A CARETS Interview with Russ Bergeron, CEO of SOCALMLS

Russ BergeronI am very pleased that Russ has taken the time to answer some questions regarding CARETS data share program. Russ is the CEO of SoCaLMLS one of the largest MLS’s in the country. CARETS (California Real Estate Technology Services, Inc.) is a nonprofit mutual-benefit corporation.  Its members are the Combined LA Westside MLS, CRISnet Regional MLS (San Fernando/Burbank/Santa Clarita Valleys), iTECH MLS (Glendale/Pasadena), MRMLS (South Bay to San Gabriel Valley to Temecula), Southern California MLS (Orange and Southeast LA Counties, Long Beach to Whittier); representing over 100,000 real estate professionals and 26 REALTOR(r) associations throughout the Southland, which account for approximately one third of the MLS users in the state.  For more information, visit www.ca-rets.com . If you have questions for Russ or how CARETS impacts and benefits your services with Diverse Solutions, please leave them as comments and we’ll be sure to pass them to Russ or get you the answers right away.

Mike Price, Social Media Manager, Diverse Solutions

Q: How did the idea for CARETS get started and who are the current participants in the data share program?

A: Southern California MLSs have enjoyed a long history of reciprocal access – from direct access (back in 1994), to the MLS Alliance and now with CARETS.  As technology has progressed to the point where a larger database of listings with easy access via the Internet  has become relatively easy to do we took a hard look at what our customers (agents, brokers, appraisers)  needed as far as access to the MLS Content.  The answers were: (1) a common database; (2) a standard database; (3) standard rules and enforcement; and (4) a single membership requirement to gain access to the first three.  CARETS fulfills all of these requirements.

Q: Many MLS’s have tried similar data share program in California what makes CARETS different and successful thus far?

A:CARETS is not a true datashare – it is more than that.  Others have done datashare (as have we) but that is usually between two or more disparate systems with no common data definitions. The result is that data is not common from system to system once the “datashare” has been done.  With CARETS we have normalized the database so that each and every MLS adheres to the same definitions and rules regarding content and display. The result for the user is that it looks like they are members of one big MLS. The other huge difference with CARETS is that the end user does not have to learn any new software or systems.  They continue to use whatever software they’re comfortable with – in our case Tempo, eNeighborhoods, rDesk, MLS Office, ListingBook, etc. – with no obvious changes other than the fact they now have access to many, many more listings.

Q: I have heard from some within the MLS industry that CARETS is the largest program of it’s kind can you share with us what that how many total listings are available to home buyers and what you see as the primary benefits to consumers as well as industry professionals?

A: Counting off market listings and all property types we are probably  in the 5 million listing range, with another 30 million or more historical transaction (snapshot) records, and millions of photos, serving over 100,000 real estate professionals throughout Southern California.   A listing now has immediate access from these 100,000 agents and each member has access to the whole region. This access extends to IDX sites as well so that a member of any CARETS MLS now has the ability to place the entire CARETS active, and a year’s worth of solds on their IDX site.  Consumers visiting IDX and other public sites now enjoy having all the inventory in one place.

Q: What are the most direct benefits to the MLS’s involved and does it have an impact the way their current business models?

A: The benefits we hope to get out of CARETS are that vendors such as Diverse do not have to pull and normalize data from several different MLS systems but can now focus more on the benefits and features of their product offerings so that our customers can benefit from better products and enhanced user interfaces.

Q: Where do you see CARETS 5 and 10 years from now? What do you see as the adoption rate at those intervals? �
A: In 5 to 10 years there is no reason that we cannot have every MLS in the state of California on board with the CARETS concept, if not directly part of CARETS. Remember that the beauty of CARETS is that the user does not have to learn anything new so the implementation of CARETS at a local MLS does not require the usual ramp-up and training period that accompanies a complete system transition.  Not that there is not a lot of work that needs to be done upfront to map and convert the data, but once that part is complete the rest is relatively easy.  We already have interest in CARETS from MLSs across the state which represent another 100,000 agents and brokers. And after California, there is no reason why the concept cannot be taken on the road toward a super regional or even national scope.

Q: Can you tell us if other  MLS’s are looking to be included in CARETS?

A: Yes several from across the state are watching us and several are very eager to join.

Q: CARETS has moved quickly. How did you and the others get this done at such a rapid pace?

A: This is kind of like becoming a star overnight. We have actually been hard at work on this for 2 years and still have much to do but we have definitely proven that this concept is the best way to go.  What made it so successful is that because of the history of the 5 MLS involved we did not have to overcome the  politics, paranoia, personalities and protectionism that  you are normally faced with in a project like this – we had addressed all of that years ago.

Q: Northern California has a data share program do you see others following what SOCAL has done?

A: We have been following all other initiatives, both within and outside California, and hope to work with them in the very near future.  The critical piece to our success is the common database and common data definitions. Without that you have made no progress.  A California statewide database is our goal and once everyone has adopted such a  concept then nothing is impossible – it opens up the world to us in being able to do all kinds of data related activities since it all looks the same behind the scenes.

Q: CAR is working on a statewide MLS. Do you see them or have they contacted you to adopt what you have done?

A:  A statewide MLS is not necessarily a bad thing. I think if you polled the practitioners they would agree that a statewide MLS, or at least a standard statewide database would be a very good thing.  CARETS has met with CALMLS to see  how best the two organizations can work together. I think there is consensus that the common database is the best approach. The next hurdle would be how to work together to get everyone under the CARETS-like umbrella  to best serve all of the members while providing them with innovative solutions both now and long into the future.

Q: What are your thoughts on a Nationwide MLS system?

A: A nationwide database is proabbaly not a bad thing although I am not sure that there is actually a driving need for it at this time. What most vendors out there do not understand is that an MLS is more than just a database of listings. If that’s all it was then we would have had a national MLS years ago.  The critical piece of an MLS is the offer of cooperation and compensation amongst brokers within an MLS.  On the national scope this would quickly fall apart because of different licensing laws, and lack of reciprocating compensation across state boundaries. Without cooperation and compensation all you have is a database that can be used for advertising and no one would know if and when they would get paid.

Q: Diverse Solutions was the first provider of its kind to implement CARETS into an IDX platform. Can you share with us any direct feedback you may have had from our broker and agent clients?

A: Our customers are overjoyed with the fact that they now have the ability to place this large inventory of listings on their Diverse web sites and compete with the big boys out there. One of the most often heard comments before we embarked on the CARETS journey was “why does a consumer have access to more information than I do?’. CARETS is answering that.