There is a progressive MLS leadership group that is fighting on behalf of brokers to make dramatic improvements in data management that needs broker support for their efforts. The group is called MLS Roundtable, made up of eight MLSs representing 300,000 brokers and agents. In an article published this week called Measuring Success for MLS Executives, Kathy Condon, President and CEO of Massachusetts regional MLS PIN scribes an eloquent synopsis of the status of migrating data feeds from the RETS transportation method to RESO Web API. She urges the industry to move forward quickly and responsibility. They need brokers to support the effort by encouraging more MLSs to focus their attention and treasury to RESO Web API adoption.
Today, we are in the middle of a sea change. For the most part, over 90% of applications that brokers purchase for their business connect to MLS data though the Real Estate Transaction Standard (RETS) developed by RESO. The way that RETS works is antiquated.
Let me try to explain the difference between RETS and Web API for folks who do not get deeply involved in data transportation. If you remember your old Palm Pilot, you remember something called ActiveSync. You plug your Palm into your computer and it syncs your contact data. It typically took a minute or two. Behind the scenes, your Palm sent a request to your computer (which acts like an MLS database server) to pull all of the data or all of the new data onto your device. It is like filling up a train car with data and sending it down the track to the device which unloads it and puts it in database containers. Its slow, like a train. And its payload is heavy. Big data payloads also cost a lot of bandwidth.
The RESO Web API is fast and efficient. It works like your modern-day smart phone. For example, when you make changes on your computer to a contact record, your phone and your computer transport data using APIs. They sync the data almost instantly. With RESO Web API, you can sync listing data almost instantly. By adopting the RESO Web API, all broker and agent software systems like your website, CRM, marketing tools, CMAs, Virtual Tours, Advertising systems, transaction management, accounting, etc. will be constantly updated in minutes rather than hours.
If your technology solutions are being driven off of RETS today, you are lagging behind. Talk to all of your vendors and MLSs and set a plan to move to the new RESO Web API methods.
Here Is The Challenge
Unless every MLS offers the Web API, brokerages and technology companies will not switch away from the old RETS transportation method. We are stuck in slow mode as an industry. MLSs like those involved in the MLS Roundtable are running the RETS server and the Web API servers in parallel. It doubles their expense, your expense. Like any massive sea change, you need to support the legacy systems while people convert to the new systems. Today, one size does not fit all. You cannot just yank the cord on RETS, but you need to make it disappear within a reasonable amount of time. Technology vendors have had years to adopt the new Web API. It’s time to gently force their hand. The hold up is time and cost. Restructuring data bases is a complete rebuild for most.
State of the Industry Adoption of RESO Web API
I did a quick count and found that about 400 out of the nation’s MLSs have become certified as having a Web API. There are just over 600 MLSs in the USA today. Technically, any MLS affiliated with the National Association of REALTORS® who is not certified for the RESO Web API is out of compliance and in default with the NAR MLS Policy. I believe that NAR should be vigorously enforcing the policy and putting those non-compliant MLSs on notice of default and revoking their charter. Today, NAR is taking a carrot approach rather than a stick approach in the interest of fostering strong relationships with their Association owned MLSs. They are actively mailing letters and notices (over 100 in the past month) and some MLSs have lost their E & O insurance already. There are about 175 Realtor owned/Operated MLSs that are not compliant. Remember, private MLSs are not under any mandate to comply.
But there is a shadier side to this too. One that is only talked about in the shadows of the technology groups that handle data feeds. Many of the MLSs who are officially RESO Web API certified are not actually provisioning Web API feeds when the broker or broker’s technology provider requests it. For some, RESO Web API certification is a sham. They propped up a server to get certified, but it they do not issue credentials. That’s disgusting. When you read Condon’s article titled Measuring Success for MLS Executives, she is calling out MLSs to step up their game. She is not quite as blunt as I am here. But she makes the case.
As a result of failure to adopt the Web API, or inability for a broker or technology vendor to convert all of their feeds over to a Web API because they are not available in every market, the industry is stuck in the mud. Most of the leading technology firms in America are hamstrung until the Web API is available in every US MLS. Tech firms cannot migrate from RETS to Web API until they can access all markets via Web API.
Today, I received an impassioned call from one of my favorite brokers in America, Lennox Scott of John L Scott. Until this year, he advocated for a national MLS – mostly around the notion of a national MLS database that would allow him to serve his agents and clients with “nanosecond” access to information. He shared how he has evolved his thinking to embrace the mission of the RESO Data Dictionary to replace obscurely unique MLS databases. He would like to see Native Data Dictionary adoption of common fields in the MLS like My Florida Regional MLS. Adoption of the Data Dictionary for standard fields and field enumerations does not prohibit special local fields in addition to those basic Data Dictionary fields, but it would level set the most important fields a broker (and their vendor) needs to serve the consumer.
More importantly, John L. Scott expects that all 19 of his MLSs provide him with access to the uniformly formatted RESO Web API. He cannot convert his systems (or compel his vendors) over to Web API until 100% of his MLSs will support it. When all 19 of his MLSs offer the Web API with standard data that updates in nanoseconds – who cares how many MLSs there are? The RESO standards knock out the extreme expense of mapping data to achieve normalization and reduce the time data processing. As a side note, he also wants MLSs to make these APIs bi-directional. The RESO Web API v1.1 Standard already supports bi-directional flow of data with CRMLS working to implement it actively along with W&R Studios. Upstream supporters understand the need for this. It is the right of brokers to be able to feed data to the MLSs though a standard API to eliminate the effort and complexity of hand entering data into 19 different systems. We need a standard for MLS Fair Input Guidelines to be adopted by MLSs universally.
As Condon clearly writes that this is a process that requires a roadmap. For the MLS industry to step up and support the brokers and agents, they need to take on the adoption of standards today. MLSs need to aim high with the adoption of RESO standards now, especially the offering of Web API. 2019 will be here faster than you think. Brokers need to sit with their MLSs and vendors to demand that they step up. It is not an unreasonable ask. It’s a basic requirement of every Association owned MLS in the nation. Brokers need to speak out. The time is now.
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The real estate :data” landscape would have been a lot different and less fractured if MLSs had actually implemented “real” RETS as originally conceived, rather than the “pseudo-RETs” that was actually put into place.
I would not want to throw all MLSs under the bus. There are many who have led the industry toward a bright future, I would loosely describe this group as the COVE Group – or the top 100 largest MLSs – its the bottom 200 that are mostly understaffed and under funded. They need to raise dues to keep up or merge into co-operatives that can collaborate on getting things done. NAR has the hammer here – maybe they will use it. Not sure. They certainly have stepped up their enforcement under Bob Goldberg in ways that his predecessor did not.