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Aggregating data across MLSs has always been a difficult task. When MLSs first started digitizing their information, many custom local approaches meant that similar data fields looked like foreign objects from MLS to MLS.

Even today, companies trying to collect and standardize data from multiple MLSs can be a challenge. Constellation1 and LionDesk came together at RESO to discuss what’s needed next for data providers and data consumers in the real estate space.

Long-time RESO contributor, Rick Herrera, serving as a Real Estate Data Specialist & Data Pipeline Architect at Constellation1, talked to Constellation1 President Andrew Binkley about their evolution from a real estate technology acquisition company to a data aggregation and normalization provider.

Constellation1 bought Top Producer this year and has been acquiring companies in residential real estate since 2008. Binkley said that at the beginning, they would have those companies do their own aggregation, which included additional costs.

Through trial and error, they found better ways to centralize data normalization and aggregation, serving their companies with greater data quality and allowing the businesses to focus on customer experience.

Despite the great gains that Constellation1 has seen over time, there are still hurdles. “We’re always on the continuum from chaos to order,” said Binkley.  Performance issues remain a difficulty, with photo processing and speed acting as significant problems. Binkley sees even more need to create centralized centers of excellence around these issues.

LionDesk President and Founder, David Anderson, spoke of going down the path of data aggregation alone when he started his company, a CRM at its core, five years ago. The first integration went okay, but things continued to get more complicated each time that lead-generation features, MLS relationships and other new elements introduced friction between the consumer and the practitioner.

LionDesk spent a year building systems to ingest data, but it was just too expensive. The company eventually reversed course as a business decision.

Balancing speed to market, cost, limited resources and time value of opportunity, LionDesk found that using a third-party aggregator was fully worth it for their growth objectives. The massive barriers to scale in the MLS data space were considered, and it was decided that they would be a happier company if they outsourced that work. The team wanted to focus its time on product features, not data normalization. Constellation1 also manages the relationships with the MLS, a major undertaking for a multi-MLS vendor.

Binkley expressed how important it is to know how to work with an MLS and to be clear about data uses. It’s critical to gain trust through transparency and constant focus on following data-licensing rules. It’s a very relationship-based transaction.

Anderson concurred that the amount of knowledge needed to successfully scale data aggregation is staggering. If you don’t know the difference between IDX/VOW/BBO data sets, you can go down the wrong path trying to manage your data relationships. His advice to new startups is to start small, don’t bite off more than you can chew and eat the elephant one bite at a time.

Herrera added that new real estate technology entrants need to talk to as many people as possible. Some folks are trying to solve problems that don’t exist anymore. Get advice from practitioners, because people in this industry are helpful. You just might have to go to the lobby bar at major conferences to get good advice rather than a busy email inbox.

Herrera added that RESO has promised that the Bloody Mary bar will be back at the next conference in October in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. We hope to see you there.

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