Realtor listing system is shaky Data problems, slow log-ons impede start of computer service

No backup after this week

Multiple-list program links 20,000 agents in Baltimore-D.C. area

March 02, 1997|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

After almost two weeks of being online with one of the country's most innovative and aggressive multiple-listing services, Baltimore-area real estate agents are finding that change doesn't come easy.

On Feb. 17, Realtors from the city, Baltimore, Howard, Carroll and Harford counties switched to the Metropolitan Regional Information System (MRIS). MRIS, founded in July 1993, has 23 ** local Realtor boards from Maryland, Washington and Northern Virginia as stockholders in the company. Overall, more than 20,000 Realtors are paying $35 a month to use the system.

That system is replacing the Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies (MARIT) multiple-listing service.

And with the switch has come the same confusion and anguish that agents in other counties have experienced after going online with MRIS.

Take, for instance, Pat Hiban, an associate broker and top producer with Re/Max Advantage Realty in Howard County.

He praises the technological advances but nervously laughs when running down the problems he's had in the last 10 days.

"What's happening now is that not all the listings are in there," he said. "When they [MRIS] first flipped over we immediately went in and [checked listings]. I have 36 listings and 28 showed up. By the second day, we were able to get the other eight in there.

"My gut [feeling] is that a lot of agents haven't done that. They are just assuming that things are going to take care of themselves."

ZTC However, Jonathan Hill, director of administration of MRIS, said that if they missed some listings, they should now be in the system. "We should have grabbed everything that MARIT gave us. And if we didn't we will go back and find it."

But that's not all of Hiban's concerns.

"The other problem is, and I don't know why it's happening, is that a lot of houses that have been settled are showing up as active," he said. "So I'm getting calls from people who want to see these houses that people have moved out four and five months ago.

"Another thing wrong is the tax records. I'm not sure where they are coming from," Hiban said. "We've been told as an office not to rely on those tax records the office was looking out for us because that's a liability. If you put in the wrong taxes on a property and it sells and the people think that their payment is $100 less a month because you had the wrong taxes, somebody's going to want $100 a month while they live there and I don't want to be the one paying that."

Hill was unable to explain why there would be incorrect tax data. "We have three system analysts who do nothing but tax records," Hill said.

45-minute log-on

Hiban also has been frustrated by the time it takes to log on to the MRIS system, saying it once took 45 minutes and "at least twice it has taken 25 minutes."

Hill did say that MRIS was having communication hardware problems, which is causing delays in getting into their system. But GTE, which runs the system, is going over it with "a fine-tooth comb" to correct the problems. "We know there are delays and we are working on them," Hill said.

Even so, Hiban realizes that any new system needs time to shake out the glitches, but what makes him nervous is that the MARIT system, which had been used as a backup for historical data, will go off-line Wednesday.

According to Hiban and David Desser, an associate broker with Long and Foster in Owings Mills, it has been difficult to retrieve settled units from the MRIS system.

Desser said he was able to pull up past sales, but only by ZIP code and not by individual streets. Using previous sales is essential to an agent who's putting together a market analysis for a prospective buyer or seller.

Matter of training

Hill, however, said that agents should be able to tap into settled properties and that the database goes back to June 1995, and if they can't, then it's still a matter of them being properly trained in the new system.

Nevertheless, Hiban said: "When it [MARIT] dies it's going to be a nightmare. There are a lot of agents using the old system and when that thing goes down they're not going to know what to do."

All of the fuss doesn't surprise Warren Tunkel, the executive vice president of MARIT, who's counting down the final hours.

"As of March 5 all of the hardware that was used to provide our service will be sold off, so we'll be out of business totally and unrecoverably at that time," he said. The office furniture will be auctioned March 13.

"The system, graphically, looks great," Tunkel said of MRIS. "But it has a way to go to get all the bugs ironed out and all the pieces together. It [MRIS] was not a system that was existing when it was decided to go that route. So it was building as you go, and any time you do that you're going to run into bumps along the road that are going to cause problems."

Tunkel, as well as Hiban and Desser, pointed to the new mapping system that MRIS is using. MARIT had used maps in its listings supplied by ADC of Alexandria, Va.

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