What is an API and Why Do Real Estate Agents Care?

apiAs a Real Estate Agent, it’s interesting that we need to be able to understand MULTIPLE languages!  I’m not talking about understanding “Spanglish” or Creole – I’m talking about understanding “Real Estate Speak” (think 4 and a door), construction and TECHNOLOGY.

Now, more than ever, an important part of being a Real Estate Agent is knowing what is working in regards to online marketing.  As you are researching Social Marketing and Real Estate Marketing in 2012, you will read the term API.  Understanding what that is, will make understanding the tools easier.

API stands for Application Programming Interface.  There are multiple In non-Geeky terms it means that an API is an agreement between two entities stating: “If you give me this instruction, I will perform this action, or return this information – the same way everytime.” 

Let’s think about it this way – if you have a Smart Phone you might want to use a GPS signal to figure out where you are.  If you phone doesn’t have GPS it’s the system, when you ask for your position, it will reply “I don’t have a GPS Response.”  That’s the standard answer. If the phone does have a GPS, it will give  you the answer in a consistent manner. You won’t have scenarios where one phone says “The corner of 4th and Walter” and another says “4213 Walter St”.

Again – WHY Does a Real Estate Agent Care?

If you are finally ready to update your site, and you want school information (for instance) to update ITSELF, you need to know where to get the data from, and how to put that “dynamic” data on your site.  Typically, you will do this either with a WIDGET (a box that has all of the API information formatted for you) or with a design application you and your developer agree on. 

Just like with figuring out what questions you want someone to answer for a Search on your site, and what you want your IDX to feed back to them, you get to make some decisions.  So again, the API is a list of commands as well as the format of those commands that one program can send to another.

Some of the FREE Real Estate API / “Data Feeds” Available

  • Yelp Review Search API – You can retrieve local business information and reviews using a neighborhood or lat/long value as an input. It’s also possible to narrow the results by category of business. (here’s a really good example of how that’s being used on a Real Estate Website – see bottom of page.  The pictures from Flickr on this page are in a Widget Box PlugIn for WordPress)

Neighborhood and City Home Values:

  • Zillow Local Real Estate APIs – You can retrieve local home value trend charts with the GetRegionChart API and a wealth of other city and neighborhood home value data from the GetDemographics API.
  • AltosCharts – Local market price charts.
  • Trulia offers Get City City Stats – which lets’ you get the statistics on the City from their Database

Neighborhood Geographies:

School Information:

  • Education.com Schoolfinder API – Most people include this information in the form of a widget, but you can customize the output via the API
  • NCES Common Core of Data – Data about all public elementary and secondary schools, all local education agencies, and all state education agencies throughout the United States — descriptive information on schools and school districts; data on students and staff; and fiscal data.

One word of caution… before you provide your developers with APIs for Neighborhood or City data (for instance), take a few minutes and be sure that the information is feeding correctly for your City to that source.  It would be a shame to assume that Palm Desert, CA showed all condo sales the same way Ft. Worth, Tx does – because each MLS shows data a little differently.  Again, word to the wise, before you spend the developer’s time (and your money) check to be sure the information for your City is accurate from that source.

GET CREATIVE!  We all want to provide the information that Consumers are looking for – and we want to do that in a way that is UNIQUE.  APIs give you that opportunity!  As you research this a little bit more, you will find that MANY of these items are used in “Mashed Up” formats – meaning you can take the Neighborhood Boundary Information and “Mash That Up” with Google Maps.  Remember though (this is important) you MUST MUST MUST give credit to the “source” of the information.  So if you are using a Trulia or Google Tool, it will need to say that on each page that the information is on.

If you have an example of what you’ve done with your site that is unique, leave it in the comments!  We’re always impressed with what Real Estate Agents are doing to generate internet leads!

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About Josh Harley

Josh is a Real Estate Broker, Tech geek, Innovator, Teacher, CEO of Fathom Realty (a hybrid real estate brokerage), U.S. Marine, Alaska raised, Sweet tea fiend.

View all posts by Josh Harley
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