When it comes to the Single Family Residential market, one of the most important and powerful datasets to have in-house is accurate and fresh real estate listings. Our clients who are able to efficiently source and integrate real estate listing data have an enormous advantage over their competitors.
Unfortunately, obtaining a reliable source of real estate listing data can be challenging. This guide is meant to discuss the various sources of real estate listings, their pros/cons, and how Cherre can help you obtain and integrate them into your application.
What are Listings
The important thing to remember about listing data that separates it from regular property data is that a listing is nothing more than an advertisement for an asset that is up for sale/lease. Listings can exist for an existing home or building, an individual unit, an undeveloped lot, a business interest, or even for a home that hasn’t been built yet.
While listings contain a lot of factual information about the property that you might also find in a public property record, listings also contain other data that help the seller and their agent advertise the property. Photos, listing description (also called “public remarks”), list price, virtual tours, listing brokerage/agent contact information and status are all things that are unique to listings. In the case of off-market or sold listing data you can also get sold price and sold date, which may or may not be available in public data (especially in non-disclosure states).
Listings are copyrighted and owned by the listing brokerage and published on Multiple Listing Services (MLSs) who primarily are responsible for managing the display and distribution of the data.
Since listings are advertisements, there can be multiple listing records associated with a single property. This happens in the cases of when a broker belongs to multiple MLSs and has advertising the property in each and also when a property has been sold in the past or has gone “off-market.” The below diagram outlines the four general phases of a listing.
Listings from Multiple Listing Services
MLSs describe a set of services that allow real estate brokerages in a local real estate board to fairly cooperate and share information about properties in order to disseminate information to clients.
There are over 500 MLSs in the United States and there are some in Mexico and Canada.
Real estate brokerages and licensed agents who are members of real estate associations and who work through MLSs represent organized real estate in the United States.
MLSs range in size from less than a couple hundred listings with a few dozen members to MLSs that span multiple states and comprise tens of thousands of listings.
MLS customers are real estate brokerages and their licensed sales agents, who pay the MLS either through association dues & technology fees. This is critical to understand because the easiest path to getting data from an MLS is either working in cooperation with an existing real estate broker that’s a member in good standing, or joining the MLS yourself if you have a brokerage license in the state.
If you don’t have an existing real estate brokerage you can work with in a market, there are firms that specialize in providing brokerage services to companies. We’ve worked with a variety of firms and can help you make introductions.
Before You Begin
Before you begin to request a data feed from an MLS you should have a few things prepared first. MLSs will expect the following points of information in your data application:
The name & contact information of the real estate brokerage you’re working with who is a member of the MLS. Most data agreements require the broker’s signature as well.
A description of your application and use case for the data feed, some MLSs require a URL and may require a login to review the application to check compliance. Some MLSs will ask for screenshots if a URL can’t be provided.
The type of data feed being requested, ideally it should align with the use case of your product
The technical point of contact (ie your information as a vendor) where MLS notifications and communication will go. It’s recommended that you create a group email address so that multiple people will get notifications
If your firm has a brokerage license in a market already, it might make sense to simply join the MLS and become a participating broker. This will give you a more direct path to the data as opposed to being a partner/vendor of a brokerage firm.
Data Feed Types
MLSs typically offer the following data feeds, the most common feeds are under the “MLS Participants & their Vendors” category. These feeds require a real estate brokerage to either apply & consume the data feed internally or work with an approved vendor. New vendors need an existing brokerage to co-sponsor them with an MLS, and get approved by the MLS in order to access the data feed.
Active, Pending and usually Sold Listings
Redfin, Keller Williams
Active, Pending, Sold and other off market listings (expired, withdrawn)
Redfin (logged in)
AVM / Analytics
Sold listings, price, date
AVM for a listing only
Firm or Office - Broker’s listings
MLS Wide - All listings
Any 3rd Party
Active & Pending, other statuses based on negotiation
Xome.com, Homes.com, realtor.com, ListHub
Up to negotiation, depends on use case
Steps to Apply
There are generally five major steps to apply for a data feed. At each stage a Cherre expert can help you navigate through the various individual MLS processes and advise you on the quickest and most efficient path to gaining the data access you need.
