Operators of the California Association of Realtors’ planned statewide multiple listing service, calREDD, are working overtime on upgrades and fixes after bringing four additional Realtor associations online in January.
CAR’s California MLS Inc. subsidiary — the company that provides the calREDD MLS service — hopes to avoid a repeat of a setback that occurred last year, when one of three associations on board for the system’s Aug. 17 launch withdrew after members complained of difficulties using the new system.
After the Fresno Association of Realtors decided to back out of CAR’s planned statewide MLS, four other associations went live with calREDD in January, and five more are scheduled to make the switch this year. That would bring the total number of participating Realtor associations to 11, which California MLS estimates would translate into 3,000 to 4,000 users.
According to the California Department of Real Estate, as of January, California had 151,831 licensed real estate brokers and 347,600 real estate salespersons. California MLS claims Realtor associations and MLSs representing more than 120,000 California Realtors have signed nonbinding statements of intent to participate in calREDD.
Emotions are currently running high among agents and brokers who belong to the Lake County Association of Realtors, whose 450 members switched from a Paragon-powered MLS system to calREDD on Jan. 11.
Lake County’s board of directors notified CAR in February that a survey of its members showed many were dissatisfied with the calREDD system. In a Feb. 26 letter responding to Lake County’s concerns, CAR President Steve Goddard listed 23 items he said the calREDD team was committed to fixing by March 29.
The Lake County board is scheduled to meet April 14 "to determine where we are with the product and vote on calREDD," board president Anita McKee said in an e-mail to Lake County members updating them on the board’s March 11 meeting.
"While many people did express displeasure with calREDD, we also had several people who stated that they were happy with the system," McKee said in an e-mail summarizing the meeting.
Contacted by Inman News, McKee said a majority of Lake County members are currently "very happy with the way things are going" and that the association’s board is not contemplating pulling out of calREDD.
"We do not have the option to simply withdraw from calREDD. We are in a binding contract," McKee said — a point also made by officials with California MLS.
"If we felt that they were in breach of contract, then we would have to give them notice" and prove that California MLS was not attempting to correct the problem, McKee said. "It would be a process. We have not taken any of those steps."
McKee said the vote the Lake County board plans to hold on calREDD in April will be "more to evaluate where we are and to proceed from there."
Lake County members contacted by Inman News said implementation of the calREDD system has been plagued by a range of issues, from minor technical glitches to missing or malfunctioning capabilities that are needed to conduct their day-to-day business.
Some want their association to pull out of CAR’s statewide MLS project, and perhaps sign on with the Bay Area Real Estate Information Services Inc. (BAREIS), an independent regional MLS providing services to five counties near or adjacent to Lake County: Marin, Sonoma, Solano, Napa and Mendocino.
Other Lake County members want to stick it out with calREDD, although some said the bugs in the system should have been worked out before launch.
From Jan. 18 through March 19, calREDD — an acronym for California Real Estate Dynamic Data — deployed eight updates of the Web-based application, making 95 fixes or improvements to previous versions, according to updates posted on the Lake County calREDD site.
Most of the changes are being applied across the entire calREDD system, affecting members of all six Realtor associations currently online.
McKee, in her e-mail to Lake County members, had previously identified three major areas of concern with the calREDD system: reporting, printing and "lack of CMA" (comparative market analysis) report capabilities.
Since then, California MLS has rolled out two more software updates, making another 25 fixes or improvements.
A March 17 update "knocked off a big chunk of the list" of issues that calREDD has promised to fix by March 29, said Scott Kucirek, leader of development and implementation for California MLS.
Kucirek said calREDD does have CMA reporting capabilities, but that some users want a CMA application "in one nice software package" from another vendor, which calREDD will be providing to Lake County members by March 29.
In launching calREDD in Lake County, California MLS has tried to be as transparent as possible, Kucirek said, posting a customer issue log and online reports detailing software updates that can be viewed by any member of the public.
"Some detractors are trying to use that (transparency) against us," Kucirek said.
