Friday, August 18, 2006

Working towards a new regional data exchange service...

I've alluded to this before on this blog, our local Association is partnering up with the other local Associations (Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City) and producing a new regional MLS (we are calling it a data exchange though).

I'm writing this post for the record, as there is still some confusion going around the ranks of Members in our Association. I'll try my best to make this as interesting for anyone else who is not a local Realtor or Member of the Association.

In the summer of 2005 at a local Broker Council meeting that I attended (as MLS President/Vice President of KGVAR) some brokers were making comments along the lines that with broker and agents from outside our own Association becoming more active in our area it might be time to consider moving toward a regional MLS. You see, us local Kingman agents were seeing fellow Realtor yard signs from the other nearby Associations pop up. This led to some discussion about the fact that the sales data of those listings would not populate into our MLS and as a result we could be looking at problems.

Such as two building sites across the street from each other in a subdivision near a golf course community of Valle Vista were sold around the same time. The story goes that the Kingman agent had listed and sold the property based on our own MLS data for $40k, while the Havasu agent listed and sold the property across the street for $60k. I'm talking about two lots the same size with the same utility attributes on the same street across from each other. If the seller who was represented by the Kingman agent was to find out, I imagine they'd be ticked off at their agent for not setting the price around $60k. At the same time if the buyer of the lot represented by the Havasu agent was to find out they could of had the lot across the street (that backed up to the fairway on the golf course) for $20k less, I imagine they'd be ticked off as well.

This matter was discussed at that broker council meeting, and to a broker or representative there you could see trouble a brewin'.

At this point our Assocaition was just over a year away from having our MLS provider contract expire so we were in the starting stages of seeing new vendor products. My Havasu Association counterpart (Cheryl Westwood) got wind of our situation and notified me that they were also seeing demonstrations from MLS vendors because they were heading towards the end of their agreement sometime early in 2007 (yeah it's about an 18 month process to get a new MLS provider). So Cheryl invited us to attend the demo's they had set up.

Well as you might imagine this was a good time to share with the Havasu folks what was talked about at the brokers council meeting. Luckily Cheryl and the gang were hip to the idea of a possible MLS merger. Talks ensued for the rest of 2005 between the two Associations. We had decided to invite the Bullhead City folks to the table at this time and formally made a presentation to their Board of Directors the first week of January 2006.

Now there is a history of mistrust between the three Associations going back way before I ever thought of living in Mohave County. In fact when I started telling Members that I was having talks with the other Associations some said I was wasting my time. To this day I chose to be ignorant of the reasons as to why the three Associations didn't get along, frankly I don't care and never will.

It is now the start of 2006 and the clock is running on our current MLS contract due to expire in November. The three groups had our first meeting to begin the formal talks about whether or not this would be a good idea. The groups were made up of mostly leadership types from each Board of Directors. From that meeting, after plenty of discussion, we all decided it was worthwhile to get started. We agreed that it would be in our best interest to hire an outside consultant to guide us along.

In early February we had a meeting to meet with the consultant. He outlined the process and the model we should probably use. We had narrowed down our choice of MLS provider to two vendors and the consultant would do a comparison for us to help us decide our vendor of choice. The consultant would also help us in the negotiation of the vendor contract. The ball was clearly rolling.

I asked for a local Broker Council meeting again later that month of February to review the process we had set up to see this project through. Not one broker voted against the plan, but that group had asked that the leadership would set up a regional broker council type of meeting for brokers from all three Associations. We did so and scheduled it for the last week of February. The local brokers had requested that our hired consultant be in attendance to make a presentation. The meeting went smoothly, of course there were some crazy comments and questions for the panel that I was on. The panel was the group that met early in the month and called ourselves the Steering Committee. At the end of the long meeting with the brokers of the region, not one of them voiced a vote to stop the process. Each Association agreed to review the different components of the project with the Association Board of Directors at the open meetings to stay up to date on the progress.

At this point the Steering Committee really took flight. We divided ourselves among various sub committees. I was on the vendor contract committee. Other committees included the business planning, budget, bylaws and rules & regulations, and forms. My committee got right down to business with the vendor of choice. It took about a month but the contract was signed in late April, all three presidents (which I was by then) took pen to paper and away we went.

During this time a resolution was drawn up to begin the formality to merge the MLS regionally and was passed by the Board of Directors of Kingman and Havasu, while the Bullhead City Association had to have a Membership election. I believe that election was on April 12th and I remember being somewhat nervous about the results because if that Association voted 'no' then this effort would be for nil and we'd have to scramble to negotiate the vendor contract on our own. Timing was everything to this point, and everything ended up on the good side of things.

Since this time the business plan has been reviewed and accepted by each Board of Directors. What remains is finalizing the budget, the forms, and the rules & regs. The Steering Committee met once again in July to review where we are all at, and honestly this was the first time I noticed some dissagreement amongst the groups. The items in question are the start date of the new organization and the fee for the Members.

I am now getting nervous for the first time because I want a working MLS for my Association come November. All systems still appear to be a go to have what I want in place, but with as well as most things have gone so far, you never know what could still happen. We are very close on this. The legal team we hired is doing a final review of the bylaws and regs. The budget group is still working things out. The forms group is still chugging along, but this is the area I worry most about. The forms will no doubt change and my Members will have to adjust. I would feel better if I could start to leak out the information of the kinds of changes they should expect.

Each Association has named the interim Board of Director members for the new organization, which is now called WARDEX (Western Arizona Regional Data Exchange). I've requested another meeting with the Steering Committe to take place in the next few weeks to give that group the chance to finalize what they've been working so hard on. If agreements cannot be made I'm going to suggest handing over the remaining work to the interim Board of Directors to handle (unfortunately for me I am one of those interim Directors -- like I have the time). Bottom line, this baby bird needs to fly out of the nest and the momma birds should probably let it go at this time.

This is where we are right now. For more information please email me and we can discuss more on this subject.

In due time I am going to recognize all the names that have helped along in this process. They are all true leaders with their own Memberships at heart. Not only Members, but more importantly our clients as well. Someday soon we will be able to offer our Members a better data source and our clients a better choice for service. When I input a listing on WARDEX, instead of the 500 or so Members having access to that data over 1700 will. Those Members could very well be representing buyers who are looking for just the offering I am representing. I certainly think this process and finished product will be well worth the many hours of effort that the leadership group has worked on for nearly a year now.

This has been a powerful experience for me to this point, and to see this though will be very satisfactory. I will feel a sense of accomplishment like I never have in my professional experience. I believe in this project 100%. I am amazed at what has been accomplished so far in this short period of time, I originally thought this would be a 2 or 3 year ordeal. I'm simply blessed to have been working with the forward thinking folks that make up our current leadership.

Still plenty of work to be done, and I promise updates as we move along. Stay tuned!!

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