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by G. Sax, Director of Growth Management, RESO

Welcome to “Three Questions,” an interview series that introduces you to real estate industry professionals, their businesses and how they interact with real estate standards with a goal of humanizing the tech side of the industry, fun included.

This week, we sat down with Matt Casey, CEO/President of CRS Data and the Vice-Chair of RESO’s Universal Property Identifier (UPI) Workgroup to talk about the complexity of tax data, how it relates to the UPI and how more UPI adoption in the real estate industry is just around the corner.

As with other “Three Questions” recordings, the written transcript of the video closely follows the actual dialogue but with a few adjustments for clarity and grammar. Enjoy!

Q1: Tax data is not the, uh, sexiest end of the real estate data puzzle, yet it is extremely important to the industry. How did you personally land in this end of the real estate pool? 

Matt: That’s a very good question, and as you noted, it’s not exactly sexy. I don’t think that when you’re five, and they ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” says “I want to run tax data.” Not the response you normally get.

So my background is in geography. Quick side story… When I was a freshman in college back in the Stone Ages before cell phones, and you would have to go to the one phone on the dorm hall to call your parents, I was very excited. I had decided on a major, and it was geography. I called my dad – side note: he’s a chemical engineer – and said, “Hey, I’m excited to tell you I picked a major.”

He said, “Well, what is it?”

And I said, “Geography.”

His immediate response was, “Well, good, you’ll know more about geography than the other waiters.”

I remind him occasionally that, hey, I turned it into something – a real job.

So, anyway, in a roundabout answer, from geography to geographic information systems [GSI]. Then went and did GSI type of work for a while, and then ended up working for CRS, of which the backbone of our system is tax data or property records. That’s where we are.

It’s funny, whenever we talk about potential new entries and new competition, I always say the reality of what we do is the number one limiter of competition.

Q2: Are there any common frustrations that you can share about tax data and do you have suggestions for new solutions to those problems?

Matt: Tax data, or property record information, if you don’t know much about it, in the U.S., it is primarily maintained at the county level.

So when you talk about things like the Universal Property ID, which is the group I’m most involved in, we talk about how it’s unusual – being a U.S.-based standards organization – that the adoption interest is actually very high in Europe, where it’s almost at a country level. In Canada, we’re seeing some nice things there. Canada’s probably at province level.

A big part of the problem in the [United] States is 3,000-plus counties, each doing their own thing.

It’s funny, I’ll talk to different people about different standards types of things, and I often get the response, “Well, why doesn’t the county take care of that?”

And my somewhat cynical response is, “Have you ever been to an assessor’s office?”

RESO: I actually have!

Matt: And no offense to the fine folks that work for the county assessor, but their goal is to identify properties, evaluate them and then make sure taxes are paid. There’s not a lot of incentive at that level to make sure that their data complies with neighboring counties or across the country.

As far as a common frustration, I’d really put it in sort of two categories, an internal and an external.

Internally, we have people that all they do every day is acquire data. and I’m glad they do. I would struggle in that job. So their calling assessors, they’re managing people that key data at the sales level.

It is a constant battle to present what we do to the county to help them understand how we use information, that we’re not a threat to them, that it’s part of a public service, etc. So that’s just a lot of challenges there on the data collection side.

And then from the external, in terms of the customers we service, I’ll be honest, I don’t feel like we or really anybody in our space has done the best job in terms of explaining just those operational realities.

It’s a fine balance. You don’t want to beat your customers over the head with how complicated it is. But on the other hand, you want them to appreciate the work that is done or what is required. 

Because they’ll often say, “Well, don’t you just get a data feed from each county?”

Actually, no, it doesn’t work that way.

RESO: They think it’s just a simple commodity that they can just turn the faucet on and it works, and it’s way more complicated than that.

Q3: You mentioned something that leads into my third and final question. You are the vice-chair of the Universal Property Identifier or UPI Workgroup. How can the UPI help your business and other businesses in the real estate industry?

Matt: In our business, our number one goal in the MLS space is to provide quality, timely information to our customers. Our customers are primarily multiple listing services, and so as part of that, we want them to look at us as their core data source.

Obviously, you’ve got listings, which are REALTOR®-driven and REALTOR®-created, so that’s a little bit outside of our wheelhouse. I mean we do auto-pop[ulation] for those listings, so that’s one place where the UPI needs to propagate through that auto-pop so that it gets to folks like Trestle and Bridge so that it then gets to the brokers.

I feel like that’s one way we can help. But “help what?” would be the question.

The UPI is, first and foremost, very good at helping with deduplication. You’ve got a lot of markets like Jacksonville, Florida, where there’s four MLSs that are all very close, and there was an individual representing a broker who said that he would guarantee that most of his listings are in there four times.

To me, that’s a use case I think that most MLSs and brokers can easily understand. Also, I think – going back to the CRS perspective for a moment – is if we’re trying to provide that core data, we also want to be the conduit through which other data sets can be brought in.

So whether that’s Walk Score data or if it’s energy data or you name it, the UPI really helps to bridge that gap.

I feel like that workgroup has made a lot of progress. If you’ve ever been in that type of workgroup, there’s a lot of work that has to happen before you can even get close to adoption. And I feel like we’re at the point now where we’re almost there in terms of we’ve got a lot of interest in terms of adoption. But from the outside looking in, it’s still “you haven’t done anything,” “we haven’t seen that adoption.”

If you’re interested in the UPI and you feel like you haven’t seen anything yet, that’s going to change quite quickly. I’m optimistic, because I think we’re going to see some adoption fairly soon.