Last week, Zillow announced Retsly Connect, which gives real estate agents access to a wide array of MLS management tools. Three industry experts weigh in on how Retsly Connect could influence the real estate industry.
Russ Cofano is an executive-level strategist with Cofano Consulting; he has decades of experience in the real estate industry as the former senior vice president of industry relations at Move, Inc. | realtor.com and the former CEO of Missouri Realtors.
Let’s be clear. Zillow Group’s (ZG’s) Retsly Connect product is not analogous to Upstream. It is far more conceptually in line with RPR’s (Realtors Property Resource’s) AMP (Advanced Multilist Platform) product, at least in the context of providing brokers and their agents with flexibility in how they might access MLS data.
If you call that “front end of choice,” MLS technology purists might point out that Retsly Connect does not include “add/edit” and for that reason, it does not really enable new “front ends.” Certainly an important and accurate distinction, but I’m not sure it really merits significant discussion at this point. Regardless of “add/edit,” it is a move forward to enable MLS technology innovation.
I think the bigger and more important takeaway is that Retsly Connect appears to be part of ZG’s broader strategy to align with those MLSs who oppose Upstream.
Earlier this week, Rob Hahn posted on his blog a video of a one on one interview he did at the recent Zillow MLS Summit. Aside from the always interesting and (sorry Rob) sometimes head-scratching predictions (HUD employees?), the most interesting part of that session came near the end when the ZG moderator said, “Seems like only two or three years ago, these folks were worried that we (ZG) were going to become an MLS, and now we sit here as partners.” Audience applause. Partners?!
Now granted, it was not a standing ovation, and there were lots of MLSs not represented at the Summit who might still not support ZG, but that sentiment did not exist a year ago. As one MLS exec told me, compared to MLS sentiment at the 2015 Summit, this was “a lovefest.”
Let’s be clear on another thing. ZG knows the potential implications to their business of a world with Upstream, and being an industry smarty pants, I doubt it is sitting on its hands waiting around to see what that world looks like. ZG’s asking Rob to come speak at their MLS confab was as strategic, as is the Retsly Connect product.
ZG knows that the MLS community’s feelings about Upstream range from supportive to mildly skeptical to apocalyptic. And ZG knows that “partnering” with MLSs in helping them provide or enabling more tools and flexibility to broker participants and their agents is an alliance that could prove troublesome to Upstream.
Is Retsly Connect competitive with Upstream. No.
Is it part of a broader strategy to compete with the initiative? A couple years down the road, we will know.
Bob Hale is the President and CEO at the Houston Association of Realtors.
The Houston Association of Realtors (HAR) recently entered into an agreement with Retsly to provide our members with more flexible access to MLS data. By making HAR MLS data available on the Retsly platform, our members will be able to work with developers to access data via standardized application program interfaces (APIs).
APIs simplify the development process and eliminate the need for cumbersome replication and synchronization of large data and image libraries. The Retsly platform securely hosts the data and manages permissions and monitors usage.
Retsly is HAR’s initial API provider, and there are other similar initiatives that we are considering. Ultimately, HAR is focused on how to provide better service and more value to our members while protecting the valuable information resources we have been entrusted with.
Retsly’s standardized APIs can support a broad array of applications. In addition to the MLS data, it is also including public records as well as various Zillow data sets.
So, a broker’s development team can develop applications, such as IDX or listing alerts, more quickly by calling upon these different cloud-based data sets.
Because Retsly can host data from many MLSs covering different markets, once that application is developed for a particular market, it can be easily expanded to include other markets. And all of this is accomplished without the need to acquire and compile the underlying data; Retsly takes care of the aggregation process.
The result is lower costs, quicker development and less costly implementations for HAR brokers and agents.
This type of API enabled development eliminates the need for so much of the redundant data replication that is a big part of the current MLS information environment. Reducing data replication and centralizing the provisioning of MLS data should make the MLS data more secure and less vulnerable to misappropriation.
The Retsly platform includes many automated features that monitor the usage of MLS data by applications and websites. Data scraping and other suspicious activity can be quickly identified and those suspicious user sessions interrupted.
