FBS backing ‘app store for real estate software’

Standardized data from two dozen MLSs paves way for 'Spark Platform'

Multiple listing service software vendor FBS is planning to roll out a platform that will allow software developers to create products for brokers and MLSs using standardized data from more than two dozen MLSs representing more than 230,000 brokers and agents.

FBS says the Spark Platform will feature an online store for the products created, the Spark Store, which the company says will be "an app store for real estate software."

The Spark Platform is currently in alpha testing and is slated for a soft launch in July and a full launch in September.

FBS — provider of the flexmls Web MLS system — says at least 26 MLSs have signed on as charter members. Participants include several of the nation’s largest MLSs: California Regional MLS, Midwest Real Estate Data LLC (MRED), and Metrolist. The latest MLS to sign a letter of intent to become a charter member of the platform is Boston area-based MLS PIN, which has nearly 30,000 members.

"Together, the Spark Platform brings together MLSs, brokers, agents and software developers to create an ecosystem for innovation in real estate software," said Michael Wurzer, FBS’ president and CEO, in a blog post announcing the platform. 

The Spark platform has three components: the Spark API, the Spark Store, and the Spark Bar. The Spark API will allow authorized MLS members and developers access to MLS data standardized according to the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) Data Dictionary, which includes some common vocabulary for fields used to represent real estate data in MLSs. The data available will include listings, contacts and market statistics. MLSs will maintain control of what data is visible through the API and what permissions each user has for using the data, FBS said.

There is no fee to sign up for the platform. Fees come into play only when a developer licenses an application through the Spark Store. Developers get 70 percent of an app’s sale price minus credit card fees. FBS and the developing MLS will share the 30 percent cut of the sales price retained by the store, "providing the MLS with a source of non-dues revenue," FBS said.

Agents and brokers will be able to review and rate products.

Screenshot of Spark Store 

The Spark Bar is a type of bookmarklet that can be installed on any website, including an MLS system, a broker’s intranet, a mobile site, an Internet Data Exchange (IDX) site or a Virtual Office Website (VOW). The Spark Bar will provide one-click access to the Spark Store and to any of the apps users purchase from the store. 

Screenshot of Spark Bar 

Brian Boero, a partner at real estate and technology consulting firm 1000Watt Consulting, called the platform "a very big deal."

"To bottom-line it, this platform has the potential to produce an explosion of better software for brokers and agents; make innovating within the boundaries of MLS rules dramatically easier; (and) create significant new revenue for MLSs," Boero said in a blog post about the announcement.

Boero had previously advocated for what he called a "data socket" containing standardized data from multiple MLSs that developers could plug into to create software products for agents and brokers.

FBS’ Wurzer used similar language during an MLS issues panel at the Real Estate Connect conference in January, where he proposed a "data socket," or a standardized, "one-size-fits-all" platform that different developers could create products on top of.

Wurzer said there had long been a "dream of plug and play" that had been the impetus for data standards that could open the doors for more innovation in the MLS industry by allowing vendors to build tools that could be adopted across the country, rather than in a piecemeal fashion.

Wurzer noted at the time that "the idea of plug-and-play (technology) is a threat to MLS vendors. Differing MLS standards across the country has made it difficult for new entrants to quickly take root," he said. "It is hard for those third parties sometimes to come into those markets and do something that makes sense."

Nonetheless, Wurzer said standards were unavoidable for the industry and "even though that’s going to bring a lot of competition in our markets, to our products, it’s something we’re inviting because it’s the future. You can’t really innovate in the long term with one vendor."


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