Inman had news yesterday of REALTOR association mergers, and posed the question of the value of such moves. Given my involvement in a large territory spanning half a dozen MLS systems and many more boards, I feel that I should weigh in on the matter.
I am a big fan of large MLS systems, but not terribly jazzed about big boards. Ths state of Connecticut aparently agrees with me- aside from Fairfield County, they have a statewide MLS but have retained local boards, often on a town level. More on that later. Big MLSes are good, but so are smaller boards.
If you didn't click on the link, I favor large MLS systems because it is silly to have to pay separate fees to cross county lines or, in some cases, town lines. I could drive 35 miles and pass through 4 MLS areas. That is madness. It is data, and even if you don't have my business model why should you have to have 2 different sets of overhead because you straddle a boundary?
Large Realtor Associations, however, have different problems. Associations exist, in large degree, to oversee the membership and enforce the Code of Ethics. Small boards have the resources to oversee their town or county. Big boards simply do not have the resources to enforce member conduct. LIBOR, or the Long Island Board of Realtors, has the government intervening on both ends of their territory: In Queens, the state has issued a cease and desist order in a large area because of agent misconduct. On the East End, the Department of Justice is examining anti-trust practices, where brokers flaunt their antipathy about the MLS. My own experience confirms the problems of oversight in Queens. I have blogged about my frustration with agent conduct in the boroughs in the past. In some parts, it is the wild west, and the board is not effective in reigning in misconduct. Where the board fails, the government intervenes.
Connecticut, on the other hand, is a different universe from Long Island and the Boroughs. By and large, Connecticut agents and firms are as professional as I have found, and there is almost never an issue with cooperation, fair play, professional standards, or collegiality. It is no coincidence that they have small boards. My own board recently consolidated with another county's association, but have retained a regional office in each area. I am on the board for the MLS, which is growing, but I hope the association does not absorb any other boards.
The arguments for large boards include buying power and bulk discounts for membership, and I suppose that is nice. However, we have to choose our priorities, and in my view professional standards and oversight have to supersede getting a good deal on a rental car.