Open Letter to NWMLS and Local Agents

Frustrated Home Buyer

Frustrated Home Buyer

Remember when JFK said we would go to the moon?  Remember the excitement of being part of something new!?  Let’s create a big, fat wish today that we, in the Seattle area, want to constantly be the prototype for the Country with regard to an MLS and how it functions.

We are the trendsetters (we being Seattle) as to The Internet and how people use it.

 Here’s a “workshop” post.  I think “the mls” is “broke” and it needs fixing.  You decide for yourself after reading this. We all “accept” that people start their search on the Internet…right? 

Let’s all take a good, hard look at HOW they start their search on the internet.

OK…I’m Average Joe and I think I want to move to Kirkland.  I go to the internet and I Google “Kirkland” and I find this super-duper site provided by The City of Kirkland.  It tells me:

Where all the parks are

It gives an an “on demand” video stream of all of the Kirkland Council meetings and provides the minutes of the meetings, so I can see if it’s the kind of place I might like to live.

There’s even a link to Kirkland TV on every topic I might be interested in…WOW!  I like this place called Kirkland.  They certainly care about keeping everyone informed, and they clearly embrace new technologies.  My kind of place.

Bur where in Kirkland might be the best place for me?  OK…lets Google “Kirkland Neighborhoods”. I find this great link to everything I ever wanted to know about Kirkland Neighborhoods.  I find the cool Explore Kirkland site and even Walking Maps sorted by the various Neighborhoods.  Wow!  Every Neighborhood in Kirkland has it’s own Association!  What a wonderful sense of community, and they certainly take their Neighborhoods seriously!

Isn’t this Super-Cool!!!  I can figure out everything I need to know in my jammies, without leaving the house…at 1 a.m!  That’s the kind of place I want to live in!  They have embraced Technology!  Woohoo! 

My world’s a better place because the City of Kirkland cared enough to make everything they do, and everything I need to know, accessible on the Internet!  I’m going to buy a house in Kirkland!  YAY!!!

SO JOE TAKES THE KIRKLAND NEIGHBORHOOD MAP (that he found on the Internet) TO A REAL ESTATE OFFICE, because he doesn’t know which Neighborhoods of these he can afford to live in.

BEFORE looking at houses on the Internet…he has a few questions.

Agent:  Can I help you?

Joe:  Can you please hit a button on your computer over there, and tell me the median price of a home in each of these neighborhoods?

Agent:  What’s your price range?  I’ll be happy to show you some homes right now!

Joe:…I really just want to know which of these neighborhoods on this map here from the City I can afford to live in.  I’m not ready to look at homes yet.

Agent: Do you have a pre-approval letter?  I’ll be happy to get our lender over here and tell you how much you can afford.

Joe: (starting to get angry) Lady, I just want to know the median price of these neighborhoods!  Can you help me or not!?  OK…let me make this easier for you (you idiot).  Just tell me the median price of this neighborhood.  This one.  Here on the map of Kirkland Neighborhoods.  “Lakeview”  Just go over to the computer and hit a couple of buttons and tell me what the median price of Lakeview is, PLEASE!

Agent: Well, you don’t need to get angry, sir.  I am more than happy to help you, but you OBVIOUSLY don’t know what you are doing, because the mls doesn’t HAVE a neighborhood called “Lakeview”, (Mr. Smartypants).

Joe: Hmmm?  How about this one over here…”Norkirk”?

Agent: “We” call that East of Market. kindof.  When you get down here some agents call that “Downtown”.  Some agents just put in Kirkland for all of it.  Would you like me to do a search by Zip Code?

Joe:  NO!  I don’t want you to do a search by Zip Code!  According to this great map the City “gave me” there are a dozen neighborhoods!  I don’t want TWO zip code answers!  I want TWELVE median price answers you freakin’ moron!  One for each of these REAL Neighborhoods!!!

(Joe leaves in a huff.  Agent says to agent next to them in the office, “one of those Microsoftees.  Boy are they a pain in the ass”  They think they know everything.)

Joe goes into a different real estate office:

Joe:  Can you please hit a button on your computer over there, and tell me the median price of a home in each of these neighborhoods?  Joe hands the agent the same great map the City of Kirkland “gave him” on their cool site.

Agent: Here’s “our” map.  This is the one “WE” use.  It’s broken down by all of these code numbers that only agents know. 

Joe: Can you give me a few minutes to study this thing, because all of my research so far geared me to searching by the neighborhoods.  The real neighborhoods.  The one’s the City and the people who live here use.  (Joe realizes he’s not going to get anywhere until he figures out this stupid “code map”, so he gives it a quick study.)

Agent: Do you have a pre-approval letter?  Do you want to go see some houses today, because it’s really a Great Time to Buy!  Can I make some appointments while you study “our” map?  How many bedrooms do you want?  Do you have children?  Pets?  Where do you work?  Here’s some testimonials from some of my clients who love me.  Here’s a link to my website with lots of useful information.  Here’s a Buyer’s Guide to help you understand all the things I’m going to be doing for you.

Joe: (I wish this agent would shut the fck up, so I can look at this map.) You know what.  I think I’m going to go get something to eat.  Can I borrow this code map to read while I’m eating?

Agent: What’s your price range?  I’ll line up a few houses to see while you’re eating lunch!

Joe: $750,000

(Joe leaves with the secret code map and never returns.  Agent says to agent next to him, “Well…what the heck is wrong with that guy?  Where IS he?  I’ve made five appointments to see these houses.  What am I going to do?”  Other agent, “You know what they say, “Buyers are Liars”.)

Joe tries to decipher the secret code map.

Joes’ Wife: Honey, did you figure out which neighborhoods we can afford in Kirkand?

Joe: Well, I’ve spent all day in two different real estate offices, and I can’t get a straight answer out of anyone!  This stupid realtor code map doesn’t help at all!!! They are calling ALL of Kirland, Area 560!

Joe’s Wife:  Honey…I know you’ve wasted a whole day with this stupid real estate agent stuff.  We don’t need an agent!  Let’s just go Google “mls Kirkland”and look at some houses and calm down, OK?

Joe: OK.  Sorry.  I didn’t mean to take it out on you.  I’m just SO FRUSTRATED!

