I am writing this page in a effort to properly inform and to warn programmers and developers that are thinking about integrating MLS information from the state of Maine into a website using PHP. By the time you read this it may have change so be aware I am publishing this on November 1st 2012. This is in no way an attempt to slander or discredit anyone. THis is in fact the truth about what I had to go through while attempting to integrate MLS information into a website for a Maine real estate company using php.
Before you start the process, you need to first understand how it works. Rets is a combination of MLS databases from different regions of the United States. To use mls information on your website you must first identify and get in touch with the proper region office. For the state of Maine you need to contact MREIS which you can do through their website which is mainelistings.com. When you contact them you can proceed to ask them as many questions as you want. THe answers for me were not very helpful or useful. They did not develop Rets nor are they programmers. They are in fact just the middle people that setup your account and allow you access to use the MLS data. For technical questions I was redirected to realtor.org for answers.
One of the biggest questions was how do I use php to pull the MLS information into my server so I can perform searches. In order to do that you need a "loader". A loader is a program that runs on your server and connects to the Rets server and syncs up the MLS information. Because the MLS servers have so much data you really can't do "real time" searches of their data because 99.9% of all web browsers can not handle the memory when you process the data and they will time out anways. The next question of course was what loaders are available if I wanted to utilize php to pull in the MLS data. I was once again directed to Realtor.org and instructed to do a keyword search "MREIS". I did so and I was shown a list of available loaders. The options are VERY thin if you are looking to use PHP. The best looking option was Viele Rets which was a free download. I clicked on the link, looked at the website and it looked pretty simple. You install it on your server, enter your connection information and let it run. Should be a piece of cake.
Boy was I wrong. For a real estate agent or office to utilize the Rets data they have to pay $500 setup charge and an additional $100 every quarter. Here is the fun part. For a website company or a developer to be able to host a website that pulls the information and to have access to the Rets data the developer ALSO has to pay a $500 setup charge and an additional $100 every quarter. It gets worse. The $500 setup charge does not include the first quarter fee so you are paying $600 up front to just have the ABILITY to access the Rets information. Once you pay you are given your sign up information. For me just signing up was a nightmare. I was given a form to fill out with information that had no explaination of what I was supposed to enter. For instance they wanted the program I was going to use to pull the data which I could provide but they also wanted the version number and other information that I had NO way of knowing. To make matters worse when I finished filling it out and faxed it over to them they claimed to never have gotten the information. It actually took a couple weeks to get it processed. Luckily I save my copy of the successful fax transmission so I could prove to my client I did in fact send over the information. It was a good thing I did keep that fact transmission because when my client called MREIS and asked what was taking so long they claimed I never sent over the information. At this point I should have cut my losses and moved on but I was not smart enough to do so.
I downloaded the Viele Rets package and installed it into my server. I went to the Viele website for documentation regarding how to set it up or how to use it and although their was a support link and their were links to documentation their was actually nothing on those pages. I then searched google for a couple days for any kind of documentation only to find out their wasn't any. The next thing I did was email Viele my situation asking for help. I received a response in about a week from one of the developers. I emailed him back and forth for another two weeks before he decided to go into my server and get it to work. During my emails I found out that the Viele website was hacked about a year ago and they were in the process of putting a new one up so their was in fact no documentation on the Viele Rets loader. The other thing that is important to know is that the email correspondence was very slow. I would receive and email and respond back within a couple minutes. I would not receive a response back from them for a couple of days. During this waiting period I did a lot of research about php integration of Rets data and pretty much came up with only one other option. That option was phprets. I'll get more into phprets later.
So the support guy at Viele Rets went into my server to make it work. He managed to get it to successfully connect but was unable to get it to pull information correctly and was also unable to get it to pull in images. When I asked what the problem was, he told me it was something to do with the code needing to be changed to work with MREIS which is when I began finding out just how much MORE difficult MREIS is to work with compared to all the other rets servers.
So now I have a website that is designed, built and waiting on a working loader to pull information from MREIS rets server and place it into my database. The only option I have is a program that does not work and was hacked. I can tell you I was not feeling warm and fuzzy. Eventually the support guy was unable to help me any further so he forwarded me to the project leader to help me out. The project leader was very nice and we communicated back and for for 3 MONTHS! I am not exaduarating. He would email me telling me the new version was almost working and I should have it by the end of the day. I received about 20 of those emails and when my client would ask what was going on I would tell him it's almost done. To take a very long story and make it short, during that 3 month period I ran into two more MREIS problems. The first problem was I had to pay my quarterly dues. I was invoiced and when I went to pay my $100 payment I was unable to do so because they setup my account wrong. I do not know the specifics but I do know that the login and password they provided me did not work. A couple of days later they had it working and I paid my $100.The second problem was the contract with MREIS states that I have 60 to get a working website up and have that website approved. If I do not have it working and approved within the 60 days the contract is voided and their are NO REFUNDS.
Where does that leave me? I have a finished website I paid my people to design and build, I do not have a working loader to pull MLS information from the MREIS Rets server, and my contract was voided and I lost my $600.00.
I have been in business for 13 years. I have been a php programmer for 12 of those years. In all that time I have never seen anything like this before. I decided to do some more research and contacted a few companies that have worked with MREIS in the past. THey actually knew the people at MREIS by name and proceeded to tell me their own "interesting story". I am not happy about losing a couple of thousand dollars, but I feel a little better knowing it wasn't just me that had issues dealing with them.
All of this could have been avoided if MREIS knew of an actual functioning loader or informed me that one did not exist. This could all have been avoided if the Viele loader was not listed on realtor.org as a viable working option. All of this could have been avoided if just have of my questions were answered BEFORE I signed up. The fact of the matter is it's designed this way for a reason. YOu don't know how difficult or how virtually impossible it is until you dive in and pay the $600 to MREIS. Once you pay them you are then given the information needed to try and connect to the system. Their is no documentation at all to help you with this process. The no refund policy exists for a reason. As a business owner I will refund my client if their is a problem that is not the client's fault. Why would a business have a no refund policy and have no documentation or any kind of support. Obviously only they know the answer and my "opinion" could be viewed as slander so I can not voice that at this time. I will let you come to your own conclusions. The fact is they provided me with absolutely no help and made $1400 off of my client and myself for a service we were never able to use. ( setup fees and 2 quarterly payments )
My client still needed a working website so I contacted one of the VERY few companies that works with MREIS Rets servers. Once I told them it was MREIS they told me they did not want to take on the project because the MREIS Rets servers are the worst servers to work with and they also told me they had multiple clients still waiting on MREIS to look at and approve the websites and they were submitted a couple weeks ago.
To wrap this all up, let me just recommend you not even attempt to use php to connect to a MREIS Rets server unless you have an actual working loader in your hand that has been tested on MREIS servers and yoU know 100% that it works. The viele loader does work for other Rets servers. In fact the other php options available like phprets do work on other Rets servers. They don't however work on MREIS Rets servers at the time I am writing this. The problem isn't the actual data. The problem from what I have been told is retreiving the images. I don't know why and at this point I don't want to know why. All I know is I lost a couple thousand dollars and it could have been avoided and would have been avoided if I attempt to built this project with any Rets server other than the MREIS Rets servers.
All the above information was acquired from my own personal dealings with MREIS and Rets server integration. I have have emails and fax transmissions to back up my claims. I did not name any names or point out any individuals because my intention is not to slander anyone. My intention is to educate and warn individuals looking to use php to integrate with MREIS Rets servers. I know if I found this information before I took on the project I would be a coupld thousand dollars richer and not have wasted so much time.