Monday, August 27, 2007

Real estate brokers sharing sales data in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties

Real estate brokers sharing sales data

East Bay Business Times - August 24, 2007

by Jessica Saunders

Real estate brokers and agents in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties now have access to more than 2.5 million listings of homes for sale throughout California through a data-sharing agreement between 10 multiple-listing services.

The California MLS Alliance includes East Bay Regional Data Inc., whose listings include Alameda and Contra Costa counties, and Bay Area Real Estate Information Services Inc., which serves agents and brokers in Solano, Marin, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma counties.

The alliance is a data-sharing arrangement only. Wholesale mergers of various MLSs are also on the table.

East Bay Regional Data was among six MLSs that discussed in 2006 merging to form one large MLS serving a large portion of Northern California, but it and the San Francisco Association of Realtors MLS later dropped out. The San Francisco Association of Realtors MLS is also part of California MLS Alliance.

The proposed merger, now downsized from six MLSs representing as many as 75,000 brokers and agents to four MLSs representing 30,000 brokers and agents, is expected to close later this year. It will be called the Northern California Real Estate Exchange, or NCREX, and will incorporate REInfoLink, Contra Costa MLS, Bay East MLS and Central Valley MLS into a single entity with a central database, a single usage fee and one set of rules governing the data's use. It will serve a 10-county area stretching from the South and East Bay to the Central Coast and Central Valley.

Although numerous public Web sites now offer home listing information, MLS data remains the most complete and up-to-date because it is provided directly by agents. Listing data is the foundation of every U.S. housing market, so whoever owns the information also to a certain extent controls the marketplace. The larger MLSs get through mergers, the more power shifts from smaller, independent brokers who often guided MLSs in the past to broker-owners and managers of regional and national firms.

Big brokers have driven the merger efforts in Northern California, hoping to smooth out the patchwork of overlapping databases with separate rules and fees for each. The California Association of Realtors may also weigh in: It recently authorized spending $500,000 to examine forming a statewide MLS. There are about 75 multiple-listing services statewide.

In a highly competitive industry, data-sharing agreements like MLS Alliance allow MLSs access to distant listings without rewriting their rules or sharing revenue from subscriber fees.

The alliance, which took effect Aug. 1, provides real estate agents and brokers belonging to 45 real estate associations with a single source for accessing information on homes for sale throughout the state, said Becky Tobin, president and CEO of EBRDI, the Walnut Creek service owned by the Alameda, Berkeley, Delta and Oakland Realtor associations and the West Contra Costa Multiple Listing Service.

Tobin did not respond in time for publication to follow-up calls about why East Bay Regional Data dropped out of NCREX.

Tobin said she had received "quite a bit" of positive feedback from members on the new data-sharing agreement, the cost of which was absorbed by the member MLSs. Agents and brokers pay subscription fees to belong to an MLS.

"This is something our members have been asking for," Tobin said.

The 10 alliance members have been working on the agreement since February. | 925-598-1427

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