Citing technical issues, a group of Southern California multiple listing services that have formed an alliance to pool listings data have put a temporary freeze on admitting new members — including MLSs that have signed on to a statewide MLS initiative backed by the California Association of Realtors (CAR).

The decision by Southern California MLSs participating in CARETS to stop admitting new members for six to nine months doesn’t doom an agreement made last year, in which CAR’s planned statewide MLS, calREDD, was to become a CARETS member, officials with both efforts said.

Citing technical issues, a group of Southern California multiple listing services that have formed an alliance to pool listings data have put a temporary freeze on admitting new members — including MLSs that have signed on to a statewide MLS initiative backed by the California Association of Realtors (CAR).

The decision by Southern California MLSs participating in CARETS to stop admitting new members for six to nine months doesn’t doom an agreement made last year, in which CAR’s planned statewide MLS, calREDD, was to become a CARETS member, officials with both efforts said.

Under the agreement, announced in June, calREDD was supposed to be allowed to join CARETS once calREDD became a functioning MLS (see story).

CalREDD — which stands for California Real Estate Dynamic Data — launched in August with three Northern California MLSs contributing listings. Although one MLS subsequently dropped out, calREDD has yet to be granted CARETS membership, even though it expects to have 10 MLSs online in Northern California by March.

Mike Silvas, a Napa-based real estate broker who serves as chairman of California MLS Inc. (CALMLS) — the CAR subsidiary providing the calREDD MLS service — said calREDD had been waiting for CARETS to draw up a membership agreement, which was expected after a meeting of the CARETS board in December.

But at that meeting, the CARETS board heard from its technical consultant that he needed more time to integrate new member MLSs in Southern California into the system, CARETS Chairman Mike De Leon told Inman News.

On Wednesday, De Leon sent an e-mail to Silvas and executives representing three other prospective CARETS members, saying CARETS needed to postpone the addition of any new members for six to nine months to ensure that "the technological assimilation of all new members can be achieved without the risk of any glitches."

CARETS — an acronym for California Real Estate Technology Services — also wanted to be certain that "all appropriate documentation for membership, as well as operation and procedure manuals," was in place for new members, De Leon, an Anaheim-based broker-owner, said in the e-mail.

Silvas said he does not doubt that CARETS is facing technical issues as it adds new MLSs, but hopes they can be resolved quickly.

"We are disappointed, and frankly, concerned about their inability to perform at this point," Silvas said. "We are ready, willing and able to move forward … we are not the only ones they are putting on hold."

In addition to calREDD, De Leon also informed the San Diego-based regional MLS Sandicor Inc. and Realtor associations in Imperial Valley and Palm Springs — all based in Southern California — that it will be months before they can be brought into CARETS.

Sandicor CEO Ray Ewing said in an e-mail that the delay "really isn’t an issue for us," because Sandicor already has a "SmartLink" guest access to the listings of CARETS members MRMLS, MLS/CLAW and SoCalMLS.

Sandicor also has "a bit of work to do in our system to align our data schema with CARETS," Ewing said. …CONTINUED

Growing pains

De Leon said that since launching CARETS in October 2008, CARETS’ five founding MLSs —  MLS/CLAW, CrisNet, iTech, SoCalMLS and MRMLS — have welcomed the Desert Area MLS and Ventura County Regional Data Share (VCRDS) as new members.

He said CARETs is still in the process of integrating listings from the California Desert Association of Realtors, the Ventura County Coastal Association of Realtors, and Conejo Valley Association of Realtors.

Since its launch, CARETS has been providing more than 100,000 brokers and agents one entry point for listings — all without paid staff, De Leon said. CARETS has one paid technical consultant and a host vendor, MRIS subsidiary CURE Solutions Group LLC, he said.

It was the technical consultant — who manages operations, data changes, and communications with CARETS’ MLSs and CURE — who asked for more time to integrate listings of new members before granting new membership requests, De Leon said.

"In the last year, we’ve had all these requests to join CARETS, and we have one technical consultant who’s been doing all that himself," De Leon said. "He said with all those (new members) coming on, I need breathing space so I can get caught up."

When the CARETS board meets again today, De Leon said, it will discuss whether to bring more people on to assist the technical consultant.

"Even if (the consultant) added one or two people, they would have to be trained on what’s going on before they can be effective," De Leon said.

"It’s a huge endeavor every time they bring on somebody new," CALMLS’ Silvas said. "They are trying to refine that. It’s growing pains — now that they are bringing in outsiders, they are finding out it is not as easy as they were told by their vendor it might be."

CARETS retrieves MLS data from participating MLSs, transforming each "field" into a standardized format so the information can be combined into a common database.

MLSs can share data while maintaining their local MLS software, which means the system is dealing with several MLS front-ends.

CALMLS’ calREDD initiative, in contrast, relies on a platform built by Concentric Software. The Fresno Association of Realtors, one of the three MLSs on board for calREDD’s Aug. 17 launch, pulled out after members complained about problems with the software platform. …CONTINUED

Although calREDD and Concentric say they are tackling problems with the new platform as they roll the system out in other MLSs, they also offer a "hybrid" solution allowing users to use their existing MLS front end to enter and view listings in their own MLS. To view all listings in the calREDD system, hybrid users have to log in to Concentric’s software platform.

Political obstacles

According to a paper published in October by CURE about its experiences with CARETS, "the problem faced by (CARETS) subscribers has less to do with technology than it does with overcoming the human and political factors that inhibit progress." A CURE executive did not respond to a request for comment.

In announcing their agreement last year that calREDD would be allowed to join CARETS, leaders of the two initiatives said they felt compelled to make their intentions public because of speculation that CARETS would never allow calREDD to join, and speculation that calREDD would acquire CARETS.

The moratorium on new members approved by the CARETS board is also an opportunity to update the nonprofit’s bylaws, membership agreements and technical documentation manuals, De Leon said.

Asked if CARETS’ founding members had any concerns that a rapid influx of new members would result in them losing control of its board of directors, De Leon said there have been discussions about how to accommodate the growing size of the board and the distance members will have to travel to meetings.

But CARETS founding members are not worried that they will lose control of the board, and the moratorium on new members was driven purely by technical issues, De Leon said.

Each MLS has three seats on the board of directors, meaning the board currently has 21 members from seven MLSs, he said. Although calREDD expects to have 10 MLSs on board by March, it will have a total of three seats on the CARETS board, not three for each MLS, De Leon and Silvas said.

As the board grows larger and rotates meeting locations in a growing geographic area, "it gets unwieldy — 40 or 50 directors aren’t going to want to drive four or five hours" to a board meeting at a distant location, De Leon said.

For now, the CARETS board has decided not to change the structure of the board in its bylaws, De Leon said, and may look into solutions such as video conferencing instead.

Although CARETS has instituted a moratorium on new members that could be in place for most of 2010, its leaders remain committed to long-term growth, De Leon said.

"If we were able to … just in Southern California, bring in the 17 MLSs in Southern California, that would be huge for everybody that’s in real estate, not to mention if we can work with whoever (to the north)," De Leon said. "But at this point, in order to do that, we need to make sure those on (board CARETS now) are getting everything they need before we start adding more."

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