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CEO's fraternity job led him to head an association serving Realtors [The Philadelphia Inquirer :: BC-REAL-LISTINGSERVICE-QA:PH]

PHILADELPHIA - For sale signs are blossoming in yards, along with dogwoods, in this spring's hot residential real estate market.

Prices are climbing, with houses flying on and off the market in days.

"The mild winter has had the activity level for the first part of the year significantly higher than last year - 15 to 20 percent," said Tom Phillips, 54, president and chief executive of Bright MLS, the multiple listing service that provides property information to Realtors. "I think it was yanking some of the typical spring market forward."

Phillips leads a relatively new venture. Bright MLS, with headquarters in King of Prussia, began in January as the consolidation of nine Realtor-owned multiple listing services systems.

The Delaware Valley Real Estate Information Network (known as TREND), joined with Metropolitan Regional Information Systems in Washington, plus similar associations in Maryland; Cumberland County, N.J.; Harrisburg; Lebanon, Adams, York, and Lancaster Counties in Pennsylvania; and Sussex County in Delaware. Phillips had led TREND.

Why did this consolidation occur?

Technology. Technology is now being so readily embraced by agents. The need for better and more innovative technology is constantly changing. Bigger can help you do that, more resources, the larger audience. So that would be one driving factor.

Bright is owned by Realtors. Is technology affecting how they do business?

They were always known for being a little behind the curve on technology. I don't believe that's at all true anymore. Real estate professionals very much like using technology and love using information to help people make decisions.

Is the information changing as well?

Information from the real estate side used to just be a database of listings: what's for sale, what sold, price and historical pricing. But today, there's a whole lot more that you can really merge into that. Information about amenities. Our system provides a search that lets you enter criteria, and it helps you determine commute times. So you can help a consumer understand how long, if you buy this house, it will take you, on average, to get to work. School information is something we provide.

What about a national consolidation?

There are some efforts beginning on those talks, but I wouldn't go so far as to say they're happening.

What are some of the obstacles?

It's kind of boring stuff, but an organization called the Real Estate Standards Organization has been very active in the last few years (trying to develop common definitions). It makes it difficult when you are trying to create a seamless system when everybody is doing things a little bit different. Even something as simple as bedrooms, some call it bedrooms. Others call it beds. Others abbreviate it as BDS.

Does the temperature of the real estate market worry you? I can't help thinking about the boom in prices just before the last recession.

We are not seeing the kind of dramatic price appreciation that has me worried, not until you start seeing some of those really phenomenal numbers where people are selling the same property every other year. There's a very slow, steady appreciation in this market that is good for consumers but I don't think alarming. There's still a lingering impact of foreclosures on the market, but far less than what we've seen in the last couple of years. It's keeping the overall median-price number lower, because foreclosures generally sell for about a third of a comparable house.

One of your first jobs was working in the national headquarters of a college fraternity. How did that affect your career?

I was visiting college campuses, visiting actual chapters. I ended up liking working with organizations and people.

Do you have any good job-interview questions?

I love to ask people to describe their dream job. I had somebody tell me once, who we hired, that their dream job would be to host a show on the Food Network. Then you ask why. I always find it interesting what that tells about them.

OK, I have to ask: What's your dream job?

It would probably be something within the general family of real estate or design, or something that's related. I guess I'm in my dream job.

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(Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.)

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TOM PHILLIPS

Home: Trenton, in a restored 1850s red brick Federal-style rowhouse. "I'm a chronic fixer-upper."

Diplomas: University of Illinois, landscape architecture.

Career path: Early job at a fraternity led to association management work. Worked for the Burlington County Board of Realtors, which moved him into real estate.

Point of pride: Makes an excellent paella.

BRIGHT MLS:

What: Consolidated multiple listing service based in King of Prussia.

Territory: 40,000 square miles, six states plus Washington.

Subscribers: 85,000 real estate professionals in 43 real estate associations with more than 20 million customers.

Statistics: $35 million in annual revenues in monthly fees paid by subscribers; 145 employees.

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(c)2017 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com

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