Flexmls for iPhone … and Why Data Standards Matter to the Future of MLS and Their Relationship With Brokers and Agents

May 14, 2014 Michael Wurzer

I’m excited to announce the availability of Flexmls for iPhone in the iTunes app store. This new app focuses on bringing the Flexmls listing search to the iPhone for our customers. Search is the foundation of the MLS experience and we’ve worked hard to bring a full-featured and easy-to-use search experience to our users with this new application. We hope they find it valuable.

Even though this application is only available to Flexmls users, I believe the application also has importance for the MLS industry as a whole, because it does something that, in retrospect, will become expected or commonplace but today is not. Prior to this app (and, more importantly, the API that supports it), creating a search on an MLS system meant that search was, for all practical purposes, locked in the proprietary silo of the MLS system. The search couldn’t be accessed or used by any other system.

With this new app, however, an agent can start a search in the office, save it, and then get in the car and have that same search available to them on their iPhone. When they meet up with their customer, they can make changes to the search, recommend listings to their client portal, and all those changes will be available on Flexmls Web when they return to the office. This data portability is possible because of the Spark API, which powers Flexmls for iPhone.

What’s more important, however, is that not only does the Spark API power FBS’s new apps, we’re making the API available so developers working for brokers, agents, or the MLS can access the data as well. To understand why this is important, consider daily interactions of consumers with your web sites and how they create searches and accounts (with favorites, comments, and other data they enter) that are proprietary to those systems. Imagine instead if that customer data could flow from the franchise site to the broker or agent site and into the MLS system for auto email updates with no duplication of entry and a consistent user identity across all systems?

Another time the historically proprietary nature of user data rears its ugly head is if your MLS ever decides to change vendors, when everyone typically is required to start over and re-enter all their saved searches for all their customers. With Flexmls and the Spark API, FBS’s MLS, broker, and agent customers have access to their saved searches and related customer account information in a well-documented and ready-to-consume API. Of course, this makes it easier for our customers to switch to one of our competitors but we believe some things are more important than protecting our competitive position. You own your data and you need to be able to access and make use out of it, and that’s our fundamental goal with the Spark API: Putting you in charge.

This is a watershed moment in our industry. Gone are the days of your data being locked away in MLS or other proprietary systems. I’m hopeful this leads the way toward empowering brokers, agents, and MLSs to work together in new and exciting ways. For example, I think of the very real and dire warnings issued by The Real Estate Alliance at the CMLS conference last fall and I think the Spark API provides an example of how APIs can form the foundation for MLSs to cooperate with and provide enormous value to brokers and their developers, which value ultimately can help empower consumers and make their home buying and selling process more efficient.

Such a vision of cooperation is why data standards are so incredibly important to the future of the MLS industry and why FBS has long supported the Real Estate Standards Organization. Important RESO efforts such as the RESO Data Dictionary are critical to efforts like the transportability of saved searches and client data. At FBS, we’ve already used the dictionary for many of the fields available through the Spark API and we’ll continue to work with our customers to map more and more fields to the dictionary as we move forward.

Importantly, even though we’re out ahead of the industry with some of these user-focused APIs, we’re committed to working with RESO as it develops APIs for saved searches and other user data in the future and, once published, we’ll be sure to offer RESO-compliant API methods as well. Getting saved searches to synch across systems is no trivial matter and requires work and cooperation among all involved. We’re excited to be as far as we are by releasing Flexmls for iPhone now and we look forward to working with the industry to make user data just that, data owned and controlled by the users, namely the brokers, agents, and MLSs.

P.S. We also are working hard on an Android version and we’re bringing the same look and feel of the Flexmls for iPhone app to our Mobile Web application. Look for the new Mobile Web application in June and the Android version later in the summer. We also have plans for tablet specific versions by the end of the year.

P.P.S. I want to thank our entire team at FBS for all the work that has gone into this project. First and foremost, our Lead Designer, Travis Wright, designed the app and shepherded it through the development process with a great attention to detail that I know will show through. I also want to give a big shout-out to Troy Davisson and Geoff Saulmon, who have put an incredible effort into the saved search synch process, and to our entire API team (Brandon, James, Joshua, Wade). This is an on-going effort I’m convinced will be well worth it. Last but certainly not least, thanks to Bill, Randall, and Brandon over at Simply Made Apps for helping our team get this project rolling.