December 22nd, 2009 Categories: Buying
Home search sites on the web are not the same
The internet has revolutionized the home buying process. In the past, real estate agents were gatekeepers of critical real estate data: homes available for sale, past sales in a neighborhood and more. No more. Consumers can access information from a countless number of sites without the need of an agent. This is definitely good for buyers, sellers and the real estate industry. Unfortunately, consumers now have a new challenge when navigating a tidal wave of home sites — there’s a lot of bad information out there. To help find the good and avoid the bad, I’ll explain the basics of web home searches and review some of the popular home search sites for Montgomery County and the Metro Washington D.C. area.
The basics – Multiple List Systems (MLS)
The very best, most complete and most accurate database of home sale data is a “Multiple List System”. This is the database managed by real estate agents to enter new listings, record price and status changes and to record home sales information. It’s the gold-standard for an area’s home sale information. There isn’t a single MLS in the U.S., rather MLSs are managed throughout the U.S. by local professional real estate boards. MRIS (Metropolitan Regional Information Systems) is the MLS for the Metro D.C. area covering D.C., much of Maryland and Northern Virginia. Only real estate agents can access an MLS directly — home buyers and sellers cannot.
The basics – How home information gets to public websites
Don’t scroll down to skip this section! Yes, I know. Few things in the universe are less exciting than understanding how home information travels on the web, but it’s important when evaluating a home search site. Many sites obtain their data from an IDX (Internet Data Exchange) data file from an MLS and follow the MLS’s specific rules for presenting home data. When an agent updates an MLS entry, IDX-supported sites are updated automatically. These sites tend to have the most complete and accurate home search data.
An agent can take an extra step to syndicate listing information to other sites. Listing syndication is relatively new, there isn’t a single repository for syndicated listings and agents aren’t required to syndicate listings. Most important – this process is not managed by an area’s MLS. Sites that rely on syndication tend to have incomplete and inaccurate listing data.
|Locked-in on a snowy day, I reviewed listings for Bethesda zip code 20814 in MRIS. I took a snapshot of all active listings of 72 homes and then conducted the same search on eight other sites. This wasn’t much fun, but was informative. Here’s the results.|
Great Home Search Sites
MoCoRealEstate.com. I have to admit, I was a little nervous about how our site would do. I was relieved to find that all 72 listings were present except for three listings. No extra listings were included. The three missing listings were located in one new condo development. These three listings were missing in other sites (below), so MRIS must have an issue with these three particular records. Our site is updated via an IDX feed.
Realtor.com. This site has a special “IDX-like” update from MRIS. It had all 72 active listings except for the same 3 missing on our site. This site also shows all homes under contract, so the search indicated 99 listings. What I don’t like – you really have to look to see the home status. Most buyers will think that all homes are available for purchase when many aren’t. It’s accurate, but not as consumer friendly as it could be.
HomesDatabase.com. This is maintained by MRIS, so one would think this would be the very best website for local listings. Like my site and Realtor.com, it had every listing except for the same 3 missing on the others. It also includes homes under contract. Like Realtor.com, it’s very hard to see the status misleading buyers.
Long&Foster. L&F has a nice search site supported by IDX. The site reported 84 active homes for zip 20814 which was too high. The difference – several lots and two commercial listing were included which is OK. There were two listings with MRIS numbers that simply don’t exist. This site also includes homes under contract which is useful. And, unlike Realtor.com and HomesDatabase, the status is prominently displayed.
Good Home Search Sites
Remax.com. Re/Max indicated 182 active homes. This count was inflated since rentals were included. Take out the rentals and I got 99 homes. This included active homes, commercial properties and homes under contract. All active homes where here except for the 3 missing on other sites. All homes under contract were shown as ‘active’ which is clearly misleading to home buyers.
Redfin.com. Redfin has very nice search functionality. The quality of the data isn’t as high as others, however. Several other zips were included in the 20814 search. Take out the extra listings, and 67 homes were listed for 20814. Interestingly, they captured the “mystery 3″ that other sites missed; however, 5 other listings were absent. This surprised me given that Redfin is very tech savy company.
Horrible Sites to Find Homes
Zillow.com. Zillow relies on listing syndication to populate its database, not an IDX feed. 95 listings were shown as available in zip 20814. This didn’t seem too bad until I looked at the data. Only 36 of these were legitimate, active home sales. None of the rest were active listings. So, they only had 50% of the available listings and 59 other homes that aren’t available to home buyers. Zillow has other interesting home sale information, but I wouldn’t look for available homes here.
Trulia.com. Like Zillow, Trulia’s database is populated from listing syndication. Data quality is rotten here as well. Trulia showed 106 available homes, yet only 45 of these are really available; the other 61 homes are not. I’ve seen listings that sold two years ago indicated as “active” on this site. Like Zillow, you may find good real estate information here, but this is a terrible place to search for available homes.
RealtyTrac. ReatlyTrac lists foreclosures and distress sales. If you pay to access property addresses, you’ll see notifications of homes with foreclosure notices, auctions and properties owned by banks. This site is problematic for two main reasons.
#1 – Consumers are led to believe they can buy a home that is in distress or has received a foreclosure notice. You cannot. You can only buy from a homeowner if they want to sell. So the best way to see all homes for sale – distress or not – is to go to regular home search sites listed above.
#2 – Data quality is beyond horrible on this site. I’ve seen many properties listed as ‘bank-owned’ that have sold months before.
Find your next home
Any agent in the Metro D.C. area can setup tailored, timely and accurate home alerts using MRIS. Contact us anytime to be notified of homes that meet your specific needs. You can also search on one of the better home search sites listed here to find homes for yourself. Do you have comments or wonder about the quality of other sites not listed here? Make a comment and let us know!