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The Crusaders... John Reilly, Saul Klein, Mike Barnett

Welcome to the “BEST OF MLS”

BEST OF MLS INFORMATION # 2

The following is a compilation of postings from MLSInformation, the largest MLS Community on the Internet. To subscribe, please send an eMail to MLSInformation@InternetCrusade.com with the word “subscribe” in the subject line.

My name is Saul Klein and I am the President of InternetCrusade®. Together with my partners, John Reilly and Mike Barnett, we expect to grow this List Serv, and its soon to be developed accompanying web site, into the number one MLS information resource, on and off the Internet. These resources will highlight information contributed by real estate professionals and association and MLS staff who are faced with the challenges of running an MLS, including the selection and conversion to new, Internet based systems over the next few years.

For your time, we believe you will be well rewarded, as much of the information we gather and classify here will be found nowhere else in the world. We plan to collect information and build a database, which will be extremely valuable to all participants, and we will make it available to you on the Internet as well as through this List Serv and a series of Auto Responders.

The purposes of this List Serv Community are many, and we will discover more as we grow. To begin with, MLS Information will:

After the first month, the MLSInformation forum was opened to MLS Vendors for their review and participation. Saul opened it up with these remarks:

The information flow has been great and as we accumulate more data, we will make it available through auto responders and on the Web. It was our (InternetCrusade) intention to get this List Serv populated with our "first wave" of early adopters, begin the information flow and the feeling of "community," and then subscribe all vendors interested in hearing and responding to questions, complaints, and compliments. This will make this community a true information resource.

We believe that the time to bring in the vendors, at least as listeners, is close at hand. REALTORS and their MLSs will benefit most when there is a free flow of information between vendors and customers at the national level. "Community" is the next big movement on the Internet and will be the driver of E-commerce and customer service in the future (and community on the Internet has been around for a while, just over shadowed by the IPO craze of the last few years).

The following is a clip responding to Kerry Kidwell's concern over vendor participation (I can't remember who posted the clip) and then an eMail sent to the List by Bob Bemis of Interealty (anyone can send to the list...the eMail sits in the queue until we decide to accept or reject it. Members of the list receive everything that is approved). I think it is on target and believe that Bob and the other MLS Vendors will make major contributions to this community. They will not control the list or the conversations...that will be the role of the REALTOR and staff members of the list...but the vendors are a wealth of information and can help solve the problems REALTORS and MLSs have to deal with.

So when do we bring on the vendors? I would say in the next 30 days...we know have about 500 members of this community and I would like the population to be around 1000 before we bring the vendors on board.

I can't speak for the entire vendor community, but I look forward to the open, honest and frank feedback about the products and services we at Interealty.com offer. I inquired of Saul about joining the MLSTalk forum and was disappointed to be told it was a closed forum for MLS personnel only.

That was followed by the creation of this more open venue for information exchange to which vendors will be invited. It baffles me that anyone would want to exclude the vendors from hearing comments (both positive and negative) which would possibly improve the services vendors offer. [As a side note, customers share not only eMail. We have known for years that our printed product and sales presentations are quickly circulated to our competition, so it should be no surprise that eMail is likewise forwarded far beyond the intended recipient list.] All too often the feedback we get from presentations and sales calls is slanted by the biases and personal agendas of the committee participants. It's an unfortunate fact of life that the MLS vendor selection process is much more political than technological, owing mostly to the electoral process of selecting leadership. I think an objective comparison of the products offered can only serve the MLS community for the better, removing the biases and portraying the products in a true apples-to-apples style. Wouldn't it be an interesting committee meeting if a group of rank and file members challenged the contentions and biases of their elected leaders based on independent analysis presented in this forum/web-site?

I would ask that you consider two things: (1) Include some sort of qualitative ranking of each of the quantitative measures in your analysis. For instance, everyone has a CMA module in their MLS system, but the quality of the analysis, the methods used to calculate estimated selling price, the form/format of the output reports, the variety of reports, the customization allowed to the reports, all contribute to a quality product that needs to be evaluated beyond just a check-mark in the "YES" column next to "CMA Y/N?" I don't know what form that would take.

