By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
GLEN CARBON — Five months into a regional, multiple listing service merger, local Realtors are seeing benefits of having access to listed properties from a much wider territory.
Two Illinois-based Realtor associations in the bi-state area pooled interests this year to join the St. Louis-based Mid-America Regional Information System, or MARIS. Although planning began last year, and the new database was made accessible on Jan. 1, the merger was not official until April 1.
The new service represents properties listed by multiple associations in Missouri as well as those of the Greater Gateway Association of Realtors and the Realtor Association of Southwestern Illinois. The latter two make up the associations representing the counties in Metro East.
Members have been training on the system all year long, said Rob Wigton, the chief executive officer of the Greater Gateway group.
“We thought it would be better for our members to be affiliated with a larger, regional MLS. And it is lower cost to our members and provides them with more information,” he said. “Since we are the Metro East of St. Louis, a lot of our members are licensed in both states.”
An economy of scale plays into all this: There are now 12,000 members of MARIS vs. the 1,500 members of the former Southwestern Information Regional MLS. The latter MLS entity was dissolved at the end of the past year.
“By joining a group like that, every time they expand — and they just took on Cape Girardeau — there is more bang for the buck. Because the costs are spread out among more members,” Wigton said.
The MLS listings offer a plethora of information. When a Realtor or appraiser member goes to the MLS page they get all active listings, with address, price, square footage, room and flooring statistics and more.
“There is a wealth of information, I could go on and on,” Wigton said. “It’s a list of all pertinent information that could attract a particular buyer to a particular home.”
Land sales, residential and commercial listing are all included.
Once a property sells, that data remains in the system, too, so that appraisers can refer to it when they are doing appraisals. Realtors can use the information for doing a market analysis for a potential seller.
The MLS information goes back seven years, he said.
Only about 10 percent of Gateway’s members are licensed on both sides of the Mississippi.
“I expect that number to increase. Right now the two states do not have reciprocal agreements, so an agent would have to go through the whole Missouri standard of coursework, and those agents there would have to do the same thing over here.”
Most Realtors prefer focusing on their target markets anyway, he said.
“I think the ones that do get dual licenses are working with investors more than anything. Investors aren’t so interested in the particulars of a property as they are whether it will provide cash flow,” he said.
Wigton described the transition as “quite an undertaking. The MARIS people had to get all of our information off the old regional system and transferred onto the MARIS database. We started talks last fall. It took several training sessions.”
A task force was put together to make sure things were included on the database.
“We’ve all given input and think we’ve formed a pretty good system. It’s not without its hiccups. And some of our members begrudgingly learned something new. But for the most part, by now they’ve got a good grasp of how to use it,” he said.
Since April local Realtors have reached an agreement with the Capitol Association of Springfield, allowing its members to look at the data and list properties.
“Their members can list it for a fee, through the MARIS confines, without actually joining (MARIS),” he said. “And our members can list a listing with the Capitol for a fee.”
Wigton sees other reciprocal agreements in the future.
“I see one happening with the Egyptian board, out of Marion/Carbondale. And I’m sure there are some out of Missouri, in contiguous counties to the parameters of MARIS.
When Wigton came on the job last year, talks were actually focused on merging MLS services with Realtor groups to the north — Capitol, Champaign and Decatur.
“There were talks to consolidate that way. It would have been a much smaller (MLS), about 5,000 members. And the costs would have been prohibitive. It wouldn’t have saved our members any money. So we started looking, along with Deb Frazier of the Realtor Association of Southwestern Illinois. It makes so much sense for us. That was the area we thought our members would be better served by, rather than going north, into rural Illinois.
Wigton did not want to get into specific fee arrangements. “But I can say it is roughly half of what our members used to pay.”