Most of the real estate industry is driving its data around in a clunky, decades-old car. But now, leading MLS technology organizations are finally helping us trade it in for a newer and more efficient model.

  • The real estate industry needs to invest in technology to stay nimble and modern
  • RETS is still commonly used to transport real estate data, but its capabilities are outdated
  • Leading companies are now upgrading to fully loaded Web APIs
  • Shutting off RETS servers is the final step in ensuring marketplace efficiency

The Datsun was a thing of beauty when it was new. Today, it still moves its cargo from place to place. But it smokes, it leaks oil, and it chatters. Whether you realize it or not, you and your real estate technology are probably riding in this old Datsun. Its name is RETS.

RETS, or the Real Estate Transaction Standard, is a decades-old method of transporting data. It’s getting you where you’re going, grinding and grunting along the way. It may feel sufficient for some. But outside observers shake their heads in disbelief as they see it clunkily dragging their most valuable assets down the information superhighway.

It’s time to send the Datsun off to the happy rusting grounds and buy a new vehicle. We’ve known this for years. But we’ve been waiting for leaders to dive in headfirst. Those leaders have emerged, and they’re moving all of their customers over to the modern data transport — a fully loaded Web API.

Waiting for fuel

MLSs, by and large, already have this new Web API vehicle. But it’s often hidden in a backyard shed with watered-down fuel in the gas tank. And the Datsun sits right out front in the driveway — fully fueled, keys in the ignition, tempting users to continue the status quo.

Many MLSs’ Web API transports don’t have all of their MLS data fields in them. They may only have the fields necessary to run a standard off-the-shelf IDX website.

But brokers need much more data for their virtual office websites (VOW) and back office uses. So, the users of a watered-down Web API get low-grade gasoline and an unsatisfactory experience. The upgrade is neutered by a lesser fuel, driving users back to the Datsun.

Filling up the Web API (URE), one of the largest MLSs in the country, is one of the first organizations to fill the Web API’s tank with high-grade fuel. Instead of supplying a bare minimum of fields for a website, URE added every standard and local custom field in its MLS to its Web API.

Users can get every bit of data they have in RETS, but in a sleek modern transport that makes their integrations and new technology adoption faster and more efficient.

Whether the user needs IDX, VOW or broker back-office data, the Web API is URE’s transport. This is particularly significant as CEO Brad Bjelke has led URE’s path to build its own technology in-house. With more technical staff than most MLSs, URE can drive development and adoption of its technology on its own schedule.

Setting a succession plan

Of course, there’s always a customer hanging on to the old Datsun for sentimental reasons or just because the status quo is easier. But supporting two different transports is expensive, and it leaves clunkers on the road, backing up traffic. For URE, a clear timeline for transition and retirement date for RETS was the solution.

URE has communicated to its data partners that they will all need to convert to Web API by January of 2021. Nearly half of the 200 data consumers it works with have already made the transition.

Without a drop-dead date, history has shown that many data consumers would hold on to the status quo to avoid the additional resources and temporary discomfort associated with a conversion. This decision to set a hard-and-fast RETS cutoff date is a large dot on the timeline of organized real estate’s technology advancement. It’s a defining moment.

MLS platforms rev up

URE is unique in that it not only built its own Web API, but that API also helps power its multi-MLS network of MLS Aligned. MLS Aligned’s half-dozen regional MLSs pooled their technical resources to bring a common modern data transport to support their combined customers of over 100,000 licensees.

The collaboration is a testament to thoughtful MLS leaders, focused on delivering products and services over protectionism. In that same spirit, the MLS Grid is moving its brokers’ data feeds to the Web API as well. Grid is a coalition of a dozen MLSs across the country serving over 300,000 agents.

Having previously converted its member MLSs’ IDX website data, MLS Grid is now moving their VOW data over to the Web API, putting the local custom fields and RESO standard fields in one clean data set. This step provides significantly more data options to broker participants in MLSs and more efficient data access processes.

MLS Grid only offers Web API data access — no RETS. Its mission is to create efficiency. Carrying on an outdated transport method would only prolong inefficient use of resources.

MLS Grid members are setting timelines for the transitions of all of their data feeds so that data consumers can start planning ahead of time for the conversion. As anyone who has gone through a conversion knows, timing, communication and deadlines are the devils in the details.

MLS software providers say they’re gearing up for the transition as well. Supporting RETS and Web API isn’t only cumbersome, they say, but expensive. As conversations at the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) MLS and technology-related committees focus more often on the quality of data that their membership needs, this trend seems unstoppable. The only question is how fast it will occur.

Follow the roadmap

The steps to move the entire industry away from RETS and fully into the Web API are now in focus. To be clear, there is no policy or regulatory mandate requiring the end of RETS usage.

But the Datsun’s still smoking and backfiring, in stark contrast to the sleek new vehicles that other industry associates are using to attract the attention of customers. For those ready to pull the trigger, the roadmap has been laid out:

  1. Get all of your MLS’s broker participant fields into your preferred Web API service.
  2. Get credentials and documentation for your Web API service to all current data partners.
  3. Create a timeline and communications plan for transitioning all current users to Web API.
  4. Communicate the plan as if no one reads an email until the third time they receive it.
  5. Transition vendors as early as possible, and highlight the early successes.
  6. Communicate escalating warnings through different media as the deadline nears.
  7. Shut off RETS access on the cutoff date and have staff prepared for full-scale communications support of those who may not have fully transitioned in time.

Kudos to those leading the way.

Sam DeBord is CEO of Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO). He has served as the National Association of Realtors­ President’s Liaison for MLS and Data Management, President of Seattle King County REALTORS, and Managing Broker for Coldwell Banker Danforth.

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