Consumers who buy music CDs expect to be able to put them in a home stereo and hear music. The same goes for real estate technology. Brokers who buy new office software expect it to work with their existing systems that download listings data from the MLS. But real estate technologies today aren’t always compatible.

Prior to 1999, real estate technology products spoke different languages, which made it difficult for brokerages and MLSs to buy new products that could communicate with one another. But now there’s RETS, the Real Estate Technology Standard, which tunes agents, brokers, MLSs, lenders and other service providers to the same language, so real estate deals can close faster and cost less.

RETS “allows consumers, agents and brokers to access MLS data more quickly and at less cost,” said Kevin McQueen, president of Focus Forward Consulting.

Quite simply, standards make it easier and less costly to buy and sell homes. Without standards, agents and brokers would spend more time and money trying to access data and in some instances would have to hire a developer to make in-house technology systems communicate with MLSs.

McQueen has been involved with the RETS working group for the last year and a half. His role is to help the group spread its message across the real estate and technology industries.

The RETS working group consists of technology developers, MLSs and real estate brokers who share an interest in drafting and adopting technology standards so vendors eventually will all create products that are compatible with one another.

The group is self-directed and is open to anyone who wants to participate. It meets about three times a year to discuss and vote on new tech standards. The next meeting is slated for August 4-5 in Chicago.

“There are no member fees and no costs to attend meetings,” McQueen said.

Real estate software has to pass a standards test before it is considered RETS-compliant. Brokers can find out whether a technology is compliant by asking the vendor.

“If the answer is yes, it means (brokers) can plug the software into the MLS or transaction management system and it will work,” McQueen said. If the vendor doesn’t know what “RETS-compliant” means, the software likely doesn’t follow the prescribed standards, he added.

A total of 170 MLSs now offer RETS-compliant products. That’s up significantly from just a year ago.

“RETS really gained momentum in 2003,” McQueen said. “Part of that is because we’re focusing on making connectivity easier.”

Mortgage lenders also have an interest in what RETS is doing for real estate. A similar organization known as MISMO sets standards among financial service technologies. Members of RETS and MISMO attend each other’s meetings, according to McQueen. The groups are beginning to bring their technology standards closer together.

“When you put an offer on a home, there’s financial data moving back and forth. Standards reduce the costs to all the parties, which at the end of the day makes it cheaper for everyone to buy homes,” he said.

The RETS workgroup started forming in 1999 when the National Association of Realtors sponsored a meeting of about 50 technology vendors. NAR doesn’t mandate any of the adopted standards or meeting agendas, but it supports the group’s purpose.

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