No rings have been exchanged yet, but two Texas MLSs are considering tying the knot.

  • The Austin Board of Realtors and the San Antonio Board of Realtors are exploring merging their MLSs.
  • The talks are a "proactive response" to rapid population growth and development that has blended the Austin and San Antonio areas.
  • Rather than wait for rumors and speculation to circulate, the associations went public with the conversation, according to one association CEO.
  • The move to weigh the merger possibility has attracted praise from industry players.

No rings have been exchanged yet, but two Texas MLSs are considering tying the knot.

The Austin Board of Realtors and the San Antonio Board of Realtors have announced that they are in talks to merge their multiple listing services.

More MLSs and associations are likely to consolidate this year, which could mean several benefits for agents and brokers on the ground, including better services, reduced fees and increased efficiencies.

Many MLS members wish their associations or MLSs would join forces, and a major win for merger proponents already came to life this year with the six-state coverage area served by the newly formed Bright MLS.

But with competing industry interests, consolidation will likely chug along slowly. Will these two Texas MLSs be the next to walk down the aisle?

A ‘proactive response’

ABoR and SABOR say a merger could enhance services for their combined 22,000-plus agent, broker and appraiser members in the Central and South Texas regions.

The talks are a “proactive response” to rapid population growth and development along the I-35 corridor that has blended the Austin and San Antonio areas and created “an increasing need for real estate brokers to work across both regions,” the associations said in a press release.

If realized, a merger would create one of the largest MLSs in the nation and further contribute to a trend of MLS consolidation across the country.

“MLSs are entering an era of consolidation due to many factors, including the fact that previously distinct geographic areas are now growing together, like Austin and San Antonio,” said Paul Hilgers, ABoR’s CEO, in a statement.

“Our members are seeing that convergence and reflecting it in their business strategies, expanding agents and offices throughout the region, who are leveraging technology to do business far beyond traditional geographic boundaries.

“So, as the stewards of one of their most important business tools, our collective boards of directors are exploring how we could best enable that growth for our members.”

Two of a kind

The two MLSs, which are of similar size, have areas of contiguous boundaries and overlapping listings, according to ABoR.

They also share similar scope and practices, which is one of the reasons partnership conversations between the two have progressed, Hilgers told Inman.

The two associations stressed that they had not made any permanent decisions and that merger talks were still in the “feasibility phase.”

ABoR and SABOR have created task forces made up of “key leaders” to investigate the possible merger, propose a framework for the potential entity, and evaluate what the merged MLS could offer each association’s membership, the associations said.

The associations have hired real estate attorney Mitchell Skinner of Larson Skinner PLLC to facilitate those discussions, they added. The task forces will decide whether their association boards of directors should further consider a merger.

According to the associations, some of the possible benefits of a merger include:

  • Fueling regional growth for members by offering a consolidated marketplace
  • Increased buying power, resulting in enhanced service to members and the possibility of an expanded suite of MLS-related products
  • Expanded industry influence at the state and national level
  • A cohesive, larger dataset for the region
  • Maintenance of affordable rates for subscribers

“We realize that our members need a long-term solution to best serve their clients in both areas,” said Angela Shields, SABOR’s president and CEO, in a statement.

“Though this is still in the exploration phase, we are eager to evaluate any opportunity to provide the tools our members need to keep up with the demands in an increasingly mobile and tech-driven marketplace.”

Putting transparency first

So why announce the merger talks now, before signing so much as a letter of intent?

“We received indicators this possibility would become a matter of public knowledge, so rather than allow rumor and speculation to circulate, we chose to make a public announcement about what we’re considering and why,” Hilgers said.

The move has attracted praise from industry players over on the Vendor Alley blog.

“Getting to the point of these discussions is a huge accomplishment,” wrote blog author Greg Robertson, though he thought “culturally Austin and San Antonio are an odd fit.”

David Charron, chief strategy officer of Bright MLS, wrote, “Kudos to the leadership of both organizations for engaging in the discussion about ‘what it could be’!”

If Bright’s development is any indication, any merger between ABoR and SABOR is likely to take awhile.

MRIS and TREND announced they were in discussions to create what would become Bright in September 2015, and Bright became a reality in January of this year.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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