Five multiple listing services from totally different regions of the country have created a new company designed to pool their tech resources and intellectual property. Part of the goal is make the process of sending property data to home search portals and ultimately, homebuyers, more efficient and easier. But how will it work in practice?
Incorporated in Delaware in April and publicly unveiled for the first time this week, MLS Aligned LLC aims to create new tools and improve existing software for use by its member MLSs for the benefit of their agent and broker subscribers, subscribers’ consumer clients, and industry tech vendors.
The founding MLSs are Arizona Regional MLS, Metro MLS in Wisconsin, MLSListings in Silicon Valley, RMLS in Oregon and UtahRealEstate.com, which have nearly 95,000 agent and broker subscribers combined.
The company’s first creation is MLS Aligned API, an application programming interface that allows vendors such as third-party listing portals to receive listing data in real time from member MLSs.
This is an improvement over the older systems, according to MLS Aligned, because previously vendors needed to copy each MLS’s entire database separately, and could only receive updates periodically, such as every 15 minutes.
“What’s so fundamentally different is that this is going to fundamentally change how data is moving from Point A to Point B to Point C in some ways,” Chris Carrillo, CEO of Metro MLS, told Inman in a phone interview.
MLSs often accomplish full data shares through replication — whereby each MLS copies the database of the other and serves up search results from the combined database to agents. The same is true when a tech firm offers a real estate agent or consumer tool powered by MLS data.
But replication can mean that data is sometimes misplaced or less accurate across the websites that display it. Real-time data pulled through the MLS Aligned API can mean less liability for brokers and agents as well as happier clients, according Carrillo.
“Consumers get real-time access to content and changes made to listings. If I’m a consumer buying a home I want to know what’s happening in my market in real time,” he said.
The MLS Aligned API uses the standard API from the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO), an independent industry non-profit spun out of the National Association of Realtors. But MLS Aligned API allows the vendors and brokers that use it to ask for data from multiple members instead of just one at a time, according to Carrillo.
Even though the MLSs use different technology to collect and deliver data in their own markets, because they’re using RESO standards they can create a common output, Carrillo said.
This is also a new way to conduct an MLS data share — without any actual sharing. Instead of sharing data in a single database, each MLS’s data continues to reside within each respective database and the MLS Aligned API pulls and aggregates the data from each MLS in real time. In a white paper, the company compares the process to PayPal linking to your bank account and using it during live transactions with your authorization.
Using the MLS Aligned API also allows MLSs to keep their own local rule sets and control their own data compliance, and includes easy-to-configure controls that let MLSs, brokers and agents share data with only those they choose to work with, according to a press release.
“It will only give you certain data from certain MLSs that you are licensed to get. It’s about empowering local MLSs to make local decisions,” Carrillo said.
National real estate portal Homes.com has already tested out the MLS Aligned API and will be the first vendor to deploy it in the wild, starting with data from Metro MLS, by the end of the year, Carrillo said.
Asked how much it will cost other MLSs to join MLS Aligned, Carrillo said the company had not yet determined the cost, but said it would be “low.”
“This initiative is intended to be inclusive. From a technical requirement, we only need access to your MLS repository. From a cost standpoint, we have yet to formulate what the final costs will be. However, this initiative is not intended to separate the have and the have-nots,” he told Inman via email.
Carrillo’s Metro MLS is already part of a joint venture with Arizona Regional MLS (ARMLS), but he said that venture is intended to be an operational collaboration. For example, the venture will allow the MLSs to expand tech support hours and merge their respective in-house public records operations (Monsoon for ARMLS and WireData for Metro MLS) to improve collection processing and delivery.
“MLS Aligned is strictly a products and services collaboration. We feel each complements each other,” Carrillo said.
In its release, MLS Aligned noted that its founding members have already built an MLS software platform, a public records platform, a statistics platform and mobile applications, among other products.
“You have five different shops who have historically done their own development in different areas. There’s a lot of synergy to be shared,” Carrillo said.
The products that MLSs have already built separately, but want to improve through the new joint effort, will become part of MLS Aligned’s intellectual property, he added.
“We just want to show that MLSs are innovative and we’re not just going to idly sit by,” he added.
While the white paper refers to developing “open-source solutions,” that does not mean that MLS Aligned will be sharing its product code publicly with anyone and everyone — the traditional definition of “open source.”
“Open-source, in this example, is intended to imply collaboration among the MLS Aligned group. We share our mutual intellectual property and products; create an environment where our development teams can come together and build off of their collective talents; to better develop and realize what we each could not individually,” Carrillo said.
“Any MLS that wants to become a consumer of MLS Aligned will have access to the products and services we jointly create and develop. However, we still have to put more substance and thought around that piece. Right now, we are focused on delivering the MLS Aligned API.”
The development of a standalone listing input tool similar to broker data management platform Upstream is on the roadmap for MLS Aligned, according to Carrillo. The company has not ruled out partnering with Upstream directly, however. “The entire point is to be inclusive,” he said.
MLS Aligned is the latest collaborative effort between big MLSs across the country to tackle data challenges in the real estate industry. In April, MLS think tank MLS RoundTable announced a bold plan to rebuild the technology behind property listings, including the development of a single common database.
At the same time, Chicago area MLS MRED was the first MLS to launch the MLS Grid, a platform that seeks to offer a single license agreement and a single, standardized listing data feed for brokers and vendors who want to pull property data from MLSs in different markets.
Asked what the difference is between MLS Aligned and the MLS Grid, Carrillo said, “We feel the industry is big enough for these two initiatives as well as others to co-exist. The two initiatives are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are examples of MLSs working together to solve industry problems.”