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2009-03-10 22:45:55

Internet Search, Standardized Data Fields, and the Changing Role of MLS


Today, if you want to find out anything about anything, where do you go? There is a high probability that you go to Google. So ingrained in our culture is the power of Google search, that Google has become a verb. On a daily basis, many of us  “google” one thing or another. As smart phone applications become more ubiquitous and as wireless hot spots continue to pop up in public places, the power of Google to change the world will grow stronger, and at an accelerated pace. Also consider that the more search that takes place on Google, the “smarter” Google becomes.
What does this have to do with MLS and REALTORS®? Simply put, Google may be the change agent that revolutionizes the real estate industry and could play a role in the reconstruction of MLS technologies and the age old battle of data standards. This does not make Google the enemy…but Google − what it does, how it does it, and how it continues to creep into the daily life of people of all generations − must be considered by those who are building MLS 5.0, the MLS of the future.
Searching the Internet today is easy. While there are techniques that can be applied to narrow search results, even the novice searcher is capable, with no training, of finding  just about anything he or she may be interested in on the Internet. What does that have to do with real estate? In the future, sellers may advertise their home for sale on any number of web sites, including maybe their own site or on a “public access” site provided by Internet providers as part of their subscription for connectivity. Home owners will likely use plain language (and not the diverse system of abbreviations that have been devised and localized by MLSs and MLS Committees over the years) to describe their home and the features that are the “standards” (bedrooms, baths, etc.) and the features that are important to them. Properties could be described in a paragraph instead of the grid format many of us are currently using and seeing. Or a piece of software could be made available to consumers that allows the home owner to build their own grid, adding or taking away fields at their discretion.
Standard Fields:
Standard fields has been the “holy grail” for years. In the mid 1990s, NAR (National Association of Realtors®)  worked on bringing technology to the real estate industry through the REALTORS® Information Network (RIN). The problem of matching data fields from MLS to MLS to create a searchable national database was tackled and the proposed solution was something called Data Exchange Method, or DxM. DxM was described as a “data dictionary” that, if implemented, would allow not only for greater access to more listings by REALTORS®, but more software choice as real estate business solution software at the time had to be customized from one MLS to another, limiting choice and increasing costs. Of course RIN went the way of the Brontosaurus and the standard promoted today in the industry is RETS (Real Estate Transaction Standard), which is a great tool and a major improvement.
With the power of search today, how important are so many different fields? Isn’t it time to consider the creation of a national standard of say 50 fields, and the rest of the characteristics of a property listed as remarks, capable of being found via advanced search technology?
As Gen X’s and Gen Y’s continue to make up a larger percentage of the home buying and selling population (NAR statistics indicated that 78.8% of first time home buyers in 2007 were Gen X or Gen Y), and as this group grow to make up a larger percentage of the REALTOR® population, born and raised with Google and efficient, accurate search, standard fields may become less important while search takes on a much more important role. In addition, the ability to distribute one’s listing information to more destinations on the Internet, allowing “long tail” benefits, will be easier, and MLSs will become an ecosystem of innovation for software developers who will be able to deliver a wider choice of tools, and at lower cost.
(Saul Klein is a REALTOR® and nationally recognized speaker and consultant who, over the last 16 years, has spent more than 15,000 hours in front of real estate professionals, consumers, association staffs and volunteers. Over the past 15 years he has traveled over 1,500,000 miles delivering a message on technology and its role in the future of the real estate industry. Saul was selected by the National Association Of REALTORS® as one of the “25 Most Influential People in the Real Estate Industry” in 2003 and one of the “100 Most Influential Real Estate People” by Inman News in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.) 

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