With Greater Property Data Access Comes Greater Responsibility
There has never been greater access to public record property data.
More widely accessible public record property data advances two worthy objectives — increased transparency in the real estate market and a strengthened legal property system, which famed economist Hernando de Soto argued in The Mystery of Capital is the key to capitalism succeeding in Western countries and failing elsewhere.
The increasing access to public record property data is clear to me in the context of my 25 years operating in various roles and various companies involved in the world of real estate information. In my current role as director of data governance at ATTOM Data Solutions, I come face-to-face with this reality on a regular basis.
The first trend driving wider access to public record real estate data is increased competition in the marketplace from companies like ATTOM, a relative newcomer to the space that is willing to think outside of the box when it comes to how it collects, curates and delivers the data.
For example, instead of depending on just one source for the tax, deed, mortgage, foreclosure and neighborhood data, we multi-source that data from various national and regional vendors — including our own extensive network of local data abstractors. This multi-sourced approach presents a bit of a challenge for us on the data management side but ultimately is good for our customers because it allows us to deliver the most accurate and complete data picture of a property and its neighborhood.
We also assign a unique, persistent ID for each of the 155 million U.S. properties in our database, allowing us to efficiently link all transactional records (sales, mortgages, foreclosures) associated with a property across multiple sources.
This ATTOM ID also helps our data licensing clients more easily manage the data — keep in mind some clients receive daily updates to the data as new transactions and assessor records are added — and blend it with other datasets.
Democratizing Property Data
Along with increased competition in the property data industry, advances in technology such exponential leaps in database storage capacity and democratized big data and analytic tools are also facilitating broader access to public record real estate data.
One example is in the realm of property data APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), which are evolving from static and limited in terms of volume of calls to highly customizable and virtually unlimited when it comes to the volume and speed of calls. ATTOM is proud to be on the forefront of this evolution, with an end goal of allowing our clients to stream their own custom property data playlist with our APIs.
Responsible Property Data Governance
Greater access to public record property data is all very exciting for the industry and our clients, but with that greater access comes greater responsibility — particularly for those of us in the industry collecting, curating and licensing the data.
As the data becomes more widely available to virtually anyone with an Internet connection, it’s more important than ever that the data is easily understandable, accurate and current. Here are some examples of how we’re implementing data governance best practices to accomplish these data responsibility objectives at ATTOM:
Data translation: because we’re multi-sourcing the data, we often end up with a variety of different names for different fields of data, or the same name for different fields. We carefully translate the naming conventions and their meanings so that ultimately our clients can be confident that the field names consistently represent the same underlying data throughout the thousands of jurisdictions we cover nationwide.
Data integrity: we run manual and automated checks of individual property records to identify and correct inconsistencies in a property’s data story. For example, if we receive a property record with 20 bathrooms that is categorized as a single-family home, most likely one of those fields is not correct so we check back with the original source to verify or correct.
Data currency: outdated data means risky data, so we run weekly coverage reports checking the currency of data in the more than 3,000 jurisdictions we collect from nationwide. If currency falls behind in a jurisdiction we prompt the source to bring the data up to date, and if needed secure a new source for that jurisdiction.
The Transparency-Privacy Tension
Given the limited government regulation around public record real estate data, it falls largely to the property data industry to take responsibility for the governance of the data — so that an important, but delicate, balance between data transparency and data privacy can be maintained.
The biggest change I’ve seen in my more than two decades in the property data industry is a heightened sensitivity to privacy concerns. This of course is a natural response to the greater visibility of the public record property data, particularly on consumer-facing real estate portals such as Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com and RealtyTrac, which is owned and powered by ATTOM Data Solutions.
Homeowners have understandably become more pro-active in providing feedback on the accuracy of the data pertaining to their home and — in some cases where public individuals or law enforcement are involved — requesting that data be suppressed. This is forcing the industry to up the ante when it comes to data accuracy and quality. The 90 percent accuracy rate that was acceptable in the industry when I first started will no longer cut it; minimum acceptable accuracy rates now are 95 to 96 percent. Our tolerance for error as an industry has decreased, and that’s a good thing for our clients and ultimately for consumers.
Plug-and-Play Property Data
Robust data governance is mission critical for organizations like ATTOM that are collecting, curating and licensing public record property and neighborhood data. For us, data governance is not a siloed department, but is implemented company-wide, fully integrated into each pillar of our data infrastructure:
1. Data security
2. Data compliance
3. Data storage
4. Data management
5. Data delivery
This fully integrated approach to data governance ensures that data licensing clients are ingesting premium property and neighborhood data that they can confidently plug into their products, software and applications with little or no additional data management on their end. Plug-and-play data, grounded in responsible data governance, allows clients to reduce risk while also elevating the experience for their end-users.
Please contact us if you have questions about the underlying data referenced in this article, or would like to have access to that data in the form of custom reports, API or bulk files.