Austin Board of Realtors Shamefully Incompetent Rollout of New Austin MLS System

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on December 26, 2007 · 17 comments

As I have started to run the stats for November to post on my blog as I do each month, I shuddered to think what I might encounter trying to pull stats from our lousy new MLS system. My fears were confirmed. The new Austin MLS system does not properly compute the data. This is one of the reasons I run my own stats, as I don’t trust auto-calculated figures put out by the system reports.

As someone with a UT degree in Management Information System, I remember at least a little bit about project management and rolling out software systems. In laymen’s terms, you check and double check to make sure everything is working right before you turn 11,000 Realtors loose with a new MLS software, and you do NOT take down the old system until you are completely sure the new one performs at the required standard.

This rollout of our new Austin MLS system, if it were to be properly documented, could serve as a case study on how to do it wrong. Austin Realtors are in an uproar, and for good reason. The new system, called MLXchange, is littered with fancy new feature enhancements, many of which are indeed nice, but the meat and potatoes functionality that we all earn a living with are defective, starting with, at times, not even being able to reliably log in to the system. The prettiest garnish won’t hide the foul taste of rotten meat. Our new MLS system stinks and our Board of Realtors dropped the ball. There is no other way to put it.

At present, I can’t run a CMA report that includes Expired listings, or the number of Sales listings computes incorrectly. The CMA Report that we commonly use to determine market activity and sales values in an area does not properly calculate the average sold price per square foot. I was unable to log into the system at all for about an hour today as it would freeze up Internet Exporer and eventually forced a reboot of my computer. These are not trivial “I don’t like change” grumblings, this is major failure of a critical system relied upon by Austin Realtors and our clients.

An apology was issued to all Austin Realtors by MLXchange on December 18th, assuring us that the problems are being addressed. Not good enough. It’s too little, too late. Accountability needs to happen. People need to be fired, demoted, retrained and maybe even sued.

Every half assed startup from here to China can create an awesome real estate web search system (Zillow.com, Trulia.com to name just two, but there are many lessor sites that pop up overnight it seems), with great mapping and searching functionality, lightening speed, clear simple user interfaces, etc. – yet us Realtors, who bust our butts obtaining the very listings that drive the traffic to those third party sites, including Realtor.com, are left with the Worst of Breed, most poorly designed MLS software systems out there. And to add insult to injury, we pay through the nose for it through our dues and membership requirements. It’s enough to make me want to spit.

If you’re one of our clients set up on a gateway, you’ve noticed all sorts of screwy problems as well. We’re sorry, and we can’t do anything about it. Our new MLS System sucks, and we know it and are powerless to get it fixed anytime soon.

Well, I just needed to get that off my chest.

I’m sure things will work out, and all the problems that could have been discovered with a competent QA process, a proper parallel rollout, and a well organized test/focus group of actual producing agents, will be fixed in 2 or 3 years, right before they switch us onto the next greatest system to be sold to a Board of Realtors not qualified or equipped to be making such technology purchases.

1 arz December 27, 2007 at 2:12 am

maybe lacking of competition was the reason?

2 Steve Crossland December 27, 2007 at 8:46 am

Lack of competition is probably a factor. There not many companies that sell MLS systems. I don’t necessary think we have the wrong system, but it was not properly tested and made ready for rollout. The one we had previously was less feature rich, but it was solid and reliable and I could accomplish my nuts and bolts tasks with very few clicks or effort.

The new one is so bad in many small ways that its’ hard to comprehend. For example, the “Back” button doesn’t work in IE. This requires training ourselves to use the browser in a way that is different than what is routine and customary anywhere else you go on the web. If I perform a search, view the results, then want to go back and adjust the search criteria, clicking the back button takes me to the home page instead of the prior page, and I lose all search info that I entered. Instead, we have to click a small button at the bottom right of the screen to return to the criteria entry page. This is simply stupid, poor user interface design.

All of that would be tolerable and work itself out over time, whereas the outputting of incorrect data values is 100% unacceptable and inexcusable.

