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Why Now Is the Right Time to Make the Switch to Bridge API

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) launched the Real Estate Transaction Standard (RETS) in 1999 as a tool to transfer MLS data, and while it remains widely in use, Zillow Group’s Bridge Interactive includes all the functionality of the RETS in its application programming interface (API)—and many are finding the value of switching over.

In its simplest form, API is a messenger that allows applications to communicate with one another. It’s not a database, but rather, an access point to a database.

“APIs are today’s way of accessing data via an application,” says Richard Renton, CEO of Triad Multiple Listing Service, Inc., a regional MLS serving more than 5,000 REALTOR® participants and subscribers over a 12-county region, with coverage throughout the state of North Carolina. “Companies are developing products, tools and services for applications that run on mobile devices. You want to have that application use an API because you want an immediate, real-time response to your on-demand question.”

In simple MLS terms, RETS allows users the ability to download the entire database to local servers and then run regular updates to keep the data updated, while the API allows a search to be run directly against the source MLS database, completely eliminating the need for local hosting in some cases.

Frank Glaush, executive consultant at Central Jersey MLS, which represents approximately 7,300 members, says from a vendor standpoint, it’s easier to have an API.

“APIs are what the rest of the world uses for the transfer of data, so by switching to APIs, it makes it easier for vendors to provide product to the real estate industry,” he says.

Ultimately, Renton notes that RETS isn’t dead, but an API can do everything that RETS does—and more—because of its ability to deliver real-time results for a specific set of requested criteria. Moreover, the Bridge API has the capacity to handle replication.

“Triad MLS has worked with in a test to compare replication with the API versus replication via RETS. While this determined some things that could be optimized, it resulted in some speed differences—but nothing unmanageable or unreasonable,” he says. “In general, they found the Bridge API easier to work with, and consider it an overall improvement over RETS.”

Still, concerns over the resources required to make the switch from RETS to API has kept some from making a switch.

“The challenge is getting existing third parties comfortable on RETS to re-tool their systems to accommodate data acquisition via the API,” says Renton. “At the end of it all, you’ll be better off using an API and migrating off RETS; there’s just that initial pain point to overcome.”

However, resources available through the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) and the Bridge API documentation can help third parties get over that hurdle.

“You don’t have to be a programmer to manage the Bridge API. The documentation Bridge provides helps us immensely, and, even more importantly, makes it easy for our vendors,” says Renton. “The vendor is doing the heavy lifting, so good documentation assists them. And isn’t it the vendor’s responsibility to keep current with the latest technology?”

Glaush notes that the Bridge API is the only one not affiliated with a particular MLS software vendor, which allows easier distribution for real estate companies to deal with its vendors. But that’s just one of its benefits.

“Because of the way it’s set up, you can turn off and on individual fields going out in the information, you can get analytics regarding what the vendors are pulling, and you can see at a very detailed level what’s going on,” he says. “There’s also a nice preview screen so you can see ahead of time what the vendors will see.”

NAR required that REALTOR®-owned/-operated/-affiliated MLSs implement the RESO standards, including the RESO Data Dictionary, by Jan. 1, 2016 and the RESO Web API by June 30, 2016. According to Glaush, this means that not only are these entities required to be “certified” by RESO so that the MLS is compliant with these mandates, but people need to be able to prove they’re available for use.

Having been a Bridge customer for a decade, including using Bridge Agreement Management (BAM), Renton looks forward to a continued buildout of BAM to incorporate existing contract management and billing, and allow a broker and agent dashboard to “apply” for data access, in addition to accommodating full-blown digital signature capability.

The Bridge API includes a separate module that controls the contracts and agreements between vendors and brokers, and Glaush is looking forward to incorporating that within the dashboard in the future.

“We look at Bridge as a strategic partner in data distribution,” he says. “In the MLS’ role in the future, we feel distribution will become more and more important in making sure we’re serving our members and brokers in the best and easiest way.”

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Keith Loria is a contributing editor to RISMedia.