SAN FRANCISCO–Technology standards are gaining traction in the real estate and mortgage industries. That means MLSs, real estate brokers, mortgage originators and other companies have more choice when deciding what new applications they want to plug into existing platforms.

The analogy used to describe real estate technology standards is “One type of plug, one type of outlet”–also the title of a panel discussion here Thursday at Inman NewsReal Estate Connect 2004. Participants talked about various types of standards being developed for real estate, mortgage, title transactions and public records databases.

“At the end of the day, this is about MLSs, agents and brokers buying technology and being able to plug it into their systems and have it work,” Kevin McQueen, president of Focus Forward Consulting, said in the discussion.

McQueen works with RETS, the Real Estate Transaction Standard group. His role for the last year and a half has been to help the group spread its message across the real estate and technology industries.

RETS tunes agents, brokers, MLSs, lenders and other service providers to the same language, so real estate deals can close faster and cost less. The National Association of Realtors has sponsored the group’s meetings for the past five years.

McQueen said adoption of RETS by MLSs and technology vendors has increased significantly since its inception. Of the 900 MLSs in the country, 170 are RETS compliant.

“One of the benefits (of standards) is that it enables more technology adoption,” McQueen said. For example, a broker is more willing to adopt certain technologies if he or she knows for sure they will integrate with existing back-office or MLS systems.

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RETS 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 standards and will hold its next meeting in Chicago next week.

Another standards group known as MISMO has laid the foundation for technology standards in the mortgage industry. Gabe Minton, VP of industry technology for the Mortgage Bankers Association, joined the panel discussion and explained the importance of standards within the mortgage industry.

“Why do we need standards? They make connections simple and cheap so people can compete on a level playing field,” he said.

Minton spends about half his time traveling and educating people in the industry about MISMO–how it works, why it’s important and why it’s worth the investment. MISMO is well known for its standards progress in eMortgages and SmartDocs.

MISMO is more than four years old. When asked when RETS and MISMO might combine, Minton said the two already work together.

“They’ve built a sandbox that moves data from RETS to MISMO standards,” he said.

The industry has other standards groups, including PRIA, the Property Records Industry Association and REIPA, the Real Estate Information Professionals Association.

Darren Ross, director of eCommerce for Stewart Realty Solutions, warned that while technology standards carry enormous benefits, they “do not provide a catch-all plug and play solution.” Standards won’t eliminate all the integration work.

Ross also warned technologists not to invent a new standard if a supported and adopted one already exists, unless it’s for use only within an in-house system that won’t have to interact with outside systems.

He pointed to integration and support factors as great benefits arising from technology standards. With standards, it takes less time to add new customers to an existing platform and less time is spent on ongoing system maintenance.

Also speaking on the panel was Steven Wostenberg, EVP of Reveal Systems, the company that created TrueForms software. TrueForms is a real estate forms and contracts program that comes with a library of state, board, association and legal forms. The program is meant to simplify the forms and contracts process.


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