MLS technology

‘We’re not kidding’: Deadlines loom for broker technology upgrades

  • Access to outdated MLS data feeds will soon be cut off for some technology vendors and brokers.
  • New York struggles with quality data as much as the smallest market — that may soon change.
  • New technology for agents and brokers will proliferate as MLS data opens up to the marketplace.

Technology initiatives across the industry are taking an aggressive stance as multiple listing services and tech vendors draw lines in the sand for data upgrades. Those fed up with bad data are putting their foot down on the gas pedal:

The month of May’s gauntlet of conferences brings into focus the issues that will dominate the industry for the rest of the year. The technology conversations have intensified to a fever pitch. A few developments that might fly under your radar are at the core of progress.

Technology improvement for the industry has shifted from a tone of desire to anxious necessity. There’s no more clear example than the MLSs that are setting hard deadlines for their partners to modernize their systems or lose data access.

Drop dead dates for modern data

Leading MLSs are pushing their technology partners to make innovation possible. NAR’s Legislative Meetings in Washington, D.C., have at least a half dozen MLS-related events. At the COVE Group’s MLS meeting, the deadlines for upgrading to Web API access to data for brokers’ and agents’ tech providers were laid out in detail.

MLS Meetings NAR

MLS Committee Meetings at the Realtors Legislative Meetings in Washington, D.C.

Pioneering organizations are moving technology partners away from traditional data sharing (RETS) to a modern system (Web API). It’s a critical component of the maturing process for the industry. It’s no longer just talk.

  • RealTracs in Tennessee is shutting off its RETS servers for IDX feeds on May 31.
  • Yes-MLS in Ohio will be moving all IDX and VOW feeds to Web API by June 10.
  • MRED in Chicago will cut off RETS servers for IDX by the end of 2019.
  • CarolinaMLS will move IDX, VOW and broker back-office feeds over to the Web API by the year’s end.

RealTracs’ storyline is one we’ll likely hear many times. The first communication to tech vendors regarding upcoming changes was met with little response. The second email came with a more attention-grabbing subject line: “We weren’t kidding.”

The communications from the MLS to vendors, and then brokers, ensured there was clarity in the market as to why the change was necessary. I heard significant concerns from technologists in this market during the early lead-up to this change. As the deadline nears, though, the vast majority have settled in.

Make no mistake, it costs these companies time and resources to make the changes to their systems. This transition is much more straightforward than the previous move from FTP to RETS, though, and it will provide maintenance cost savings in the long term.

Continued innovation is a necessity for any technology company. It appears clear that these migrations will continue to pick up steam across the industry. The time for technology vendors to get ahead of the curve is now.

New York MLS Data Summit pushes for unified broker data cooperative

While quality data is a priority for every broker in the nation, the state of data in possibly the most significant market in the world is more disjointed than one would expect.

Manhattan, at the heart of New York, is one of the few markets in the nation that lacks a unified MLS. There are many historical reasons for this, but its brokers are organizing to create a data platform that will strengthen the service they can provide to agents and consumers.

The newly formed New York MLS hosted a Data Summit in Midtown. This was an intentionally focused group, with representatives from all of the large local brokerages in attendance.

What brokers take for granted in MLS-enabled markets is surprisingly lacking according to these brokers in New York City:

  • Understood offers of compensation for co-brokering sales
  • Clear “rules of the road” and compliance measures for listing access and showings
  • IDX data feeds for brokers and agents to display full market data on their websites
  • VOW and broker back-office feeds for brokerages to power their technology tools
  • Standardized data sets that can be easily ingested by internal tools and syndicated to technology partners without costly and time-consuming data transformations

While there were a handful of us on hand to speak to the national perspective, the most interesting conversations were from the local brokers. The storyline in New York broker territory often resides around the angst about relationships with data aggregators and public portals. The push for a broker collaborative MLS, though, is quite simple at its core.

The brokers want a better technology platform. On top of that foundation, they’re stronger, have more options and can provide better data to their partners.