Imagine a newbie agent who doesn’t know any better, pricing a Seller’s home $7,000 below market because that’s what the CMA price per square foot suggested?

3 Eric Bramlett December 27, 2007 at 9:11 am

Steve -

If you’d like to chime in, we’d love to hear what you have to say on the subject:
http://www.ericbramlett.com/blog/shortcomings-of-mlxchange/

Eric

4 shireen December 27, 2007 at 11:49 am

OMG!

I am a buyer who is looking for a very specific type of property in a very limited number of neighborhoods. I have had a watch list through a gateway with a local agent since August. It worked great, daily notification, easy to navigate, we felt on top of the market, now it is a complete and utter disaster!!

Text that are links are not marked (so you just have to click and hope), small photos, key details like lot size are hard to find.

After two or three days the whole thing seems to have fallen apart. It was such a mess I didn’t even try to get it re-set up. I have turned to austinhomesearch to fill in, searching daily in three separate zip codes.

What an embarrassment for Austin! We are supposed to be a high tech community, full of buyers who want to search on line. Hire some local techies and get some better code going.

Now, I hear the system is giving out bad date to the realtors!!!

Ugh! Unexcusable.

5 Jim December 30, 2007 at 1:43 pm

What’s sad is the old system is from the same company. All it needed was some minor tweaks to make it a bit more convenient. The old IDX search was infinitely better as well. Apparently some old-farts on the MLS board decided the client follow-up system (worthless, IMHO, compared to Outlook or Top Producer) was worth the hassle of the change.

6 Kenn Renner January 7, 2008 at 8:54 pm

The new MLSxchange has cost me no less than $20,000 in lost business and countless hours of frustration. If the Realtors do not get together and insist that it be replaced we will be stuck with it and shame on us – since we are paying for it and for the lost business. If anyone wants to join me to ask the Board Of Realtors really what they plan to do to fix their huge costly blunder let me know. I have a lot of agent friends that are ready to jump down somebody’s throat. In the mean time we just lose business and crediblilty with our clients as they plod their way through an incompetant gateway system.

What a blow it!

7 Terrill January 8, 2008 at 3:32 pm

I’m switching back to my old idx search engine i’ve been using for a couple of years. At least I can track who is looking at properties. I have no way to track it in Mlxchange. The system is hard to manage and I’m don’t trust it now. I’m on the bandwagon to complain to ABOR and get this problem rectified ASAP before we lose more money. OUCH!

8 Robert Grunnah January 13, 2008 at 3:50 pm

I would go so far as to say this MLXchange system is one of the most disappointing and aggravating events to ever occur in my real estate career, and has caused so much frustration and consternation that I have considered options from seeing if I have a legal remedy to sue the Board of Realtors for damages, to filing a petition with Board members to have the software changed, to outright inflammatory and extremely angry emails to every department and person I can find at the Board, including the incoming and outgoing Chairpeople.

They ignore all of these emails and complaints because they’re so frequent and so many across the board that presumably they just figure it will all go away if they offer enough training to the members.

Unfortunately, they are neither operating competitively, nor have to suffer any accountability for the damage this product has done to our livelihoods.

If you call ABOR to complain about the system or ask questions – expect 10 other angry Realtors in the queue ahead of you.

The clearly under-educated support and admin people that work for the company that write the software can barely put together a coherent apology email, much less identify with and address the problems of the Realtor community.

I don’t know what our remedies as Realtors are to combat this shameful situation. It could be a good startup opportunity for someone to create a better system and create a little market competition to these tech-backward people.

At a minimum, we should “throw the bums” out, and bring in a new guard of responsible professionals with at least a minimal IT sophistication who realize that Austin real estate is a multi billion dollar local industry that CANNOT be left to neophyte and lowbrow software applications that wouldn’t pass a second grader usability test.

It makes me so irate that we’re all really stuck with this thing, and have no options but to stay stuck with it.

