Next week Jaison Freed and I trek off to Austin for the spring RETS meetings. Up first on the agenda is a mammoth (almost all day) session reviewing the RETS2 MLS payloads. We’ve had a team here at FBS (thanks Colleen and John!) reviewing in detail the 100 or so MLS designs we’ve implemented over the last several years so that we can compare those to the RETS2 payloads and offer suggestions for additions and changes. I have two major objectives for the meetings: (1) establish a detailed time-line for finalizing the review of the payloads so that they can be approved at the August meeting; and (2) creating a plan for development of a RETSipedia, which would make the payloads accessible for comments and input from the MLS community at large.
Currently, the payloads are not easily readable unless you live and breathe XML. I think making them more accessible to the end-users of the payloads and providing a timely opportunity for input and comments through the web will produce broader and deeper standards that have buy-in from the community at large. Importantly, we not only need to consider the current data structures being used by MLSs but also whether improvements can be made to those data structures.
For example, most MLS systems today have a feature for “Flooring” but rarely is that tied to specific rooms. Instead, the system will say, Flooring: Ceramic. Really? Is that the whole house? One room, the kitchen, or what? Flooring clearly should be tied to specific rooms. In fact, almost all the feature data should be wrapped in rooms. Wouldn’t it be nice to know not only that there are two fireplaces but also what room each is in?
A previous objection to this type of change to the payloads is that current MLS systems do not present data this way, so the fields will be empty and that will frustrate recipients. Though a valid point, I don’t think this is a reason to stick with a limited design. We need to move the standards forward while also including the past. I’ve been looking at listing detail sheets on web sites from all over the country over the last few days and most are pretty terrible, including ours. Our programming manager, Greg Kilwein, said it best today: MLS systems today capture what is common about properties but what sells the property is what’s uncommon. The data standards need to allow agents to capture what’s special about the property in a standard way, so that the details can be searched and analyzed. Imagine how much better a guesstimate on value could be with broad and deep data like that?
I’ve been a critic of Zillow’s recent announcements that appear to me to be divisive of the real estate agent community. I think they should try to work with the community instead of against it. I know they have a thing for reducing agent commissions, blah, blah, blah. But just imagine what could be accomplished if Zillow or other valuation estimate companies had broad and deep data collected by professionals in a standard way. The reality is that collecting this type of data (the unzillowables) is not easy. I think describing the unique features of a home is a very complex process requiring a great deal of skill and experience.
A great example of this what forward-thinking brokers and agents like Greg Swann, Kevin Boer and others are doing with single-property web sites. These sites have the potential to offer an intense amount of detail critical to the value of that property. What if that information was collected in a standard way and made available for valuation models or search tools? The long tail may never have been longer. Can this kind of detail be captured accurately by home owners themselves? Not likely. A great example of this is the description Dan Green’s agent wrote for Dan’s house. The detail provided in the remarks has all the key facts. This is the data that’s most valuable. The other stuff is important, too, but it’s not what sells the house.
I’m looking forward to Austin to see what may come of these ideas. Let me know if any of you are intending to be there, too, and maybe we can stroll down sixth street.