What Does Open Architecture Mean to Associations & MLS?


Turner Levison | September 1, 2017

If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember what it was like to buy a computer and need what seemed like dozens of cables. Every last peripheral — printers, scanners, external drives, and any other gadgets you wanted to hook up — had a proprietary input.

If you’ve ever looked at the MLS and wondered why it wasn’t easier to get the kinds of data and analytics you needed, you might be surprised to learn that the MLS has a lot in common with that tangle of wires.

The Problem: Behold the API

API stands for Application Program Interface. Put plainly, it’s a set of rules, routines, and protocols that govern how different types of software interact with one another. There are two types of APIs: closed and open.

The Solution: the Open API

A closed API restricts access to the software code so that only a select few — usually the vendor and their developers — have access. This approach is the most common with the MLS, in contrast to most other types of enterprise-level software.

In the latter case, open architecture, or an open API, is more common. Here, a developer can request an API key. That key essentially “unlocks” the API, providing access to the application’s code so that one program can be used to “talk” to a variety of other programs.

Why Open Architecture Matters

The MLS is only accessible via a small handful of vendors, each with their own standards, metrics, and utilities. The problem here is that what works for a vendor, and may even be the perfect fit for your CRE competitor across town, may not be quite the right fit for your brokerage. It would also be easier to integrate the MLS with other aspects of your workflow, like your commission management backoffice.

At the brokerage level, an open API gives a higher degree of control and customization. It’s easier to configure MLS listings to an individual broker’s needs, while also having more granular control over the applications and data available to agents. Other benefits include cost controls and the ability to receive data from multiple MLSs in one place.

Agents benefit as well. For one thing, a wider variety of tools would be available, as would the ability to mix and match applications to best fit agents’ needs. For another, it’s easier to keep listings up-to-date, especially since data would be synchronized across a number of applications.

A Solution In Sight

The first API-based MLS platform came from FBS Data Systems in 2012. They’re building on that initial success through a collaboration with Solid Earth, integrating the FBS Spring platform with the Solid Earth Spark API.

Other available products include aggregated databases like Zillow’s Retsly® service and CoreLogic’s Trestle (a read-only API-accessible database). A more promising solution comes in the form of the Advanced MultiList Platform (AMP) from Realtors Property Resource® (RPR®). In contrast to the read-only feeds discussed earlier, AMP would allow for input as well as retrieval, giving a much larger range of possibilities to MLS subscribers.

A Thought in Conclusion

APIs are so common across most industries that they’re simply taken for granted.  Residential and commercial real estate have some catching up to do, but this is one trend worth watching so that your brokerage is positioned to take full advantage. If you need help taming the commission portion of your business, CommissionTrac can help.

Subscribe to our weekly updates!