In my last post, I awoken Ardell from her winter hibernation. To which I feel I should both apologize and take the credit . Ardell raised many interesting points, that I feel that merit a response. First and foremost, I’ll admit I am somewhat biased, since I tend to view things through buyer-colored glasses and I overlooked the reasons why a seller might be less than completely forthcoming with their listing information.
Admittedly, my gripe about bad zip codes is pretty minor (less than 1% listings are affected). However, entering an incorrect zip code is like misspelling a street name, it just shows buyers a lack of attention to detail. If I’m a buyer looking for vacant land in an Issaquah zip code (98029), I don’t want to see listings in Bellingham. If I’m looking for rental property in a Redmond zip code (98052), I don’t want to see listings in Mercer Island.
Regarding my beef about school information; since only half the schools surrounding Lake Washington are above average, are only half are listed? I wonder if the MLS near Lake Wobegon has this problem? Besides, who makes the decision that the school that serves a property is bad? The buyer might think XYZ school district is great, but because the seller had a differing opinion (and didn’t disclose that information), they just lost a potential buyer who won’t bother looking at a property that they otherwise might have.
Regarding my beef about latitudes and longitudes; OK, you the agent have no control over this. It still doesn’t explain why the MLS does such a bad job of geocoding! Admittedly, most people probably don’t care (unless they use a computer). Unfortunately, since many people use computers to find property information (and that number is only increasing), it’s a problem that will only become more noticeable.
When you combine latitudes and longitudes with free digital maps and inexpensive computer databases, you can see the location of listings in the neighborhood and other points of interest with an ease that was impossible to do (or at least very expensive) only a few short years ago. As they say, the 3 most important words in real estate are “Location, Location, & Location”, which means the most important part of a real estate listing web site is going to be “Maps, Maps & Maps” (as you can see by the growth of map-based real estate listings web sites this past year). Not having accurate latitudes and longitudes, makes it harder for software engineers to develop features the real estate buying, real estate selling, & internet surfing public increasingly are going to demand.
Pop quiz, which house is the better value? This ~$800K house or this ~$800K house? Without knowing how much living space I’m getting for my $800K, it makes my job as a buyer more difficult.
Just because you can’t get an exact measurement, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t measure. Most real estate listings & transactions have more legal paperwork & disclaimers than a Microsoft EULA! Furthermore, the NWMLS has the source for the square footage information associated with a listing. Couldn’t an agent argue the source should be liable? I assume the agent pays only pays if the error was in the sellers favor? Otherwise, isn’t listing a property with 0 square footage is asking for a lawsuit? Granted, I’m not an attorney, but if the risk was meaningful, I’d suspect all properties would have a square foot value of 0! So, if you get 3 different answers, pick the lowest value! Throw out the measurements from the French & Russian judges! Inaccurate data is always better than no data (at least for buyers).
Lastly, as computer based listing search & analysis tools become easier to use and more sophisticated, bad data is only going to be easier & easier to spot and less & less tolerated. Missing data makes the buyers job harder. Perhaps ironically, it also makes the sellers job more difficult as well. How can you draft an accurate competitive market analysis report if you don’t know what the size of your competitors are / were? Sure an agent could do the extra leg work of looking at the county records, but it’ll cost you more time (and time is money).
I guess the moral of this post, is caveat emptor. Although buyers may want to trust MLS data, sellers have a motivation to give you a reason not to. Perhaps, there is a market for a CarFax like service, that provides better MLS data, than the MLS? Despite my complaining, none of these obstacles are going to stop software engineers from giving the internet home buying public what they want (complete & accurate listing data). The internet has given the buyer more knowledge & more power in the marketplace. Sellers (& their agents) would be wise to embrace this trend, instead of avoiding it.
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