What Is The Future Of The MLS On The Internet? This is a question that a small real estate broker on Cape Cod asked the agents in the room as they decided which domain name to register in March of 2000. Their question then was, “How will the Internet affect the MLS?”
In the last decade, real estate brokers and agents have adjusted to the evolving listing and sale of real estate using the Internet. “Way back in 1996, who even had an email account?” asks Heath Coker, a small independent real estate broker on Cape Cod. The most significant evolution in real estate has been the free use of the Internet to publish the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) book. For consumers, the publishing of MLS data has provided a faster and seemingly easier way to get information. For businesses, the net has changed the usefulness of the MLS.
The original purpose of MLS membership was to provide an easy way for real estate offices to communicate with each other about what is for sale and how to cooperate. Now, MLSs all over the country, allow listings and data to be published and viewed by anyone, anywhere, without respect to the listing company. While this gives properties exposure, and sales get made, the activity can actually hurt listing companies, and buyers can miss good properties.
Until the Internet, the MLS book was used only by real estate agents. The book organized who had a business relationship with a seller and how to go about cooperating in the sale of the property. Some of what it included was contact info, commission split, viewing instructions and seller disclosure statements. One reason the book was only for agents, was that an agent can lose a commission if a buyer they are working with doesn’t actually “cross the threshold” with that agent. All agents have lost sales after just giving out addresses.
Now with the MLS book being published on the Internet, consumers have the misunderstanding that they now have “all the real estate information they never had.” What consumers actually have, is only some of the information that new agents use to understand the market they are beginning to work in. MLS has never had all the information that agents use. For example, some whole companies are not even members of an MLS, and, every real estate agent knows of available property not in MLS which the industry calls “pocket listings.”
How does this affect buyers? For the most part, buyers have been content with the selection of viewable properties on the Internet. Even though the Internet can often save time, consumers look online for months before going to meet an agent. This delays both sellers and buyers and causes them to think they know the area market as much as full time agents. However, as with all hobbyists, they are actually missing a lot (no pun intended). Because consumers think they have “total” information, they rebuff any agent that offers help. Many buyers and sellers think they could be their own agent with the information they find.
So, is there good real estate information on the Internet? Yes, in some places. Do the MLS sites provide anyone with a general knowledge of what is for sale? More general than it appears. Could anyone be their own agent by using an MLS site? It is possible, but it will probably be more time consuming and more difficult than it appears at first. What consumers are unaware of, is that just as the Internet has evolved, so has the real estate business.
There are more and more companies in every US town who are only allowing MLS realtor members to view their listings online. They do this by “opting-out” and allowing their listing to only be viewed within the MLS system, but not on the Internet. There are also companies in every town who are not members of an MLS, but list and sell real estate from their web pages. Real estate company and agent web pages are now becoming the best source of information for any consumer.
Case in point: look at a big “MLS download site” for property in Hawaii. The MLS site has nice pictures, some information, lots of advertising and forms to collect information from visitors. Now, look at a local real estate company or agent web site for the same area. There are addresses, information about where lava is flowing, some non-mls addresses, and other relevant local real estate information. Which is a better resource for consumers?
So where do buyers find more complete listings? For consumers, increasing the search terms in a search for property, finding real estate company sites, and driving in neighborhoods are now becoming the best ways to get reliable real estate information. What is the best/fastest way to find local real estate websites?
Increasing search terms helps avoid the “spam” sites that are only looking to sell contact information. (Even the big MLS downloaders’ primary goal is to sell contact information.) Even with increased search terms, it can be hard to find specific real estate company sites, because the number of search engine savvy programmers is more than the number of real estate agents. Just search Google for the term real estate and you’ll see close to 1 billion results, while there are less than 3 million real estate licensees in the US. So search terms aren’t as useful as they used to be. Also, adjusting the “preferences” for a search to show the first 100 results allows you to scroll through the first “spam” results without clicking “next page” after ten results.
Driving in neighborhoods is great for looking at signs and viewing conditions, but extra information has to come from somewhere else still. While out, notes can be made of all the real estate company websites seen in advertisements and on signs, but these only provide some of the information sought. So, the search is on again.
Then there are grass roots projects like the one started in 2000 by and for listing real estate agent and company websites. REindex. com does the searching for consumers. Every day it links directly to real estate websites it finds. The sites are categorized by the towns they actually have listings in. Both MLS and Non-MLS companies are reviewed by a human and linked if and where appropriate.
A simple, fast loading, text, web page has been created for every town in the USA. REindex searches for and only adds company websites that display the company’s listings separate from any MLS information. “We are just a place to find companies that work in a specific town – no screens or logins, just links to listing companies that we add daily.” says the site manager, Heath Coker.
The interest and appreciation from surfers and business’ has been quietly growing over the last seven years. “Customers like the ease of finding agents and companies that actually work in a town, and they bookmark pages on our site daily.” By bookmarking a page, all the companies in a town can be referenced from one place without a search. Listing companies are appreciative of REindex because there is no expense, nor do they need to spend extra time and money adjusting pages for all the search engines; they can sell real estate again. “The links on REindex. com are not screened or tracked from REindex to their site. We call ourselves REindex. com, The Site Engine.” says Coker, who also owns a small real estate company.
To get data for sold properties, Coker states: “Full-time agents can still tell you what has sold, and how it compares with current properties and prices better than the Internet can.” There are companies trying to organize that information, but they rely heavily on information provided by MLSs and real estate agents.
So what is the future of the MLS? Multiple Listing Systems are beginning to return to an agent/broker communication tool, and they are becoming less useful for the savvy consumer doing research. As consumers learn that the MLS downloading sites aren’t really as useful as they thought, Buyers and Sellers look again for more complete information. That information is best found in the head of a full time real estate professional operating in their market area.
The Internet will still be a place for preliminary research, general information, and communication, but buyers won’t be content with limited market information that the MLS sites are providing. Sellers should prefer that the sale of their property be managed by the company they hired to represent them, and not by the Internet.
The Internet will become a new type of MLS for researchers because savvy consumers and real estate professionals with their own web presence prefer direct contact with each other. Privacy issues, relevance, truthful resources, and time constraints are all combining to produce the next evolution of real estate on the Internet.