Two decades ago assembling a playlist of your 10 favorite songs was a bit of a nosebleed.
First you would go to the (brick-and-mortar) store and purchase 10 different CDs, each containing one of your favorite songs. Or alternatively mail-order those same CDs through the now-defunct BMG Music Club — remember that! — and wait for them to arrive.
Second, pop each CD into a CD player, advance to the appropriate track and play that track before ejecting and inserting the next CD (the recording functionality of tape cassettes had an advantage over CDs in this regard, allowing for the creation of those now wonderfully nostalgic mix tapes).
Fast forward five years to 2002 and those same 10 songs on your playlist could be downloaded individually from the Internet thanks the advent of iTunes and iPods, followed soon by other data storage devices that allowed users to more quickly and selectively store music files.
Fast forward another five years to 2007 and those same 10 songs could be streamed over the Internet on-demand thanks to the rise of services such as Spotify and Pandora.
And in the last 10 years the availability of that streaming has exploded thanks to those streaming services creating a multitude of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), allowing developers to quickly integrate the streaming technology into third-party applications.
The API Economy
A parallel trajectory has occurred in other industry verticals and has led to the rise of third-party API companies specializing in creating “critical connective tissue” between content providers and developers to deliver applications providing integrated and data-rich experiences to end-users. Some of the emerging leaders in this new API economy include companies like Twilio (communications), Stripe (payments), and SalesForce (CRM). This is creating an environment of connected applications that can be built and modified quickly and leverage best-of-breed components and data.
Meanwhile a similar — if admittedly slower and less sexy — API evolution is taking place in the world of property data.
The majority of public record property data is still delivered to enterprise clients in bulk files via file transfer, somewhat akin to the CD delivery method for music 20 years ago. There has been some progress in recent years, much of it around leveraging APIs.
Real Estate-Centric APIs for Property Data
There are a growing number of real estate-centric APIs that have been built over the past 10 years, providing developers access to very specific nuggets of real estate data. Those include the Zestimate, WalkScore, UtilityScore and ClearCapital’s property appraisals. ATTOM Data Solutions has its own set of public record property APIs that include a basic property profile, property history, AVM, and sales comps among others.
But frankly these static, predefined APIs are limited and do not make the breadth of ATTOM Data Warehouse available to our customers. Returning to the music delivery metaphor, it’s as if just a handful of well-worn music genres were available for streaming on Spotify; maybe just classical, rock, rap, jazz and alternative. But the entire spectrum of musical genres with all their nuance and color — brostep, drone folk, gauze pop, medieval rock, and vegan straight edge are just a few of the more creatively named genres on Spotify — are not available to stream. Clients would have to license Spotify’s entire music library to get at the eclectic set of genres and individual songs important to them — if those songs didn’t fit into any of the five pre-determined genres available for streaming.
While somewhat absurd on many levels, this musical metaphor illustrates the archaic delivery methods still used for public record property data despite quickly evolving technology and client expectations.
The Brostep of Property Data APIs
There are more than 1,000 potential data elements available for each of the 150 million residential and commercial U.S. properties housed in the ATTOM Data Warehouse. The common ones include elements such as property value, sale price, square footage, beds, baths and owner name. There are existing APIs already built to deliver these commonly used data elements as building blocks for applications.
Not so mainstream — even in the world of public record property data — include traditional public record data elements such as deed type, distressed description and partial interest type, along with non-traditional elements that have been correlated to traditional property data via our unique ATTOM ID. These correlated elements include flood zone/risk, wildfire risk and environmental hazard risk. Our increasingly diverse customers and prospects are telling us that they want to integrate many of these lesser-known data elements into their software and applications.
Of course, not surprisingly, each client or prospect needs a slightly different combination of data elements. That’s even true among companies operating in the same space. For example, one insurance company might be more focused on flood risk while another is more focused on earthquake risk, depending on their geographic footprint.
Just a few years ago we might have been able to get away with the standard response to such clients: “To get all the data elements you want you’ll need to license the data in bulk.” And 10 years ago there would have been good reasons for that response. The technology to deliver highly customizable property data via API in large volumes was simply not available.
Setting the API Bar Higher for Property Data
But that’s a response we want to increasingly avoid. The technology is now available to deliver highly customizable property data via API in large volumes (more on that in minute). Furthermore it’s not in the customer’s best interest, nor is it in our best interest as a data provider to always default to delivering data in bulk files.
There will always be some clients who want the property data in bulk. Those clients want the full data set, and they want to retain the ability to fully control, analyze and manage that data set — something the just-in-time transactional nature of APIs does not accommodate well.
But many clients do want the property data on a just-in-time transactional basis — even if that means millions of transactions in an hour. Additionally, many of those clients don’t have the internal infrastructure or the human capital needed to ingest and manage a massive nationwide property database on their own.
In the past, clients fitting the above description would have to settle for data delivery via the standard, static APIs available — or not get the data at all.
We’re happy to say that will soon change.
Elevating API to the Cloud
This summer ATTOM will be unveiling a cloud-based API solution that will in effect allow our clients to create their own customized “playlist” of data elements and stream that playlist on demand. The entire spectrum of data elements will be available for creating these customized property data playlists, not just the pre-set property data elements included in our existing static APIs.
The real power in the cloud API environment comes from its capacity to allow us to create customer-specific “endpoints” that combine a custom set of data elements pulling from multiple data sets in the ATTOM Data Warehouse. Using this functionality we can “shape” data sets to deliver just the specific data elements from each data set that a customer wants to create their custom API.
Furthermore, a customer can set up multiple APIs to power different decision points in its software or application workflow, helping to improve efficiency and save costs. Take for example a customer that has created an application to identify the best investment property opportunities. The application employs a stair-step workflow to increasingly narrow the pool of potential investment properties, with different data elements needed at each subsequent step in the workflow. With our coming API, ATTOM can quickly create a custom API for each step in the workflow, feeding the application with exactly the data elements it needs at each point it needs them — and saving costs while doing so.
This type of comprehensive and customizable API delivery for property data is long overdue, and ATTOM is excited to be leading the way to making it a reality. This new API delivery will be via the cloud, but it will create a solid foundation upon which our clients can confidently and creatively build innovative new applications that will continue to disrupt their respective industries.
We expect that providing this new API solution to our clients will elicit a reaction similar to Chris Pratt’s character Star-Lord/Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. After laboriously creating mix tapes for years — 10 songs at a time — he is given an iPod-like device containing more than 300 songs. He is elated when introduced to this amazingly expanded access to music.
At ATTOM, we’re looking forward to elating our API clients by elevating our API delivery to the cloud.