Perhaps a 1-5 star rating, like restaurants, based on a preponderance of polling information. But this is an important consideration throughout your analysis, particularly since almost all MLS systems now have almost all the features needed. The differentiator becomes quality of product, experience of implementation personnel, and depth of customer service, all very hard to measure quantitatively. (2) Offer the vendors an opportunity to review and possibly correct the data points you anticipate collecting. Much like the credit reporting process, when you collect that much information about that many parties, mistakes are likely to happen. There should be a review and confirmation process by which MLS providers can correct errors before they are widely distributed. We at Interealty look forward to participating, not just lurking, in the continuing discussions here, in the hope that everyone in the MLS community, both customers and vendors, will benefit from the information exchange. thanx..

Bob Bemis Director, Marketing & Product Management
Interealty.com Bob.Bemis@Interealty.com

As a committee, you need to bring the discussion to a end on vendors being a part of this. As long as ever one deals fairly & speaks the true what is the problem?

You now have your poll, so bring it to a end. Lets start with more info on where we are going.

Ed Vaughn Macon MLS
erv180@aol.com

Saul's note:

Thanks Ed...we are ready to do just that. This List Serv Community will now subscribe vendors and this should help tremendously as a resource. Those who may be worried about sales pitches from vendors...as stated a few times, John Reilly and I Moderate this list and we will not allow blatant marketing of a vendor's services. Here are the benefits of vendor participation as we see them:

  • Vendor participation allows for the consumer (you) to go directly to the source for information.
  • Vendor Participation gives vendors insight into their own problems (and other vendors problems) which they can then correct.
  • Corrected problems are a plus for the vendor and the customer. Vendors have the ability to address and correct a customer need and the entire community knows about it. This helps create customer loyalty for the vendor and fixes the problem for the customer.

So if everyone would let your vendors know we welcome their participation, and have them send their eMail address to me (Saul@InternetCrusade.com), we will subscribe them at once.

In evaluating a MLS vendor’s internet-based system, it is important to look beyond functionality and examine the critical issues of service and training. Ken Duke, CEO of Regional MLS, Inc, notes that:

For the most part, I have found that the committees making selection have no clue what they are looking at in demos. All they realize from the process is what either the Vendor or the Associations MLS service they are demoing looks like and if they like the look. It has nothing to do with functionality, background servers, communications etc. Each member of the committee has their own little function that they want to see or that vendor is out.

Saul's philosophy is right on about committees.

"A committee should always be made up of an odd number and 3 is too many."

For the most part, all of the vendors either do or can offer the same functionality. It really boils down to service. Service sometimes, unfortunately, relates to an Associations or MLS size.

Our history in the MLS business has been to cater to the masses and if we can add some advanced features for the savvy then we do so as long as it does not cost too much.

I think that the Web based services will soon eliminate those who don't get it or who fail to train themselves on the real issues of real estate marketing in the 21st Century.

Judith is correct, spend your money on the education of your member and the Vendor won't matter as long as they stay in business. VistaInfo and Interealty and some of the other long term vendors really do understand our business.

The new vendors need customers to survive. I don't see much of a movement to support their roles with few exceptions

The job of evaluating MLS Vendors is a difficult one. Here’s a belief that the job is made easier when the committee consists of one person ;-)

There is little reason for concern that vendors would monopolize this medium for their own gain, with their advertising and propaganda.... since this is not an open newsgroup, but rather, a MODERATED listserv... in which SAUL filters responses for relevance and appropriate-ness. THAT is what can keep this venue viable and interesting... the moderator.

Bring 'em on. Vendors are welcome here.

As for the "cloud" that forms while viewing the dog and pony show that vendors create to demo their product.... I agree.. I'm afraid that my vendor-processor has either burned out (overloaded), or has definitely taken a damaging surge.... from all of the variables posed by the various vendors. There are so many similarities, you'd think that you just look for the differences... but I'm amazed at the sheer volume of similarities you must wade through first.

My evaluation committee is in reality ONE (me); I'm sure that makes it easier than some of them out there that must play more politics, but even so, I do not recommend this job.

Larry Hathcock
2000 Chairman, Dalton MLS, Inc.

What’s the best way to evaluate the offerings of the many MLS Vendors? Here’s a suggestion from Julie Nelson, Maryville TN < nelsonj@nelson-realtors.com> to contact agents in the field.

If your Assn is considering a new MLS Vendor, ask for names of the Assns that are presently using the system. Cross reference the Assn with individual agents (CRS directory is easiest) and then fax or eMail those agents and ask how they really like the program. You'll get your best evaluations of the program from agents that are using it daily.

Should the MLS Vendor be allowed access to the Information Services (IS) systems? No, according to Anchorage MLS Director of IS, John G. Regan III

"Carte Blanche" access by any vendor to any system under the authority of, and therefore the responsibility of, your IS departments is not a good business practice.