With apologies to the contributors for simplifying their talking points at the summit, these soundbites of the current state of affairs in the New York market will resonate within every region of the country. New York City has the same need for quality data as Iowa City.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Joe Rand, a broker-owner of a 30-office organization and thought leader in the brokerage technology space, led a conversation on the lack of data quality in New York: “New York City is the most important real estate marketplace in the world. Yet its market reports, from its own most prominent brokerages, make it clear that the market data is inconsistent and inconclusive,” Rand said. “When one brokerage says the market is down 5 percent, and the other says it’s up 12 percent; it’s a clear sign that data collaboration is necessary to create the kind of insights consumers and professionals deserve. Can you imagine Wall Street presenting this kind of unconvincing information to its clients?”
New York Data Discrepancies

NY MLS Data Summit at Convene in Midtown Manhattan, New York City

  • Stefan Martinovic, formerly of REBNY and now with Midwood Investment and Development: “There are brokers in this room that are spending five to six figures quarterly to clean up non-standardized data. Don’t we want to be the drivers of new technology instead of waiting for it to come to us?”
  • LD Salmanson of Cherre, a leading edge data aggregation provider in New York: “The data market is fractured. Data consumers assume some kind of RESO standard, but the data they receive is very difficult and expensive to normalize. We need not only a data dictionary but a data model for data delivery. Having quality data is just a baseline, expected starting point. While brokers with specialized data may feel they have weaponized it to their advantage, their lack of a common foundation is making those weapons weaker.”
  • Lucie Fortier of CoreLogic, a leading MLS software and data aggregation provider: “The MLS can still be that single source of truth, where the agent and broker can trust the accuracy of the data. It can deliver more data than the consumer has, a difficult proposition in this environment. Many technology companies are now seeing the benefits of RESO data with minimized costs and labor for data translation. Brokers need to stop giving away their leverage and use their force of will to create a collaborative data environment that benefits them all through the MLS.”
  • Rory Golod of Compass: “It shouldn’t be the agent’s job to figure out whether the data being fed into their tools is accurate. It should just be accurate. Compass agents in D.C. (Bright MLS) have a much easier life compared to [New York] agents. Fear is motivating much of the stagnation in [New York] data. Every brokerage should be supplying an IDX feed to every other broker so that everyone can advertise the entire marketplace from their own websites. The message has to be that we need one central database to create uniform, valuable data.”
  • Bess Freedman, CEO of Brown Harris Stevens: “This is up to the brokerage firms. It’s up to them to have the will to come together and have real conversations about moving forward for the betterment of all.”
  • Jed Garfield of Leslie J Garfield, summed up the day: “Consumers demand instant quality data, and they should get it from us. We are screwed if we don’t do this. Let’s do it tomorrow.”

Every app connected to the MLS: data silos being broken down

Breaking data lock-in for industry technology is at a tipping point. There’s an increasing number of companies contributing to and using data standards that allow more tools to interface directly with MLS data.

New updates were added to the next version of Web API standards at RESO’s Spring Summit in Boise. They’re lighting the way to long-desired technology options:

  • Multi-input apps and MLS tools that can create the no-longer-mythical “front end of choice.”
  • Modern data set replication that cures “missing photos” and “disappearing listings” that plague traditional technology systems.
  • Push technology to reduce wasted energy and resource costs to MLSs, brokers and vendors.
RESO 2019 Spring Summit

RESO Spring Technology Summit in Boise, Idaho

There’s no reason that any technology provider, with an agreement and data license that conforms to the MLS and broker’s rules, can’t provide an agent with an app that creates, changes and deletes a listing at the push of a button.

It will require the MLS to work with its internal and external partners to provide this kind of access, but the technology is already here. MLSs are opening up their systems to these new tools.

In the past month, a large number of technology companies and brokerages have come to RESO to ask how they can help to accelerate this progress. Technical, financial, organizational — they’re looking for ways to contribute and move the industry toward technology modernization.

Don’t wait for an invite — reach out to us as we work to free the industry from outdated systems. Let’s give our professionals and consumers the valuable data and technology they deserve.

Sam DeBord is CEO of the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) and 2019 National Association of REALTORS­ President’s Liaison for MLS and Data Management.