How the Travis Central Appraisal District purchased home sales information

AUSTIN, Texas — The Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD) in-house counsel said the district did nothing wrong when it bought home sales data.

The data, called Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data, is held by area realtors. The Austin Board of Realtors (ABOR) contracts with CoreLogic to use its service to list and market real estate.

The service used by ABOR, called ACTRIS (Austin/Central Texas Realty Information Service), is an internet data exchange which allows an agent to have MLS property searches on their own website.

Records show CoreLogic sold that ACTRIS information to TCAD February 12, 2018.

ABOR claimed their vendor violated its contract.

Records show CoreLogic agreed to provide “bulk data” to the district. The data was all listing information for Travis County from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017 with updates quarterly.

The cost: $24,300 with a 3% increase annually. TCAD leaders said it’s a third of the cost getting the information from other sources.

“It’s more accurate because it’s come straight from the source,” said Dustin Banks, TCAD In-House Counsel.

The "Statement of Work" shows several data points including listing price, sales price and in-house features.

A month after the sale, the county purchased more data, this time to conduct a study for the entire state.

Emails between TCAD and CoreLogic show how the data company couldn’t provide each MLS around the state.

“The San Antonio MLS board is not allowing us to provide their data. Given this is a big market in Texas I wanted to let you know as soon as I found out. Here are the MLS markets that allow us to provide data,” said Doug Ellis, account executive, in an email to TCAD.

The markets who CoreLogic said allow the sale of data include the Austin/Central Texas Realty Information Service.

This is part of an email exchange between CoreLogic and TCAD. It shows a list of areas CoreLogic claims they’re able to provide data.

The statewide data also included Travis County.

“Under the contract, we have a statement of work for 36 months with [CoreLogic]. They have not terminated contract. They have not told us they are terminating it, and frankly, they can’t terminate the contract because we haven’t done anything wrong,” said Michael Navarre, an attorney at law who represents TCAD.

CoreLogic sent TCAD a letter saying they are unable to continue with the provision of CoreLogic listings that contain ABOR data to TCAD.

“We also request that TCAD delete all ABOR data within 30 days and provide a written certification confirming such destruction,” said Damon Littlejohn, a sales executive for CoreLogic, in the letter.

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CoreLogic informed TCAD the company would issue a full refund for fees that TCAD has paid to date for the destroyed data.

“Looking at the contracts, there is no right…to ask us to destroy the data they provided us,” Navarre said

Banks said it could hurt homeowners, too.

“When we use sales information to support appraised value…We have to provide that information that we used to appraise their property. We have to tell the owner everything that we done and can be completely transparent to them. We have to be a completely open book because they are entitled to that as property owners,” Banks said.

“The CoreLogic data we are able to acquire it for about a third of the cost, saving the taxpayers money. But even more importantly because it comes from one source we don’t have to worry about integrating it. It’s a lot easier to use and it allows us to for fill our mission to value, to appraise the base of the property consistently,” Navarre said.

The Bulk Data Exhibit in the TCAD Statement of Work shows "CoreLogic Standardized MLS Data" includes house features, listing price and sales price.

ABOR issued a cease and desist letter for “unauthorized use of, and attempting to gain unauthorized access to, the ACTRIS Database.”

However, records between TCAD and CoreLogic show no indication the access and use are unauthorized.

The Statement of Work for the Travis County data shows, “Customer shall use the Services solely for Customer’s own internal business purposes of enhancing internal files. Customer shall not resell, relicense or redistribute the Services in whole or in part.”

However, the Statement of Work for the statewide data shows the data must be used for “internal business purposes of conducting a feasibility study.”

“We are trying to do our job to the best of our ability. We think that getting more data to us allows us to do more accurate appraisals and that helps everyone. If we don’t fairly appraise properties that means certain people are paying their share and other people have to carry that burden,” Banks said.

ACTRIS issued the following statement:

“When we were made aware that our Multiple Listing Service (MLS) vendor may have inappropriately sold MLS data, we demanded they stop immediately and take the steps necessary to destroy that data. They agreed.

We are exploring all options to correct this situation and ensure Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD) is prevented from misusing ACTRIS data. Actions will be taken to ensure full accountability from all parties enabling the unauthorized exploitation of MLS data.

While we can’t comment on the details of an open investigation, we are working directly with attorneys to ensure this matter is resolved. Anyone who believes MLS data is being used as evidence during the appraisal appeal process in or out of Travis County, are asked to send the details of their experience to databreach@abor.com.”

ABOR declined our request for an interview but sent this statement:

“On May 8, counsel for the Austin Board of REALTORS® sent a cease and desist order to the Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD), calling on TCAD to stop the unauthorized use of Austin/Central Texas Realty Information Service (ACTRIS) data in any form or fashion. We also demanded the destruction of any existing ACTRIS data in use by TCAD. Unauthorized access to proprietary Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data by an appraisal district is unacceptable.

We are continuing conversations with our MLS vendor to ensure all parties are held accountable.”

CoreLogic denied our request for comment.

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