Those that are interested in a tipping point for residential energy efficiency often look to real estate, and Multiple Listing Services (MLS) as the Holy Grail.

Slowly but surely, one MLS at a time is adding fields for green features.  The last official count in 2010 showed that about 15% of the 850+ independently owned and operated MLS offered at least one green field.  Another 10% were planning to add fields. But anecdotal information since then indicates that some of the planning MLS have tabled the idea, and some of the live Green MLS have pulled fields.

This happens with an inventory backdrop where a McGraw-Hill green construction study is predicting rapid updake with 29-38% of the new construction market likely to be green by 2016.

But fret not about this growing chasm between changing inventory and the pace at which MLS fields are keeping up.  Because almost magically and behind the scenes the standard that keeps data flowing in the MLS world offers a simple, effective and live solution!

The Real Estate Standards Organization manages the Real Estate Transaction Standard known as RETS.  The standard exists to benefit consumers:  the more places a listing shows up on the Internet, the better a client's chance of getting it sold. RETS ensures that listing data can flow from MLS to brokerage site to classified site to intermediary.  That might look like the Chicagoland MLS, RE/Max, and Trulia respectively.  And each of those data users has their own field set.  Let's say that each has a field for bedrooms. The field names might vary from Bd1, 1stBdrm or BedOne.

RETS is the data exchange standard that organizes this chaos and allows each of these different data users and their unique field sets to make sense of each other.

In May the RETS Data Dictionary was published and it defines ten green-related fields.


Before RETS green I've heard stories of supportive MLS execs trying to sort out lists of over 100 possible green fields on four pages. And keep in mind that an MLS executive's most important job is keeping listings to a standard 8.5 x 11" page! So hundreds of green fields just doesn't work.

But with RETS we've changed the interest in Green MLS.  The ask to the MLS is no longer:  “Let’s figure out Green MLS, shall we?”

It's simply, "What do you need to implement the handful of RETS green fields? How can we help?”

My client CNT Energy is pioneering work to make implementing RETS green as simple as possible. Watch for more information on this exciting development here and from CNT Energy. Or, contact me for more info.

This post is republished with permission.  Visit the original post at

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Tags: best, green, greenmls, practice, rets, standard


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Comment by Jeffrey Gephart on September 13, 2012 at 7:35am

We just lost the CEO of our local MLS so I've got to develop our connections there once again.  It's good to know that the RETS exists as that could be helpful with their new CEO..  

There's also more good news coming done the pike regarding appraiser training.  The Appraisal Foundation has an MOU with the U.S. Dept. of Energy wherein they've agreed to incorporate the valuation of green buildings in the work of their three independent Boards: the Appraisal Practices Board, Appraisal Standards Board, and Appraiser Qualifications Board. This will result in national requirements in the Real Property Appraiser Qualification Criteria that will become effective on January 1, 2015, which will require all wishing to earn an appraiser's certification or license to complete qualifying education in the appraisal of green buildings, and for those who already hold an appraiser credential, continuing education related to green building. 

Comment by Tom Conlon on September 11, 2012 at 1:59pm

Yes, you said, "New green homes fit this schema better than existing homes."

I noticed that. With the exception of activist markets (e.g., Boulder, Austin, Portland, Berkeley, etc.) I think the business case is likely to materialize first in suburban MLS markets with higher fractions of new and nearly new homes; these agents will naturally be eager to promote their HERS ratings (and other green certificates).

MLS operators in markets dominated by existing homes (e.g., most urban centers) may take longer to find much value in listing these attributes. Interestingly this runs opposite the density of green buyers, who tend to skew more toward the cities.

I also noticed that the RETS fields are still alphanumeric, meaning that numerical rankings are still not possible (for example, show me all the homes with HERS < 100) . I agree, it's too soon to expect this... but someday!

Comment by Laura Reedy Stukel on September 11, 2012 at 1:25pm

Thanks Tom!  Last part first - yes agent training is still key.  But the prospect of training to the 10 fields in RETS is much more realistic than the dozens or more that sometimes can overwhelm agents.  Also, 4 out of the 10 fields focus on certifications (body, certification, level and year).  New green homes fit this schema better than existing homes.  Some HPwES programs are moving in the direction of issuing certificates which is absolutely critical for existing home upgrades to leverage this standardized set of fields! 


I'm not sure MLS will need "help" implementing the 10 RETS green fields as much as a business case to do so.  If only a handful of listings will use the fields each year there's not a lot of motivation to turn these fields on.  The consistency is baked into the standard, and the MLS are already moving towards RETS. 

Comment by Tom Conlon on September 11, 2012 at 1:16pm

Thanks Laura. We did some work for the CA Energy Commission back in 2009 that seemed to help the MLS industry prepare for this and I'm glad to see now that many of the major MLS operators at least claim support for RETS (one version or another).

But your anecdotal comments appear to confirm our old recommendations, namely that MLS' would likely need additional help to ensure these new "green" data fields were implemented consistently... and that to actually use them effectively agents would need training as well.

Would you agree?

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