Joe Googles “mls Kirkland”.  He finds Kirkland Home Search – The MLS Online He clicks “home search”.  He changes the drop down to “King County”.  He clicks on “Kirkland”.  He puts in his real price, not the lie he told the agent to get the heck out of that office.  He puts in minimum of 3 bedrooms. It says “10 Actives Found”. 

Joe: This site says there are only 10 houses in Kirkland priced between $500,000 and $525,000.  I thought there was a record number of houses for sale?  This can’t be right!

Joe’s Wife: Try $450,000 to $550,000.

Joe: OK.  That’s better.  It says 58.  Still, not as many as I was expecting based on what I’ve been reading in the paper.  A whole City only has 58 houses in our price range?  Let’s see if I can figure out which of these Neighborhoods they are in. (He clicks “View Actives List”.)  Honey?  What do you think “active” means?  Can’t they just say For Sale!?

Joe’s Wife: Now down’t get started.  Just get to the houses, OK?  What do you see?

(Joe says FCK…it’s starting at the most expensive house at $550,000.  I don’t want her to see this.  Good, here’s a re-sort button from lo to hi.)

Joe: One second, honey.  OK…here’s a really nice one for $450,000.

Joe’s Wife: That looks nice.  What’s a “split-entry”?

Joe:  I don’t know.  Can’t these G’damn agents speak English!!!

Joe’s Wife: Calm down.  What neighborhood is it in?

Joe: I’m looking at the pictures.  It has wood floors.  Those look like new windows.  Looks pretty nice.

Joe’s Wife: What neighborhood is it in?

Joe: It doesn’t say.  It says “Kirkland”.  Here’s a map of where it is…I can see a train track.  FCK…THIS ISN’T WORKING!!!

Joe Wife:  Honey, I think we really DO need to get an agent.

Joe: NO!  Fck that!  That’s why they are doing this!  They are making it impossible for me to do anything!  All I wanted was the median price of the neighborhoods in Kirkland.  Is that too much to ask!?!?  No.  No agent.  They are not going to win!  NO!

Joe’s Wife: (Crying)

Joe: (turns on the football game.)


I think it’s broke and needs fixing.  What do you think?

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ARDELL is a Managing Broker with Better Properties METRO King County. ARDELL was named one of the Most Influential Real Estate Bloggers in the U.S. by Inman News and has 33+ years experience in Real Estate up and down both Coasts, representing both buyers and sellers of homes in Seattle and on The Eastside. email: cell: 206-910-1000

192 thoughts on “Open Letter to NWMLS and Local Agents

  1. Wow. Do your clients(to-be) usually have such horrid language or am I just “out of touch”?

    Excellent point. I would like to live near Microsoft, but people list “Microsoft” as the neighborhood when they live next to I-90. I usually (as an average Joann) search by proximity, but I would love to know neighborhoods better. I drive through great looking neighborhoods sometimes, but going through the hoops of RE agents isn’t very appealing to me. I’m definitely the kind to do most of the “footwork” myself online.

  2. Eastside Mom. I tried to make it as realistic as possible and show the points of frustration. What a valuable tool the mls is…but it would be much more valuable if it matched what the Internet already has to offer.

    The codes, etc… are now archaic, given the complementary info available to people from other sites.

    Being a user…and adjusting everything based on how the average user would really utilize it…and agents too…is an idea we should have addressed a long time ago.

    Unless it’s done on purpose to make us “needed”. I find that hard to believe.

  3. As to language…yes. Often people will use the F word in general conversation. I’ve gotten used to it to some degree. For blog purposes, I appreciate it when people at least leave the vowel out. And using fck on the internet is used as often as LOL or FWIW and other “text message” type symbols.

    We have learned to infuse emotion into text messages nad other flat communication mediums with these terms. They are part of the present and the future. Helps get the point across with fewer letters.

  4. ARDELL, You hit this one out of the park! I have just never understood why in the land of “tech” we have never enjoyed a nice MLS – the format for NWMLS’s customer search is pathetic! I don’t think it has changed since maybe around 1996 – horrid land page and horrid search terms! Here is a question – not being a Broker I have no idea the answer. Is this because the Broker Members would rather have their sites shine and so there has been no push to make the NWML the “gem”. Most Broker sites are so much better. Anyway, love the story – it is fact and not fiction 🙂

  5. I’m a bit too tired to get through all that, but is this a criticism of the NWMLS or of the third party search tools?

    The consumer search tools are pathetic, and only part of that is due the the NWMLS being bad about sending out the listing information.

  6. I would agree that most consumers start researching real estate on the internet; however, I would also point out (in an kind and caring way) that information on the internet is only as good as the interpreter. Thin-slicing neighborhoods has never been a strong component of our MLS. Estately does a fairly good job of giving neighborhood statistics.

  7. James,

    Estately does call Norkirk by its true name vs. East of Market as most agents do in the mls. But I have yet to find a site that recognizes Lakeview, which is why I used it in this piece.

    Still, Estately cannot answer the man’s question, “What is the median price of the Lakeview Neighborhood”. I don’t think Estately recognizes Lakeview either…though if Galen sees this, I’m sure he’ll fix that? Will the mls? I hope…maybe.

    The only method I know to answer that question is by doing a Polygon Search in the mls. The man’s question is a direct line from the City site to the real estate office via Google. A legitimate question, I would think.

    Perhaps part of the issue with regard to real estate commissions, is making the transition from consumer question to answer, the hit of a button on the computer, as Joe expected.

  8. It’s not a criticism, Kary. It’s a direct line of communication from start to finish. It’s the world as it is.

    Come back if and when you have the time and energy to read it.

  9. Well I always thought that the reason an MLS search was difficult to do from the standpoint of a consumer was so that the consumers were driven to the MLS member websites such as Windermere, CBBain, JLScott, RE/MAX, C21, Prudential, Executive, Preview, Lake and Co, and so forth.

    Consumers can still use all those web search tools for free, yes? I’m not sure I’ve ever met a homebuyer who asks about the median price. Typically they’ll know how much of a monthly payment they can afford.

    Maybe that would make it easier. Start with a monthly payment amount and then let people search by what’s important to them.

    School district, high school district boundaries, name of neighborhood…but this means that someone must input this data.

