RETS Meeting Next Week

Apr 12, 2007  |  Michael Wurzer

Sixth Street in AustinNext 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.

11 Responses to “RETS Meeting Next Week”

  1. Mike,

    Well done as usual. The need for data standards has never been greater. In the past, there has never been a very compelling reason for the MLS SOFTWARE VENDORS to lead this effort since their customers (Associations and MLSs) didn’t want their systems to look like everyone elses, they wanted it their way, typically the way they have always done things. I think it is important to point out that just because we define the data in a standard way, it does not mean that everyone’s systems have to look or act the same way. What it does mean is that for those who want access or share data, between authorized parties of course, they can do it much easier, quicker and at less cost. For example, if the MLSs want to provide certain approved data with its brokers or third parties, data standards will play a HUGE role at making this more convenient for everyone involved.

    RETS is a good start in terms of defining HOW to access or share the data, but DATA STANDARDS are necessary now and looking forward. If we are going to maintain the proven value and benefits of organized real estate, we must work together to make it easier on the authorized trading partners – Associations, MLSs, Brokers and approved third parties.

    The RETS meeting in Austin, April 18-20 is very important. Contact me directly if you want to learn more. Come join us next week in Austin!

    Kevin McQueen – Focus Forward

  2. jf.sellsius says:

    I have been following your recent writings on the new zillow features and agree wholeheartedly with your logic and your keen sense of their practical (mis)application. We too have been critical of their new features (Q&A & stranger listing of homes for sale).

    More often than not homes are bought rather than sold. Many (most) homebuyers get an emotional feeling about a home upon “seeing” it and will not buy a home simply because it’s “a good deal” or looks good on paper/website. And it’s often the unzillowables that have a hand in the process to buy.

  3. Matt Cohen says:

    I absolutely love that quote – “MLS systems today capture what is common about properties but what sells the property is what’s uncommon.” Well put, Greg!

    That reminds me of a company I was working for a few years ago that thought RETS would be the silver bullet for them to get and use data from multiple MLSs and generate marketing materials for agents. Well, they soon realized that some of the items that were extremely important to include in a specific market – those uncommon fields that sell the property as you so eloquently put it – wouldn’t be found in standard names, and they would have to go traipsing around in meta-data in each market. They were disappointed that RETS wasn’t going to make their life as easy as they originally thought, and I think they eventually abandoned RETS use, which was a real shame.

  4. Awesome. I absolutely agree with every point you made. What especially hits home for me is that folks do not want to upgrade their inferior MLS for fear of empty fields. This is so absurd. I run into this sort of thinking in my MLS meetings almost every month. What a shame. I’m going to print this post, change the font to like 25 and put it up in our board office.

    Is the RETS meeting open to the RE public? I’m in Texas and could possibly make this. RETS is on my ‘get to know better’ list. I’m already on the TAR Technology Task force so this might compliment. Please send me links and whatever info you have on the meeting…I’m interested.

    Thanks
    christopherclement@gmail.com

  5. Christopher, yes, the RETS meetings are open to anyone and the agenda can be found at http://www.rets.org/meeting/april-2007/agenda. Most of the meetings are filled with hyper-technical folks and I’m not sure it would be valuable for a broker or agent. This is why one of my objectives is to get a tool available on the web for agents, brokers and MLS execs to be able to engage with the payloads directly. Right now, reviewing the payloads requires you to look at XML and figure out what you need to ignore in order to get at the substance, and that’s not easy. Hopefully we’ll get somewhere with this idea next week and get something up on the web in the coming month or so.

  6. As you can see, I wrote that post at 1am last night…I didn’t even notice your hyperlink to the agenda 😉 sorry. If one needs to know XML, then count me out.

  7. It’s not really so much that you need to know XML as you need to look at it and ignore the stuff that, though important overall, isn’t the first order of priority for brokers, agents and MLS execs. I’ll keep you posted on what happens in the meetings and hopefully you’ll see a RETSipedia out soon that will make the payloads easier to review for everyone.

  8. Mary Englund says:

    Michael, Your ideas about deep data need to be balanced with the idea that the more fields available, the more the MLS Executives start requiring that they be filled in, whether they are important or not. Knowing which rooms fireplaces are located in, and what kind of flooring exists in each room is not the kind of information that buyers need to make a purchasing decision. While it may seem nice to give this kind of information, it more often works against those of use trying to sell. Too much data gives prospects reasons to pass by the listing, rather than calling and talking with the broker. More room for free form description would be what would be more helpful. We are all looking for the unique features of each listing we take, so having the room to talk about these unique qualities if very important. For the few clients who absolutely MUST have a fireplace in the bedroom in order to purchase, having this field would be helpful, but most buyers don’t consider this their most important priority. It just means more work for us filling in the blanks (or cost to hire someone else to do it) and less time available to actually work face to face with our clients.

  9. Hi, Mary, welcome to the FBS Blog! Check out a book called The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, which is the source of some of my thinking on this issue.

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