Don't get used to looking at houses on the Internet.
September 26, 2002 1:01 AM   Subscribe

Don't get used to looking at houses on the Internet. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is proposing a rule that allows realtors to withhold some/all of the information in the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) from websites. The NAR says the MLS is intended for "Broker-to-Broker" and not for consumers. It is designed to produce customer leads, not to give sufficient information for decision-making
posted by patrickje (18 comments total)
Any business plan centred around preventing people from finding stuff out is working on borrowed time. The best you can do is keep people from finding stuff out until they are no longer interested in it. For example, having found another house to buy.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:21 AM on September 26, 2002

They don't have to print the address on-line, do they? I know realtors often leave them out of the advertisments in papers so that you have to contact them to get the location. This is fine, in my opinion.

At any rate, where I live we have buyer's agents, who work for the buyer. They are your best bet. You can feed the buyer's agent your parameters and they contact you with all of the latest listings. They split the selling agents fee, so it isn't any additional money out of your pocket. Plus, they are legally bound to work with your best interest in mind, unlike selling agents who are obligated to the seller of the home (no matter how sweet the seem and how many old grannie stories they tell you).

By the time houses in the MLS reach the internet, everone and his brother (with a computer) has seen them. If you are in anyway looking for a unique house (non-cookie cutter new build) you have to act quick, because they go on and off the market very fast. I was always under the impression that the data on the Internet was a portal to bring more customers in the door, and thus not intended to be of service to the potential customer so much as it was meant to be just another revenue stream.
posted by internook at 2:35 AM on September 26, 2002

I utilized the MLS here in MA quite a bit. I would find houses with potential, forward the link to my buyer agent, he would get the more advanced info, forward it to me, and we would go from there. Closed on my house 14 June.
If they don't want people to use it, then they should make it inaccessible to them. If they do that, people will find alternate methods, and they will lose out.
posted by a3matrix at 4:10 AM on September 26, 2002

I utilized the MLS here in MA

Yeah, I'm in the process of looking for a home here in MA. The MLS listings have been invaluable because in really volatile markets, such as the one here in eastern MA, it lets me get a better idea of price ranges vs. home quality in towns that I would never think to look at. Before I ever waste my time with an agent who drives me from home to home to home that I don't like in areas that I don't like, I'm better informed and more realistic about what's being offered where and what compromises I may need to make.

I'd think that realtors would be pleased that people are able to do more homework ahead of time. It means that we waste less of each other's time once the buying dance really begins. Their fee hasn't gone down, just the amount of time they have to put into it in order to get me to buy something.

Further, MLS listings only go so far. If I really want to get the jump on a new property, it still behooves me to work with an agent who knows about homes before they make it onto the open market. Here in MA, even just a few hours jump on a nice place can make all the difference in the world.

It's not as bad as it was a year or two ago, but it wasn't uncommon for homes to go on the market for only a few hours and to get more than the asking price. Especially inside 128 (the encircling roadway about 10-15 miles around Boston).
posted by warhol at 4:50 AM on September 26, 2002

I know exactly what you are talking about warhol.
House on market that afternoon, I looked at it that evening, agent put offer in the next morning, to find out it sold before I ever looked at it. DOH !!
posted by a3matrix at 5:04 AM on September 26, 2002

Same deal here in IL, a3matrix: I'd page through the available listings on and forward MLS numbers of properties that looked interesting to my agent for more info. She'd pull the full spec sheets and send me the address so I could do quick drive by's. Saturdays we'd spend viewing properties that really had potential for me, instead of driving around trying to figure out what I wanted and where I wanted to be. I ended up buying in a place I'd never have thought of looking, but getting exactly what I wanted at a terrific price.

I'm not sure what the Realtors Association is complaining about, anyway: if the property is listed with an agent, don't the sellers have to pay the agent no matter how the property is moved? Maybe it's just like the auto market, where car dealers had so much angst about sites like Edmund's listing the invoice price of cars, arming consumers with information that had been denied them for decades and revealing what scum the dealers had been...
posted by JollyWanker at 5:36 AM on September 26, 2002

Maybe it's just like the auto market, where car dealers had so much angst about sites like Edmund's listing the invoice price of cars, arming consumers with information that had been denied them for decades and revealing what scum the dealers had been...

... and it's interesting to note that even now, with multiple sources of pricing information from all over the nation, and even a few B2C auto sites hanging on after the final collapse of the bubble, that auto dealers are still doing business at a fair clip and are still, by and large, scum. (I had a dealer try to unload a car on me with an engine that would have lasted maybe 400 miles on Sept 11, 2001, while I was trying to get home after being stranded twice that distance away. Actually, one of the things that tipped me off is he was trying to sell the car for 20% off Blue Book low retail.)

Point being, people get really, really twitchy when they're forced to adjust their business models even a little bit. They tend to believe the only way to make money is to have complete control over all the variables that may affect you, despite the fact that business models always change, and that for the most part attempts to resist business model changes always end in abject failure.