  10. Jillayne,

    I didn’t use the mls Public site in this piece. The agent’ in the office can’t answer the man’s question because the mls input uses the word “community” vs. clearly defined neighborhoods automated by address.

    That’s why we can put something as Mt. Baker that is Leschi and vice versa and why if you do a polygon search in Lakeview (which the mls doesn’t recognize) you will find a few saying Kirkland, a few saying Houghton a couple of Downtowns and some Carillons and virtually none calling the neighborhood by its actual name of Lakeview.

    It’s not about the public not being able to do the search and get the median…it’s about the two agents in the above offices not being able to get that information without hand drawing a map of the neighborhoods, using a polygon tool.

    The couple in the post used the Internet to hone in on these wonderful neighborhoods using the great tools provided by the City. All they want to know from the agents, is the median price of those neighborhoods.

    “The shortest distance between two points, is a straight line”. I’m saying if the mls sat down real people, and studied how they use the internet, they would be able to anticipate the questions and alter the system to accommodate the consumer’s needs.

  11. …and this is another reason why places like RedFin are becoming more popular. The types of searches and stats you mention above all are pretty easy to do at 1am, in your PJs, using RedFin.

  12. Gene,

    We are very lucky to have many talented technology people in our area. Their efforts spur the efforts of others as well.

    My talents are not in that area, my being an agent for almost 20 years. So instead, I try to use my writing skills to illuminate as much as possible, FWIW. It is my hope that many will read this and recognize the “disconnect” and fix it. I can’t fix it…but maybe I can help shed some light on it.

  13. I’ve looked at MLS listings all across Canada and the US and I can honestly say that were I to move to a new city again I would start with everything Joe here did, toss in a bit of Zillow, and spend a ton of time readig agent blogs to see who I like… then interview the best of them to see who i click with and go from there. Joe’s problem is that he merely researched homes and neighbourhoods and not people (including agents). You may not need an agent when moving within your own region (gasp) but you sure as heck do when moving to relatively unfamiliar areas, IMO.

  14. Ardell – It was interesting that you wrote about this particular topic today. I had just finished a post on kenmoreundressed in which I talk about the commodifying of real estate services.

    Let’s face it: sooner or later consumers will be able to thin-slice the market without the aid of a MLS (or an agent). As Jillayne suggests, today consumers can go to a plethora (I’ve always liked that word) of sites to obtain information about real estate. I believe you’re on to something when you indicate that the multiple needs to sit down with consumers to discover how the public looks at the world. There are two challenges facing your suggestion:

    1) The MLS doesn’t care what or how the public thinks. It hardly cares what agents think.
    2) The MLS has a vested interest in keeping the status quo. Why should it change?

    I believe there are some very bright people out there right now who are going to put the MLS out of business one of these days by offering property searches that the public can use effectively. It will then be incumbent on agents to be relevant on the internet so consumers such as Will can find them.

  15. A little piece of dialog you left out was the question: “Are you working with a Realtor?” If the answer is “Yes, but please could you press the button on your computer for me this one time” , you will get ignored or told to ask your own d**m Realtor to do the “work.”

  16. Very interesting comments.

    My thoughts are that the mls is not empowering their agents, by providing them with the tools to answer Joe’s question. Rather, they are more likely to say “Joe shouldn’t be asking that question.”

    Which makes James’ comment 17 very interesting. I have a bunch of biscotti here, James. When can we have that cup of coffee? I’ll even make it.

    It’s not the kind of post everyone will understand from the perspective from which it was written. What Gene fails to see is that Redfin was started by a bunch of angry “Joe’s”. The mls SHOULD have a vested interest in being better, and by extension empowering the agents it serves.

  17. Vanessa,

    Sorry you got trapped in moderation for a few minutes there. It only happens to first time commenters. It shouldn’t happen again.

    As to your comment, that’s a whole different can of worms 🙂

  18. Sorry, but this reads like a 1996 travel agent saying “boy, it seems like its a lot easier to find airplane tickets on Expedia than my current $1000/mo subscription service”. The problem is not the MLS, its that the real estate agent system of the last 50+ years is dying. In 10 years I would wager that people will think of real estate agents the same way we think of travel agents today: a relic of an old system where information was guarded and the barrier to entry for the consumer forced them to pay up.

  19. will –

    That is the last vestige of the current system and it will be filled by internet sites in the next decade. Like my travel agent metaphor, people used to think “Gee, better use an Agent if you are travelling to Belize, you don’t know the good areas, the good hotels, etc”. Have you heard anyone say something similar about travel since 2000? I doubt it. The reason is that information sites filled that whole, and the community aggregation power is much much better than a single persons experiences and biases.

  20. In my view, a good realtor should be able to answer those questions. Having good online tools available to the consumer reduces the value a good agent can provide. That means less money for good agents. The MLS would have to spend money to reduce the earning power of its members. That is why it doesn’t happen.

    Unfortunately, the way of the capitalist free market is you are always fighting to provide more value for less return than your competitor. If the MLS doesn’t do this they will eventually become become obsolete.

    From my perspective, the NWMLS is doing a much better job of this than MLS systems in other parts of the country.

    The real trick is finding a way to connect the buyer above with a good agent.

  21. b

    I wasn’t a travel agent in 1996, but I was a Trust Officer in 1988. “In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s banks noticed a trend, they were losing deposits to investment firms like Merrill Lynch and others. After careful consideration and butting heads with the Glass Stiegel Act” Discount Brokerages offering drastically reduced cost for buying and selling stock, led to a change in the Glass Steigel act permitting Investment Firms to deal in Mutual Funds.

    Once Average Joe could buy stock online for a fraction of the cost, without paying for “advices”, the Glass Steigel Act changes took down the wall that permitted only Bank Trust Departments to utilize mutual funds. Pretty much the end of banks handling everyone’s trust funds, except for Guardian accounts.

    I switched to real estate after being at the bank from 1972 to 1990 or so. June of 1990 I switched to real estate. Now in real estate the same number of years: 1990 to 2008.

    Interesting correlation. What might I do for the next 18.6 years? 🙂 On June 9, 2009 I will be eligible for my pension from my first 18.6 years. Maybe James and I can bake and sell our biscotti. LOL Or I can go back to “the family business” of rolling our homemade pasta, gnocchi and ravioli.

