Let’s take a ride on the Wayback Machine. At the risk of making myself sound really old (again), when I first started hanging around the real estate business, the homes for sale were shared through printed catalogs. Depending on your market, that book could be quite unwieldy. In a large metropolitan market, the book was often as big as the storied Sears & Roebuck catalog. The difference was that the real estate listings book was published once a week. It was a cumbersome process, but before computers, it was the best we could do.
As technology came online, the real estate MLS listing book started to wane in popularity. At first, before we all had personal computers, we were only able to enter search criteria into an office computer terminal, and print out the results. Still not ideal, but way, way, WAY better than carting around a giant book that was mostly full of information I didn’t really want anyway. Having few pieces of paper that were targeted to the task at hand, rather than a giant book that was just going to get thrown out in a week, was such an improvement in the way the real estate agent and the real estate companies did business.
Then, of course, the personal computer entered the scene. With the proper access credentials, a real estate agent no longer had to go to the office to perform routine searches of homes listed for sale. Quickly following was the development of websites with nicer, flashier user interfaces. The “gee whiz” factor was increasing rapidly. Not only could a real estate agent access the information quickly, it was now much easier to do it. We no longer had to remember long lists of cryptic criteria to modify our searches. Instead, we just checked the fields we wanted, entered our parameters, and away we went. At that point, the real estate listings book was all but dead.
It did not take long before real estate agents started looking at these new-fangled websites and started thinking that they would be great ways to bring in new business. Of course, for that to be successful, we needed to provide something of value to the public, or they would have no reason to stop by and visit. It didn’t take long for the handwriting on the wall to be unmistakable: the thing of value that we had, and the public wanted, was the information contained in the real estate listings.
Given that technology is a beast that can apparently never be satisfied, the next logical step was to allow easier access to the real estate listings by people outside the real estate companies. The information in the real estate listings database is valuable, and had always been considered sacred. For real estate companies to willingly allow outside users access to the information was a huge paradigm shift in the real estate business.
Of course, open-ended access was not a possibility. If real estate companies were going to allow anyone into the database, it had to be controlled. What developed was the use of the IDX (Internet Data Exchange) system. With this, a real estate agent could subscribe to the data feed from the MLS listings database. The information would be accessible to the public through the agent’s website. I’ve had such a feed on my old site ever since the IDX feed first hit the Denver market. With my new site, the functionality for interfacing is already in place, but I need to move the data feed over here to make it work. (UPDATE: Done. The link is in the menu tree above.)
Because the old site uses a pre-built template, I was not involved in actually connecting the feed to my site. I just had to tell the MLS company the address of my site, and let them work with the hosting company to get it to work. With this new site, I am in charge, so I’ve got some work to do to make the connection happen properly. I posted on facebook and twitter this morning that I need to get the IDX feed set up, and asked the question, “Why do I fear this will not end well?”
We’ll see what happens, and I’ll let you know when it’s working.
As technology advances, it reverses the characteristics of every situation again and again. The age of automation is going to be the age of “do it yourself.” — Marshall McLuhan