Horde of the Rings: One Feed to Rule Them All (MLS Data)

This month, the real estate industry will consider a policy which would modernize MLS data access for brokers. The concept on the table is a single pipeline of data for all of a broker’s needs. 

Traditional Barriers to Overcome

MLS data is divided by traditional policies into sections: website data, client data, back office data, etc. The rings below illustrate the breadth of different data sets. 

As brokerage companies become more dependent on broader data sets, this “Horde of the Rings” model is increasingly inefficient. While a full multi-broker back office feed would be ideal for most, it’s often not available, difficult to access, and inconsistently defined across MLSs. 

Multiple Feeds, Unnecessary Friction

Many MLSs have instituted access processes for brokers that are different for each ring of data. Brokers are sometimes asked to get website data via Web API, customer data via RETS, and back office data via FTP. Even when the data transport method is consistent, there are separate access credentials for different rings of data.

“One Feed to Rule Them All” would create default access to a complete broker data set with one set of access credentials, and the brokerage community is fervently pushing to make this a reality across all MLSs. A number of proposals in the industry seek to support portions of the One Feed concept, which will be discussed later (ADS/LEAP/REAL/NOW).

The One Feed is a simple efficiency solution that has been discussed in trade organizations for more than two years. Its concepts are fairly well accepted, even if the timeline for its implementation is not yet clear. But it also elicits many related questions that, when left unanswered, create confusion and slow progress toward the goal.

Common Questions on the One Feed

  • Would the One Feed give brokers access to more data than they currently receive?
    • No: It’s just simplifying the access.
  • Is the One Feed changing the rules of usage for the data?
    • No: Current rules govern the same data. Other potential data usage changes should be discussed, but done so separately.
  • Is this One Feed for 3rd party vendors?
    • No: This is for MLS broker participants and their technology providers.
  • Does the MLS have to provide the One Feed?
    • If NAR passed a mandatory policy, all REALTOR MLSs would be required to have this service available to brokers.
  • Does the MLS need to give every broker the One Feed?
    • If the participant only needs IDX data for its website, that’s all the MLS needs to deliver. If the participant needs the One Feed for its technology, a mandatory policy would require the MLS to deliver it.
  • Does the One Feed policy need to define every field and its usage?
    • No: MLSs’ current usage rules will suffice to get started. More standardized definitions around field usage would be beneficial, but a separate discussion.
  • Does the policy need to mandate which fields are included in the One Feed?
    • Not necessarily: Minimum mandates could be helpful as a separate discussion, but most MLSs know what’s in their IDX, VOW, and BBO feeds and they can deliver them already.
  • Does the One Feed affect VOW and therefore invite regulatory scrutiny?
    • No: This policy provides more options for VOW users with no new restrictions.
  • Will this cost MLSs and their vendors resources?
    • For some organizations it will, as do all technology modernizations on behalf of brokers.
  • If some MLSs already do this, why is a national policy needed?
    • Most MLSs don’t already do this. Policies ensure minimum standards of service across the board. Brokers work in multiple MLSs and need consistent and efficient access.
  • Are other current data policy initiatives needed to move One Feed forward?
    • No: There are additional important efficiency measures that could provide benefits and even enhance the One Feed. These should be considered, but One Feed access can also succeed as a standalone policy.

Background: Alphabet Soup Progression of the One Feed

NOW

A broker group’s consensus at Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) in 2019 became a proposal from a large group of brokers to overhaul MLS data access in the summer of 2020. The Networked Office and Web (NOW) model sought two things:

  1. All MLS participant (broker) data sets in one feed
  2. One set of rules for all of the data usage

LEAP

Council of MLS (CMLS) took on the concept in late 2020 and its workgroups formed a policy draft called Listing Exchange Access Policy (LEAP). This policy draft didn’t move forward from CMLS, likely because of two components:

  1. It greatly limited MLSs’ ability to vet and/or restrict derivative works of MLS data
  2. It greatly expanded participants’ ability to advertise other brokers’ listings in previously prohibited venues

REAL

Simultaneously, Zillow Group was converting its data feeds across the country to IDX as a broker in MLSs. Based on this experience, the company drafted a policy proposal called Reciprocal & Equitable Access to Listings (REAL). The extensive full version of the proposal included the primary concepts in NOW and LEAP. Differences included:

  1. Granular details as to individual data fields and their usage
  2. Expanded flexibility for future alternative uses of MLS data not yet covered in current policy

RESO Brokers’ Feedback Concepts

The brokerage community regrouped in July of 2021 to assess the landscape, particularly with the LEAP proposal. The group’s feedback included:

  • 10 critical broker requirements that need to be included in any One Feed policy going forward
  • 6 important concepts for additional consideration by NAR and other trade organizations

ADS Version 2

After CMLS sent LEAP back to its workgroups, the Administrative Data Service (ADS) policy proposal was formed. “Permitted uses are outlined in the policy and are the minimum permitted uses an MLS must provide.” ADS is essentially what most know as a Broker Back Office (BBO) feed, but the implementation of BBO varies so widely across the industry, a distinct term was used. 

Access: Part 2

A second component, currently in draft form at CMLS, would allow MLS participants to use a single data access account for all participant licensed uses (e.g. IDX, VOW, PDAP, and ADS/BBO). This is essentially the access portion of the One Feed and is reported to cover the concepts of the RESO LEAP Broker Feedback.

Next Up: NAR MLSTEIAB

REALTOR MLS policies are created by the National Association of REALTORS’ (NAR). Trade bodies and brokerages send letters to ask for their ideas to be considered as NAR policy. 

MLS policy proposals end up on the agenda of the MLS Technology and Emerging Issues Advisory Board (NAR MLSTEIAB–or just AB for sanity’s sake). This is a group of about 20 brokers and MLS execs with broad industry knowledge and experience.

Advisory Board Priorities

The AB vets policy proposals’ core concepts to ensure they enhance REALTOR marketplaces, professionals’ businesses, and consumer experiences through: 

  • Efficiency
  • Cooperation
  • Accuracy
  • Transparency

If the proposals enhance these principles they are debated and, if deemed a priority, wordsmithed into NAR policy by the AB and NAR staff. Timing and impact are considered, and the most important proposals are voted through the AB to NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues & Policy Committee (MLIPC).

NAR MLIPC, ExComm, and BOD

Policies that pass votes in the AB are also voted on in the MLIPC, Executive Committee, and NAR Board of Directors. Those steps happen in November and May at semi-annual conferences. 

Time for Focus

The AB’s next meeting is September 9-10, 2021. It can meet repeatedly between September and November 2021 if necessary to move policy forward.

There are many different data-related initiatives being debated within brokerages, MLSs, and trade organizations. It would be easy for those issues to muddle the development of a One Feed policy, but that need not happen. 

Focusing on the tightly-tailored task at hand, NAR and its partner organizations can create a great benefit for the entire organized real estate space. The One Feed solution can accelerate a more competitive, efficient, and streamlined technology environment for the real estate industry.

Author

  • All opinions expressed herein are personal opinions and do not constitute the position or views of any organization. Sam DeBord is CEO of Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO). He has two decades of experience in the real estate industry, spanning real estate brokerages, mortgage lending, and technology consulting. He has served as President’s Liaison for MLS and Data Management with the National Association of REALTORS®, a REACH mentor, and on the board of directors for NAR, Second Century Ventures, and California Regional MLS. Sam began his career as a management consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers. He is a recognized real estate industry writer for publications including REALTOR® Magazine, Inman News, and the Axiom Business Books Award-Winning Swanepoel Trends Report.

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