Monday, May 17, 2010

Search the MLS, part 2

For those who didn’t read my previous post about the myth of “searching the MLS” here’s the Cliff Notes version:
There is no 1 MLS, there are only lots of city-wide, regional or statewide MLSs.

Consumers can’t view the MLS for their region directly because it’s private and for subscribers only. (i.e. Realtors, appraisers, etc.)

Instead, public real estate websites like Trulia, Zillow and dozens thousands of others display homes for sale which they get from a data feed provided by one or more private MLSs.

There are two very important things consumers should keep in mind when they try to search the MLS are house hunting on public real estate websites. (1) Data integrity isn’t what it could be. (2) As a consumer, finding the agent who represents the seller is often difficult.

Today I’ll cover data integrity; come back in several days for info on finding the seller’s Realtor and why you maybe don’t really want to bother.

Data integrity on public real estate websites: spotty

Sometimes data shown on public websites like Trulia,, Zillow, Dwellicious, etc., is a little bit ‘off’.  There are a few causes.

Some real estate websites are slow to update their data from the MLS data feed. Sometimes the websites didn't pull the entire data feed available to them, resulting in homes that are for sale but not shown on the website you're visiting. Sometimes bad data is just a case of Garbage In, Garbage Out: if the seller’s Realtor makes a typo while entering the homes into the private MLS, that typo carries through to every site that grabs the MLS data feed.

Zillow is the ultimate mashup of data and suffers the consequences of most mashups: too many cooks in the kitchen makes for bad soup. Zillow pulls a data feed from the ARMLS (Arizona Regional MLS), the county tax assessor's office, local Realtors who answer consumer questions in Zillow's chat section, and a variety of sponsors (read, paid advertisers) like mortgage officers and credit repair scammers agencies, etc. Trying to cram all that data into one pretty website results in data problems. Zillow admits that it's 'zestimates' are very imperfect. For Maricopa county properties (most of the Greater Phoenix area is in this county) are 10% too high or 10% too low in nearly 6 out of 10 cases. As Chris has said in the past, Zillow is like the kid who gets 6 out of 10 math problems wrong on a test. That's not a grade you want to hang on the fridge.

Many (most?) times the bad data found on public real estate websites is caused by layout & design issues, or maybe software incompatibility issues between the MLS data feed and the database of the receiving website.

For example, and both display one of our current listings for sale: 2835 W Margy Court in Phoenix. Both sites received the exact same data feed from the private ARMLS (Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service) site. has great information on this home but the presentation a bit ugly.

margy court on realtor DOT com

margy court on realtor DOT com continued (click to enlarge)

But does provide a handy-dandy “Refreshed at” time so online shoppers know that the site updated their data feed from the local, private MLS only 9 minutes ago (note, I’m unable to verify that). That’s some fresh info!

Trulia on the other hand, has less than perfect information but it’s displayed prettily.

margy court on trulia DOT com

Trulia says the neighborhood is “Alhambra” but it’s actually named Harbor Cove. Trulia also lists the sales price and date of the last time the home was sold, but they get that data wrong.

Two public real estate sites gathered the same data about this house from the private ARMLS data feed, but the resulting data displayed for consumers is different.

We’re all in this together. . . or are we?

Finally, sometimes the problem of real estate data that’s a little “off” is caused by pesky geographic differences. We’re a Big Country after all. has a data field called “Parking Features” and that field shows “Electric Door Opener” for our listing. True, the house does have an electric garage door opener. But that’s such a common thing in newer Phoenix homes that few Phoenicians would think of it as a “feature”. More like “duh, expected.”

I’m pretty sure there are parts of the country where electric garage door openers aren’t standard. But is a national website, so they display some data that makes sense to Chicagoans (for example) but not to Phoenicians.

Search the MLS – a better way.

Consumers demand accurate data when they search the MLS shop for real estate online. But if the public real estate websites all have little, varied problems delivering that accuracy, what’s a consumer to do?

I can only speak for the Greater Phoenix area where I work. Here, there’s a better way and it’s found on many Realtor’s websites. Scroll back up to the top of this page on this website. See the big button that says Search Phoenix Homes? Click it. Search till your fingers go numb and your vision goes fuzzy. You’re as close as a consumer can get to the private MLS data.

Let’s compare the private MLS data to the consumer data available through our Search Phoenix Homes button. The search I’m using is for:

  • single family homes

  • 2 bedrooms (not more, not less)

  • located in ZIP code 85016

  • priced between $100,000 and $125,000

Private MLS view seen by Realtors, appraisers, etc.

2-1 in 85016 from 100k to 125k FROM MLS (click to enlarge so you don’t go blind)

The Phoenix Agent’s Search Phoenix Homes view available to consumers searching for the exact same thing:

2-1 in 85016 from 100k to 125k (click = enlarge)


If you click the pics above, you'll see that the consumers are seeing exactly the same data I can see as a Realtor in the private, members-only MLS. Yes, it is true that our search – like every other search - is displaying a data feed. But. . .

  • our display/graphic layout is an exact duplicate of the private MLS,

  • every home that’s in the private MLS is on our website, and

  • the data is updated in real-time.

  • True, you’ll still see garbage-in, garbage-out typos because I’m not the punctuation police. Yet.


Eagle-eyed readers spotted the one difference between the two search display results. On the far right hand side of each graphic above, the private MLS that Realtors can view shows the seller’s Realtor; the consumer side shown by The Phoenix Agents’ Search Phoenix Homes doesn’t.

In part 3 of this series, I’ll look into whether or not consumers can find the seller's Realtor while surfing online. And in part 4, I'll talk about whether buyers who work with the seller's Realtor save any money doing so.