Robert Grunnah

9 Steve Crossland January 13, 2008 at 10:15 pm

I went to ABOR Friday and met with the customer service rep from MarketLinx, and the ABOR MLXchange trainer. I decided to try a cooperative approach and see if they’d listen.

It wasn’t a waste of time, but there was definite resistance to admitting the severe level of defects present in the software. A lot of dismissive responses were offered and I honestly don’t think they really get it.

The main purpose of my visit was to learn what level of importance was given to complaints and what the resolution process was. I’ve sent in several detailed reports of problems with step by step instructions on how to duplicate the problem. This is time consuming for me and before I continue doing that, I wanted to know that the emails are not going into a black hole.

I didn’t leave the meeting feeling more confident in the system. It’s very slow and unreliable and it miscalculates important data. There is no excuse for this. No, this wouldn’t fly in a competitive tech environment. Our people at ABOR clearly lack the ability or expertise to evaluate and purchase a software product of this level of complexity. A different approach should have been followed in evaluating the readiness of the software. And I’m sick and damned tired of hearing that the system is in use by 65 other MLS’s in the U.S. BFD, it’s still some of the crappiest software I’ve ever used, regardless of how many other suckers have purchased it. Took me eight minutes at my office the other day just to get logged in and print a listing. Pathetic.

That said, we have it and I doubt it’s going to go away so I guess the most productive use of our efforts is to submit the problems and bug reports so they can go into the queue to be fixed. As of Friday, the CMA report still calculates incorrect ADOM and Price per square foot. Some genius thought it would be a good idea for the CMA report to calculate the average list price per square foot in the sold secction, instead of the actual SOLD price per square foot. I had a hard time convincing them that the psf error was just as important, if not moreso, than the ADOM problem. You know what I was told? “Well, it provides the correct number for the list price per square foot”. I found the statement astonishing.

It’s going to be a long uphill row to hoe and if I knew how to organize and lead a mutiny to throw out the people responsible, I’d be in the front row of the mob with my pitchfork. I just don’t think the general membership is angry enough to make it happen. Mostly because most agents are so unproductive they don’t use the system enough to realize how bad it is.

Steve

10 Robert Grunnah January 23, 2008 at 8:04 pm

Open Letter to ABOR Directors and Staff

Dear ABOR:

I wanted to write to let you folks know again how disappointed I am, day in and day out, with this new MLS product. Though I am learning to work around the challenges that have been imposed with the system and educate myself about the various idiosynchrasies of the program, I still feel virtually crippled by the product’s weaknesses an entire two months after its unveiling.

When potential clients called me in previous years, I used to be able to quickly load MLS and provide a CMA to my clients on the fly. It was one of the best tools in my arsenal. Because TEMPO operated quickly and intuitively, I was quick on the draw and knew exactly where to go to pull up values for my niche (duplexes). Clients were impressed – I got a lot of business.

Today, I had a client on the phone that had to wait literally an extra minute and a half while I loaded the MLS website (which had timed out after a short period), then had to plod through the interface to get the data I used to be able to pull up – no exaggerating here – 3 times faster. I get daily errors when trying to display report data.

Since most of you are Realtors yourselves, you can probably imagine how long a minute seems when talking to a first time calling lead who you’ve spent thousand of dollars marketing in order to get them call you; only to sound like a teenager working in a call center (“sorry, bear with me, my computer is operating slowly!”).

At one point in my call today, I thought my computer had frozen (and I have a state of the art, up to date computer system and T1 internet connection). All the while I am trying to calm the client and apologize for the delay this busy man had to endure.

I could tell in his voice and am completely sure this guy was less impressed with me, my knowledge, and my company (than he would have been had I had the same ability to reference CMA data as I used to) – solely because of the extra time and effort it took to pull a simple CMA up with this software.

By the time I had gathered the information I needed to help this gentleman, I felt less educated, less empowered, and virtually helpless. I literally feel this product has taken away my edge as a top producing listing agent.

