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The Problem with Online Listings

An article in the latest issue of Smart Money Magazine called, “Where Real Estate Listings Fail,” really rang true with my experience in dealing with many of the “major” real estate websites.  What few consumers realize is that many of the listings they see on sites like Trulia, Zillow, and many others is full of stale, inaccurate listing information.  The reason that the listing data is subject to a fairly high degree of inaccuracy is because these sites do not source their data from a direct data feed coming from the various MLS systems.  Rather, they are dependent upon secondary data that they “scrape” from other sites.

By way of example, when I post a virtual tour online, or build a Lamorinda real estate website for a Lafayette home we have listed, one of the options I might have is to “syndicate” the data to Zillow, Trulia and several other sites.  If I elect to do this, I’m essentially sending a stream of data to these sites informing them about the home in a format that gives them the opportunity to build a listing profile with most of the data.  In other cases, an agent might not syndicate the data, and then these sites “crawl” the web and look for listing information that they then use to build their listing database.  But, what happens if the information posted by an agent is in error, is later changed, or if the 3rd party site, e.g., Zillow, Trulia, etc., don’t capture all of the data and then make inferences about the listing that are inaccurate?

This scenario happens all of the time with homes in Lamorinda and in other areas.  In accurate information is sometimes posted on virtual tours or single property websites in error, or deliberately by agents who lack integrity.  More often than not, the errors are rectified when they are identified, but those corrections may never reach the 3rd party websites that have “scraped” the original data. One of the frequent problems we deal with is when sites like Trulia show school information based upon map proximity to the property, but NOT based upon school district assignment.  As an example, in certain areas of Lafayette, these sites will suggest that a Pleasant Hill elementary school is the “closest school”, inferring that the home is not in the Lafayette School District.  This is highly inaccurate and is detrimental to the seller of the property.  Unfortunately, these sites offer the real estate agent no way to manually override their faulty presentation of data.

Another frequent problem is the timeliness of the data.  Since these sites are extracting their data from sources sometimes quite afar from the MLS, they will show listings as being “active”, when in fact, they have been sold or removed from the market months or sometimes years ago.  These sites will blame the problem on the real estate community for leaving a virtual tour “floating” out on the web somewhere that shows the property as being active, but this is something that is easy to forget about and happens all of the time.  The property gets sold and marked appropriately in the MLS… but, the agent forgets that there was a virtual tour or other site associated with it that might still be seen by these third party sites.

So, where do you go for accurate information?  The largest national real estate site WITH direct feeds to the various MLS systems is Realtor.com.  Many individual agent sites have MLS feeds provided via a service called “IDX”.  The listing data provided on our TeamRothenberg site is provided in this manner and is updated from the MLS almost instantaneously.  In fact, if you prefer to have accurate, timely information “pushed” to you instead of having to search for it, you’ll find our email search system to be extremely convenient.  Upon entering your search parameters into the system, you’ll automatically be sent listing information essentially in real-time as listings hit the market, or change status and go “pending” or “sold”.


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