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An ongoing war between local divisions of the nation's primary real estate trade group has resulted in the filing of a federal lawsuit last week by the Greater San Diego Association of Realtors against its own multiple listing service (MLS), Sandicor, which is co-owned by the North San Diego County Association of Realtors and the Pacific Southwestern Association of Realtors.

The latter associations, which cater primarily to North County and East County/South Bay real estate agents, account for about one-third of the county's active membership, with the Greater San Diego association claiming a little more than two-thirds of San Diego's 19,500 members (real estate licensees are not required to join the association to legally practice).

At issue is a data-sharing agreement — the majority of local agents list their properties for sale in the Sandicor MLS, which then broadcasts the data to other members and their clients, with the hope of matching a buyer to a listed property. Greater San Diego claims in their suit that the association last year attempted to launch Just Knock, a consumer-oriented site intended to connect potential home buyers or sellers with their agents and with property listings throughout the county.

The other associations, however, ordered Sandicor to block direct access to MLS data for the site featuring only Greater San Diego association members. Despite claiming the majority of local agents among its members, the association only has two seats on the six-seat board of directors for the MLS.

Greater San Diego says they attempted a workaround, contracting a third party to obtain the MLS data and feed it to the Just Knock site. At this point, they claim, Sandicor ordered that any listings from the Pacific Southwest and North San Diego boards' members be blocked from transmittal, without providing an option to these agents to "opt in" to an option allowing their listings to be advertised to visitors of the Just Knock site. Greater San Diego says this results in about 30 percent of the county's total offerings being hidden from consumer view on their site.

"The fact that Plaintiff is utilizing the MLS data to create innovative programs and services for its members has been seen as a direct competitive threat by [Pacific Southwest] and [North San Diego]," lawyers for Greater San Diego say, according to a report from Inman.com.

The group also claims that its competitors have threatened to block access to data for other software Greater San Diego developed for its members unless it was also offered to members of competing organizations "so [Greater San Diego] could not use it to compete for members against them."

A potentially larger underlying issue, addressed later in the complaint, is that the smaller organizations, "in cooperation with Sandicor’s CEO, Ray Ewing, recently pushed through a 'task force' to investigate a merger between Sandicor and the California Regional Multiple Listing Service ('CRMLS') at considerable Sandicor expense."

The California Regional Multiple Listing Service is a cooperative effort between other realtor associations across the state that seek to broaden exposure of individual agents' listing; it currently claims a subscriber count of nearly 80,000 agents statewide. Greater San Diego derides the system as "a partial, piecemeal state-wide MLS listing service" and says that to release Sandicor's data to the regional multiple listing service "threatens to destroy and devalue Sandicor’s most valuable asset: its database."

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