Warning: This is a long post (2034 words, to be exact), so skip ahead to the end if you’re not interested. It deals with an issue that’s central not only to the success of a New River Valley real estate agent, but also to a buyer or seller who’s relying on their agent to provide concise, well-formatted information in a timely manner.
On Monday, I brought up the issue of The Ferrari vs. The Yugo, and this is the follow-up. The following is a reprint of Sunday’s article in The Roanoke Times entitled “NRV Real Estate Community Weighs In On The New MLS System“, written by Sarah Cox. Please read the article to the end, where I’ve posted some thoughts:
The new Multiple Listing Service (MLS system for members of the New River Valley Association of REALTORS has arrived. Produced by Rapattoni, it replaces flexMLS, which the NRVAR has had under contract.
If there has been concern about the change in MLS systems, it is because REALTORS rely on the MLS as one of the main sources of data. These systems produce data so that REALTORS can price houses accurately; provide current sales information; and generate sales sheets for client information.
It is not unusual for real estate associations to constantly upgrade their MLS systems – this is the sixth or seventh one that the NRVAR has had, according to REALTOR Vicki Powell.
“It’s always the belief that if you are going to make a purchase of that size that it will be a great improvement; it’s kind of like buying a computer – it should be cheaper and faster than the last model. That’s why we’re concerned. With every MLS system, there is a learning curve … but a large portion of the association believes that a mistake has been made.”
As with most issues, there are two sides. According to Bart Castleberry, chairman of the MLS committee, his group had been previewing the flexMLS system for the last year-and-a-half in addition to looking at other systems.
“We have never stopped looking for ways to improve and advance. We wanted to have more features and we had a major security issue. We had instances of people sharing their passwords,” said Castleberry.
Nick Rapattoni of Rapattoni, Inc., said this new system provides a secure log-on solution using a two-factor identification authentication that moves away from a physical token toward a non-token-based system.
“This is the same technology as used by a financial institution,” said Castleberry. “It is called adaptive authentication. The NRVAR is an MLS with 600 members and some were sharing their passwords to decrease dues; we have had about an 18 percent increase in dues in systems we sold Rapattoni to. Passwords are also shared with lenders, clients, and other REALTORS – this is sharing intellectual property.”
Charles Burnette, president of the board of directors of the NRVAR, said the listings with the new MLS system will be more accurate and up-to-date. Castleberry added that the data is now “cleaner, more accurate and easier to search. We couldn’t select a date range with Flex, just a 24-hour hot sheet.”
Burnette pointed out that the NRVAR covers nine counties and two cities, and the new MLS system allows members to automate their data information.
The words “learning curve” have been used quite a bit, but according to both Jeremy Hart, a REALTOR with NRVLiving/Coldwell Banker Townside, and Steve Ayers, a REALTOR with Coldwell Banker Townside, that is not the main issue. Rapattoni is not MAC-compatible; it is Internet Explorer-based.
Ayers, who designed the telephone system for James Madison University, the original 911 system for the Town of Blacksburg, and worked for Universal Communications Systems, said: “Most systems today want to be browser independent, and realistically, even platform and operating system independent. You really want an application to run on any device, anywhere, to maximize your reach, because devices are changing rapidly.
“We have graduated from big laptops to hand-helds, and most companies are trying to design their applications to run on all those devices and be platform independent. Internet Explorer has a market share of 66 percent and falling. Unfortunately, Rapattoni and their technology necessitate Internet Explorer on the agent side to function, so right off the bat, you are restricted in terms of modern browsers.”
However, said Rapattoni, the company is not only working toward their system becoming compatible with Firefox, but they are providing two ways for Mac users to access the data.
One is through Citrix, a free software program that comes with Rapattoni software. It allows agents to remotely access a server in real time. The problem with this, pointed out Hart, is that it is slower.
The second solution is to download Windows and a Windows-compatible software program, such as VMWare, onto a Mac. These packages, which cost about $150, were offered by Rapattoni to the NRVAR agents for free, but Rapattoni said as of the end of May, there has only been one taker.
Ayers confirmed that there are several solutions to Mac users, but none really meets the forward thinking of being browser independent. The inherent disadvantage of Citrix, he said, is dependent on what kind of tunnel you have established – a speed hit.
“It’s not as transparent with other applications – cut and paste doesn’t work the same … it will work, but you wouldn’t want it to be your primary methodology.”
He also pointed out that because the area is a university community, it makes it more susceptible to viruses, worms and spyware. That is why many people have switched to Firefox, he added.
“In terms of market share, they have basically chosen a system that one-quarter of the people have to do something different, and this is during a busy time of real state season. You have REALTORS with a broad range of technology skills – some are still struggling with basics of computers, others are doing stuff at the leading edge, but you have to train for everybody,” said Ayers.
