The reach of Richmond Realtors for buying and selling their residential listings is about to get wider.
The Richmond Association of Realtors is working with its colleagues to the east – the Williamsburg Area Association of Realtors and the Chesapeake Bay & Rivers Association of Realtors – to develop a joint multiple listing service platform called the Commonwealth MLS Co-op.
In the works for more than a year, the cooperative will see the two eastern associations’ multiple listing services join the platform for Richmond’s MLS, called the Central Virginia Regional Multiple Listing Service.
Once launched next month, the platform will allow Richmond Realtors to list and view properties in the Historic Triangle and the peninsula to the north covered by Chesapeake Bay & Rivers. The same will be true for Realtors in those areas, who will be able to view and list properties in the 16 jurisdictions covered by CVRMLS.
Laura Lafayette, CEO of the Richmond association and CVRMLS, said the partnership – which she emphasized should not be considered a merger – will increase the exposure of members’ listings while also reducing costs and time spent on data entry.
Previously, if agents near the boundaries between two of the MLSs wanted their properties listed in more than one, they needed to pay twice to become a member of both groups and separately enter their information into each MLS. The new platform will remove those redundancies, Lafayette said.
“It should reduce some costs for our brokers, particularly, who’ve had to join multiple MLSs, and it will reduce data entry time substantially,” she said.
“This will add about 1,000 pairs of eyeballs to our members’ listings,” she said. “That’s the great value for our members, is that there’s over 1,000 additional Realtors viewing their listings – the possibility of bringing buyers to those listings.”
While the two eastern areas are much smaller than Richmond’s, they do add all or parts of nine jurisdictions: the city of Williamsburg and James City and York counties in the Historic Triangle, and Chesapeake Bay & Rivers’ coverage area, which includes Gloucester, Mathews and Middlesex counties, portions of King and Queen and King William counties, and the town of West Point.
CVRMLS covers 16 jurisdictions, including Richmond, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico and New Kent counties. Other jurisdictions include Caroline, Charles City, Dinwiddie, Hopewell, part of King William, Louisa, Petersburg, Powhatan, Prince George and Colonial Heights.
Lafayette said the co-op resulted from an overture from the Williamsburg association, which she said hosted a meeting of all three MLSs in June 2014.
“We heard from some of the agents, and it was really clear that this is what they want,” she said. “They want to see either MLS consolidation or an ability to work in a larger footprint.”
Lafayette said the arrangement allows all three groups to retain their corporate independence, which she said was important to the two eastern groups. A reason for that, she said, is the ability of MLSs to generate income for associations through membership fees.
She said a similar arrangement was recently brokered by Charlottesville’s Realtors association, which went west and joined up with the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Association of the Realtors and the Staunton-based Greater Augusta Association of Realtors. She said that move was determined by analyzing data and listing overlaps, as was the case for Richmond and its two eastern neighbors.
While such moves are not mergers, Lafayette said they could prove a precursor of a trend she foresees for the real estate industry.
“I think that the industry is moving toward larger MLSs and fewer MLSs,” Lafayette said. “I think the movement in the industry nationally is toward consolidation, and I think that’s going to happen eventually in Virginia.
“You’re going to see some consolidation, but sometimes you have to date before you can marry.”
Lafayette said the effort, which started in August 2014, has come with some costs, including staff time for transferring data to the platform and negotiating rules that will govern the three areas. She said the groups relied heavily on Richmond’s MLS vendor, California-based CoreLogic.
The updated platform will feature a new logo and login screen – the only changes members will notice, she said, apart from the additional listings.
“January’s a good time to get this accomplished,” she said. “People get a chance to work on the new system before the spring market really hits in earnest.”
When the platform launches in a little over a month – Lafayette said they’re aiming for mid- to late February – the initiative’s costs, which she declined to specify, will be worth it for the savings to members and added exposure, she said.
“I think the future is fewer MLSs covering larger swaths of territory. And we felt like, if that’s the future, then we need to be a part of it,” she said.
The effort is the latest by the Richmond association to maintain and improve CVRMLS. Last year, it struck an agreement with real estate website Zillow to ensure its listings continued to appear on that site.