In a sign the nation’s largest brokerages are still willing to work with multiple listing services and other industry players, Craig Cheatham, president and CEO of The Realty Alliance, has accepted an invitation to join the board of directors of the Real Estate Standards Organization.

“We are tremendously excited about him joining us. It will be a really great thing for moving our initiative forward,” said Rebecca Jensen, CEO of and chair of the RESO board.

Earlier this month, at the Council of Multiple Listing Services’ (CMLS) annual conference, Cheatham put MLSs and Realtor associations on notice that brokers had lost faith in the way the industry is set up and planned to roll out an unspecified “big initiative” to address their concerns with MLSs.

The Realty Alliance, which represents dozens of large brokerages nationwide, outlined these concerns in a list of grievances that largely focused on the services provided by MLSs to their members, many of which brokers perceived as competing with their own offerings.

The Realty Alliance’s concerns extended beyond services, however, to the way MLSs handle the data their members charge them with. In particular, the group noted “inconsistent data standards across MLSs in a day and age where all should be up to date.”

“Inconsistent data standards” refers to “incompatibility of data for uploading, downloading (and) sharing feeds, and all the normalization that has to take place with different sets of data standards in place and in use,” Cheatham told Inman News.

“It’s 2013, we really ought to be beyond this kind of issue.”

Furthermore, in brokers’ estimation, MLSs are spending their time and energy on providing more products and services that compete with brokers rather than spending them fixing antiquated standards across multiple MLSs, he added.

“Curating the data should be among the top priorities, and the current state of affairs does not reflect that is the case in many MLSs,” he said.

Nonetheless, “we want to work with standard-setting organizations (and) everyone, to make progress on our issues,” Cheatham added, noting the group had a “sincere commitment to wanting to work together with various industry organizations and vendors.”

While Cheatham’s statements at CMLS set off alarm bells for some attendees, RESO’s Jensen approved of his push for action on data standards.

“When that came up at CMLS we were in complete agreement — the industry needs data standards. It wasn’t concerning; it was actually something that we welcomed to have a light shined upon,” she said.

RESO, which became incorporated as a nonprofit organization two years ago, aims to standardize real estate data to make it more accurate, consistent, and accessible in order to foster software innovation and improve efficiency for everyone involved in real estate transactions.

Currently, MLSs and vendors each have five representatives on RESO’s board, and the National Association of Realtors has three (one of which represents NAR subsidiary Realtors Property Resource). At the time of the CMLS conference, the group had been looking for a residential real estate broker representative to join its board, which already includes a commercial broker.

Currently, 52 MLSs are members of RESO and comprise the bulk of its revenue, 51 percent; 37 vendors and consultants make up 30 percent of RESO’s revenue; and NAR contributes 18 percent of its revenue. Only three brokers have joined RESO as members, and brokers provide less than 1 percent of the nonprofit’s revenue.

But RESO hopes to change that with Cheatham’s appointment to the board.

“We want (brokers’) input and volunteers as well. Data standards affects everybody. We want to get feedback early versus after the fact,” Jensen said.

At RESO’s fall meeting last week, the group decided it would be a good idea to reach out to Cheatham as a way to drum up support from the brokerage community.

“We want and need your help to shape the future of interoperability in real estate. Your input and counsel will be of critical importance in defining how the future of data in our industry is to be written,” Jensen wrote in RESO’s invitation to Cheatham.

“This isn’t a figurehead position; you will be involved in meetings and have a say in our direction, budget and ongoing work.”

Cheatham’s one-year term will start Jan.1, 2014 — the seat has a term limit of up to six years — and his duties will include attending monthly conference calls with RESO’s leadership and approving RESO’s annual budget, among other responsibilities. He may also be asked to present on behalf of RESO at various industry events, Jensen said.

“We hope that he takes the RESO message out to the brokerage community. He would be a great representative for that. To get our data standards adopted throughout the industry. That’s our goal in 2014, to drive adoption,” she said.

RESO’s data standards include The Data Dictionary, which is a standardized set of data terms for the most common descriptions of property characteristics used by industry players, and an API the organization hopes to finalize by the end of the year.

Part of the impetus for the Data Dictionary, which RESO adopted last year, was to make it easier for technology vendors to develop streamlined “plug and play” tools for MLSs. Because many MLSs still employ different data definitions, the tools vendors develop for one MLS won’t necessarily work for another.

If vendors adopt the dictionary by mapping their software to that standard, products will no longer have to be coded in on a case-by-case basis, with the cost and time that entails.

But it’s not just MLSs and vendors that would benefit, Jensen said. “If brokers have software, which most of them do, they could use a standard for plugging into the MLS. Anyone that is involved in transferring real estate data should know about RESO,” she said.

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