Many, many years ago I was a writer for the Arizona Capitol Times in downtown Phoenix. Back in the mid-90s, during the relative infancy of the internet, the Capitol Times had a service named LOLA, which allowed subscribers access to every bill introduced, every amendment made and the votes on all. It was a concept well ahead of its time – taking essentially public information and packaging it in an easy-to-use format for resale.
But times changed. The internet evolved. And soon LOLA was rendered irrelevant by the Arizona Legislature’s own website. The newspaper’s owner fought the concept as best he could under the notion that the government could not knowingly intrude upon a private business in such a manner, but the force of change and common sense won out.
After my Capitol Times gig (and once I decided once and for all there was no money in journalism), I took a Customer Service Representative position with Charles Schwab. As an unlicensed employee making a whopping $19,000 a year, much of my job consisted of providing stock quotes to customers when they called the call center.
Each account had a “quote bank” which increased with each trade made. Trade and you could get more quotes; open an IRA and never touch it, not so much. There was an electronic division – eSchwab – but the concept of internet stock quotes, much less internet stock trading which followed, wasn’t widespread for another year or so. Eventually, the force of change and common sense – providing free stock quotes which, while not necessarily public information per se were being broadcast in the wider public domain – made the quote bank system irrelevant.
These days in real estate, much of the backroom discussion surrounds the concept of data – what should be made public, what can be made public and how to best work with the third-party advertising sites such as Zillow which have carried the data (though often horribly flawed) into the public domain.
When you consider what a Multiple Listing Service truly is – a platform for one agent to advertise to fellow real estate professionals properties for sale with an attached offer of compensation – the place where the real estate industry could have drawn the line was with active listings. These don’t exist in the public domain any more than the inventory at my local used book store, which only can be discovered by actually visiting the business itself.
The problem is, despite what many believe, the real estate industry has a percentage of early adopters – those who take a new concept and run with it and don’t necessarily see the consequences of the actions down the road. I count myself among them. We allowed the Trojan Horse of Zillow and Trulia into our mix (and one also can argue Realtor.Com) and started posting listings with the flawed belief in “maximum exposure.” We started to believe our own shtick and forgot what really causes a home to sell in 90 cases out of 100 – a competitive price, some basic, quality marketing and a place in the MLS.
Though there are some of us who still are executing guerilla actions on the side – pulling listings when the Zestimate is detrimental to the seller, not syndicating listings to the advertiser/aggregator sites at all – the larger battle already has been lost. Active listings have become a part of the public domain even though they’re not public information. Could this change? Perhaps. But it’s going to be an uphill battle because of the way public perception has been changed.
Unfortunately, the defeat on the active listings front has led to a secondary battle where, to be honest, parts of the real estate industry is fighting the tide of common sense by attempting to turn public data into a treasured, guarded asset. And by this, I mean sold listings data.
In Maricopa County, all home sales are relatively easy to uncover using public information provided by the county. It’s this data that Zillow and Trulia use to update their systems and, in Zillow’s case, reset the Zestimate.
Maricopa County data isn’t perfect but, given Z & T are correct only about 25 percent of the time on listing data, the sold data assuredly is the most accurate information available on either site.
Ironically, do you know where you can’t find sold data? On local agent and brokerage sites. Though many use an IDX feed to power the real estate searches on their website, just like my own search here, sold data is not included in the IDX data set. Some argue it’s an effort to keep the data out of the hands of the aggregators, even though they already have sold data. Others say it’s unnecessary to expand the IDX data to include solds because we as agents easily can provide this information to our clients.
What we can’t do, however, is attract eyeballs and potential new clients to our websites using the information gathered by an MLS organization to which we pay annual subscriber fees. And so those eyeballs instead drift to the places where the data is available – Zillow, Trulia and the county records.
Again … the only entities unable to provide sold data on an automated basis here in the Phoenix area are those who should be the source for the information – real estate agents and brokers.
Perhaps the lack of logic in the situation will be reversed in the future – it’s difficult to say because, in real estate, there remains some old-fashioned thinking where some long for the good old days of an MLS book being the only place where active listings can be found.
Hopefully, though, the force of common sense and change will win the day and MLS boards not just here but around the country will work to better promote their agents’ and brokers’ online marketing efforts and not hamstring them in illogical ways.