When I first became a licensed agent, the internet held out the promise of a more transparent marketplace. Today, we know that the many twists and turns in the road have made transparency more elusive than ever.
Sure, you can go online and pull up a large real estate portal and be culling listings in about 5 minutes. The trouble is that these platforms are not created equal. Picking the right tool for the task at hand is key to getting good results. It also stops you from tearing out all your hair.
When this site was rebuilt to be mobile and device-friendly, I knew we needed a new home search platform. The previous platforms had been clunky and not so user-friendly. I got that message when large numbers of readers would sign up only to abandon the platform for something else.
The new home search platform that has been installed is far more user-friendly. Several readers have been testing it for a while and they aren’t disappearing. The main issue is the initial set up, which looks far more complex than it actually is. And if you need help, I can walk you through it.
Because all home search options are not created equal! There are many variations, but beneath the surface, home search tools come in two basic flavors:
“Third party sites”…
The general public is most familiar with these sites and has shown a marked preference for them. The most famous third party platform by far is Zillow. Zillow, and platforms like them, serve up an enormous amount of real estate data and they boast a massive audience. And the reason is obvious: these paltforms have robust features, with an extremely user-friendly interface.
Their weakness lies in their data. The famous “Zestimates” that many new to the home buyers market swear by, are riddled with inaccuracies. I’ve seen numbers that make no sense at all with errors as high as 30%. Listings that are long sold show up and look like bargains because you are dealing with prices that are up to several years old. This causes buyers to chase phantom listings. The list goes on and on.
Imagine seeing a Zestimate for your home of $500,000 when it is actually worth about $650,000! Then imagine home buyers trying to bid down the price based on that Zestimate. Don’t think that happens? Well, it does.
At the end of the day, real estate is a local business. The biggest flaw with large third party sites is that they try to cover way too much ground. For big national trends, Zillow is pretty good. The problems begin when you try to drill down into local markets.
Broker/Agent IDX Sites (Internet Data Exchange)…
These are sites that brokers and agents use on their websites and blogs and it is, in fact, what you will find on this site if you sign up for home search.
There is very little a brokerage site can to recreate the intuitive ease of use that third party sites offer. Such features take take millions in venture capital to create. Individual brokerages and agents simply don’t have the “cha ching” to accomplish this.
What they lose in user-friendliness, they make up for in accuracy. These sites are tied to the local MLS (multiple listing service). The MLS is not a public repository of information. It is a proprietary database and is run by those who contribute to its maintenance. As such, there are rules and regulations regarding the posting and removal of listings. There are also penalties for not complying with the rules. Therefore, the inaccuracies that litter third party sites are absent from these platforms.
What site to use? I think that for a broad market view, third party sites will give you a big picture. If you are looking all over the tristate area for a community to live in, the ease of use that a Zillow or Trulia provides might be a great “quick and dirty” tool to help in the elimination process. But for a home seller, looking to see what the current price points are in their area, this is not the right tool.
When it comes to honing in on details, the home buyer really needs to step up and learn how to use a broker/agent IDX site. Current listings are just that: Current. There aren’t a lot of leftovers hanging around the market from six months or a year ago. You can distinguish easily between listings that are active, sold or expired. This also applies to property taxes and HOA fees. They aren’t from last year or three years ago. They are current.
So, the correct tool really depends on what it is that you are trying to accomplish. A basic understanding of the differences between the different type of platforms, and some basic common sense should empower your online home search experience.
If you want to get started with our new home search tool, click here to get started.
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Please feel free to contact me anytime to request additional information or to set up an appointment so we can explore your listing or purchasing needs. I am easy to reach by phone, text or email. Or, if you just want to continue your search online, the links below will help you get started.