The Business of Residential Listings

August 12, 1998

Lisa Rein and Tim Bray

The Web is changing the Multiple Listing Service, but more profoundly, the whole business of real estate.

"Two years ago, we saw real estate as an open niche market; a perfect vehicle for a start up company, so we started working on it," explains Tim Popin, cofounder of OpenMLS. "While we were doing that, the whole world of real estate software changed from a vertical to a horizontal market, and we had to adapt."

Popin feels that although the focus of attention is moving away from franchises, such as Century 21, Prudential, ReMAX and many others, to a more horizontal web-based market, certain aspects of real estate, such as appraisals or inspections, will always require humans for the time being. "The franchise organizations should be shaking in their boots," explains Popin. "It's disintermediation. The intermediaries providing financial services, title insurance, and paper work processing in general, will be displaced by automation. Other services such as appraisal and, perhaps, sales will always need a human touch."

"While the web will help in connecting buyer to seller, there will always be a subjective element in choosing one's dwelling. Real estate agents have the critical local knowledge to lead a buyer through the purchase. Agents who demand software like OpenMLS' listing management system will be empowered in the new world; it's the brokers, franchises, real estate boards, and state or national organizations whose world is liquefying beneath them," Popin explains. "The web's larger impact will be to streamline the adjunct transactions: finance, title, insurance and the rest. The interest we see from the portal sites is in matchmaking between buyers and providers of these standardized transactions."

A Look At the OpenMLS Application

The OpenMLS software can be used over the Web, Intranet, or Extranet. Typically, an agent enters the MLS information as they do now, but using their web browser to connect to the Web server. Once entered into the system, the listing is automatically saved as an XML file conforming to the RELML specification. These files can be made available at a specified web site on the Internet, thereby making it accessible by the major portals for searching.

OpenMLS screen shot

Real Estate agents can use the listing management system to automatically notify buyers when new homes become available. They can also use it to automatically update information on the pages of their Web site.

In addition, the OpenMLS Listing Management System could be used as a centralized location for buyers to conduct their own searches in order to survey what properties are available, perhaps before contacting an agent for a tour. Microsoft's Active Channel Technology, which uses CDF on the client, can enable a buyer to set up a channel in order to be automatically-notified if a change in a properties status has occured.

The OpenMLS Listing Management System uses XML both the server and client. On the server-side, the XML-enabled search engine performs searches and generates the HTML search results for the end user that can be viewable in any browser.

On the client-side, they use the "data-binding" controls in IE to display data as web pages, offering not only faster and more streamlined data transmissions, but more importantly, the delivery of up-to-date information.

Try out the OpenMLS search application yourself on sample data made available on their site. Notice that the search results link to an HTML version of the listing but you can also look at the raw XML data by following the link underneath the summary.