I've worked for 25+ years exclusively in the DP business with various industries: real estate, banking, computer manufacturers, wholesale/retail food production and sales. In that time I've been party to the evolution and demise of "big iron" mainframes, "micros", mini's and about every other combination and permutation of electrical/electronic processing device.

Without regard to a vendor's intentions, mistakes and malfunctions occur. The scheduling of risk to a time appropriate to the users of any system the ass'n members depend upon fails squarely upon the shoulders of the your IS department.

This includes "black box" systems that your IS department "feeds and diapers".

A "fix" by a vendor for a user or group may "break" a function another user or group has been using in a "broken" condition. Now the IS department is in a reactive mode and not a proactive one. This is bad business by everyones standards.

Even if a system were to malfunction when a proper fix is implemented, we're back into reactive mode.

When you go looking for any system for your association, keybox, listing, membership, accounting, etc., make sure that the vendor commits to "live" support availability equivalent to your ass'ns needs. Our is 20 X 7. Since, I'm committed 24 X 7 (including labor time of our last child), it seems gracious to not demand the same.

Also, insist ... no .. DEMAND they maintain a fully functional, consistently maintained "test" environment that duplicates the "production" environment.

Program development and debugging must occur in an environment that duplicates the live system. This ensures; (1) you're not debugging their work - they are, (2) they have every resource necessary to be as successful as you want them to be, and (3) NO TESTING OF CHANGES ON THE CUSTOMERS!

Is there a need for a national MLS? How about the merits of a statewide Internet-based MLS? Here are some thoughts from Visalia’s Karl Hampton

I have seen several comments about this possibility and some even desiring a national MLS. National MLS would imply only 1? Wonder how good the product and service would be without competition? The other scenario of a national oversight group to make various vendors available is a more logical possibility, but that isn't a national MLS other than perhaps standard interface, etc.

So far I am not seeing any benefit to the national concept other than standard interface. We have 450 subscribers (small organization) and our MLS fees are considerably lower than most large regional MLS's and the internet has allowed us to maintain a very competitive operation in terms of price, but also in terms of service. Plug for Saul & gang, we have started using Internet Crusade for an additional communication vehicle for members and it is off to a great start, you may want to try it if you haven't. Our MLS System (Rapattoni) has broadcast eMail to subscribers. Members update their information online which updates NRDS, CAR, Supra, etc. Each subscriber gets a member and office page in our MLS with eMail link and link to his/her other web site, bio, personal photo, see my listings link which is real time and therefore requires no member upkeep, etc. Broker reciprocity under the new NAR guidelines is a snap, once local leadership decides exactly what the guidelines are.

Unless there is some dramatic change in the future, I really must admit that I am missing the benefit of a national MLS. Pricing certainly isn't it if realtor.com, homeseekers, homeadvisor, etc., are a precursor of what we are going to see. My suspicion is that the offer might be something like this, "Free MLS with your $689 web page package purchase - Add a link to your eMail for only $29.95 and additional photos of your listing for only $5 each. 24X7 tech support for $39.95 per month and for the next 30 days you can sign up for our introductory dispute resolution service for only $25 per month."

I did see that the Iowa State Association adopted a statewide Internet based MLS and sublicenses (appears to be optional not mandatory, so it is really more like an endorsed & supported program?) to local associations. This might be a good test and model to watch. Perhaps some one from Iowa can fill us in on this concept and how it works.

Martin Lee,, CEO of the Iowa AR was quick to respond:

Karl Hampton of the Visalia Association asked about Iowa's new MLS system. I entered into an agreement with Rapattoni whereby the State is the provider of the MLS system and the Boards that choose to can buy through the State Assn. their own system, designed for them and administered by them. The Boards control their data and their design. Advantages--(1) Boards do not have to sign contacts with the State, they can terminate their services anytime. (2) Uniformity.

Our first Board went up in December. Now we have 16 Boards on the system and more looking. So far, so good! Some have said it is the best thing the State Associaiton has ever done.

Judith Lindenau, Traverse Area AR, added a word of caution concerning being impressed with the bells and whistles of some of the Internet-based MLS systems.

I know this has been said before, but please do not base your judgement on the surface visuals. Probably your member usage accounts for little more than half of the functionality of any MLS information system. Remember all the 'back office functions' like adding listings, billing, membership records, and other site functions.

