Time for an API Aggregator to Emerge (Transmission #296)

Time for an API Aggregator to Emerge (Transmission #296)
CRYSTAL TRANSMISSION: Thought-provoking long-form articles covering a wide spectrum from innovative shipping container co-living spaces to the battle for listing acquisition in the first iBuyer world war to the implications of floating cities seen from beaches far and wide.

Curious? Additional examples.

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[Editor's note: We helped weave this together based on Tim sharing the idea on the Real Estate Insiders Unfiltered Podcast.]

Web APIs have been around for a relatively short amount of time—since the early 2000s—and only in wide scale use in the past decade. Yet they are a powerful and underutilized tool in real estate that can allow companies to get to market faster, scale more efficiently, and support more features (by integrating data access and automating processes).

The most commonly used real estate-related APIs provide a diverse range of useful information, from surfacing MLS listing data through Zillow API to calculating the walkability score of a property's surrounding area with Walk Score API

But APIs that are not specifically for real estate can serve many other helpful functions, like HomeDepots product API that provides home appliance details, or the University of Minnesota’s lake quality data API. These APIs exist, but some are obscure and unknown to businesses that could use that data to supercharge growth and adoption. Aggregating all the APIs relevant to real estate would be immensely helpful to a number of industry businesses. And there’s no need to build something complex: Just find them and make them readily available. 

Several examples of real estate API aggregation exist via “best of” lists on RapidAPIGhitHub, and RealtyNA. But comparing, sorting, and evaluating the APIs is clunky and difficult. As far as I can tell, none are considered an industry-approved or supported standard. 

In 2013, I co-authored a paper with Cameron Paine that was privately submitted to CMLS titled, “The Shape of Things to Come”. In that paper, we imagined a single-source solution to properly license/subscribe MLS and non-MLS real estate data sources. We used an image of iTunes at the time to illustrate how each data source is like a record. API was a new concept to real estate, and we were looking for a good analogy. That said, the same premises exist today. We need a central hub or repository for developers to find, access, and license  APIs relevant to the real estate industry.

Think something similar to what you find on Google APIs Library, with the primary difference that the new real estate resource would be an aggregator of all useful APIs in the industry. It would serve up the licensing terms, collect subscription fees, distribute revenue, etc. 

API Nation and Repliers are the closest to come to this so far. API Nation automates real estate workflows by connecting CRMs, transaction management systems, accounting software, and marketing tools. Repliers connects with multiple MLSs across the U.S. and Canada to integrate real estate data into websites and apps, offering features like real-time property listings, map-based experiences, market analytics, and automated alerts. Nevertheless, it provides access to a suite of its own APIs, rather than aggregate a comprehensive set of all those available.

The biggest obstacle I see facing this becoming a reality is resource and knowledge driven, it's simply not something anyone's been willing to invest in from an industry project perspective. There’s also a misunderstanding between fact data and copyrighted data. The majority of MLS data is fact driven, with very little being able to be copyrighted. So much of that copyrighted data is media and marketing content for a closed listing from brokers and agents that should be treated with better hygiene to avoid the slippery slope currently in place.

The residential industry would be wise to take a page from HappyCo, which recently launched an API marketplace to “transform fragmented point solutions into a centralized, automated, and flexible operations hub” for multifamily owners and managers. Now is the time to bring a comprehensive API library to the forefront.