Retsly represents a new class of API information service providers. CoreLogic’s “Trestle” initiative is another API access system that is being integrated with HAR’s MLS and will provide RESO compliant API access as recently mandated by NAR. HAR is pursuing these initiatives to better serve our MLS members.
We understand that our members’ business runs on timely and accurate information, and Retsly’s API platform represents a significant advancement in how to accomplish the challenge of meeting and exceeding consumer expectations.
Before January of 2016, the data made available on the RETS servers of MLSs was not uniformly structured across MLSs. It forced each broker and technology vendor to perform custom mapping to each of the 740 MLS servers.
Today, nearly every MLS in the nation has complied with the NAR mandate to adopt a common data schema — called the RESO Data Dictionary — initially about 160 of the most important fields of property information. WAV Group believes that there are still around 200 MLSs who have not adopted the Data Dictionary, but enormous progress has been made.
As a result of this normalization of MLS RETS data schema, technology vendors can use the same data mapping across more than 500 MLS in the nation today. Data standardization is an enormous convenience.
The next step in the NAR RESO mandate is to require all MLSs to not only make the data available through the RETS standard, but also through a more modern and efficient data transmission protocol called a Web API. The RESO Web API mandate requires certification by all of the nation’s 740 MLSs by the end of June.
Every MLS vendor is updating the RETS server to comply with the Data Dictionary and Web API offerings. In the case of FBS, the work is completed. In the case of BlackKnight, it has subcontracted the work to Bridge Interactive and Realtors Property Resource. Rapattoni has built its own. CoreLogic has updated their servers and is adding a new service called Trestle.
Effectively, every MLS vendor is in updating its mode for RETS services.
There are at least three major companies that are developing the idea of enabling brokers and their vendors to access data from Multiple MLSs from one data source. MLSs will continue to manage the process of data licensing to each broker or vendor, but once authorized, the broker or vendor will be able to pull from one source.
CoreLogic’s Trestle product will give each MLS the opportunity to combine their data with other MLSs into a single data repository. It is a data aggregation solution that will cover all of their MLS clients who choose to participate, representing about 60 percent of the MLS data in the country.
Other MLSs who are not CoreLogic customers may also participate if they choose to. Trestle will also empower brokers and their vendors to access other CoreLogic data products like their public records and AVMs, which includes nearly every parcel in America.
A new entry in the data aggregation of MLS data is Zillow Group through its subsidiary product called Retsly. Retsly has some similar features to CoreLogics’ Trestle offering, but it only covers six MLSs today.
As you may know, Zillow has hired a number of MLS executives over the past few years to expand their service offerings to the MLS industry.
It is noteworthy that WolfNet, Xome’s Real Estate Digital and homes.com also provide brokers and vendors with data aggregation and normalization services, and have offered the service for decades.
If WAV Group were asked to predict the future, I doubt that vendors working with WolfNet, Real Estate Digital or Homes are going to switch vendors. They are really good at data aggregation and normalization and already have the thousands of MLS IDX authorizations and contracts in place.
The new API services and RESO data standardization from the MLS Vendors will be a welcome improvement for those technology vendors who get data directly from MLSs.
Some brokers may not be pleased with their MLS entering into a data license agreement with Zillow. Some WAV Group clients are sending letters to their MLS to explicitly opt out of having their active and sold data licensed to Zillow. Other WAV Group clients do not have a problem with it.
The CoreLogic Trestle service will be a game changer. It has the largest, most well maintained MLS and public record data found anywhere — and it is the incumbent in more than half of the MLSs. Black Knight could do the same thing, but I am not sure whether it plans to at this point.Contrary to speculation, Upstream and the RETS services mentioned above are categorically different. With applications like Retsly or Trestle, the service involves providing RETS access to MLS data for applications that need to use the MLS compilation of all broker data in that market like IDX.
Upstream is a broker data management application that allows the broker to enter and distribute their own data, not that of other brokers like the MLS RETS server. The notion that Zillow is seeking to compete with Upstream is unsound. There is no data input in Retsly. Retsly gets a data feed from the MLS — so it would be considered downstream. If Retsly were to add the MLS input functionality, then it would be competitive — not only with Upstream, but also with every MLS.
Should Retsly do that, I doubt that any MLS would sign up for the Retsly service. It would put the MLSs out of business.