Clear Cooperation Works

Metro MLS ushered it in with education and an escalating fine structure.

Chris Carrillo is CEO of Metro MLS in Milwaukee. You can reach him at

Having access to accurate listing data and property information provided by an MLS system is extremely important to most people in the industry—perhaps because the services the systems provide have historically been business-to-business and transactional. But our industry is evolving.

The passage of the National Association of REALTORS®’ MLS Clear Cooperation Policy (CCP) last year cemented the importance of fairness and cooperation in the marketplace and highlighted the fact that the consumer is a key stakeholder in MLS content. MLS systems don’t just support brokerage business models; they also support the needs of buyers and sellers to have accurate, reliable, and timely information to aid in making decisions.

The ability to make informed choices based on unbiased, objective, and complete information is the basis for providing equal opportunity and parity for all interested consumers—not just some or a select few. In this effort, the MLS contributes to the realization of fair housing.

This was our opening discussion as we approached implementation of Clear Cooperation in the Metro MLS market. Although we’ve heard countless complaints over the years (“It’s not fair that I share all of my listings, but I don’t have theirs.”), we approached the subject by detailing the harm in REALTORS® failing to cooperate, as well as its negative impact on consumers.

Even if unintentional, members not listing their properties on an MLS had the net result of not exposing the properties to all buyers. Even those members who commonly used the “Coming Soon” status or excluded their listings from MLS took notice.

Partners and Advocates

Following several in-person meetings, MLS-sponsored broker breakfasts, virtual meetings, email blasts, and phone calls, we realized we were creating partners and advocates in the marketplace. Several members changed their minds about their marketing practices and stated publicly that that they would stand behind the MLS CCP transition.

When Metro MLS implemented Clear Cooperation on March 1, 2020, it went off without incident. Membership was informed of the policy and the whys behind it.

Transparency best serves the REALTOR® marketplace and the consumers they serve.

The approach we took to build enforcement of the policy with the board and leadership was equally important. A unified approach and tone helped us issue the proper message to the marketplace, stating clearly that transparency best serves the REALTOR® marketplace and the consumers they serve: Cooperation is back, and we intend to enforce it!

We formed an escalating fine structure that rewarded compliance and sent the message that we won’t tolerate abuse of CCP. We focused on educating members as we implemented it; if you take a “fine now, ask questions later” mindset from the start, you’ll only build resentment. Fines don’t work if members see them only as a cost of doing business.

I sometimes hear complaints about specific examples in which CCP might interfere with a member’s ability to advertise, cause confusion among home builders, or interfere with the client’s best interests. My response is always, “Don’t let perfect interfere with progress.”

CCP is working in our marketplace. Since Metro MLS implemented it, we’ve seen excluded listings decline by 65%. In addition, REALTOR® members representing buyers are better served, because delayed properties are represented in the MLS and not just with a for sale sign in the yard that reads “Coming Soon.” This transparency has resulted in increased exposure of inventory and increased confidence that REALTOR® cooperation exists.

Looking forward, I expect to see more standards encouraging a data-in/data-out process for MLSs. Clear Cooperation was an important step, and I suspect it will continue to be adjusted as it matures and nuances reveal themselves. It's not just important that MLSs maintain accurate, unbiased data; participants and subscribers must also be able to use that data.

MLSs must examine how they deliver on compliance, data utilization, standards, services, and governance to ensure that their decisions yield the best results for the market at large. Working together, MLSs can shift the tide to ensure brokers get their best.

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