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NWMLS update allows brokers to zero in on accessibility features

What was formerly just “disabled access” has expanded to multiple—and more specific—options

Debra Millet/Shutterstock

The Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS) announced updates today that let brokers and buyers zero in on accommodations for people with disabilities.

For those unfamiliar with multiple listing service (MLS) databases like the NWMLS: They’re tools that real estate brokers use to share sales and listing information. The typical non real estate professional probably interacts with an MLS largely through aggregation services like Redfin, Zillow, or Estately. The NWMLS serves most of western Washington, including Seattle.

With an MLS, brokers have a central database for a variety of home features, like year built, number of bedrooms, listing price, or square footage. But as far as disability accommodations go, most fall short. A spokesperson for the NWMLS said the service believes this is the first feature of its kind in the country.

What was formerly just a “disabled access” checkbox—which doesn’t tell anyone very much, and doesn’t speak to what a home does or doesn’t have—has now expanded to 12 different options speaking to the breadth of accessibility and type of accomodation. The vagueness can also turn off buyers who don’t need accomodations, said Barry Long of Marketplace Sotheby’s International Realty, because it can bring up images of “ugly grab bars and a makeshift ramp that someone’s uncle built.”

New, expanded options allow brokers to select which parts of the home are accessible: approach, entrance, living room or common area, bedroom, bath, kitchen, and utility. Options are also available for modifications for those with hearing or vision impairments, an accessible elevator or lift, a ceiling track (often used by mobility-challenged people and their caretakers to move from one place to another without needing to lift in or out of a chair), smart technology, or a more catch-all “other.”

Beyond that, what the NWMLS is calling an “accessibility information supplement” expands the categories to 48 for those with more specific needs.

The effort was spearheaded by Long and Tom Minty of John L. Scott’s Issaquah office, both of whom have developed specialties in finding homes with specific accommodations. Minty is the founder of Able Environments, an organization focused on accessible living; Long is a paraplegic himself after a 1992 motorcycle accident.

Long and Minty spent two years planning and testing the new features, an effort that paid off with a Best Practices Award from Northwest Access Fund, a nonprofit that helps people purchase assistive technology, this year. The Best Practice Award recognizes “a business’s efforts to include people with disabilities in various business practices, such as service methods, awareness efforts, customization, or targeted outreach.”

And the project is about to have national implications: The Real Estate Standards Organization, a data-standardization organization used by similar groups throughout the country, will adopt the fields nationally so other listing services can adopt them, too.

“We’re so pleased that we now have a better framework for designating homes as accessible in the Pacific Northwest,” said Minty. “Our work is far from over, but we are looking forward to what’s next to make accessibility features relevant so those who need accessible homes are able to find them.”

While the fields aren’t quite ready for brokerages to add as search fields for the general public, they will be in the future. Once they’re fully added to the data feed, members and vendors will be able to make the features customer-facing so everyone can utilize them.

This article has been updated with a statement, with more information about rollout, and to clarify the role of RESO.