MLS & Associations

CRMLS, nation’s biggest MLS, will take listing data right from brokers’ back-end office systems

'RETS' data framework enables 'plug and play' tools for brokers, MLSs

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Brokers who belong to CRMLS, the nation’s largest multiple listing service, will soon get a capability they’ve long clamored for: the option to upload listing data directly from their own back-end office systems to the MLS.

That’s because a new server that California Regional MLS will use to distribute listings utilizes real estate industry data standards that will also make it easier for the MLS to share data with other MLSs.

“We have some very large brokers that would love to have their agents input their listing information into the broker’s system” and then upload it to the MLS, CRMLS CEO Art Carter told Inman News.

Currently, agents must log into the MLS and key in the same listing information separately. Or they can enter listing data into their MLS system first, and the MLS will feed the information back to their broker’s back-end office system.

The new capability, allowing CRMLS to take listing data directly from member brokers’ back-end office systems,  is “not going to be available immediately … but it’s something that we are moving towards,” Carter said.

Under an agreement with real estate software provider Bridge Interactive Group, CRMLS will use Bridge’s Contact server in conjunction with its own servers to distribute listing data on behalf of the 73,000 agents and brokers CRMLS serves.

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Contact will allow CRMLS to upgrade to the latest data standards from the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO), a nonprofit group whose mission is to standardize real estate data.

Standardizing listing data will allow tech developers to spend less time trying to make products compatible between MLSs, and more time creating products that boost efficiency in real estate transactions.

These data standards include the Data Dictionary, a standardized set of data terms for the most common descriptions of property characteristics used in the industry, and the Real Estate Transaction Standard (RETS).

RETS is a common framework used by the real estate industry in the U.S. and Canada to facilitate the exchange of data between systems that handle real estate information, such as MLSs.

Bridge’s Contact server is compliant with the latest version of RETS, 1.8.

“A RETS server basically attempts to be the fire hydrant that the MLS services the data through,” Carter said. “It allows third-party providers [and] brokers to access the MLS data [and] download the MLS data in a standard format.”

Third parties know that if they connect to the RETS server of an MLS that has adopted the Data Dictionary, they will receive data in that particular standardized format, not in whatever “internal” language the MLS uses, Carter added.

“It really goes into the whole idea of ‘plug and play’ ” tools for brokers and MLSs, he said.

MLS data sharing

Carter said CRMLS’s deal with Bridge has nothing to do with the MLS’s plans to withdraw from California Real Estate Technology Services Inc., (CARETS), a joint venture of California MLSs that aggregates listings into a common database.

But the deal does give CRMLS expanded capabilities that go along with its desire to enter into separate data-sharing agreements with the other MLSs currently belonging to CARETS as well as CRMLS’s goal of forming a statewide MLS.

Specifically, Bridge’s Contact server will make it easier to data share with other MLSs and upload data to and download data from the CRMLS database, according to Carter.

“It’s not all about having to join CRMLS,” he said. “We are interested in building data shares with any MLS that is interested in participating with us.”

CRMLS currently has various arrangements in place with several MLSs and associations throughout California to resell its services, share data, or both.

“By combining our ability to aggregate and map several MLS database structures into a common schema with Bridge’s powerful Contact server technology we are able to execute on one of the most important functions of our business: providing the secure access to data at the lowest possible cost,” Carter said in a press release.

“Bridge’s technology provides robust reporting tools, simple but powerful data distribution controls, performance and reliability at a reasonable price. Also, their Contact server being RETS 1.8 compliant will allow us to offer Update in the near future.”

Direct upload of listing data to MLS

“Update,” or the “RETS update transaction,” is a feature that has been talked about for at least a decade, but is not widely available. It allows MLS subscribers to use third-party software to upload listing information to multiple systems, including the MLS, instead of the other way around.

RESO released a standard that would allow MLSs to implement RETS Update, RETS 1.7.2, in 2008, but CRMLS’ previous RETS server vendor, Terrasoft, was only compliant with an older version of RETS that did not allow for that feature, Carter said.

“Update is a hot topic,” and likely to get hotter, Robert “Bob” Gottesman, RESO’s executive director, told Inman News.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more activity around the Update feature. At the end of the day, the primary benefactor is the broker,” particularly brokers that deal with multiple MLSs, Gottesman said.

Today, agents either enter listing information in the MLS and the MLS then feeds the information back to their broker’s back-end office system, or agents are forced to enter it into both the MLS (or MLSs) and their broker’s back-end.

RETS Update allows agents to update listing information in their brokers’ back-end and have that updated information appear in the MLS or MLSs they belong to without having to re-enter it.

“Some in the brokerage community have been wanting to do that for awhile and as long as the data that’s being updated to the MLS adheres to the MLS regulations, we think it’s a positive thing for the brokers and agents,” Carter said.

For instance, listings must be input in the MLS within 48 hours of a signed contact unless otherwise requested by the seller. Listings must also be entered with certain required information such as listing price and address.

Carter said brokers’ desire to upload listing information to the MLS from their own systems is partly a matter of convenience, and partly about control.

“The brokers are ultimately responsible for the listing inventory and this gives them a little more exposure as the initial entry point if they choose to do that,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of liability … they choose to manage by getting the data a little bit earlier.”

It also helps brokers manage workflow inside the organization, he added.

Gottesman pointed to another advantage: if the third-party vendor that provides the brokerage’s back-end has a mobile application, then agents can update listing information from their mobile device.

“A lot of MLSs don’t have rich mobile software. An agent would have probably a bigger choice on how to conduct his business” if Update were available, Gottesman said.

The rise of mobile devices and the proliferation of broker listing back-ends are the “two huge forces that I think are driving more popularity around the Update feature,”  he added.

Gottesman also suspects that vendors, brokerages, and MLSs have become more technologically adept, overcoming some of the difficulties associated with the feature in the past.

Implementing Update is “not for the faint of heart” technologically-speaking, Gottesman said, but any size firm can do it so long as they have the know-how.

“Obviously, it’s the bigger brokers that have the technical chops. But you could have a small broker that has a really sharp vendor that knows how to do it,” Gottesman said.

RETS adoption

RESO does not track which MLSs are using which versions of RETS, though Gottesman has the sense that not many MLSs are currently using the Update feature.

With “the complexity in developing these systems, I think it’s going to take awhile for the brokerage community to develop those capabilities,” Carter said. After all, there are more than 400 fields in CRMLS, he added.

While it will be up to MLSs whether or not to implement the Update feature, it won’t be long before they will be required to comply with the latest RESO standards. According to a policy from the National Association of Realtors, Realtor-affiliated MLSs must comply with RESO standards within a year after they are ratified, according to RESO Chair Rebecca Jensen.

RESO is currently working on compliance tools that will allow MLSs and vendors to check whether or not their RETS servers and RETS client software are compliant with the latest standards. The RETS 1.8 compliance checker will be released in April, Gottesman said.

According to Jensen, MLSs will have choice of whether to comply with RETS 1.7.2 or RETS 1.8. Currently, nine MLSs are beta-testing the standards, including the Data Dictionary, and if RESO gets the green light from them to move forward, the board hopes to ratify the latest standards in spring or early summer, Jensen said.

“That is when the clock will start ticking,” she said.

But MLSs shouldn’t wait, she added, “They really should be looking at the Data Dictionary now.”