UtahRealEstate.com, the largest multiple listing service in Utah, has set a deadline for its nearly 200 data vendors: If you want to continue to work with us, convert to our new API by January.
The MLS, which has more than 17,400 subscribers (94 percent of the Realtors in Utah), is killing its support for the Real Estate Transaction Standard (RETS), a data standard MLSs and real estate technology vendors have been using to transfer data from MLSs to vendors for more than two decades.
But RETS is old and it’s proprietary to the real estate industry, so developers who wish to work with MLS data must take the time to learn to use it, slowing down the development process.
The nonprofit Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) stopped supporting RETS two years ago in favor of a new standard, the RESO Web API, which uses a global protocol for product development familiar to technologists around the world so they don’t have to spend extra time learning to use it. At the Council of MLSs (CMLS) first virtual conference on Tuesday, Clelia Peters, venture partner at Bain Capital Ventures and editor at large of Inman, emphasized that “an absolute priority” for MLSs should be to adopt an open API system to allow “next generation companies” to share information.
“One of the fastest ways to ensure that the MLS system is leapfrogged will be for us to fail to meet the need for next generation companies to consume information via API. If we don’t do it, they will find someone else who can provide this for them,” she told conference attendees.
But although the RESO Web API has been around for years, many MLSs and vendors still do not use it. That has prompted vendors like W+R Studios to stop accepting new RETS feeds from MLSs in June 2019, and some mega MLSs committed to no longer giving out new accounts using the old RETS data feeds sometime in 2019, though some MLSs appear to have only applied this to certain types of feeds, such as Internet Data Exchange (IDX), a type of listing feed brokers and agents get from their MLS to display listings on their websites.
UtahRealEstate.com is taking a bolder, more comprehensive approach, however. The API requirement applies to any licensed vendor, regardless of whether the feed is an IDX, Virtual Office Website (VOW), broker back office or custom feed, URE CEO Brad Bjelke told Inman via email.
“This comprehensive approach is more difficult to achieve, which is the big differentiator in our announcement. In addition, our announcement is not just something in the future, as we have already converted so many vendors to use the APIs on all the different types of feeds. Our technology is already built and operating,” he said.
In a press release, URE said that it was the first organization to be RESO Data Dictionary Platinum Certified (the highest certification offered by RESO) and became one of the first MLSs to launch the RESO Web API. URE has its own in-house MLS platform and finalized its RESO-certified API in late 2019.
In July, URE notified all of its vendors, large and small, that come January 2021, it would only be distributing data through its new API. Since then, more than 30 percent of URE’s vendors have converted to the new API for every kind of data feed, URE said.
“Our API is unique in that it provides all of our MLS data fields to our licensees. Many APIs in the industry today only provide a limited subset of RESO data fields (most resemble traditional IDX feeds). Our API will distribute data for any type of data request that is approved,” Bjelke told Inman.
“That is what makes us unique and it will allow our brokers and technology partners to consume data quickly and efficiently. We also built a host of data monitoring tools that allow us to provide a robust experience for our data licensees.”
The API is an improvement over RETS because the old standard required vendors to replicate the entire MLS database with each data request and then compare one version to another, according to Bjelke.
“This is where we see the most errors and have customer service issues as websites do not update accurately or timely. RETS is inefficient compared to the API,” he said.
“The API allows for data to be updated only when it needs to be updated,” he added.
One of the discussion points regarding the RESO Web API over the years has revolved around whether it was an improvement for vendors who needed to essentially replicate the MLS database because they needed access to all of the fields. URE has solved this issue by making sure its API covers all of its data fields, not just a subset.
“Replication is what causes issues in data distribution and updates. We allow a vendor to access our entire database via API so there are no data issues when a vendor uses our API platform,” Bjelke said.
He believes the move to using the API exclusively will open up innovation and bring new products to URE’s market and subscribers because “[m]ost modern developers prefer to code off of APIs.”
Constellation Web Solutions, one of the largest consumers of real estate data in the country and parent company of Market Leader and RealEstate.com, was one of the first vendors to utilize URE’s API, according to the MLS.
“The transition from the old Real Estate Transaction Standard (‘RETS’) to URE’s modern API has been extremely easy, and it has made the data we receive much easier to work with. Updates are simple, efficient, and quick, and we are so happy that URE is leading the API movement,” the company said in a statement.
Bjelke said URE wanted to lead not just by words, but by example. “We wanted to take the initiative and show the industry that the conversion from RETS to API can happen if an MLS is willing to lead. We believe our deadline will help other MLSs speed up their conversions as well,” he said.
In a statement, RESO CEO Sam DeBord commended URE for driving adoption of the API among vendors.
“Many of our RESO members are starting the process of converting vendors to the API, but URE is the first to set deadlines and commit to converting all of their vendors and all of their data feeds. This type of leadership is what moves the real estate data industry forward and helps agents and consumers get the best data and innovation possible,” DeBord said.