Seeking Clarity in Real Estate Data Standards

Jan 16, 2008 Michael Wurzer

The press release last week from Zillow, Yahoo! and Trulia certainly created enough confusion, especially this part regarding the Real Estate Standards Organization:

The companies participating in the new standard will work in close collaboration with the Real Estate Standards Organization to ensure that the data specification interoperates with the Real Estate Transaction Standard (RETS).

I saw and approved this language before the press release went out, so I take responsibility for some of the confusion. The words that seem to have caused the most difficulty are “new standard” and “interoperates.” For example, apparently focusing on “interoperates” and reading it broadly, TechCrunch picked up on the press release after talking with Lloyd Frink and erroneously reported that these companies are adopting RETS. Later, David Gibbons from Zillow corrected them, but not before many people contacted me thinking these organizations had adopted RETS. In contrast, apparently focusing on the words “new standard”, Inman News seemed to swing the other way and proclaimed that these companies were “pioneering” the standards. In a bizarre twist, Realtor Magazine even focused on the word “new” and omitted any reference at all to the RETS.

The truth, of course, is somewhere between these two extremes. The language in the original press release, though too vague in retrospect, accurately reflects the “in between” state of the relationship of these companies to the RESO. As I’ve said to others, we’re dating but not married. My open letter created an opportunity for discussions but these guys have let me know during our early discussions that they were already working together on a common feed format and that my open letter was timely but coincidental to their plans. They’ve all said they are open to working with the RESO but the discussions have not yet gotten detailed regarding what that actually means.

Last Thursday at the Inman Connect conference in New York, Matt Lavallee (Chair of the RESO Query Work Group and Development Director for MLSPIN) and I met with the press release group and also a representative from Google, and we all concluded that getting together to try to put together a common payload for syndication made sense. These meetings have yet to be scheduled but they are anticipated to be in the next month at Yahoo!’s headquarters.

Both during and following the meeting, I tried to seek more specifics regarding what “interoperates” means but the discussions just weren’t far enough along to allow anyone to say. Again, we’re dating but not formally married, making the nature of the relationship uncertain. The feeling in the group was to get a standard document together and then we can figure out later what it all means.

After the meetings, I sent a few e-mails to the group urging them to move this work into a formal RESO Work Group for syndication so that we can all have a common understanding regarding the process for developing and evolving the standard for the long term. A loose collaboration is fine to bootstrap a process and get it going with a small number of companies, but, sooner rather than later, having agreement on the process for developing the standard is very important to keeping the group together. This is especially true as the number of companies adopting and relying on the standard grows so that everyone knows what to expect over the long term. The RESO has developed these processes already (PDF), they are very open and community-driven, and make certain that the intellectual property (PDF) created will be freely available and not hindered by any patents or other IP claims from the participating companies or antitrust (PDF) concerns.

I’ve committed to the group that the RESO intends to move very rapidly on this and, to that end, the RESO Board voted today to charter a new Syndication Work Group. The charter document for this new work group will be posted on by the end of the week, and I’m very hopeful Google, Yahoo!, Trulia, Zillow, and other syndication recipients decide to participate in this work group. This is a great opportunity for all of us to work together to create a win-win-win for brokers, agents and the industry as a whole.