Rapattoni contended that their system is a lot more flexible. Castleberry said that the data is cleaner, more accurate and easier to search.
“We couldn’t select a date range with flex, just a 24-hour hot sheet,” he pointed out. “I am very excited about the switch. You can access public records now, even transactions from one family member to another.”
Michael Wurzer, president of FBS, which produces the flex system, said flex provides the full suite of features to the New River Valley MLS.
He said his company’s flexMLS web system allows agents to deliver the MLS listings to their customers with “unlimited high-resolution photos, interactive maps, market statistics, detailed property histories, disclosure documents, open house information and much more. With our customer portals, agents can better understand the listings their customers like, view their search activity, and interact with them through our messaging system.”
How does the discussion affect the buying and selling public?
Ayers pointed out that, in the long run, the MLS is a significant part of the REALTOR’s strength in doing his or her job.
“It is our knowledge,” he said.
This particular learning curve may take longer than others, but the goal of the NRVAR board, the MLS committee and REALTORS, is to give the public the best information possible.
The landscape in this market has changed – REALTORS now have to be more competitive, market themselves in an efficient way, position houses to sell and be faster with their response times. The debate over flexMLS and Rapattoni system would seem to be a symptom of this increased stress to remain competitive.
I appreciate Sarah Cox covering this story, and knowing Sarah there was a LOT of effort on her part to get the scope of the story. Unfortunately, I think she missed the real meat of the issue. The board is correct … sharing of passwords to the MLS is reckless, and they needed to crack down on that. But what they frame as a “security risk” did not necessitate pulling me out of my red Ferrari and dropping me into a Yugo. The Ferrari was running just fine, thank you very much.
See, I always found flexMLS to be a tremendous product. Prior to flexMLS, the NRVAR was using another vendor, and that was the system that I started on when I first became an agent. I remember it being cumbersome and limited, but it was what I had and what I knew and so I made it work; I didn’t know how good or bad an MLS software program could be. When we switched to flexMLS I found out, because it could do a lot of what I needed it to, and the developer was constantly tweaking and upgrading the system to include even more features. The Ferrari was really humming! But there were also some things it couldn’t do, because decisions had been made by NRVAR to leave certain features off. Again I ask the question – why not use the Ferrari to do what it’s supposed to do?
It’s incorrectly stated in the article above that our old system didn’t allow you to search by date. Completely and totally incorrect. I still have access to our old system, and it still allows you to search by date. On the main search screen there were two places to enter dates, and you could search based on those dates and various other criteria. It’s also incorrectly stated that the information is “cleaner and easier to search”, which in my personal experience I’ve found to be completely the opposite. When I print out a listing to hand to a client, the information contained on the detail sheet is never in the same place twice. The reason for this is that it depends on what information an agent puts into the listing when it’s first entered, and the rationale for this is I have no clue. Instead of being able to quickly show a client where to look on the detail sheet for particular data, now both client AND agent are staring at the page, together, scanning and trying to locate it.
Again, I appreciate Sarah’s coverage of the issue, but I think she missed the mark. The fact that Mac-users are forced to use two methods of logins that are unstable has nothing to do with my frustration … well, has little to do with my frustration. I’ve used both methods, and both have caused me major issues – frequent lockdowns, tremendous slowdowns in processor speed, the inability to save my work … how can I quickly and effectively work for a client to get their offer in first if I can’t even get into the system?. No, it’s not a Mac issue at all. And it’s not about increased stress in a competitive marketplace – honestly, I don’t care about the competition. I care about NRVLiving and Jeremy Hart, and I know if I focus on doing right by my clients I’m just fine. No, it’s not about those things at all. Steve Ayers hit the nail on the head when he stated that “you wouldn’t want it to be your primary methodology.”
Bingo. Yahtzee. You sank my battleship.
You might think all this sniping back and forth is tiresome, and you’re right. It is. But it’s important, because the members of NRVAR are working through a very important issue right now, and it hits home with every buyer and seller of real estate in the New River Valley. I don’t know what the exact numbers are, but I’d be willing to be that nearly 40% of our membership right now is frustrated with the product we’ve been handed, and they’re making their voices heard. If it brings about change in the technology we use, great. If it doesn’t, that’s disappointing, because our association and our clients lose. That’s the core of the issue – our MLS committee got this one wrong, I’m afraid, and no one wants to admit it. It’s okay to be wrong, I do it every day and still get to sleep at night. But we need to look at where we missed the boat, and how we fix it before we permanently damage our standing as professionals in our community.
And to Rapattoni? I’m 32, male, and I want my Ferrari back.