In this day and age of Windows and web, the color of the screen and the format of the listing is one of the least important issues. The 'gift wrap' is important to the first impression, but has little to do with the ongoing functionality.

Allen Benson CTO for Windermere points out a downside to the MLS having the flexibility to make data structure changes whenever they want – and that downside is the effect on agents in the field with their customized software programs.

One of the so called features an MLS tends to be looking for is a System that they can make data structure changes to any time of the day or night. This may on the surface sound like a great tool but how it affects the agents in the field is very seldom considered. The MLS likes this flexibility so they can add additional markets to their system or add a new field. In the past this cost was very expensive so it usually occurred once or twice a year in the larger MLS systems.

Now here’s the problem:

1.) Agents and Companies Spend Millions of dollars on software so they can appear different. (i.e. a CMA) No Agent wants to print the same look and Feel CMA as every other member of the MLS. So they purchase software that will allow them a different look and feel (i.e. Top Producer, Lightning, Wyld Fyre) side note: All 3 of these companies got purchased by Internet companies in the past 3 months. So every time the MLS makes a change in the systems it costs the agents 100's of dollars to get their software back working. Right now due to the cost of the mls to make a change the agents usually have to pay for a one time upgrade each year. Now with the MLS changing formats at whim this will put a huge unreasonable expense on the Members.

2.) I have tested dozens of these new web based systems and the one missing piece is that they have not built a complete download package. Most of the vendors say oh it is coming or We have one but it is only partial set of the data.

Without considering these 2 issues an MLS is basically telling there members to toss out the millions they've spent on software.

Allen’s above post generated further thought as to the perfect MLS system by Dave Culp of Contra Costa MLS:

Good, well thought-out comments. Thanks. There are two problems with these statements, however. Both relate to a misunderstanding of MLS technology, and with trying to reconcile a new business paradigm with an older one.

First, Allen's on the money with his statements about allowing a vendor to delay delivery of what he calls a "download package." The system *must* have the capability for third parties to "hook" into and download database fields and contents, separate from the agents' client software. Even if an MLS decides to grant no third party licenses, this function is vital.

So, number one, if third party "hooks" are in place, allowing all data fields to be downloaded, then it simply does not matter what the MLS or even individual agents do, with their display or printed reports. The underlying data structure does not change, and this is what the third party vendors grab onto. It can also be the hooks onto which an MLS itself can grab, for instance to replace the system's browser-based front end at some future date.

The writer's bad experiences relate to much older technology where the only way for third party vendors to download data was to "screen scrape" the output from the MLS vendor's proprietary client software, then re-assemble it into a database structure. This was and is a technological nightmare, and will indeed break every time the "screen scraped" material changes. The lesson is: Do not do it this way.

Demand proper "hooks" from your vendor, then use your contract to beat them into submission. This is not difficult technologically, but many vendors don't want to do it as they "lose control" of you as a customer. Use your contracts.

The second issue deals with the basic need for third party vendors altogether. It's true that agents and brokerages want to differentiate their "look and feel" from an MLS perspective; also to provide custom and advanced functionality, in their efforts to recruit both agents and customers. The point is, it is just this customizability WITHIN THEIR OWN, PAID-FOR MLS SYSTEM, which is "causing" the problem the writer speaks of. Using a system such as Rappatoni's new browser-based system, or VistaInfo's newest 2.x version of Real Estate Xplorer, an agent, a broker, or a consultant can design much, if not all the customization and advanced functionality agents and offices want, within the system itself.

Custom flyers, Logos and letterheads, Custom CMA's, personalized tour and mapping output, online contact management software, etc, etc all are possible with existing MLS systems.

While this doesn't bode well for third parties' bottom lines, it is a potential boon for agents and MLS', as the capabilities are available at little or no cost, beyond the basic MLS fee. As to "preserving" the viability of newly unnecessary third part software, well, I won't comment. :-)

Last, a combination of both the above points will likely build the best MLS; the ability to customize the existing MLS at the MLS or even agent level brings on advanced features as soon as they are conceived or available, while standardized "hooks" allow vendors and customers to download, then add anything they want, whether or not the base system accommodates it.




We hope you enjoyed this collection of the Best of MLSInformation. The online community consists of MLS Committee members, staff, and vendors discussing some of the most critical issues of the day. If you are interested in joining this free service hosted by the InternetCrusade®, please send a subscribe request to MLSInformation@InternetCrusade.com



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