    Can’t argue with you, b. I don’t use Expedia…but I do use Orbitz and my sister uses Priceline.

  22. Alan,

    The point of the post is that the system failed those “good agents” above by not keeping their system in line with what people need, from their perspective. The people’s perspective.

    It’s not that the agents didn’t want to give the man the median price of those neighborhoods. The system operates on an antiquated system of meaningless code numbers. They can’t go hit that button. They can draw out polygon searches, but it takes a lot of time. And frankly, no one wants to do that kind of work for a guy who walks in and will walk out. They don’t like working that hard for free.

    Vanessa’s small comment #18 hit the nail right on the head. She, like Joe, thinks it’s easy and you hit a button. Because of the code number system…it wasn’t. The agents can’t easily answer the totally reasonable question, because the system doesn’t function that way. Then there’s the issue of helping someone for nothing…which is a whole nuther story.

    Part of the way people “do the work themselves”, is by asking people other than their agent to do stuff, as Vanessa stated. To agents who are doing the work for free, so the buyer can go buy the house with a discounted service “because they did the work themselves” this does not seem fair.

    Lots of people call and email me with questions. They have an agent or decided to work without an agent and then have questions while in escrow. I am put in the position that Vanessa mentions every day. They want my answer, and yet I know that someone else is getting paid to give the answers they ask of me. Sometimes that someone else “getting paid” is another agent, sometimes it’s an online service, sometimes it’s the buyer themselves.

    It’s quite confusing these days, to say the least. It’s like walking into a store that has the best trained salespeople who know the product. But after the salesperson tells you everything you need to know, you go home and order it online. Did you do “the work” yourself?

    And yet when the difference in cost to buy it from that salesperson vs. online, is much greater than the value of the information…you have no choice but to go home and order it online.

    No easy answers here.

  23. Ardell, Estately’s properties in the Lake View neighborhood (two words!) can be viewed at,_Kirkland. We have live statistics including average, minimum and maximum prices as you search, but alas, we do not have the median. You got us there, although I’m not sure how many consumers march in asking for median prices…

    And yes, many agents use Estately instead of the MLS. Especially in parts of California where we span more than one MLS, the MLS search tools are even more useless for agents, and Estately allows them to do the search in one place.

  24. Ardell, this is a very good point. People ask for all kinds of advice and work from our agents only to spring their own agent on them after the fact.

    Lots of people call and email me with questions. They have an agent or decided to work without an agent and then have questions while in escrow. I am put in the position that Vanessa mentions every day. They want my answer, and yet I know that someone else is getting paid to give the answers they ask of me. Sometimes that someone else “getting paid

  25. All good comments, Galen. But isn’t it really, really sad when agents need to use a public site to get the kind of info people want? Really, really sad.

    Thanks for the Lake_View tip, but Lakeview is not two words. Check the links above Kirkland Neighborhood Associations. It’s like the online fresh fruit place saying “we DO have watermelons. You have to type in water melons. LOL

    I still prefer to do my own stats, even if I do have to draw the polygons. But if ours come out the same consistently…I’ll stop doing the extra work 🙂

  26. Galen,

    I think sites that say “do you want to see this house?” lead people in the direction of thinking the site is some free door opening service. Not saying that’s the case with Estately. I don’t know what it says. But most people think someone at that site is selling ALL of those houses, and will come and let them see it for free. They don’t really think about it and the site just says “do you want to see the house?” They honestly answer the question literally…”yes”. I don’t think we can fault them for that unless there is an explanation once they say “yes”.

  27. Galen,

    I loved this one. Man calls and asks for X. I say, they didn’t build any of those there. He says, “That’s OK, I’m not in a hurry. I’ll keep looking for “it”. I said, I ‘m trying to save you some time, will you live in Y? Because Y has those. He said no, I want to look in X. I said well they never built what you want in X. He says, that’s OK I’m not in a hurry. I’ll keep looking and I’ll call you when I find it. LOL!

  28. Ardell wrote: “Which makes James’ comment 17 very interesting. ”

    Are you talking about the part where he said they barely care about what agents think? That’s correct.

    Look at the amendments to the statewide forms for distressed property. They protect brokers and leave agents hanging (with a false sense of security–which is even worse). Or how about never requesting agent input on the various changes? Were agents demanding a choice for Form 17 liability? I’m not even sure why that change came about–typically the MLS is about avoiding lawsuits, not creating new causes of action.

  29. Galen, one thing I like about your site that most the other consumer sites lack is ranges. Most are 2+ bedrooms, where you can search for 2-3 bedrooms on your site.

    But what about bathrooms? Adding 1/4 bath searching options would be great. For many/most people, there is little difference between a 1 3/4 bath and 2 bath home (they might even prefer the 1 3/4), but a huge difference between 1 1/2 and 1 3/4.

  30. Jo #4

    Yes. “no push to not shine” is an understatement. The intention is to make it as bad as possible, but still comply with the rule that the “be one”.

    Kinda makes you wonder why they spend all the money on Rose Bowl floats and national advertising, but trash the image in the public eye that way.

  31. “Absent the NWMLS automating the name location, I don’t see how this would possibly work.”

    No offense to Galen intended, but I think if he can do it, the mls can do it. Predefine the area by it’s actual boundaries, and then have it auto fill by the latitude-longitude once the agent puts in the address.

    Probably fairly simply stuff for a geocoder.

  32. Pingback: Kenmore Undressed » Blog Archive », Technology and the Future of Real Estate Services

  33. Kary, bathroom search seems like a mess to me – the math of baths (3/4 + 3/4 = 1 + 1.5 = 1.5) is bizarre to me.

    An honest question – do people want 1 3/4 baths over 1 1/2 or do they just want at least one full bath?

  34. “An honest question – do people want 1 3/4 baths over 1 1/2 or do they just want at least one full bath?”

    Absolutely they want 1 3/4 vs. 1 or 1 1/2. A half only has a sink and toilet. Two people can’t take a shower at the same time in the morning to go to work with 1 or 1.5.

    Don’t you have a rommate? 🙂

  35. Galen on #28 –
    I believe you are coming very close to defining the real paradigm shift that’s going to happen in real estate services when you talk about receiving payment for your services. I would suggest you have already tackled one portion of the shift: providing a powerful property search/informational tool for the public and agents.

