Real estate agents and brokers know that sometimes cooperating is the best way to both compete and serve their clients. Two MLS vendors, FBS and Solid Earth, have struck a deal in that spirit.

  • Two tech firms partner to give MLSs the ability to quickly launch their own listing sites and to offer agents an alternative MLS interface.

Real estate agents and brokers know that sometimes cooperating is the best way to both compete and serve their clients. Two MLS vendors, FBS and Solid Earth, have struck a deal in that spirit.

FBS, the third-largest provider of multiple listing service (MLS) systems in the nation, is also a pioneer in developing standardized data tools for real estate software developers. Among these tools is the Spark API (application programming interface), which allows MLSs to offer vendors real estate data in a standard format in real time.

That API will now be integrated into Solid Earth’s Spring consumer portals to give MLSs the ability to create and quickly launch their own MLS listing websites, a move that will allow FBS’s Flexmls customers to deliver “better quality leads to [their] members for the first time” without worrying about handling data feeds, FBS said in a press release.

“Spring portal sites allow MLSs to provide members with an array of features including blog posts, RSS feeds and tweets, so that consumers see one set of property data, social and blog content, and members see another set,” the company said.

“The consumer-facing website is designed to drive higher quality leads directly to MLS members instead of the big national portals. New Flexmls licensees (converting from other MLS software systems) can purchase Spring in the same contract, deploying Spring with Flexmls, once the integration work is complete.”

MLSs can also use Spring portals to offer their agent and broker members an alternative “front end of choice” to search their MLS database and manage contacts.

In recent years, brokers have increasingly called for more options when it comes to MLS interfaces — most MLSs only offer one, usually the same interface provided by the MLS vendor supplying the MLS database (i.e. the MLS’s “back end”). But some MLS vendors have started to separate the front and back ends and offer them separately, including FBS rival Rapattoni Corp.

“We’ve had discussion in our industry for several years about offering a ‘front end of choice.’ Well, the future is now,” said FBS CEO Michael Wurzer in a statement.

Eliminates duplication for agents

Michael Wurzer

The partnership with Solid Earth shows FBS’s continued intention to work with technology innovators “to offer the very best tools and resources to real estate professionals,” FBS said.

The Spark-Spring integration is currently only available to MLSs using the Flexmls system, though FBS intends to expand its API to other markets in the future, Wurzer told Inman via email. FBS serves over 150 MLS customers representing more than 211,000 subscribers.

“With this integration, Spring and Flexmls will both be using the Spark API and so customer data entered in one will be available in the other,” Wurzer said.

Solid Earth CEO Matt Fowler painted this scenario:

“Imagine a consumer searching an MLS-powered consumer portal with hyperlocal content specific to their region — whether in the Midwest, mountains, or on the coast — and now the consumer wants to work with an agent,”  he said in a statement.

“Instead of the agent having to duplicate that search and customer information to set up a subscription and listing alerts in the MLS system, that same consumer search and contact information is immediately available to the agent in the MLS system, all without duplicate entry.

“While this kind of automation is available in many industries already, until now, it has been elusive in real estate. With Spring on Spark, FBS and Solid Earth will bring automation to real estate.”

‘Plug and play’

Back when FBS launched its Spark platform in 2012, Wurzer noted that there had long been a “dream of plug and play” prompting the need for data standards that could open the doors to more innovation in the MLS industry. With the right tools, vendors could build tools for adoption across the country, rather than in a piecemeal fashion.

“Once complete, the Spring built on Spark integration brings the plug-and-play dream to life creating a better, more collaborative experience for both consumers and agents,” Wurzer said in a statement.

“Instead of the consumer house-hunting experience being separate and disconnected from the agent experience in the MLS, with this integration, we’ll join them together through the Spark API, all without duplicate entry or effort by the agent.”

Staten Island MLS, which has 1,800 members, will be the first MLS to roll out a Spring portal powered by the Spark API.

“It’s exciting to be at the forefront of where MLS technology is heading,” said Sandy Krueger, the MLS’s president and CEO, in a statement.

“Most importantly, we are creating new value for our members and their clients through the Spring MLS solution in collaboration with the FBS FlexMLS and its Spark API to fuel real-time data to our site.”

For FBS to fulfill its goal of fostering innovation and efficiency for its MLS, broker and agent customers, the company must engage with its competitors, according to Wurzer.

“In Solid Earth’s case, we already have customers like Staten Island licensing the Spring consumer portal and so we recognized that powering Spring with the Spark API would be a win for our mutual customers and that we could work together on other implementations as well,” he said.

“Does that mean we’re less competitors than we were before? Perhaps, but it mostly means we’re focused on providing solutions to our mutual customers.”

Experienced competitors

Matt Fowler

Agents whose MLSs choose to take advantage of the Spark-Spring integration will benefit from the two companies’ decades of experience in the real estate industry, according to Fowler.

“The Spring platform delivers an attractive and engaging consumer site that follows the Fair Display guidelines while the Spark API gives you fully tested, reliable and real-time MLS data to fuel the site,” he said.

“MLS customers get the benefit of decades of experience working intimately in and with the nuances of the MLS.”

Both Spring and Spark were “thoroughly” inspired by the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) and therefore “fit together nicely,” he added.

Solid Earth launched the Spring platform in May 2013, first as a public-facing MLS website provider and then as a “lean MLS” alternative to the traditional MLS powered by its own API. Solid Earth also provides a legacy MLS system, List-It.

​Spring will continue to use the Spring API to power its user experience in markets that do not use FBS, Fowler told Inman via email. ​The Spark-Spring integration will also use “small pieces” of the Spring API, he added.

“[T]he Spring API powers everything you see in the Spring enterprise portals [for MLSs]. It you can do it in Spring, it’s because the Spring API enables the feature,” Fowler said.

“Since 2011 those features have been focused on the consumer-facing user experience. Spark has focused on the back-end user experience and all of those special MLS features and rules. By wiring Spring to Spark, Solid Earth is able to extend the user experience dramatically to include dozens of Spark features not present in the Spring API.”

These features include allowing consumers to save searches and favorite listings and subscribe to the MLS for updates, according to Wurzer.

Thousands of developers, brokers and agents use the Spark API to power their websites with listing data, either directly or through one of Flexmls’s IDX or MLS products, he said.

FBS uses the Spark API to power its Flexmls mobile, desktop and IDX products, and many third-party developers, such as Solid Earth, AgentSquared, Cloud CMA and others use the API to power their applications, he added.

“The Spark API is implementing standards in a meaningful way for all of our customers, and it’s exciting to see the adoption of the API to reduce costs … for developers needing to access the MLS data and reduce duplicate processing and data entry,” Wurzer said.

“Over the next few years, we’re going to see the hard work of the last few years really start to deliver to MLSs, brokers, and agents the benefits of standard APIs.”

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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