Monday, May 4, 2009

Where to Find Homes Online

Did you know that consumers can’t view the MLS? You’re probably thinking “She’s loony. I was looking at the MLS online just the other day.”

Umm, no. You weren’t looking at “The MLS.”

First, a definition. The MLS  (a.k.a. Multiple Listing Service) is a privately-owned local or regional database where all participating Realtors list their properties for sale. In other words, the MLS is like a giant online bulletin board for Realtors only. Each city, town or region has their own MLS. There are probably tens of thousands of MLSs nationwide.

Metro Phoenix (which includes all of Maricopa County and some of Pinal County) uses the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service, or ARMLS. It’s pronounced “arm-less”, the thought of which always makes me giggle a little. Given the sorry state of professionalism exhibited by some Realtors, I’ve petitioned to call it “witless” or “brainless”, but that’s beside the point.

So what were you – the real estate consumer – looking at online if not The MLS?

You were looking at a for-profit website that grabs a data feed from one or more MLSs. Then the website designers re-jigger the MLS data and show it to their online visitors next to lots of shiny graphics and cool mapping tools.

Realtors don’t control the data once the other sites’ tech geeks grab the data feed. Here’s where I’m going to pause a moment and ask you to remember the childhood game of Telephone.

In Telephone, a bunch of kids stand in a long line. Then the first kid in line whispers a sentence (such as “I like peanut butter and jelly”) into the ear of the kid next to him, and the message whips downline to the kid on the very end of the row. End Of Row Kid says aloud what he heard (“I might pee under the telly”). Hilarity ensues.

The point is, data gets mangled during the relay. It’s funny when 8 year old boys do it. It’s not funny when it’s housing data and you’re house shopping.  Too often, online consumers are looking at housing data that’s incorrect, incomplete, outdated or just plain wrong. Usually they don’t even know it.

What’s a consumer to do? Use a Realtor’s website to access the ARMLS data directly.

With a hat tip to our broker Jay Thompson, who first did this a couple weeks back, here’s a comparison of the amount of that data you can see on various national real estate websites.

Search Query: 3+ beds, 2+ baths, $0 to $75,000 in Phoenix

(as of May 2, 2009 at about 10:30 am local time)

SiteNumber of Properties

Clearly, the ARMLS has the most listings. The only way to see all of the available property listings in the ARMLS is to visit a Realtor’s website that has all the available listings. Can I suggest ours?

All member Realtors have access to every property listed in the ARMLS. But I believe our customer service and market knowledge is simply better than others’.

Search on!

(want more info on this topic? See this 3-part series about "searching the MLS")