Your first step is to try to identify the exact data application procedure for the MLS. There are several different strategies you can use to identify the exact process. The easiest way to start is to simply ask your broker to contact the MLS and ask how you can obtain a direct data feed. Here’s an example script you have your broker use in their email to their MLS if you are a SFR buyer working with a local real estate brokerage.
“Hello, we’re representing our client <company name> as purchasing properties in <market name>. <Company name> has developed a back-end internal application so we can see market analytics and coordinate on transactions. We’d like to apply for a direct back office data feed for all listings in <market> for use in the application. This will only be used by our staff and <company name> and will not be for consumer or public use. Please let me know <company name> can register for a back office data feed. They can be reached at <technical point of contact>”
Obviously if you have other use cases you’ll want to tailor the message, Cherre can help you craft the right messaging to brokers and their MLSs to clarify your use case and match it to the MLSs data feed options.
Requesting a data feed / registering for API platforms
Once the MLS responds, they’ll usually ask you to register for one of the major RESO Web API Platforms: MLS Grid, Trestle, FBS Spark or Bridge. They all have slightly different user interfaces but in general they’ll ask you to create a profile for your organization and then a profile for the software or website that will need the data feed. After your profiles have been created you then will select the available MLSs from a list and the type of data feed you’re requesting.
For MLSs that are still using RETS (a legacy non-Web API technology that is being phased out in the industry), the application process will generally involve an MLS sending you and the real estate brokerage a PDF of a data agreement to sign.
Submitting the feed application
After you apply as a vendor you’ll then work with your broker to get any MLS agreements signed, either digitally through the Web API platform or on a paper data agreement (for RETS and other legacy MLSs) and sent back to the MLS . It may take a few emails to the MLS to answer any of their questions in regards to the nature and purpose of your application and which one of their members you’re collaborating with. You may be charged a setup fee and/or a regular subscription fee for the data from the MLS.
After all parties have signed the data feed application and paid the required fees, the MLS will review your application and either approve it or ask for more information. During this period you’ll want to engage with your broker and have them regularly check with their MLSs on the status of the data feed application. The sticky wheel gets the grease! It’s important to respond promptly to any questions from the MLS and provide as much information as you can on your use case.
MLSs have a fiduciary duty to their members to protect the data from unauthorized use. MLSs generally look for the following requirements when they’re reviewing data feed applications.
The data is being used to support their members (brokers) earning commissions on real estate transactions.
The data will NOT be re-sold or re-distributed and will only be used internally.
You’re not building a tool that directly competes with the MLS (ie a consumer search portal like realtor.com)
Approval by the MLS
Once the MLS approves your application, the dataset will then appear in your dashboard and will be accessible using your API key or they’ll email the technical POC address with your RETS credentials. After you get the credentials, it’s a good idea to store the passwords/API keys in a secure, central location in your organization that people who understand the sensitivity of the information have access to.
Listings from other Sources
As alternatives to getting listing data directly from MLSs, Cherre has partnered with other sources that contain real estate market data that can help you quickly get access to listing information.
The real estate dataset from First American contains real estate listings for sale which includes 43 property characteristic fields (bedrooms, bathrooms, heating type, roof type, interior features, lot features, appliances), 17 listing data fields (days on market, status, rental indicator, max/min list price) and 9 listing agent fields (agent and office name, address, phone, email).
The data is sourced from a variety of public and proprietary sources, including county assessor, recorder offices and other data providers in the industry.
For more information about First American’s datasets and our offerings through Cherre, please contact our sales representatives (insert sale rep contact info).
What to do after you have the data
Whether it’s a data feed from one of the major Web API platforms or legacy RETS, Cherre can ingest and all the separate data feeds into our data warehouse. Once there we will standardize the data into our standard Cherre Listing Data Model and make it available to you through CoreAPI and CoreExplore.
Cherre will also help you protect your data access by continually monitoring your MLS data feeds and staying on top of any upstream changes or disruptions. If the MLS makes a change to the data, Cherre will be there to adapt to the changes so your operations are not disrupted. We can also advise you on communicating in your organization the acceptable use cases/requirements on the listing data (for example, making sure the data isn’t exposed to the general public).
If you have any questions about our MLS and listing data solutions, please contact a Cherre sales representative. At Cherre we’ve seen a wide range of clients and their use cases and we’re here to provide our expertise and experience to help guide you in making the most of your data.