    The next step is creating a system to charge clients for your consulting services as needed. If they ultimately sign a contract with you (or somebody else) great. If not, at least you’ll be compensated for your work. This idea isn’t necessarily new, but it needs to be a new standard that consumers can understand. As an industry, I bet there are 10’s of thousands of agents working for NOTHING right now based on commissions.

    I know that I’m going to take a lot of heat for suggesting this: Many of us have been professionals long enough to have earned the right to be paid for our services. Don’t have casual conversations about the market with potential clients unless you receive a fee for this service. Don’t do a CMA or make friendly suggestions about landscaping for a potential seller unless the listing agreement is signed first. Yes, it’s tough love, but as our industry is looked-upon more and more as a commodity, commissions paid at the end of transactions will no longer pay for the food, clothes and mortgage.

    Perhaps Ardell’s pretend home buyer would have approached the real estate agents differently if he had known it wasn’t free. The real challenge is if we, as professionals, truly live up to our standards and actually deliver value to the clients……………that’s another subject for another day.

  36. James,

    I have had people approach me to hire me for $500 for opinions and 2nd opinions. Problem is we are one of the only industries that fines the agent $5,000 for giving “a second opinion”.

    Consumers need and deserve a system that allows for 2nd opinions, IMNSHO.

  37. Comment #42,

    But I think that is dependent on the agent putting in the write neighborhood name in the mls. Estately seems to define by geography vs. agent input.

    I could be wrong. I’ll ask Matt Goyer over at Redfin. He was off skiing for the weekend last I noticed.

  38. Ardell, when I plug a neighborhood name into Redfin it shows a birds eye map with the neighborhood outlined, containing icons for all the homes that fit my search criteria. Geography, not agent input.

    Joe needs to know about it.

  39. Works perfectly. The point of my post is that the mls…from the agent side…doesn’t work like that, so getting stats for median prices, median price per square foot, etc…requires that I draw those areas out by hand.

    As far as I know, no public site can answer Joe’s question. What is the median price of each neighborhood in Kirkland.

    If anyone finds a site that ANSWERS JOE’S QUESTION, let me know. Median price, or median price per square foot. Maybe Zip Realty?

  40. Sorry, changed that. Not fair to expect public sites to have sold data in that manner. But it is clear that public sites address this issue better than the agent site. The public site is not a replacement, as the agent could look at all pendings, all closed data, etc…and so this post is about the agent site, not the public version.

    However, while not the intent of the post, all of the comments from various perpsectives has been very interesting.

  41. Hi Ardell,

    If you go to the second link I posted earlier (or, do your search, and on the right click on “More Local Stats and Trends” – on the right side of the screen ) on redfin. Scroll down.

    You get a summary with median price, and price per sq ft.. and above that are charts with the data. Though I’d be curious to see if it matches up with the data I know you do by hand.

  42. Galen, at some point the bathroom thing becomes a bit complicated. For example, 2 “powder rooms” (one-half baths), a 3/4 bath and a full bath would be a 2 3/4 bath, but that’s a house with four toilets. You could get to the same point with two full baths and a 3/4.

    It really makes more of a difference to buyers in the low end of the scale. 1 1/2 is better than 1 because two people can use the toilet facilities. 1 3/4 is better than 1 1/2 because two people can shower.

    In a one bedroom it might not matter much, but if you have a 2 or 3 bedroom and one or two teenage kids you’re going to want at least 1 3/4 bath.

    If you wanted to simplify things, you could just have choices of 1, 1 1/2, 1 3/4, 2, 2+, 3+, etc. But it is something rather important to most buyers who are living with other people.

  43. What about 1 1/2s that are two 3/4s, so 2 people could shower, but no bathtubs?

    Redfin does list out the type and quantity of bathrooms on each floor, but you can’t search for a specific combination, just the total.

  44. Cautious Buyer,

    The normal configuration is that there be a tub in the hall bath so that you can bathe children. A one and 3/4 is usually a shower in the master and a tub in the hall bath, or a tub bath up and a 3/4 on a lower level. A house with no tub would be a bad investment…no place to bathe the 3 year old.

  45. Further to Kary’s comments, a buyer’s agent is not only concerned with your needs, but the advantages and disadvantages when you go to sell the property. If you have no children and it doesn’t matter…you could be eliminating people with children when it is time for you to sell.

    Generally, a house built in the fifties (in your price range) would have been built with 3 bedrooms and 1 tub bath in the hallway.

    Sometime around the late 70s a small shower bath 3/4 was added inside the master bedroom and a 1/2 bath was added to two story homes so guests didn’t go upstairs to go to the bathroom.

    By the 80s the master bath started having tubs, usually soaking tubs.

    By the late 90s and to date, master bedrooms became “five piece” with a tub and a separate shower enclosure.

    These are basic builder changes from memory off the top of my head. Family Rooms came out about the same time as master shower baths.

  46. #49 Yes, the info looks accurate to me as well. Put in Lakeview and click Lakeview Kirkland and you will see that the configuration is quite difficult for an agent to have to draw with a polygon tool.

    Update…hmmm maybe not. My data had 29 homes for sale, not 17, but it’s a week old. Still seems odd it could change that much. I’ll double check.

  47. Ardell wrote: “Sometime around the late 70s a small shower bath 3/4 was added inside the master bedroom and a 1/2 bath was added to two story homes so guests didn’t go upstairs to go to the bathroom.”

    Generally speaking that’s right, but I grew up in a 1961 house that had a 3/4 master bath and a 1/2 bath down in the basement off the rec-room. It was an owner-designed home though (my step-father).

    When people look at the current prices of homes they often ignore the differences in the homes. I’m not sure when having both a family room and a living room became common, but that’s another huge difference.

  48. One of the advantages of being able to do a general query in the tax records, is knowing if you are looking for a needle in a haystack Say someone zero’s into a specific neighborhood and wants a house that is 2,500 square feet or larger. You can put in the subdivision name as recognized on the tax record, search for minimum square footage of 2,500, and note if and how many were built at that size.

    Even if you find 3 of 75, you can target those three owners to see if they are thinking about moving. Better than watching the neighborhood for a year hoping something comes on market.