Ultimately, "as the system matures, and as we add features at the members’ request — not just ones we dream up — it will evolve to become a killer application," Kucirek said. "It wasn’t going to come out of the gate that way." …CONTINUED
Some Lake County members contacted by Inman News agreed, saying calREDD has been working diligently on making fixes and improvements. The MLS application, when perfected, will be an improvement over systems they’ve used before, supporters said.
"It’s new, and new things wake you up," said broker Larry Littlejohn of Gold Circle Realty Co.
Littlejohn said he likes calREDD — particularly its map-based and quick searches — but believes the application was launched "without all the necessary technical input." Some elements are time-consuming to navigate, he said, and there are "things that are not in the program that agents are used to having."
Realtor Bryan van Lingen of Country Air Properties said that while "printing is very slow" on older computers, calREDD has more to offer than the system it’s replacing. "I would like to see calREDD stay," van Lingen said. While he didn’t feel the previous vendor was always responsive, van Lingen said, "I have been very happy with the response time and how quickly calREDD works to fix any problems brought to them."
Other Lake County members contacted last week — after six of the eight recent updates of the calREDD application had been implemented — said the system still wasn’t meeting all their needs.
Broker Matt Mattina of Konocti Realty said he views calREDD as an "incomplete system … basically operating in a ‘live beta testing mode’ at our expense."
Tom Parr of Shore Line Realty called calREDD a "clunky, cumbersome, ill-conceived system," comparing it to "a car that has no wheels." Given a choice, "I would choose any other system," Parr said.
"I feel (in) switching systems we actually downgraded," said Kalyn Noble, broker-owner of Noble Realty. "We should have upgraded, especially in this market."
Michelle Perry, an agent with CPS Lakefront Homes, said she’s been through many system changes since first obtaining her real estate license in 1991, and that calREDD "is by far the worst system I have ever used." Perry said she almost lost two $1 million listings, because when she e-mails listing detail pages to her sellers "it cuts off about one-third of the picture. That is just one of 1,000 things it does or does not do," Perry said.
(The application’s tendency to crop the bottom edge off the main photo on the listing detail page was one of the issues California MLS says it addressed March 17, with the release of Version 2.0.83 of the calREDD application.)
BAREIS vs. calREDD
Mattina said Lake County is "split by two boards and two MLSs," with some brokers and agents who do business in the market belonging to the North Bay Association of Realtors and BAREIS.
The BAREIS MLS covers counties surrounding Lake County, and has data-sharing agreements with MLSs in the San Francisco and Sacramento markets, Mattina noted.
"CalREDD and CAR keep selling us on a statewide benefit, which they cannot deliver to us without counties in BAREIS making the switch," Mattina said. "The whole thing has been a complete nightmare."
Country Air Properties broker-owner Phil Smoley said he likes some of calREDD’s capabilities, but implementing the system has taken "far too much time and resources of local Realtors to do a job that was supposed to have already been done." As long as steady progress is being made, "I can preach patience and support," he said.
But if it appears that calREDD has become a "dead horse" — or that the costs of implementing the system outweigh the benefits — "I am leaning toward our association going to BAREIS," Smoley said.
More out-of-area buyers come from the North Bay region covered by BAREIS than everywhere else combined, Smoley said. Because a "significant" minority of Lake County listings are exclusively in BAREIS, it’s necessary to belong to both calREDD and BAREIS to access them all, he said.
"This division of data would be cured by our migration to BAREIS," Smoley said.
McKee said Lake County "is not in any negotiations or discussions with BAREIS, nor are they on our radar," although she is aware of "two or three brokers" who are talking to BAREIS independently.
Cobb Mountain Real Estate broker-owner Susie Cashmore warned that difficulties in implementing calREDD have "created awkwardness amongst brokers, Realtors and board members who are also colleagues. There is a good chance this will divide our association and we may in fact end up by not having one."
Mike Silvas, a Napa-based broker and chairman of California MLS, is himself a BAREIS member. Silvas said that in the process of launching in Lake County, the calREDD system is being tailored to make it easy for neighboring counties to switch from BAREIS to calREDD.
"You can’t deny there’s competition going on in the MLS space up here," Silvas said.
