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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