There have been many initiatives to centralize MLS information through a single API. Which, Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO), is a good example of their progress in creating the single API standard. But, there is something that can be gained in the real estate community if it were to embrace a startup mentality of open-source.

With collaborative initiatives on open-source code management tools like GitHub, the RE industry could create a place where contributors from actual developers who share a passion about real estate, could have a common voice. By providing a community where the common voices can all be heard, shared, and used from the people who build technology in everyday. And open-sourced community would create transparency, and offer a faster way for the real estate community to grow it’s technology adoption.

Why don’t we have an open-sourced API for MLS data?

RE traditionally has been rejective to change, if it isn’t broke — why fix it?, type mentality. Zillow, which, totally brought about a new era of RE Tech, scared a lot of people such as MLS orgs. With Zillow taking control of the north star (being the buyer/seller) through a single portal that created a single place to sell or buy properties, they could essentially bypass everyone else in the deal making process.

Partly because of this fear, you have seen consolidations of MLS orgs and a push to build in-house apps that keep the agents or organizations relevant. Which has caused things to become increasingly difficult to innovate and made more barriers of entries for real estate technology startups.

With wanting to control the data and the fear of having something that would erase an industry of people, there has been a lot of pushback for anything that doesn’t keep data or technology self-contained within a specific group of people, corporation, or organizations.

What could be gained through open-sourced MLS APIs

With one aspect of RE wanting to control the narrative of how data and tools are built for the MLS, you stifle innovation because you can’t look past your own perspective. If we were to instead, invite the development community, through a free and open collaboration of development. We could work together to create an open-standard that doesn’t require memberships or paywalls to enable all startups, organizations, who hire engineers to integrate and continue to contribute to the growth of a single public API.

This would have major impacts to be felt all throughout the RE industry. Because of having a single, free, open-sourced API to get and send data to, we’d be looking at a 10x increase in mobile apps, web apps, and APIs that could be built in a matter of weeks or months due to the availability of information.

For example, look at what happened when Google open-sourced their Maps API. The amount of navigation apps and utility tools that were built in a span of 2 years vs a 8 year period is staggering. To me, the important question is, how can we bring value to the industry that benefits all?

A Single API

What would an open-sourced API look like? Well you can look at initiatives like the one we started called roperty.org which sources all public records on properties and makes it completely free to access through the online portal or through a free API anyone can useReal Estate Standards Organization (RESO) would also be a good example of having a community of RE & MLS experts which have come together to create an impressive standard that many organizations have already adopted. The only negative I have is that you need to pay and become apart of the group. Which doesn’t help create an open-sourced API. (if you know of any other initiatives, drop a comment)

There are also valuable questions that need to be answered such as, who hosts this data, and who pays for it? Well, we could create a group initiative to create public resources that are funded by many MLS orgs and RE corporations. But from a standard perspective and building an open-sourced data template, we can easily do this via GitHub for free and have the community of developers, product managers, all contribute and integrate into their own projects.

Where do we go from here?

There is so much value to be had in a public open-sourced API for MLS data and I personally believe that this is inevitable. At some point, a group of people will create this because it has to happen in order to truly transform the way information is shared in residential real estate. If the data is always behind a paywall, you’ll always have a few groups who make all the technology and that will stifle a true take-off for the proptech industry.

Imagine if a high-schooler in a local hackathon could access a single public API which would show him all of their local properties and their data for his map web app we wanted to build. He could make requests like so:

GET /properties?zipcode=64012

And display this data to show all currently neighborhood property information for making analysis and recommendations on renting vs buying.

Currently to get this kind of data, you’d have to use some third-party API that has public record information available. Which, most are protected around paywalls and licensing. Any providers that do make information available, are not updated and don’t contain a true source on information.

APIs are awesome and real estate is amazing, let’s work together to help make APIs more accessible for the startups (like us) and those who just want to test an idea.

About the Author

David Biga is the CEO & Founder of Particle Space. A previous tech-founder of numerous startups, David turned his attention and passion for the Real Estate industry by first creating a solution around the Property Management industry. Through that experience, David saw a major need in bridging the gap between data and people for Real Estate.

At Particle Space, we make it easy for real estate businesses to connect and access their real estate data in one platform. We do this by providing our customers’ with a suite of business tools and APIs.

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