Multilist access may be broadened

December 19, 1993|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff Writer

Within a few years, buyers could shop for a house from their home computers.

The National Association of Realtors plans to update and link Multiple Listing Service systems throughout the United States. One result could be access to the system by the public.

But national and local industry executives stress that access could be years away and that only a small amount of the information now on the MLS system would be available. They say buyers would still need the help and expertise of a real estate agent.

"There's more to learn than finding out that the living room is 20 feet by 12 feet," said Nancy Hubble, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

Buyers will continue to seek agents' help with picking a home, inspection, financing and other issues, she said.

The real estate industry hopes to fend off potential competitors, who could offer rival home listing information, by updating their system and offering some access directly to buyers.

Officials also hope to make buying a home faster by letting

buyers themselves sort through and eliminate listings before heading for an agent.

But, at the same time, the industry wants to keep some control over the MLS information, which is the primary home marketing tool for the industry, said William Chee, past president of the National Association of Realtors, at the group's annual convention last month.

Consumer access to the Multiple Listing Service is expected to be one result of a plan passed by the NAR to link MLS systems across the country.

Besides the price of a home, Ms. Hubble expects buyers to have access to just a few facts about a home. These could include the neighborhood, ZIP code, room sizes and a minimal description of the property, she said.

Warren Tunkel, executive vice president of the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service, also is convinced that the Realtors' new federation will place limitations on public access to MLS listings.

A consumer tapping into the MLS would not, for example, be given the address of a for-sale property. Rather, he would likely be given the name of the listing agent, who could show a prospect the listed property.

In addition, he said consumers could be expected to pay, either directly or indirectly, for access to the MLS information.

The listing service would likely keep the ability to add listings to the service in the hands of real estate agents.

Under the overall NAR plan, Multiple Listing Services would service "natural" real estate markets. These would be united under a privately operated federation, which would link each MLS that chose to participate in the federation through computer technology.

Such links are what would allow consumers to tap into the system, Mr. Chee said.

Mr. Tunkel, whose CMMLS serves Realtors in most parts of the Baltimore area, said he expects it to take 12 to 18 months before computer links among the nationwide MLS system could be created.

"We have a state-of-the-art system. But there are MLS systems in this country that are not even computerized yet," Mr. Tunkel explained.

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