The new RLS at long last

REBNY gears up to launch a new (and highly anticipated) listing system for residential brokers

After several years of anticipation, the Real Estate Board of New York, the largest real estate trade group in the city, is finally gearing up to launch its new listings system.

The rejiggered REBNY Listing System — widely known as the RLS — is currently in a beta-testing period and is set to launch to the full residential brokerage community later this month.

The move, REBNY officials insist, will bring the portal, which many brokers have criticized as slow and inaccurate in the past, into the 21st century.

Indeed, Steven Goldschmidt, chair of REBNY’s technology committee and a broker at Warburg Realty, said not only will the new system be faster and more user-friendly, but more importantly it will conform to the so-called Real Estate Transaction Standard, or RETS.

That change might sound technical, but Goldschmidt said it will give the 8,000 to 10,000 New York City brokers who use the RLS system access to all kinds of third-party products that brokers in other metropolitan areas already have. For example, it will be accessible through mobile phone apps, provide a more sophisticated way to calculate commissions (which have grown more complicated in recent years) and include more options for inputting information about a listing. The latter will allow for more specific apartment features to be checked off and included in a listing, like differentiating between a “terrace” and a “balcony,” for example, Goldschmidt said.

“It’s like we’ve been the PC, and the rest of the world is the Mac,” said Goldschmidt.

The fact that the system will be RETS-compatible means that many software programs developed by third parties — which brokers use to organize listings and other RLS information — will be able to access New York City listings data for the first time, Goldschmidt said. That should expand the number of software programs brokers here have at their disposal, he added.

Brokers say the residential real estate community in New York has been woefully behind the rest of the country. That’s partly because the RLS system has been antiquated and partly because, unlike other cities, the Big Apple does not have one central Multiple Listings Service, where all brokers input their listings in a standard way. (A rival, albeit far smaller, trade organization — the Manhattan Association of Realtors — does in fact run a MLS in Manhattan; however, it is not widely used.)


No universal system

Instead of a straightforward, transparent and universally used MLS, New York City instead has a fractured system with a number of separate listing platforms run by private companies that disseminate information from the RLS.

Those systems are the conduits that carry data from the RealPlus Online Listings Exchange, widely known as R.O.L.E.X., the current data transmission system for RLS, to many New York City brokerages. Those listings platforms include On-Line Residential, RealPlus (which functions as a vendor and whose owner, Eric Gordon, developed the R.O.L.E.X system) and other platforms like RealtyMX, BrokersNYC and Solid Earth — all of which firms can sign up for.

In addition, some firms have their own proprietary databases, including the city’s two largest residential brokerages, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran, whose systems are dubbed Limo and Taxi, respectively.

But creating a more sophisticated system has been a long and onerous task.

“The residential division has been trying for years to get more control over the data, and this effort to streamline and modernize it represents their success,” said Doug Wagner, executive director of leasing at Bond New York.

“It’s the lifeblood of our industry” to be able to exchange listings, he added.

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Still, until brokers see REBNY’s new system in the flesh, many are skeptical.

“I think in concept it’s good,” said Donna Olshan, owner and founder of Olshan Realty, who has not yet used the new system. “The whole question is, does it work?”

Indeed, even before the system has launched, it has generated some serious scuttlebutt in the industry.

Many brokers told TRD they believed that the new system would make it harder for agents to access their listings and that the system would automatically cut off a broker if she failed to pay her dues — both facts that REBNY disputes. In addition, many brokers said they thought the new system had already launched despite the fact that REBNY says it’s only in beta testing and hasn’t yet rolled out to brokers.

Others say that preparing to implement the new system has been far too costly. Neil Binder, whose firm Bellmarc Realty uses a proprietary listing system, said he has spent more than $100,000 to prepare to integrate his software with the new RLS.


Years in the making

The changeover has been years in the making.

REBNY sent out a request for proposals for a new data platform in June 2010 and announced in September 2011 that it was working to implement the new system.

The new system — which is called Stratus Data Systems’ RETS — will replace R.O.L.E.X.

R.O.L.E.X. “served the community well for a really long time,” Wagner said, “but we needed new technology.”

A REBNY news release called the Stratus the “national standard” and said it will allow brokers and agents “access to the new marketing tools and software available nationwide.”

Goldschmidt likens the “painstaking process” to a heart transplant, saying it needs to be completely seamless so that it doesn’t disrupt brokers’ business.

But after focus groups with around 30 New York City brokers, the third-party listings services like OLR are now using the beta version of the system and working out the kinks.

Still, Goldschmidt said that other than the faster system and new features, the interface won’t look different to brokers and that RLS users will not have to learn how to use a new software program.

“There is no change as to how brokers will get their data,” Goldschmidt said.