Those kids in a garage dreaming up what could be the latest and greatest real estate tech tool are in luck. Three real estate industry players have joined forces to offer what they say is a “groundbreaking” industry first: a free, standardized MLS data feed for technology developers to play with.

  • Real estate tech developers can now get access to a free, standardized MLS data feed they can use to develop and test products for agents and brokers.
  • This eliminates the often cumbersome process of obtaining an MLS data feed, potentially speeding up innovation.
  • Backers foresee tools that include "mashups" of MLS data combined with other data to offer consumers a more individualized property search.

Those kids in a garage dreaming up what could be the latest and greatest real estate tech tool are in luck.

Three real estate industry players have joined forces to offer what they say is a “groundbreaking” industry first: a free, standardized MLS data feed for technology developers to play with.

The Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR) and the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) today announced the creation of the Developer Reference Server, which is powered by CoreLogic’s marketplace for real estate data, Trestle.

Developers — be they tech companies, brokerages, or agents themselves — will be able to access “a full compendium of listing data” pulled directly from ABoR’s multiple listing service, but the data will be a year old, according to a press release.

The idea is to tackle a pain point many budding tech developers have. Unlike brokerages, which have member rights to an MLS data feed, tech companies must go through a sometimes long and arduous process to obtain a data feed and are often required to already have an agent or broker customer who is a member of the MLS.

Tim Dain

“The Developer Reference Server provides a solution that has been needed for years: free and easy access to data that allows for innovative development,” Tim Dain, ABoR’s MLS director, said in a statement.

The data feed is compliant with RESO standards, including the Data Dictionary, Web API, and RETS. Because all Realtor-affiliated MLSs are required to comply with RESO standards, a tool developed according to these shared guidelines will be much easier to “plug and play” into hundreds of MLSs nationwide.

“Franchises, vendors and a wide variety of innovative organizations are not provided the same access to MLS data feeds that are provided to brokerages, and that can inhibit the ability to innovate using the latest RESO data standards, especially for those entities that develop their own software,” Alon Chaver, chief information officer of HomeServices of America, said in a statement.

“Offering free access to listing data that is 100 percent RESO compliant will help solve this challenge and allow for the testing and iterations that are needed to drive innovation for the benefit of both the consumer and the industry.”

What the data feed includes

The data will be current minus 365 days from when tech developers access the server, giving them the equivalent of live access one year ago.

Jeremy Crawford

“So when someone develops against the dataset, it works just like any MLS data feed; so if the developer asks for new data every 15 minutes, it performs in the same manner, it’s just that the listings are a year old at that instance versus ‘today’s’ listing,” Jeremy Crawford, RESO’s executive director, told Inman via email.

The feed will give techies access to about 15,000 listings that were active a year ago, as well as all other types of listings, ABoR’s Dain told Inman via email.

That includes sold data, though the actual sold prices are “scrambled” into fake sold prices because Texas is a non-disclosure state, Crawford said.

Listing photos will be included in the feed, but not at the initial launch.

“We are working to provide either stock photos that can replace actual listing photos or a technical solution that will scramble a limited set of photos,” Dain said.

“We never intend to link the actual listing photos to the listing due to privacy and copyright concerns.”

The reference server’s terms of use do not allow public display or redistribution of the data.

“Once a solution is created, the recommended path is for the developer to then get the appropriate data licensing agreement with any MLSs they would like to provide a production product and/or service in the market region of their choice,” Crawford said.

What can tech developers do with the data?

“The sky is going to be the limit on the options for developers to play with the data and create potential solutions that will provide products and services out to brokers, agents and even consumers,” Crawford said.

He cited several examples of tools developers could create, including:

  • Agent and broker IDX (internet data exchange) websites
  • Comparative market analyses (CMAs)
  • Customer relationship management systems (CRMs)
  • Market statistics that help brokers and agents with market trends, days on market, price per square foot in various areas such as ZIP codes, cities and specific neighborhoods
  • Productivity reports that allow brokers to view the number of listings and amount of listings per dollar that individual agents, offices and firms have closed or have in an active status

“There is so much rich data that it can also lead to developers creating ‘mashups’ of data where they take a look at combining MLS data with other data sources,” Crawford said.

He gave the examples of local Austin utility data and standard cost of living information, such as homeowners insurance rates, property tax rates, commute times and distance to public transportation.

This data could collectively create search engines that allow consumers to soak in all the details “surrounding home costs and options based upon their individual needs, far past that of the basic listing information,” Crawford said.

And those are just some ideas. There could be any number of other uses for the data. “We will not restrict the developers imagination in utilizing the listing data provided in order to build the real estate software of tomorrow,” Dain said.

Doesn’t Zillow Group’s Retsly do this already?

Zillow Group subsidiary Retsly converts MLS data feeds into a standardized format. But according to RESO’s Crawford, unlike Trestle, “Retsly has not been certified or even tested against RESO standards.”

In response to this article, Zillow Group’s Errol Samuelson contacted Inman via email, noting that, “Retsly was one of the earliest implementers of RESO’s Web API. In fact we demonstrated a working implementation of RESO’s Web API in October 2014 at RESO’s fall meetings in Las Vegas. Our Bridge/Retsly business … does, in fact offer a RESO certified Web API. We also offer access via RESO’s RETS standard.”

Retsly is also free, according to Samuelson.

Crawford also said that Retsly requires tech developers to go through an approval process with each MLS and “many MLSs have strict data licensing agreements as part of that approval process with heavy restrictions.”

Samuelson noted that this is process is only required for live data: “When developers want to use live, on-the-market MLS data (something Austin’s Developer Reference Server does not provide), then yes, the MLS must approve,” he told Inman. “But if a developer wants to test and work with the Retsly system they can use our test database and get access immediately.”

The Developer Reference Server is offered under terms of use, not a licensing agreement, which is “a significant difference,” according to Dain.

“To my knowledge there are only a couple of MLSs that offer a partial data set (for a fee) to developers they are considering working with,” Dain said.

“I’m unaware of an MLS that provides access to a full MLS dataset for developers, under simple terms of use that requires no interaction with the MLS for agreement/approval.”

The reference server grants developers access “in 24 hours or less after filling out the online form,” Crawford said.

Dain added: “Now, even the kid in the garage has a chance to create something spectacular for our members.”

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from Zillow Group’s Errol Samuelson. 

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