Raising the Data Standards Bar: Why Moving the Industry Forward Matters!

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By Art Carter, Chief Executive Officer

CRMLS, Inc.


RESO: From Stagnation to Success

My history with the Real Estate Standards Organization began with a lot of frustration and concern.

At a 2008 COVE meeting, a brainstorming session took place with some of the top MLS executives in the nation. Executives in the room were bemoaning the inability for somebody with an MLS mindset to give a national statistical view of a complex marketplace. Others had become much more adept at aggregating and analyzing MLS data than even the MLSs themselves. Because I had begun attending RESO meetings, and had witnessed the utter failure of MLSs to become involved in the process of standardizing data, I made some strong statements to the group.

If we truly wanted to develop a national voice from an MLS perspective, standardization of our data was our only hope.

Thankfully, the rest of the execs in that room agreed with me. COVE began a concerted effort to be more supportive and involved in the RESO efforts. That spark of an idea in 2008 has taken a standardization effort from one that had 20 attendees at the first meeting I attended at NAR headquarters in Chicago to an organization that has over 750 members and is the most inclusive organization in real estate. We have a very robust data dictionary, new ways of identifying MLS organizations, new ways of identifying every property in the United States, new ways of ensuring portability of data between members and vendors, and, most importantly, a new way of delivering data to brokers and their technology companies. RESO brings voices from the brokerage community, the MLS community, the technology community, and from organized real estate, and through those voices, has changed the world when it comes to MLS data. RESO has been a 19-year success story.

But as with any effort, often the biggest enemy of innovation is the status quo – the thought process that, “this is the way we’ve always done things and it works, so why should we change?”

The MLS RoundTable and the Web API

The MLS RoundTable recently asked the industry to follow its lead and continue the process of technical innovation through standardization. In the announcement, the MLS Roundtable made statements regarding many issues. However, if I’ve heard concern about any of the statements that the MLS RoundTable presented to the industry, it is the one regarding sunsetting of the real estate technology standard (RETS) delivery mechanism.

First, let’s be totally clear. RETS isn’t going anywhere in the short term. We as industry leaders recognize that brokers’ and technology companies’ investments in the current methods of delivering and consuming MLS data are significant. But we as the MLS RoundTable believe that the inherent benefits of the latest standard for distributing and consuming real estate data, the RESO Web API, are so significant, so important to our brokerage community that we are willing to be the trailblazers in facilitating the industry move.

This move, from a 20-year-old, pre-mobile technology that requires specialized, industry-specific knowledge to adopt, to a standardized method of delivering data leveraging already-in-place global technologies that most programmers in the world can easily adopt and use, will be huge for the industry.

What the MLS RoundTable is proposing, and hoping the industry follows suit on, is that sometime in 2019, we will no longer give out new accounts utilizing the old RETS data feeds to brokers and technology companies entering our marketplaces. We are only going to give out Platinum-certified RESO Web API credentials for accessing MLS data.

Then as more and more of the brokerage and technology communities adopt the Web API, each of us as part of the MLS RoundTable will make either a joint or independent decision on when to shut down our current RETS access to our MLS data. However, that date hasn’t been set, and won’t be until we are assured of the adoption of the Web API in our local market areas. But make no mistake; we are moving forward.

Common Questions on the Web API – and Their Answers

Even with that statement clarification, questions may still abound, especially about the viability of the actual technology. The Web API specification has been available since August of 2015. It is being made available for accessing MLS data by over 450 MLSs. These MLSs have met their obligation to adopt the standard and have acquired official RESO Certification for its use in their environment – and their number is still growing.

Still I get questions about where the Web API is being used and the uneven responses out of APIs in the field. I get questions about the dearth of client tools available for the Web API. I get questions about the costs of programming to the Web API and switching. I also get questioned about the Web API’s ability to deliver the whole database to a broker or technology company.

Luckily, we have answers!

·         The Web API is in use in over 225 marketplaces across the country to access MLS data. As of this writing, we have 143 MLSs that have been certified at the highest levels for the Web API, and many brokerages and technology companies have begun the process of taking feeds from the MLSs that have been certified Platinum in both the Web API and the Data Dictionary. Those data consumers are reporting back in very positive ways about the impact that standards are making on their ability to enter new markets! Some of those reports are now published online under RESO Case Studies.

·         RESO is actively working on releasing new and more innovative open source client tools. Because every server needs client applications – a way to connect and receive data from our servers – RESO has been hard at work in developing many free use, royalty-free client products.

In tech speak, RESO is delivering client tools in platforms such as C#/.Net, PHP, Java, Python, a desktop application – even a Mac version, which has never been available. RESO also has longer-term plans for a WordPress plugin option. RESO has even launched a new online developer community at https://github.com/RESOStandards to accept feedback for enhancements and allow for developers to directly contribute to the community needs of enhancing available clients and coding libraries.

As with any new technologies, these clients are in beta form. However, RESO has every expectation that the technology will mature over the next 12 months with more attention that greater use brings.

·         RESO has done extensive studies of the utilization of the API and the costs associated with adopting the API. Homes.com, in a recently published whitepaper on the RESO Web API,  reports a very positive experience and recommendation to the entire industry.

Not surprisingly the costs for switching to the Web API were initially quite high, as the programming time was 221 hours for the first Platinum-certified API delivering a Platinum-certified Data Dictionary feed. The great news is that by the fifth MLS, the time Homes.com spent on each MLS was less than five hours. Now, after handling 20-plus MLSs, they are taking less than an hour!

·         The Web API can deliver the whole database to a vendor (also known as replication). Part of the Web API spec that allows for full delivery of the entirety of the MLS database has been available for some time. Many of the MLSs that were mentioned above are delivering data in this manner, and Homes.com is actively and successfully replicating MLS data via the RESO Web API.

Conclusion: Why or Why Not?

As with any new technology, the initial releases of the Web API are to be expected to need fine tuning. The MLS RoundTable feels that the importance of the widespread adoption of the Web API warrants the issue being pushed on. And so that is what we, as a group, are doing.

Robert Kennedy once said, and I’m paraphrasing, that some people see things the way they are and ask why; I see things the way they could be and ask why not. MLS RoundTable is simply asking the question, “why not?” While we are not saying that speed is the most important factor here, we are advocating for change that we feel must occur.

Our brokers and their agents depend upon the timely and innovative use of data for their day-to-day business, and MLSs must step up to the challenge of giving our brokerage community what they need to better serve their clients in today’s turbulent, ever-changing technology environment. Why not meet our Brokers needs?

Please join us in the conversation. Please join us in pushing this important effort forward.

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