  49. Kary,

    I threw family room in about the same time as the 3/4 bath. 2-story homes came out with 1/2 on main, 3/4 in master and family room, all about the same time.

    I liked the late seventies when most homes were built with all three, and in many cases with hardwood floors both up and down. By the 90s, building with hardwood floors was less frequent due to the previous recession. In the fifities, hardwood floors were often covered with wall to wall carpeting at time of construction.

    These generalizations are not merely specific to the Seattle Area. The 60s seems to be a much heavier building period overall here, than in most of the Country. I believe part of that, at least from the Eastside perspective, is due to the 520 bridge going up in 1963.

  50. Yes, the places I’ve stumbled across with two 3/4s are the type with multiple haphazard remodels and are not nearly discounted enough for what they are. One place didn’t have any drawers in the kitchen. You just notice they are keeping the silverware on the counter and, hmm.

    I could do without the separate living and family rooms though because it seems the living room is too often an unused room. I would certainly rather have the extra shower than the extra common room.

  51. Relationships don’t usually work out well when the parties are butting their heads from the get-go; still, it’s probably more useful for sales professionals to skillfuly teach the self-educated how to properly use the technology in the most effective way.

    I remember taking a writing class as an adult (I know, it doesn’t show, etc.); I actually heard myself telling the instructor something to the effect of, “I’ve been writing all my life, and this is the way I do it.” What? The paragraph should be the unit of composition? Who knew?

    Not everybody, of course, just people who were good at writing.

    I’ve been a self-taught piano player, also. After many years of noodling around, somebody took a moment to show me how proper hand positioning would improve my touch, attack, and mobility. You mean I didn’t learn everything I needed to on my own? Nope. Gee. Practicing the wrong thing just makes you better at doing the wrong thing!

    There’s a similar situation going on with homeselling. People come to us telling us how much they know about how to search for a home, and why don’t we do it their way, when in fact, perhaps they’re actually going about it the wrong way. Perhaps.

  52. On the topic of the NWMLS not really caring about agents, I just received a notice when logging on about paying dues. I’m paid up, so I assume that went to everyone.

    If they cared about us they would have sent that reminder notice before the end of the year. I was looking for things to pay, but that didn’t occur to me (in part because it was paid a few months ago).

  53. Mack,

    The premise here is not about right or wrong…it is about the agent tools not matching up with the public sources available via the internet.

    If every agent did a workshop from start to finish, as I have outlined above, they would quickly and clearly see where the agent tools are not blending with the consumer tools. Each area will be slightly different in that regard.

    As more and more information becomes available to “people in their jammies”, the more we have to tweak how WE do things, to prevent the chasm that is being created between us and the public.

    We can keep number codes, but I dont think there is an agent in the NWMLS who would stand up and scream that the current configurations are adequate, given how lesser the capabilities are compared to Estately and Redfin (to name just two).

    Galen created a better system with two guys trying to change the world. You would think a monstrous fee supported collection of all agents could do a lot better, or at least as good as, two guys with no budget.

    Your response smacks of this line in the piece:

    Agent: Well, you don’t need to get angry, sir. I am more than happy to help you, but you OBVIOUSLY don’t know what you are doing, because the mls doesn’t HAVE a neighborhood called “Lakeview

  54. Kary,

    As an aside, it seems to me that I am paying semi-annual dues…quarterly. Those bills seem to be coming out more frequently than they should. It’s on my “to do” list to check that. Aren’t the dues semi-annual now? Is it possible the system is still shooting them out quarterly?

  55. – The premise here is not about right or wrong…it is about the agent tools not matching up with the public sources available via the internet.

    Ah. I got sucked into the conversations, and am not quite sure of what problem we’re trying to solve.

    If we put the nicely-scripted two-act play aside (Author! Author!), are one of these the complaint?

    1. Buyers can search more efficiently and effectively than real estate agents can?

    2. Buyers have access to tools that real estate agents should have provided to them separately by the NWMLS?

    3. The NWMLS should be actively developing tools to exceed what’s being developed by outsiders, such as Redfin?

    Or is it something else?

  56. Ardell, it is my opinion that it is the professional’s job to know where the best data is, not to be a member of the organization that provides it. If we have the best data at Estately, an agent can pull that up from us. If the NWMLS has it, they can pull it up from them.

  57. Mack, What I got of of it was this:

    Micro view:

    Newspaper article, in person discussions, etc. use terms for areas (such as “LakeView”). However a buyer who knew a bunch of neighborhood names would have a hard time getting the data they want quickly from an agent, and an agent would probably want some kind of commitment from the buyer before launching into a time intensive compilation of said data.

    Macro view:

    the tools given to agents don’t match up to the questions buyers are asking. It can be gathered, and processed (such as a whole bunch of you do, I know I see a lot from Greg P. and Ardell in the blogs).. but for what you pay, it should be part of the package.

    Not sure if that’s what Ardell intended….

  58. Cautious Buyer – Estately has neighborhood outlines on our map also. We initially generated them from the properties, but since then we moved to an open-sourced neighborhood dataset. Redfin “borrowed” this functionality from us. We were flattered.

  59. “not to be a member of the organization that provides it.”

    Perhaps that would be true if we were not all members of organizations that SHOULD provide it BEST, or at least be doing their best to move in that direction, vs. in reverse by design.

  60. Mack,

    Basically, it’s a modification of your 3).

    Instead of spending millions on floats for the Rose Bowl Parade, and commericals designed to suggest that we may have the ultimate tools that add value, spend that same money on:

    3. The NWMLS should be actively developing tools (FOR AGENTS) to exceed what’s being developed by sites available to the public.

    The Redfin site is hugely popular for very good reason. It approaches real estate from the standpoint of all the Joe’s. The Industry needs to stop adding new rule #242, and re-examine their entire approach to services to agents, and to the public via those agents.

  61. You know, with the layoffs at zip, and redfin.. it might just be the right time for NWMLS to hire some experienced web designers…..

    or to partner with the Estatly, redfin, etc to add an “agents” only section..

  62. It is my understanding, and others have noted it, that the inadequacy is by design and intentional. Technically to draw the eyes to member sites, but that was introduced when the major voting forces were the 2 or 3 major brokers.