Yes, I eventually pulled the comps and was able to help him. The product does work, and I know you’re trying to train people as quickly as possible – but it is a far cry from the previous solution, and it is just incredibly unfortunate that we have to “put up” with this albatross of a software program, and that it remains in place – as slow and buggy practically as day one.

I know my ranting gets me no where (and I have given up hope that you guys will bring us back a decent MLS system), but I wanted to let you know that the consequences of implementing this seemingly haphazardly developed system are practically devastating.

I know hundreds if not thousands of agents share my antipathy, and I thought you should know this.

Thanks for Listening,
Robert Grunnah

P.S. The loss of “smooth scrolling” in search results is perhaps the most incredible downgrade in functionality imaginable; having to page down on the interface and losing where you were when reviewing listings is just unfathomable.

11 Jake January 28, 2008 at 1:17 am

Complaining to the board is not working. They have publicly stated that they (ABOR) does NOT work for the Austin Realtors who pay the annual fees. Maybe a Federal investigation is needed to find out why the board refuses to provide accounting records to show where the annual $3.5 million dollars collected from ABOR members is spent.

The board members deliberately changed the bylaws without a majority vote by the Austin realtors. They made it more difficult for new members to be voted in and made it nearly impossible to get rid of existing board members.

I see a lot of complaining on this forum and many others, but, none of you seem to be really concerned about your real estate business. If you did, you would take a more active role in making the current board accountable for the money they are spending.

As for the comments about the old MLS system. According to the tech support reps, the old system did NOT go away, it is still in use. I am wondering who was paid under the table to make the change to the new system. The board members also adamantly state that the old MLS system doesn’t exist and that it cannot be used.

I’ve been reading the ABOR Watch newsletter sent out by abor.watch[at]earthlink.net. Checking the facts wasn’t too hard. More Realtors need to stand up and start fighting before they lose their businesses in Austin.

The board doesn’t fear an uprising. They don’t think they work for the Austin Realtors. They believe they can’t be removed or fired from their current jobs. Even if 1/4 of the Austin Realtors switch to the Williamson County Board of Realtors (they have full access to the Austin MLS) the current board believes they will have enough new members to keep revenue streaming in. They believe that most Realtors are just too frightened of the board to do anything drastic, like launch a lawsuit.

Stand up for yourselves before the board destroys your business.

12 Debbie February 8, 2008 at 1:11 am

I wish you would write in your blog for any agents to please respond to the recent email we received from Abor about the MLX system and how diligently they say they are working to get the system fixed. (right)

I wish the Board would get 10,000 responses just like the ones I see (all negative) who have sent a comment to that email from them. I have called MLX with issues for about 2 months and all I hear is “we’re working on it” or “ok, we’ll make a note of that”.

I still can’t do my CMA’s efficiently or easily because the “leased” properties still do not show the square footage of each property. I called them one month ago today and got yet another case number regarding that issue and was told it would go straight to the programmers. Nothing. So I called yesterday and MLX said (after a month) yes, they see my case number and notes and they are “working on it but didn’t know when it would be fixed”. I told them that their list of issues says that the square footage at least in the Sales portion would be fixed by February 14th and I asked was that correct and did that also include the Lease portion of MLS. The person that answered my call said “Hmm, I don’t know.”

I said, “You don’t know about the Lease portion of MLS or you don’t know about the February 14th date.” He responded again “I don’t know.” Does the Sales portion show the square footage yet on the “Sold” portion whenever you are doing a quick CMA?

When I have been doing a CMA the drop down always said “Quick CMA” and now it all of a sudden says “One-Line CMA”. I asked the same MLX rep why did that change. Guess his response, “I don’t know”!!

Yesterday when I was looking at a list of properties that I was doing comps for yet another thing happened and I had to totally get out of the system and log back in to make it go away. So, I’m looking a the list of properties that I pulled up and all of a sudden one property, out of the blue, shows up on the screen with about the first 2” of the listing (like the picture and down about 2”).

