New map on tap: Realtors adapt to broader listing system

Brian Pedersen, BridgeTower Media//April 19, 2019

New map on tap: Realtors adapt to broader listing system

Brian Pedersen, BridgeTower Media//April 19, 2019

A map showing Bright MLS’s coverage area that spans across six states (Submitted)

Real estate professionals have been making what they describe as a rocky but necessary transition to a new system for listing homes for sale in eastern Pennsylvania.

The system – called Bright MLS and covering parts of six states – replaces systems that operated largely at the county level.

The larger database of homes is a welcome change and has spurred greater regional collaboration, Realtors said. But it has come with technical glitches and other challenges, including long wait times in the beginning for customer support and difficulty in finding the right information.

“There is definitely an adjustment period when a large system conversion takes place,” said Anne Costello, president of the Bucks County Association of Realtors, which switched to Bright MLS last year. “With almost 4,000 members, we saw, and to be honest, are still seeing, varying levels of tech expertise and frustration as our members adjust to the Bright MLS system. I was one of those people who did vote for it thinking it was better for our members.”

The system’s heaviest users have been among the most vocal, but they also are learning and adapting to the new system, which has become more responsive, said Costello.

“Less frequent Realtor users will understandably adapt more slowly… but I believe we will all get there,” she said.

 A bigger map

Introduced in 2016, Bright MLS aims to provide real estate professionals with expanded property information across a wider territory through one multiple listing service, or MLS. Prior to the move, many Realtor associations operated their own MLS system.

Bright MLS covers 40,000 square miles in eastern Pennsylvania, as well as Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Based in Maryland, it is one of the largest home listing services in the nation.

The cost to use the new system varies based on where Realtors operate. Costello, a Realtor with Century 21 Veterans in Newtown, said her association members are paying about $113 per quarter, which works out to $150 more per year than they were paying previously.

With the real estate landscape changing, the real estate organizations that formed Bright felt it was imperative to work together to enhance their leverage and bargaining position, Chris Finnegan, a spokesperson for the organization, wrote in an emailed response to questions.

Bright developed a transition plan for each MLS organization with the end goal of having all 95,000 subscribers on the Bright platform by the end of 2018. The Bucks County association, The Reading-Berks association, and the Schuylkill County association converted in late 2018.

“With Bright, we had an opportunity to provide more information across a broader footprint to real estate professionals,” Finnegan said.

Regarding feedback from members on the initial rollout, Finnegan said: “This is not unusual when a number of people who are used to different systems switch to another. We take feedback from our subscribers very seriously and are dedicated to getting any issues that present themselves addressed as soon as possible.”

A single subscription

The Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties joined Bright MLS in October 2017 and is a shareholder in the program, giving it a voice on Bright’s board of directors, said the association’s president, Heather Kreiger.

“We really found benefit in the fact with all the associations coming together,” Kreiger said. “Just the access to the data alone is one of the biggest benefits. For me, I don’t have to subscribe to all these different MLS’s. I don’t have to pay separate fees, learn different rules and regulations.”

Bright makes it easier to collaborate with other Realtors, said Kreiger, a brokerage advisor for ROCK Commercial Real Estate LLC in York. She declined to disclose the cost for joining but said the cost varies based on the area where a broker works.

The system has not been without its hiccups, she said. But, she added: “In any transition, there’s always going to be some hiccups; however, they have made significant progress making the system better.”

The progress also was noted by Richard Boas Jr., president of the Lancaster County Association of Realtors, which transitioned to Bright MLS in October 2018.

“That was the best, strategic long-term decision for us,” Boas said. “It’s greatly improved. The one thing I noticed is there’s a lot more networking among agents. I’ve noticed that Realtors will cross the county lines a lot more. I do see that as an excellent advantage.”

The cost – about $200 per year – also is comparable, he said, noting that agents with business in different counties no longer have to pay dues for multiple services.

“It makes it easier for agents to help their clients buy and sell real estate,” Boas said, acknowledging that some agents are not happy with the new system.

But for real estate professionals, he said, regional MLS consolidation appears to be where the industry is going.

Among the holdouts is the Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors. It voted not to join the listing service, largely because Bright’s geographic coverage was not sufficient for Realtors doing business in Monroe and Carbon counties and in western New Jersey, according to the association’s CEO, Justin Porembo.

“We had a lot of independent discussions with our brokers here and our board,” Porembo said. “The members felt like it wasn’t time. We would have had members who needed to belong to multiple MLS’s.”

The association also did not want to be on the ground floor of a new system, said Christopher Raad, associate broker at Harvey Z. Raad Realtors in Allentown. He was president of GLVR in 2016 when the group was deciding whether to join Bright MLS.

“We felt that there was going to be a very sharp learning curve,” Raad said.

The new system made more sense for associations whose services were entirely within the Bright MLS footprint, he added.

“The theory and the concept is very, very good,” Raad said. “It’s just making sure it’s practical to work and to keep the functions of the local marketplace moving along.”

Finnegan said Bright MLS is open to discussing the geographic coverage issues in places like the Lehigh Valley.

“We’d welcome any discussion about how to help alleviate the burden of multiple MLS systems that subscribers in these bordering regions need to join in order to serve their clients,” he said.