A recent comment on this blog by John Lockwood (and a nudge by Keith Garner) pointed out that many people in the industry do not know what RETS is. Our posts often refer to it, and now I feel bad that we never defined it. If I could do it over again, I would have made this post early in the process. My apologies for the oversight.
RETS stands for Real Estate Transaction Standard. It defined an approach for exchanging listing with an MLS and is supported by and industry group known as RETS Working Group. The group was first formed in 2000 and is made up of vendors, MLS staff, REALTORS®, Association staff and others interested in standards. Requests and responses are both encapsulated in XML Format.
Meetings are held several times per year and anyone is invited. Those who attend get to vote on change proposals. The last meeting held in Chicago (August) had over 50 participants. The next meeting will be in Las Vegas in December. Typically, the first day of the three day meeting is dedicated to a “plugfest” where technical staffs from server and client vendors test interoperability. If you are developing solutions right now and would like to work directly with other vendors to work on interoperability, this day is well worth the time. The second day is dedicated to subgroup work like Marketing, Compliance, Data Dictionary and other standards areas. Day three concludes the event with subgroup reports and change proposals.
The current version of the RETS specification is 1.7. Solution providers who pass a compliance testing suite are allowed to use the designation RETS Compliant. In order to be compliant, a solution must support the current level of the specification or a previous version. Before version 1.7, the published version was 1.5. This means that a RETS Compliant Solution needs to support version 1.5 or 1.7 of the specification.
Now I will list a few things I have heard about RETS and offer commentary:
- “My solution RETS Compliant to the 1.0 level of the specification” – Don’t be taken in, it just can’t be true, Refer to my compliance comments above.
- “RETS is not secure” (context 1) – RETS uses Digest Authentication, pretty good stuff when done correctly. The biggest hurdle faced by solution providers is found in this area. Refer to my “plugfest” comments above.
- “RETS is not secure” (context 2) – Sharing account and passwords is a operational issue. Some organizations require passwords to changed periodically. A simple and cheap solution.
- “RETS is not secure” (context 3) – Digest Authentication is the default authentication mechanism. There is nothing that stops you from investing in two-factor authentication or other mechanisms (yikes, even Basic Authentication).
- “RETS is not secure” (context 4) – I think there are huge problems with DRM. Try field level encryption and keep an eye on your performance meters. You could also put a special client on each desktop. If it disables hardware, I hope the solution is completely “bug free” for consumers (I purchased software once, early in my career, because it promised to have no bugs).
- “I use my browser as a RETS client” – Both RETS and browsers rely on HTTP, but there are specific headers and response structures which RETS requires. Download the spec and check it out.
- “Each MLS that supports RETS has different field names” – There are Standard Names defined in the specification but most MLS operators do not map them. This is an operational issue; they are defined in the spec.
- “RETS is not available” – Not true. All of the major MLS vendors I know of have RETS capability. Regional MLS operators who write their own systems even support RETS.
- “We know all about RETS because we practically wrote the specification” – I hear this a lot. Hundreds of people have contributed to the spec. Only solutions that are RETS compliant are, well, compliant.
- “FTP feeds are easier than RETS” – A true statement if you look at short term only. Data fields change periodically forcing changes on the client end. If you are a REALTOR®, why would you invest in solutions for your business from vendors who spend most of their development budget reacting to changes. Nailing hundreds of custom feeds is really hard and expensive. Imagine a world with a custom browser for each website.
- “RETS exposes all my members’ data” – This may have been true early on (refer to my compliance comments), but there are RETS servers with business rule support that limit “what is exposed to whom at what time of day”. Look for business rule features.
- RETS is not perfect – This one is true!
Well I succeeded in turning a introduction into a diatribe (again).