Nothing I could do would make it get off of the screen and I hadn’t even selected it! That happened to me twice on two separate occasions during the day yesterday. Maddening!

Ok, I’m venting here but I hate this system just like every other agent that I’ve talked to and I was just wondering if it would do any good or help to ask agents to respond to that email. But I’m not sure if other agents read your blogs like I do. I swear, I think the Board should give all of us at least $100 credit on our dues for all of our headaches and our inability to do our jobs efficiently!

On another note, I hope you and Sylvia and the girls are doing great! I think about you all so often!

13 Steve Crossland February 8, 2008 at 1:31 am

Hi Debbie,

Your talking about the almost unbelievable newsletter headline from Austin Board of Realtors to its members that said:

“MLXchange Overcomes Hurdles, Delivers Value to Members”

Excuse me while I wipe the vomit from my chin.

MLXchange has not overcome hurdles. In fact, the hurdles seem insurmountable, as we and our clients are reminded daily. MLXchange is so bad in so many ways, I don’t even think it can be fixed. MLXchange is about the worst piece of software imaginable. I didn’t think it was possible to break so many programming 101 and user interface rules in one application, but they’ve done it. We can’t scroll, we can’t use the back button, the system locks up all the time, freezes, forces hard reboots of our computers, doesn’t provide accurate data, is missing important data. It’s really just a monumental mess. But nobody in our leadership at the Board seems to agree.

If a software consultant were hired to evaluate MLXchange for ABOR, they would conclude that the software never should have been rolled out. No other conclusion is even possible given the massive failures of this rollout. If ABOR members were to hire a consulting team to investigate the evaluation process employed by ABOR, they would find that nobody involved had the slightest clue how to evaluate or purchase something as complex and mission critical as an MLS platform for 10,000 users. this whole mess is a terrible nightmare.

There is a growing group of us now discussing options and the financing of some sort of formal effort. What that will be isn’t clear, but a good start would be to compel our Board to sue MarketLinx for breach of contract and make them revert to Tempo, which was rock solid compared to this catastrophe we’re stuck with now.

14 Dolly June 30, 2008 at 2:39 pm

Hi,

I am a buyer and we submitted an offer for a house and the Seller agent took like 4 days to get back to us regarding the accepting of the offer saying the seller has to discuss with the family member(spouse)etc… and finally came back with an answer saying that another buyer has offered an offer saying that he/she would pay $1000 on top of any best offer and notified our relator about what we are planning to do.
So this is like stupidist response we have ever heard from a realtor. so we would never know what is the end for this. so if we submit a offer (what ever it may be and however high it may be) is the other buyer going to pay $1000 on top of it?. so is buying house is a open bid that anybody could say that they are going to pay $1000 or $2000 more on an best offer without actually submitting the offer and get away with the house. We are not sure how relevant this response is.
The seller relator has already played with our feelings saying all the excuses for 4 days and finally came up with the above response which is ridiculous.

The reason we are writing this in the blog is if anybody could advice us if this is appropriate ? if not could anybody advice us how to complain on this realtor and if he is violating the ethics. This realtor is playing with our feelings and driving us crazy.

15 Steve Crossland July 12, 2008 at 10:59 am

Hi Dolly,

Unfortunately for you as a buyer, a seller has no obligation to respond to your offer within any certain time. or to even respond at all.

Sounds like another buyer wrote an offer with an “escaltion clause” which stated that they would beat any other offer by a certain amount. This can be an effective tactic with multiple offers. If you don’t want to get into a bidding war, your offer would have to have other attractive attributes, such as all-cash, or a faster closing, or as-is, etc.

Steve

16 SM February 16, 2009 at 10:34 pm

Software still sucks! – Can’t do anything … losing sales all the time… again today, can’t login… paying hundreds a month for garbage… who from ABOR has lined their pockets !!! ? This is the most ridiculous piece of junk software I’ve ever seen (worked in s/w support, and this IS junk!)… remove it, have MLXchange pay back the dues and revenue’s lost or class action against them!

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