Data standards are gaining traction, setting the stage for industry players to more easily create tools to slice and dice real estate data and for brokers to take control of how their data is used.

The driving force behind standards in the industry is the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO), a nonprofit that develops and implements standards that allow real estate data to be transmitted from one system to another smoothly and accurately.

“The standards RESO is setting for real estate data will make it easier for our brokers and agents, as well as those across the country, to create products using their data for marketing, statistics and new products,” said Jim Harrison, MLSListings’ president and CEO, in a statement.

Silicon Valley-based MLSListings, which has more than 16,000 subscribers, is one of the latest organizations to be certified by RESO, along with top real estate portal Trulia and real estate data analytics firm Terradatum Inc.

Last month, Rockville, Maryland-based Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS) became the first MLS to be certified to RESO’s latest standards — a move all MLSs affiliated with the National Association of Realtors must eventually make, according to NAR policy.

RESO’s executive director, Robert “Bob” Gottesman, says certifications are “gaining momentum” and “a bunch of” MLSs and vendors are in test mode.

The vast majority of MLSs have yet to be certified as compliant with the latest versions of RESO’s Real Estate Transaction Standard (RETS) — versions 1.7.2 and 1.8. MLSs use RETS to transmit data in a standardized format to third parties such as brokers, vendors and other MLSs.

The nonprofit hopes to have the other components of its data standards — the RESO Data Dictionary and Web API — ready for certification by the end of the year.

MLSs that implement the latest RETS standards can put in place a capability long sought by brokers called RETS Update Transaction, or “Update.” Update allows MLSs to not only transmit data, but also receive it from outside sources, including broker back-end office systems.

A few MLSs have either implemented Update or have it in the works, including MRIS and California Regional MLS. MLSs that have Update in place may be able to accept listings from a secretive project that’s rumored to be a national listing database backed by The Realty Alliance, a nationwide network of large real estate brokerages.

More importantly, brokers and their agents could potentially enter their listings into the broker’s back-office system just once and have them sent to every MLS the broker belongs to, the broker’s accounting software, and any tools the broker uses that are powered by their data — assuming each of those recipients also complies with the same RESO standards.

Luis Barnes, Terradatum’s director of data services and a RESO committee member, says his firm has a compelling reason to follow RESO’s standards: It counts 230 MLSs as customers.

“Each MLS has a different data feed, and if we could get them all to follow the RESO standards it would make our everyday work much, much easier,” he said.

For example, there are about a dozen MLS vendors and they don’t all have the same field names for the same thing, he said — a listing may be “sold” in the East, “closed” in the Midwest and “completed” in the West, for instance.

That’s a problem RESO’s Data Dictionary is meant to solve. Called the “Rosetta Stone” for real estate data, the Data Dictionary is a standardized set of data terms for the most common descriptions of property characteristics used in the industry.

Should MLSs adopt the Data Dictionary and RETS, they could see an immediate payoff: Vendors would be able to map the MLS’ data to vendors’ apps more quickly, Barnes said.

“It’s not just us. Third-party vendors … cannot wait for all MLSs to apply this standard because it would truly make (their) lives much easier,” he said.

Terradatum and each of the other vendors and MLSs that have become certified said they did so at least partially in order to support RESO’s mission: to foster software innovation and improve efficiency in real estate transactions through standards. Each has representation at some level in the volunteer-based nonprofit.

Alon Chaver, Trulia’s vice president of industry services and a RESO board member, said the portal had invested “significant engineering resources” to make sure it was one of the first companies to be certified by RESO.

“We will continue to lead by example and encourage RESO participation from other companies in the industry, as we work to drive more value to our agent, broker and MLS partners,” he said in an emailed statement.

MLSListings became certified for both RETS 1.7.2 and 1.8 and has implemented the Data Dictionary, but it also has an eye on future real estate data standards based on APIs (application programming interfaces).

While RETS was developed specifically for the real estate community, an API adheres to a worldwide standard developed for any industry, said Jeremy Crawford, MLSListings’ chief operations officer and a RESO board member. Companies can use APIs to plug in new features into existing apps or to share data between apps. Google Maps, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon — all have APIs. When a real estate brokerage uses Google Maps for its mapped home search, that functionality comes via the Google Maps API.

RESO has developed a Web API for data distribution that allows MLSs to deliver real estate data to vendors in a standardized format and in real time, without vendors having to host copies of an MLS’s entire database.

“API is really the next level of functionality,” Crawford said.

Now, RESO is developing a standard for an API-based Update capability. Because MLSListings has already built the function to use internally, the MLS is helping, Crawford said.

Using APIs “really lowers the broker’s cost for using data in the real estate space and makes it easier and provides more functionality. You don’t have 5,000 people that know (the standard), you have 5 billion people that know it,” he said.

“(Brokers) can use off-the-shelf products. They don’t have to go out and write their own software. The options are endless when you’re not in a proprietary world. You’re in a world that everyone knows and understands,” he said.

MLSListings plans to launch API Update and a data distribution platform based on RESO’s Web API by the end of 2014.

“We’re hoping by the end of the year we’ll have a couple of brokers using this with their back-office systems,” Crawford said.

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