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Residential Real Estate
Jun 1, 2014

Real Estate Search Engines Can Be Inaccurate, Unreliable

Sponsored Content provided by Michelle Clark - Realtor/Broker, Intracoastal Realty

It’s hard to imagine buying and selling anything these days without the help of the Internet, which has certainly revolutionized the real estate business. But as valuable as online resources have become, some Internet real estate listings have started to create real problems for buyers, sellers and agents.

That is why the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors made the decision this year to stop sharing its real estate listings with the national search engine sites, notably Zillow.com and Trulia.com. Effective May 2014, new listings in our local Multiple Listing Service are no longer being made available to these sites.

WRAR had two very important reasons for this decision.

First is that these sites, which “aggregate” listing data gathered from many, many sources, have always reserved the right to alter the information they get, as they see fit. That means the description of a Wilmington or Wrightsville Beach house on one of these sites may be different from how it originated with a local Realtor. Sometimes these changes create a very damaging misimpression. For example, I have seen upscale properties I’m familiar with listed as foreclosures – which they’re not — and at a fraction of their actual asking price.

The second problem is that these large sites have no reliable mechanism for ensuring their information is kept current. Homes that have been sold, and removed from our local MLS database, are still showing up “for sale” months later. If a property’s asking price has changed, that information is rarely updated on these “aggregator” sites.

Perhaps the worst aspect of this problem is that sellers and their agents who are harmed by this widespread misinformation have no recourse. Attempts to get these search-engine sites to correct these problems went nowhere. They can do whatever they want with the information they’re given, and they have shown they don’t care about the consequences.

Meanwhile, sellers are frustrated, and buyers are being misled.

Recently a WRAR task force looked at listings in one Wilmington-area ZIP code. According to our local MLS, 130 properties were for sale in that area. But Zillow.com showed 260! And its listings still missed more than 20 percent of the genuine listings from the MLS.

Not long ago I got a call from an out-of-town buyer asking about 11 properties in Landfall that were supposedly under foreclosure. I checked on each of these, and discovered that, despite what the buyer saw on the Internet, not one of these properties had been foreclosed. The stated sale prices were way off, too. Needless to say, that sort of misinformation can hurt our area’s reputation.

One reason so much bad information shows up on these sites is that they draw from many sources that don’t have good, current data. Public tax records, for example, are often based on assessments that are many years out of date, and have little relationship to actual current sales prices. Making things worse, automatic formulas that don’t take local factors into consideration can give web users a wildly misleading idea about prevailing home values.

How close a home is to the water, or what school district it’s in, or how many comparable homes in the same neighborhood are on the market, all affect its price. But a generic formula, written with no knowledge of local nuances and applied by a computer, can give value estimates that bear no relationship to reality.

I’m not the only Wilmington Realtor who has gotten inquiries from out-of-town prospects who expect to pay bargain prices — 25 percent too low, in one case I know of — based on what they’ve seen online. But in spite of the fact that we have no control over what these sites do with our listing data, we’re still held responsible for how that information is used, misused or distorted.

Back in 2012, the WRAR started getting complaints about these problems from both homeowners and agents. A task force was convened in 2013, and at the beginning of this year the Association decided to end its relationship with these sites, effective in May. I support that decision, as does my company, Intracoastal Realty, and many other  firms in the area.

It’s possible that some individual agents may continue publishing data about their listings. Perhaps their clients expect to see their houses listed on Zillow or one of the other national real estate sites, and the agents can’t explain why this is a disservice to both seller and buyer.

The way I explain it is that relying on one of these real estate aggregators is like going to the “National Enquirer” to get your news. You may find some accurate information, but I certainly wouldn’t count on everything you read there.

If in doubt about whether an Internet listing is accurate, I recommend going to the source: the listing broker, or to a website that gets its data directly from the Multiple Listing Service. Realtor.com gets its listings by direct feed from the MLS. So does Intracoastal Realty’s website, intracoastalrealty.com, and my own site, wrightsvillebeachagent.com. Many other reputable firms do the same.

One other useful gauge of how much to trust a real estate website: Check out its rating with the Better Business Bureau. IntracoastalRealty.com has earned an “A” rating, compared to a “C-minus”— or an “F” — for some of the alternatives.

Have a question about buying, selling or any other real estate matter? Let me know and I’ll address it in a future article.

Michelle Clark is a broker with Intracoastal Realty, based at the Wrightsville Beach office. She is an Accredited Luxury Home Specialist, ALHS and also a Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource. Whether you are buying, selling, or investing, know that Michelle and her team will go the extra mile for you. To learn more about Michelle and Intracoastal, go to www.intracoastalrealty.com. You may contact Michelle at [email protected] or 910-367-9767. Like Michelle’s team on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MichelleClarkTeam.

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