    They did not recognize the door it would open to sites like Redfin and Estately, and how it would diminish the ability of small brokerages to compete in the marketplace. Well they did recognize how it would impact small brokerages…and so the members who belong to the major brokerages were better served via their mandatory membership in the mls, than smaller brokerages with less “voting” power.

    In hindsight, one mega NWMLS public site would have served all better and well…though I doubt the people with the most votes agree, even now.

  63. Ah- but doctors use many different resources. Journals, other doctors, online tools, etc. Any doctor looking to the AMA to answer their questions is a poor doctor indeed!

  64. Doctor: Well, now, what seems to be the matter?
    Patient: No no no, you tell me!

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    It wasn’t WR that spent millions, it was NAR, and I suspect that NAR’s as willing to fund the NWMLS into supremacy as Washington DC is willing to fund Rhode Island into some sort of supremacy.

    Redfin has spent how many millions – twenty or so – creating their website? The NWMLS has, what, 25,000 members? Including appraisers, office staff, assistants, etc. So, for $1000 each, we can fund a website development project. Is this something that anybody wants to do?

    – an agent would probably want some kind of commitment from the buyer before launching into a time intensive compilation of said data.

    Yes, ET. You know, I really don’t want people walking in front of me telling me to search for them unless they’re my client. Surprisingly (I know you know this, but I like to start sentences that way), the agent at the desk is not a public utility, they’re someone who is looking for actual clients that are going to result in actual spendable paychecks.

    So far as I can tell, the real estate industry – and all industries, probably – is dependent on actual salespeople who can find solutions for people better than they can find it for themselves. And when it comes to real estate, the only people who can find homes – places to live – better than real estate agents are, for the most part, people who are not particularly discerning about where and how they live.

    Ardell spoke about family homes vs homes for singles – she just scratched the surface. There are many factors that determine livability, and someone walking into a real estate office demanding the median price of homes in a particular neighborhood demonstrates not just a lack of understanding of how to get real estate agents to provide you with information, but is likely accompanied by an equal lack of understanding of what makes a set of six-sided boxes a home.

  65. Galen,

    In real estate, the Broker is charged with the same duty as Internship Programs for doctors. I believe the Broker-Only Licensure will implement some of these practices. But the Brokers have to start now to be ready…take down the sales boards…have meetings about clients…all the things I ask in my concurrent post.

  66. “And when it comes to real estate, the only people who can find homes – places to live – better than real estate agents are, for the most part, people who are not particularly discerning about where and how they live.”


    1) You underestimate the abilities of most people

    2) You overestimate the abilities of most agents

    “…people who are not particularly discerning about where and how they live.”

    Terrible tactic to throw sticks and stones at the very people you are charged with serving day in and day out. AS IF anyone who can decide where they want to live and what they want to live in…must be “not particularly discerning”.

    Do me a favor. Go to Starbucks right now with that printed on an index card and hand it to 10 strangers. Hopefully, for your sake, none of them will have a club in their hand.

  67. Oh, Ardell, I know – how can I suggest that everybody isn’t wonderful and brilliant all the time!

    Life is too short to master everything. Some things, you just have to realize you haven’t learned yet. Most people do not know anything about houses, anything at all. Yes, I said it! (Wrote it?) If they do, they do a good job of hiding it!

    Traffic flow? Sound privacy? Light. Ventilation. Four things that inspectors never touch on – nor should they. I’m not playing Master Class here, but these are just four factors that can make a house that’s in good structural condition heaven or hail on earth – and most people don’t have a clue about them.

    At least once a month I’ll have a visitor to an open house who tells me that this is their favorite style of house, but they’re just looking for one that has features that are totally atypical of that style. Love an original Craftsman, no fakes for me. But I’d love a family room off the kitchen, and lots of light – don’t like those eaves much. Love the lines of those mid-century moderns, but they don’t have any character.

    People like being told how smart they are. And they are, for the most part. But like all of us, we can get fooled into thinking that our smarts bleed into areas of life where we really, truly, need the help of a professional.

  68. Ow! Man, Ardell, those clubs can really smart!

    Anyway, only two people hit me, well, maybe three.

    But my point about discerning homeshoppers was tied into the stage play you wrote – people put their priorities up front. It’s the 80:20 rule. So when they come to me, data driven, all about the mechanics of the search, I do notice how little was mentioned about the livability aspects.

    And when it’s a couple, and one of them spends all the time talking about what it is that he (or she, ‘way less often) wants …

    Sometimes, no matter how much you talk, you can still learn quite a lot from listening.

  69. I’ll side with both of you on the issue.

    People like to think they know more than they know, and that’s particularly true of activities that they don’t do very often or have never done before. I mentioned the siding issue recently, where many buyers don’t understand, or even notice, the different types of siding. Or the popcorn ceiling issue. Or just simple issues that would pertain to resale–such as maybe being on a busy street.

    On the other hand I don’t think all agents necessarily do a good job steering people away from certain things. For example, there are at least two established condo projects that our buyer clients walked away from due to financial issues of the associations. I know units have sold in each of those complexes since, and I’m pretty sure the financial situation hasn’t turned around. What I don’t know is whether the buyers had agents, but assuming they did I’d wonder whether the financial condition of the association was pointed out. One of the two complexes seems to be selling at greatly reduced prices, so perhaps it is a conscious decision on the part of the buyers. I would hope so.

  70. Ardell, thank you, they’re supposed to!

    I think that we all believe that we do things the absolutely best way, and everybody us should learn from us.

    As I get older, it starts to seem that the adage about everything looking like a nail to a guy with a hammer has a ring of truth about it.

    And I become much more aware that most people’s success in life seems to come from doing what it is that they’re good at, and doing it with people that they’re good at working with.

    In my experience, there are just some people that I can’t work with. Much the same way, I might add, as it’s clear that there are some people who can’t get along with me, regardless of our shared Italian heritage.

    C’est la vie. It doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from one another, but it’s probably wise to let the person who loves using the saw do the cutting, and leave the nailing to the person who’s great with the hammer.

  71. LOL,

    Mack, I found your attitude so disturbing that I decided not to dignify it with a response. You should have quit while you were ahead.

    “Most people do not know anything about houses, anything at all.”

