The internet has certainly revolutionized the way that people shop for real estate. It has also made it much more likely that inaccurate, out-of-date, and even fraudulent information makes it into your inbox. Here’s a primer for the homebuyer in the Internet age.
Before the Internet was born, listings were literally kept in a book — available at each real estate office — containing the listings that office’s agents were presenting to the public. Searching for a home meant a lot of driving around looking for signs, visiting offices to look at the listing books, and a reliance upon the agent knowing what was available that met your criteria.
Once the Internet was widely available, the real estate industry was one of the earliest players and multiple listing services quickly got their member brokers to agree to make everyone’s listings available to the general public. Brokers also wanted to make the MLS available on their own websites, and so an Internet Data Exchange agreement let the number of sites who carried listing data multiply quickly. National search sites, such as REMAX.com and Realtor.com, started to bring together listing data from all across the country. Others came up with the idea to offer computerized property evaluation services, and another group of sites let customers who had visited certain properties blog about their impressions of it, so that the next buyers who came along could read about the property’s weaknesses and strengths without stepping foot inside it themselves. The modern Internet is bulging at its virtual seams with real estate related data of all kinds.
The problem is that some of that information is garbage. While many sites are great at importing new data, old data sits around long after its useful. Buyers I work with will often come to me with questions about a property they found on one website, but not on another. When I investigate on the MLS directly, I’ll find that the property isn’t actually for sale. Sometimes it was withdrawn, or the listing expired, months ago. In one recent case, the property had been sold two years earlier!
Another major source of inaccurate information are the property evaluation websites. Several recent studies have found large margins of error in these computerized estimates of value. On the largest of these sites, their zesty evaluations were routinely off by over 7%, and you had a one in eleven chance that your estimate would be off by a whopping 25% or more. Now, if your house is worth $200,000, a 7% routine error equals $14,000!
The newest trend in real estate sites are the blogging sites where, in theory, you learn details about properties that the bloggers have visited. However, there are no methods to prove that these visits actually took place, or that the blogger might not actually be the seller of a competing property down the block who went online to trash the competition.
The best way to make sure you do not use wrong information in your home search is to ask your real estate professional for the sites that offer data of the highest integrity. In my practice, the sites I recommend are all ones that I know import information on a daily basis directly from our MLS and routinely remove listings that are sold, withdrawn and expired, such as the two largest national sites I’ve mentioned above, Realtor.com and REMAX.com. If you’re looking primarily for local data, then the best site is HomesDatabase.com.
A new service from our local MLS offers even better data, however. Many local real estate agents have subscribed to Listingbook, which taps directly into the very same MLS data that agents themselves use. I’ve been making this available to my buyers for about six months, with great satisfaction. Data is refreshed every 15 minutes, and the interface is intuitive and flexible. You’ll find many links here on www.charmcityrealestate.com that will allow you to open your own search using Listingbook. (Including that one!)