Jim Branscombe, BAREIS’ president and CEO, said that when the MLS held its annual meeting Friday, some members from Lake County attended, and "expressed concerns about the status of the situation in Lake County" with calREDD.
"We already do business in Lake County, and we’d like to do more," Branscombe said of the prospect of signing up individual brokers. As for talk of the Lake County Association of Realtors joining BAREIS, Branscombe said "the board in Lake County has to resolve the issues with calREDD." …CONTINUED
No sharing between regions
McKee said some of the difficulties implementing calREDD in Lake County were related to the "huge amount of customization" to the calREDD system requested by the association.
She said calREDD "has bent over backwards to make these customized changes for us and has been incredible in their support of this association."
Silvas said Lake County is a largely rural area, with "some very unique property types." Providing customization, such as the ability to search for all properties, regardless of type, "proved to be technologically more difficult than we’d planned."
Silvas said customization has made Lake County "the longest launch we’ve had," and also complicated the issue of data-sharing between participating Realtor associations.
For now, the calREDD system is essentially divided into three regions, with participating Realtor associations not able to access listings outside of their region. California MLS hopes to make systemwide searches available by late June, Kucirek said.
"We kind of backed ourselves into a corner, because … the customization we were willing to do" has resulted in variations between databases that prevent sharing of listings systemwide, Silvas said.
In California’s Central Valley, for example, members of the Realtor associations on board for the August launch — Madera and Merced — can access each other’s listings but can’t search the listings of other calREDD members.
When the nearby Mariposa County and Yosemite Gateway associations launch calREDD in April and May, they will contribute to and have access to Central Valley calREDD listings, Kucirek said.
North of Sacramento, Realtor associations in Chico, Oroville and Paradise that flipped the switch on calREDD on Jan. 25 have had a common database for five years, said Peggy Mead, association executive for the Chico Association of Realtors. Although members can still access each other’s listings, they can’t yet search listings of calREDD members in other parts of the state.
In the third region of the state where calREDD is now operating, a largely rural area north of San Francisco, Lake County is the lone participating Realtor association.
"As of right now, we cannot see any other listings (of other Realtor associations) which are running calREDD," said Lake County member Jean King, a Realtor with David R. Hughes & Associates. "We should have been told that it would not be available" at launch, she added.
Kucirek said that while calREDD made it clear to participating Realtor associations that they would not have immediate access to listings systemwide, not all of their members may have gotten that message.
King said that while she believes Realtors in general support a statewide MLS, she is frustrated with calREDD.
"They have not addressed our concerns in a timely fashion and (the calREDD system) certainly does not meet my needs," King said. "I personally would like to see us go back to Paragon at least for the time being. What we have been given is a bare-bones program that cannot even accurately report days on market."
(CalREDD currently starts counting days on market when a listing is published — not when a listing contract is signed — and stops counting days on market when an agent changes the listing status to pending).
But California MLS officials say Lake County doesn’t have the option of giving up on calREDD.
"We’ve delivered everything we said we would," Kucirek said. "We have a signed contract … whatever (the Lake County board votes in April), they have to live up to it."
Silvas said he did not regard the Feb. 12 letter from Lake County’s board detailing member complaints about calREDD as an "ultimatum," but added that "it’s reasonable for them to expect that we would perform."
Most of the promised fixes to the calREDD system will be in place well before March 29, Silvas said, and "We’ll always be making improvements (to the system). I don’t think we’ll ever be done. It’s market responsive, as well as technology responsive."
Lake County board member Ray Perry said that with all the work that’s gone into improving calREDD in recent weeks, "it’s a pretty robust system. It’s a system that can definitely allow us to be in the 21st century, rather than stuck in the 20th (century)."
Perry has participated in weekly tech support teleconferences and estimates he’s devoted 200 to 300 hours helping California MLS fine-tune calREDD. He acknowledges, "I’m pretty passionate about it, because I’ve been so involved in it."
"We know the system is going to work — those guys are working around the clock," Perry said. "It’s a new system — we know we’re going to have some problems. What I would like to see more than anything else is people stop whining about it and go back to business."
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