    “Traffic flow? Sound privacy? Light. Ventilation. Four things that inspectors never touch on – nor should they. I’m not playing Master Class here…

    You think your real estate license somehow gave you a greater advantage over normal Joe’s to see light? Did a cape come with that?

  72. Well, Ardell, I think the difference between us is that I recognize that I’m a hammer (or saw, doesn’t matter) guy; I’m willing to accept the fact that if people need something cut, I’m not really the person for them to work with, although I may be able to do a workmanlike job on it.

    There are many types of customers for residential real estate. And if the willingness to have someone walk into your office and bark orders at you to get them data is a characteristic you possess, all power to you.

    But go back to your point. Are you suggesting that the members of the NWMLS pony up $1000 apiece to attempt to develop a website as good as, well, whoever’s?

    I would like to remind you that NAR lost a kajillion dollars trying to develop a website back in the day.

    Yours in Achilles,
    — mack

  73. Hhhhhmmmmm…….. So much misdirected frustration. Neighborhoods huh? Who defines the boundaries? Who’s angry because they are just outside the “good neighborhood”? I have blurry edges in my thought process. Don’t even know where “My Neighborhood” begins or ends.

    Then there was Pierce County. Have any of you ever looked at the map designations in Pierce County, WA? Take a moment and do so. It is like an anachronism. There must be a hundred little teeny tiny, let’s call them neighborhoods for our purposes.

    Now try to do a search or any other kind of work for a client waiting across the desk for immediate results. It is impossible! Little teeny tiny doesn’t cut it. We should be advocating for Pierce County agents to get together and make their areas logical…. Like Ours!

    We can search area by price, we have sufficient tools to do the job with the “draw your boundaries” mapping tool.

    I hate neighborhood mapping ideas. Time and energy spent better with clients.

    Thanks for the thought process. Very cerebral.

  74. Dick,

    The post is not about “us” and “we” it’s about them and them. Dovetailing the info into what is already available to the public on the internet is a service to the community at large. It shows that we are living in the present, and not the past.

  75. I’m glad this post got bumped. The problem is, while cities have clearly defined boundaries, neighborhoods do not (absent water boundaries). Even with city boundaries, some people might not realize what they are, and thus have an entirely different city in mind. I’m thinking specifically of areas like Lynnwood, MLT, LFP, Edmonds, etc.

    If you’re interested in a particular area, it’s best to simply define the boundaries.

  76. “The problem is…” Going to the point where it is not practical…and then not bothering to implement where it is most practical and trying harder where it is least practical, is what I believe is called “a defeatest attitude”.

    There are any number of places where the City of Seattle has clearly defined neighborhoods. This post and its links have very clearly defined neighborhoods in Kirkland. Many neighborhoods have unique services, like Tam O’Shanter that comes with golf club membership…being a hair outside of Tam O’Shanter would then be “close but no cigar”.

    But more and most important is that the world acnowledges and appreciates the attempt to be most accurate. For us, in the Seattle Area, it is not an option to not care about implementing technology. Many of our local residents are in the technology field. They know what can be done at a touch of a button. To say it can’t be done at a touch of a button is like saying everyone except those with the duty to know most, can do it better. That does not speak well of us.

    What Mack and some others fail to see in this post is the building of the frustration. Joe did not start out frustrated and “barking orders”. In fact he was ecstatic at the info available on the internet, until he hit a brick wall when trying to use that information in a real estate office. As to cost, most of Galen’s site was written by a guy with no funding.

    Embracing technology does not simply mean “being available on a computer”, it means integrating what we do with what everyone else is doing on the internet.

    Even if you only consider the members’ needs, area 600 appears to have been defined during a time where most of the area was open land. Calling areas by numbers that have no meaning, is a defiant stance to refuse to integrate with the public at large.

    Want to know the neighborhood name and boundaries? Do what everyone else does…Google it. It really is that simple in many places…not all…but many.

  77. Kary,

    A simple acceptance of the fact that the internet is a broad source of information, is all that is needed. Insuring that our information is dovetailing with other information at the home buyer’s disposal is not an end result…it’s a journey toward. The abiguities that remain will not be by our design.

    All it takes is for the mentality to shift from the end user being the member broker…to the end user being the clients whom that member broker serves.

  78. A little late to the party, but I wanted to chime in. No offense meant, but I don’t find the scenario credible at all. We can make up a buyer, and make him dissatisfied with whatever, and claim that we have failed him. But is it realistic.

    If a buyer came into my office and asked that question, I would first ask him what he can afford, offering to see if there are any houses in the neighborhood of interest that meet his criteria in that price range. If he refused this, which would be the most obvious and useful information for him, then I would give him the median home price, but explain that it does not mean much as it might include houses too small for him, and million dollar homes, all of which would throw off the usefulness of median home price. And, i would also be wary of him as a difficult buyer. Frankly the guys sounds like a know it all that will probably never be loyal and never buy.

    Granted, the agents are not very helpful, but they are made up too. I am sure a good agent would ask a few question, while offering to get him he info he needs.

    If he insists he wants the median price, or is willing to get info on what I offer, I would hop on the mls, do a quick circle or box search and give him the info. If he realized it did not meet the exact perameters of the neighborhood, and objected, I would probably throw him out of my office. That is not someone i wanted to work with no matter the commission. My time is taken up by good reasonable clients that I do a great job for.

    Neoghborhood bounaries are arbitrary. I would ask some questions like does he want to be able to walk to shopping, have a view of the lake, be near the freeway etc.

    If a guy does not want my help in figuring out if he can afford the neighborhood, that tells me he is a not someone I can work with. I am not sure how this guys wife can stand him. He sounds like a typical macho know it all that usually sells fsbo because they insist they know more than agents, and usually buys with redfin or asks you to cut your commission. Redfin can have him.

    Agents, let’s be honest. Do you want to spend your time working with a difficult client, or save your time for the good ones?

    I think any good agent can give any reasonable client the info they need. We do it everyday. As for them not being able to get it on line, I don’t mind. I have no problem with being the final resource. Most clients just want to be able to hop on line and see homes now an again. That small minority that insist on finding all the details on line are welcome to do so. But I will lose no sleep if they can not find it on my site. IO don’t think we owe them any big obligation to do so. That is what trained profesisonals are for. And to suggest that we can be replace by on line search tools, no matter how good, is a mistake anyway.

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