Apple and Samsung do it. Google and Microsoft do it. And in the real estate industry, CoreLogic, FBS and Rapattoni do it.
Next week, competitors in the industry will come together in Las Vegas for the industry’s first-ever “plugfest” with a common goal in mind: to advance the development of real estate data standards. Why? To foster the creation of more, better and cheaper agent and broker tools powered by real estate data.
In the larger world of tech, a consortium of 400 technology-related firms called W3C develops a variety of Web standards, including HTML5, CSS and HTTP.
The counterpart to W3C in real estate is the nonprofit Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO), which is made up of nearly 150 members, including multiple listing services, vendors, associations and brokers.
RESO will hold its fall conference and inaugural “plugfest” Oct. 21-23. Software designers will come together at the event to explore new ideas and test their products against each other to see how close they are to “plug and play.”
A provider of agent and broker Internet data exchange (IDX) websites could test to see how well its software works with a particular MLS platform, for instance.
Part of that process will entail evaluating how well each company is adhering to RESO’s data standards and how the standards themselves can be improved.
“We’re putting the real estate industry’s biggest brains together and seeing what we get,” said RESO Executive Director Robert “Bob” Gottesman.
The companies and organizations available for these “interoperability tests” will be Bridge Interactive; CoreLogic; FBS; Rapattoni Corp. and MetroList Services; MLSListings; dynaConnections and Midwest Real Estate Data LLC (MRED); Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.; the National Association of Realtors; Onboard Informatics; Solid Earth; Zillow and Retsly; and UtahRealEstate.com.
Some of these companies go head to head in the marketplace, but they all want to make sharing real estate information easier, said Gottesman said.
“If you’re from FBS or CoreLogic and you keep running into the same problem, (one) might say, ‘Maybe we should do this.’ Maybe (we’ll) resolve some shortcomings (with the standards) we really haven’t addressed adequately or learn of new opportunities that we haven’t addressed heretofore,” Gottesman said.
“By hearing all these creative ideas and by exchanging information and data, everybody’s going to learn.”
RESO spokeswoman Tracy Weir compared the event to a United Nations summit on global cooperation — “Much like the U.S. and Russia might come together under the United Nations banner and work on eradicating Ebola,” she said.
Companies will also be available to answer questions from attendees who don’t create real estate data, but redistribute it via agent or broker tools.
“If you’re a vendor and only work in Georgia but really want to expand … here’s your chance to get all the vendors in one place and at one time and talk to them,” Gottesman said.
“Any vendor that wants to grow geographically, any vendor that wants to understand where technology is going, they have to attend this event.”
The event will also include a “Collaboration Festival” where participants join forces and perhaps mix and match vendor products to tackle common issues with transferring real estate data smoothly and accurately from one system to another. One problem, for instance, is creating a function that displays data nicely on a small 4-inch smartphone as well as a 25-inch monitor, Gottesman said.
A panel of speakers from real estate startups will also talk about what data standards can do for them, take questions from attendees, and then pitch in for the joint projects.
“The purpose of the [plugfest] is not a competition. It’s to give everyone there from diverse backgrounds a joint project to work on,” Gottesman said.
Another track at the conference will focus on helping MLS staff get started on implementing one of the three components to RESO’s data standards, the Data Dictionary. Known as the “Rosetta Stone” for real estate data, the Data Dictionary is a standardized, consistent set of terms for the most common descriptions of property characteristics in the industry.
Currently, a major obstacle to “plug and play” tools is that when a vendor works with an MLS, that vendor has to code its product to the MLS’s specific data definitions, which will most likely be different from other MLSs the vendor is working with.
Given that there are some 850 MLSs nationwide, those differences can make it cost-prohibitive for a new vendor to enter the market or for an established vendor to expand to new customers. The same is true for brokers and their tech teams who have to deal with multiple MLSs, Gottesman said.
“Without our standards [large vendors] would be spending a … ton of money,” he said.
More than 400 companies are now providing technology to the real estate industry, but he thinks there should be many more. The Data Dictionary will help brokers and third-party vendors provide their agents with a lot more software choices — and likely cheaper ones — by reducing the cost of entry, he said.
“The Data Dictionary, when adopted, allows an MLS to use a variety of products that have been built against the standard with a seamless, plug-and-play approach. So much cost is built into products that have to build databases against all these various MLSs. The dictionary solves that,” Weir said.
Gottesman likens RESO’s raison d’être to that of an MLS. “Brokers form an MLS because it’s just far more efficient to share information that way. If they didn’t, the cost of doing business would be much higher. It fills a need. RESO is no different,” he said.