The MLS of the Future Requires Standards

Aug 14, 2008 Michael Wurzer

Jim Duncan, Greg Swann and Tom Royce have all commented recently on Saul Klein’s writings on an MLS of the future. As Jim notes, the ideas really aren’t new. In fact, I’ve been writing about the future of MLS here on the FBS Blog for some time.

Buried in Mr. Klein’s long paper is what I’ve advocated as being the solution to many of the challenges facing MLSs today, namely standards:

Through the use of Open APIs that provide access to listing data, support existing authentication, and facilitate authorization, applications that leverage existing data can be built very cost-effectively leading to a richer ecosystem of features that will benefit real estate professionals.
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It is envisioned that numerous MLS vendors will adapt their products to work directly with MLS 5.0 via these open APIs in order to provide REALTORS® with a full featured and familiar front-end. Imagine being able to choose from a multitude of CMAs, or create your own application specific to your business. All the data can be stored in one database, and based on permissions, accessed and solutions and applications developed. In summary, the future will be a more open environment where brokers and agents can select their “Software of Choice” from numerous providers.

Of note, Mr. Klein doesn’t mention the API that already exists in the MLS world, namely RETS, which has had “software of choice” as a core goal for many years. The vast majority of MLSs already support RETS and more will do so as the June 2009 NAR MLS policy requiring RETS compliance nears. Yet, perhaps the reason Mr. Klein doesn’t mention RETS is because the standards have not yet enabled “software of choice” as envisioned. Examining why may be more fruitful than wistful dreaming about social networking within the MLS.

The core reason RETS hasn’t resulted in a proliferation of new products and software of choice is because the data and business rules among MLSs remain widely disparate. There is no ability today, with or without RETS, to write one piece of software that will work with many MLSs systems without customization. The data and the business rules are too different and require too much customization. Trying to solve this problem was one of the reasons I re-energized myself in the RETS process eighteen months ago at the Austin meeting. Through the efforts of many others, progress has been made in defining a broad and deep data schema for listings and properties. All this work, however, will be for naught without adoption, and so the question now becomes whether MLSs will be willing and able to map their systems to the schema. The regional efforts across the country show that many MLSs are willing and so the real question is whether the RETS community will be able to make schema accessible to MLSs so they can use it effectively.

Greg, Jim and Tom (all linked above) abhor the idea of NAR running a national MLS of any kind and I couldn’t agree more. However, the development of standards doesn’t require any central authority, only leadership from those who want to participate in the standards process. MLS software of choice for agents is possible technologically but standards are required, and that is why standards are the future of MLS.