What Is a RETS Data Feed?

A RETS data feed is a unique raw data connection between your website and your MLS based on the Real Estate Transaction Standard that allows you to import property listings, and with the right software, display them on your website.

Many agents use a RETS data feed to set up a property search on their website. As an alternative to IDX, a RETS data feed provides greater flexibility, better SEO, and often faster updates.

We’ll use this article to break down everything you need to know about RETS data feeds.

What is RETS?

RETS is short for the Real Estate Transaction Standard. It’s a framework designed to streamline data transfers across the real estate industry.

The real estate industry in the United States is decentralized. There is no central body warehousing property listings across the country.

Instead there are more than 500 small and medium MLS each managing its own database. Here’s a list of all MLS in the U.S.

If left to their own prerogatives, each of these MLS might choose different policies and procedures. The lack of coordination would make it very difficult for agents and brokers to display listings online and conduct business.

RETS was introduced in 1999 to avoid this.

How Is a RETS Data Feed Different From an IDX Feed?

The difference between IDX and RETS concerns the way data is transferred from your MLS to your website. RETS data feeds are raw, meaning you need additional software to interpret them on your site.  But they are also more flexible and provide for greater SEO.

With a RETS data feed you are able to select the property and listing types you want to import to your site, allowing you to construct a property search that matches your business model.

A RETS data feed is also a direct connection between your website and your MLS. This can free you from reliance on an IDX vendor for your website data.

In common usage, IDX refers to two technologies—framing and FTP. They both have a few disadvantages compared to RETS.

Framing involves no actual data transfer. Instead of importing listings to your site, your IDX vendor will set up a portal or “frame” to view listings that reside elsewhere on the web. While quick to set up, framing will sap your site’s SEO.

FTP does better with SEO, but it is burdensome to set up and slow to update. There are no standards for FTP across MLS, which means developers must start fresh with each client.  Then to synchronize, FTP must redownload the entire data file at each refresh.

As a result, FTP generally only updates once or twice a day.

Here’s a full breakdown on the difference between IDX and RETS.

What Are the Advantages of a RETS Data Feed?

The advantages of a RETS data feed are, speed of implementation, data control, increased SEO content, and refresh rate. RETS is well known in the real estate industry with a strong community of developer experienced in designing and implementing RETS-based sites.

Because they are standardized, RETS data feeds also allow you to connect to several MLS simultaneously. You can import listings for each and integrate them into a single property search portal on your site.


What Are the Disadvantages of a RETS Data Feed?

A disadvantage of a RETS data feed is the new hosting requirement. Because it involves a real transfer, a RETS data feed will bring dozens of gigabytes  of new data to your site, depending on the size of your MLS. You will need a hosting plan that can accommodate this.

For more on real estate tech, check out How Does IDX Work? and How Does the Multiple Listing Service Work?  

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