Home buyers have an incredible array of sources at their fingertips when looking for a new home, thanks to websites such as Homes.com, Realtor.com, local broker websites with search capabilities, and of course the 800 pound gorilla in the room: Zillow, which had gobbled up Trulia.com and now offers identical searches on both websites.
What is it like to search?
I recently researched property in another state, and had an educational experience using above sites and a few more.
Educational insofar, as I am – being a real estate broker and Realtor*– so used to the multiple listing service (MLS) with all its options that I very quickly discovered: not one single consumer website gave me everything I needed to conduct my search.
• Only two sites allowed me to draw a map outline of the area I was interested in. Realtor.com once had that capability, but inexplicably took it away. – Shame on them.
• Second example: I was searching for property with garage OR carport (which typically can easily be enclosed and converted into a garage). Not one of the consumer sites I used can perform an EITHER-OR search.
• Third example: Homes.com until recently allowed filters to be applied as “must-have” or “nice-to-have”. However, that clever feature was deleted a month or two ago. – F, sit.
And Zillow? Most of our residential clients also search that site. But what is not known to home-buyers is that Zillow recently went out of the frying pan into the fire. Voluntarily.
Previously, a few unethical real estate agents posted bait-and-switch properties on the internet, even after they were rented or sold. To stop that unethical and infuriating practice – a laudable endeavor – Zillow decided to switch from manual property entry for Realtors® to an automatic feed from MLS data.
That idea was good, but not great: any brokerage wishing to participate now has to grant a blanket authorisation for all of the firm’s listings. Note: a blanket authorisation. Many brokers, including me, do not agree with that policy. But: Realtors® represent over 90 percent of all residential properties for sale.
As a result, all of a sudden Zillow's number of Realtor-listed properties dropped substantially. Consumers looking for homes or condos on Zillow now see only some part of what is actually available for sale. No disclaimers on the page: understandably, the site does not publish what percentage of homes dropped out, so not tick off consumers. I wouldn’t even dare to guess how many homes a consumer is missing when looking on Zillow.
So without intention, the big Z strengthened its competition, namely Realtor.com. That site now should have the most complete list of properties for any home buyer, since:
1) it represents the most property inventory – Realtors and all of their listings
2) with the most accuracy – Realtor.com is automatically fed multiple times every day from every MLS system in the country.
Unfortunately its filtering capabilities are sub-par, though similar to most consumer real estate sites. But: filtering becomes an issue when you, the consumer, are looking for something specific, such as a modernist home among 22,000 single family homes for sale in Southeast Florida alone (wink wink).
What to do?
You may know the saying “the best boat you ever have is your friend's boat”.
In this context, it translates into “the best home-searching website is your friendly Realtor’s MLS”, running a search for exactly the home you want.
And to stay in the marine analogy: while it’s good form to bring beer or wine when invited to a boat outing and help hosing the boat down afterwards, you are not expected to hose down your real estate agent. Buying the property he/she found for you through him/her is enough. Of course, wine or beer is always a nice addition.
* A Realtor® is a real estate agent or broker who has MLS privileges through his/her membership at a local Board of Realtors®. Every Realtor® has a real estate license, but not every licensee needs to have MLS access, for example commercial practitioners.
Photo ©Tobias Kaiser, illustration ©learntospeakthai.net
Tobias Kaiser is an independent real estate consultant and licensed Realtor in Florida since 1990. He specializes in modern architecture and net leased investments.