So, either Realtors(tm) will get a clue and realize their value comes in brokering the deal, not controlling access to information about potential deals, or they'll fall into a deepening spiral of information control while either an alternate, more open, real estate brokering organization takes their place, or they're completely automated out of the picture for being too inconvenient. (Actually, before I say that, are Realtors(tm) a legally protected monopoly, or are they one of the few large organizations left to which free market principles still apply?)
posted by Vetinari at 6:17 AM on September 26, 2002

The problem is that the Realtor's Associate is concerned about both the buying and selling agents. If you can go online, spec out and pick out a house, and contact the selling agent directly, then you've deprived a potential buyer's agent of their fee (at least in their mind).
posted by bhorling at 6:17 AM on September 26, 2002

At any rate, where I live we have buyer's agents, who work for the buyer.

While this is true in theory, it's a bad idea to place your complete trust in a buyer's agent. Their commission is based on the selling price of the house - the more you pay, the more money they get, so I would never put my faith completely in the hands of any real estate agent, even though they do provide a lot of great services. The more information buyers can get from MLS or tools like this the better they will be able to make an educated purcahse.
posted by drobot at 6:27 AM on September 26, 2002

I don't understand the point of withholding information from house buyers. My wife and I were so obsessed and so price-conscious that we would have driven any realtor crazy during our initial search. As it was, we went through the MLS listings for months and got ourselves used to the market and which areas were good for us. We ended up using an incredibly knowledgeable buyer's agent in order to help us once we knew what areas and price range we were comfortable with.

We managed to find a house and we're closing on Monday.
posted by rks404 at 6:28 AM on September 26, 2002

Similar story as a3matrix and warhol: when we started looking for a new house here in Eastern MA this spring, I combed MLS info from realtor sites and found the house we wound up buying in an afternoon's worth of searching. Pissed off the agent who was selling our old house because she thought she was going to get to sell us a new house. Unlike you two, though, I got the house!

And Jolly Wanker has it right, too -- the selling agents still get paid, in fact it behooves the selling agent because they might nor have to split the commission with a buyer's agent. Plus it introduces the efficiency of not wasting hours driving around clients, makes clients more informed about a given market, etc.

The NAR should be more concerned about sites like that make FSBO selling easier. The ONLY value we got out of our selling agent was a higher asking price than we would have put out on our own. I could have sold my house myself in this market and saved $18,000.
posted by briank at 6:29 AM on September 26, 2002

Generally speaking, if you're selling a house you still have to contract with an agent to get your house into the MLS in the first place. You also typically need to call a realtor to schedule a viewing and unlock the door. So I don't see how making the info available on-line does anybody a disservice. The internet helps the shopper narrow it down on their own time, making their life easier, and making the agent's life easier too. I don't think the realtors of the world will lose any more business to the internet than they already lose to FSBO's.
posted by spilon at 7:09 AM on September 26, 2002

I propose the Open MLS Database. Who's in? Get your pre-IPO hookup now.
posted by Hankins at 7:28 AM on September 26, 2002

So what is the technical challenge of having the MLS database offer 2 levels of access, one to buyers and sellers, the other to agents? It shouldn't be difficult to offer MLS access with things like the street address blocked out.

When I went looking for houses with my dad, we stopped at the realty office and asked for the latest MLS book plus printouts of new listings. So it's not like we're dealing with top secret info, here. I think sales agents are trying to create less informed consumers - which will lead to a lot more "For Sale by Owner" now that the internet makes marketing a lot cheaper.
posted by Salmonberry at 10:08 AM on September 26, 2002

We shopped for a house late last year via and the FSBO listings, and every listing agent for each house we found on hard-sold us on the necessity of getting a buyer's agent; they said that it simply "wasn't done" for people just to call lots of agents and see all the houses, like we were somehow cheating the process. I could see how they could be putting a lot of pressure on and other MLS players to scale back offerings which have the effect of making it possible for people to work with buyer's agents.
posted by MattD at 10:10 AM on September 26, 2002

Salmonberry: I was under the impression from my buyer agent, who is a good friend and told me some in's and out's, that what you suggest is already the case.
I look at the MLS listings on and get vanilla, he looks it up with his super realtor pass, and gets more advanced info. That was always the case during my house hunt.

I think they are going to screw themselves if they shut out the public. It is to their benefit to let people do a lot of virtual leg work, and then go look at real prospects.

Anyway, to all those still in the market for a house, I say good luck to you. Hope you find what you want, at a good price, with low interest rates on your mortgage.
posted by a3matrix at 10:53 AM on September 26, 2002

What century are we in again? It only makes sense to have basic listings available through MLS to the public. It was a huge help to me to narrow down neighborhoods by price, etc. through MLS. I didn't have time to ride around with my agent to see houses I wouldn't be interested in - I looked everything up on MLS then we went to see the three or four houses that were actually to my liking.
posted by illusionaire at 3:59 PM on September 26, 2002

Information is power. There are those middle-men who add real value and those who just provide access to hidden information. Industry organizations of middle-men, like National Association of Realtors, usually represent both kinds. This explains their views.

In some industries middle-men are being phased out, travel agencies being the most obvious example. In others, like mutual funds, they provide value and remain relevant. The realtors probably aren't sure yet where their industry will end up, so they are really nervous.

On a related note, I remember a realtor in Europe who started selling "sell-your-own-house" kits to the public for $200-$300 a couple of years ago. He said he got a few death threats from other realtors over the phone every month. People get irrational when you mess with their business models.
posted by Triplanetary at 4:22 PM on September 26, 2002

« Older   |   Satire is alive and well? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments