The media have used such words as “cat fight” and “war” to describe the dispute over the creation of a multiple listing service that will incorporate all New York City residential listings into one user-friendly database. Indeed, last month the residential real estate community broke into two factions, both claiming that they will have a working MLS up by January 2001.

As reported by earlier this month, the Corcoran Group joined with Douglas Elliman, and later the Halstead Property Group and Bellmarc Realty, to create an MLS system. That’s when the fun began–the four firms control 68% of NYC’s residential real estate market, and the move created ripples of anxiety in the industry. Some 45 residential real estate firms, including 16 of the top 20 in NYC, immediately formed an MLS Task Force to create their own system, also aiming for a January 2001 start-up.

Why the argument? Explains William Zeckendorf, chairman of Brown Harris Stevens, “Corcoran and Douglas Elliman were forming an MLS, and they owned it. We, meaning the other brokerage firms, were told that we should call them to sign up, and we didn’t think that was in the spirit of the MLS. We just didn’t think it was fair for two to make the rules for everyone.”

Shortly after announcing their plans, Corcoran and Douglas Elliman began recruiting people. One potential recruit, Joyce West, president and director of sales at Charles H. Greenthal & Co., recounts the deal she was offered: “They felt a percentage of everyone’s commission would go to the MLS and they would take the lion’s share.”

To which Marilyn Harra Kaye, president of MLBKaye International Realty, counters, “If you’re going to create a unified MLS you don’t bring people in one at a time to join you, you assemble the whole community.”

The idea behind the Corcoran/Douglas Elliman MLS plan is that a separate corporation called the NYC-MLS would be created. The new organization would be controlled in a cooperative fashion by all participating members, with each brokerage firm having representation on a board that would make all laws governing its operation.

Is a happy resolution possible? Will there be two MLS systems or one? Corcoran and Douglas Elliman officials contend that their goal is to create one MLS with everyone in the market having an equal say in its operation.

Information is circulating that truce talks are in the works for some time after Labor Day. Despite all the speculation, both parties seem optimistic that things will work out. And despite the animosities,” all the anger is being shown now, but after the anger settles there will be one MLS,” West assures. The worst-case scenario, according to Kaye, is that “there will be one MLS, or two talking to each other.” (Anthony Garritano is associate editor of Real Estate New York, a Real Estate Media Publiction).

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