Garbage In = Busy Maids (Cleaning up the MLS mess)

On the soapboxAs promised in my previous post, I’d like to get on my soap box and complain about the state of NWMLS data. As an application developer, I’d rather spend my time developing new & exiting ways of visualizing data instead of developing new & exiting ways of correcting inaccurate data. Unfortunately, in order to accomplish the former, a lot of effort is spent on the later.

For example, of the 20,376 properties that were in the database when I started writing this blog entry, 32 have bogus zip codes. I’m not talking about hard to find errors like a Sammamish property with an Issaquah zip code. I’m talking about outright typos and easy to catch errors. Zip codes like 00000, WA, and other obvious errors, like zip codes smaller than 98001 (which is the smallest zip code in Washington state).

Another bone of contention, is that nearly 7% of the properties in the NWMLS database have a square footage of 0 square feet (1,389 properties). How hard is it to contact the county assessor’s office or the property owner and get the number? Can’t you just give an intelligent guess? Needless to say, this complicates compiling price per square foot statistics because computers have this thing about not wanting to divide a number by zero.

Even more annoying, nearly 18% of the properties in the NWMLS database have a 0° north latitude & 0° west longitude (3,637 properties). Can’t you just go to a map web site and enter an intelligent guess? If you can afford to be a competitive realtor, you can afford a cheap GPS receiver to put accurate data into the MLS when you list a property. I’m sorry, but you if you say your client’s property is located in middle of the Atlantic, 350 miles off the coast of Accra, Ghana in Western Africa, why should I believe anything else in your listing?

Perhaps most disappointing is that over 50% of the properties in the database don’t have elementary school, junior high, or high school information associated with the listing (10,419 properties)! How is a client supposed to make an intelligent decisions on the quality of schools, if that information isn’t available? I can only imagine how frustrated professional realtors must feel about this since their livelihood is dependent on the quality of this data!

Now, given the frequency of these errors, it astounds me that I have yet to find an instance in which a county, city or community name was misspelled. So obviously, it is possible to have high quality data in the database. But why is only some of it of consistently high quality? And why do we have so many errors of commission?

To paraphrase one of Murphy’s Law “If builders built buildings, the way the local MLS (and local realtors) compile data, the first woodpecker would’ve destroyed civilization“. Why is the data so bad? Are some realtors too lazy to bother with listing a property with complete and accurate information? Does the MLS not care about this? Are the MLS data collection tools so bad, that the fact we have any data (much less accurate data) is a feat worth celebrating? Perhaps most importantly, what can we do to improve this sad state of affairs? To quote General Beringer, from the movie WarGames “I’d piss on a spark plug if I thought it’d do any good!”

Caffeinated Software

PS – Go Seahawks!

11 thoughts on “Garbage In = Busy Maids (Cleaning up the MLS mess)

  1. And this is the quality service for which was are paying 6%?


    When my wife and I go to sell our current house I will be riding herd on my agent and demanding the best internet promotion/listing with virtual tours etc. that they have ever done. Since we live in a fairly obscure gated community that has absolutely no drive-by traffic the FSBO route is not very realistic. But dang if I’m going to be paying six figures for that sort of inexcusable sloppiness.

  2. Now, Robbie, before you go “pissing on spark plugs to see if it will do any good”, let’s look at this from another standpoint.

    For the most part, it appears that you are looking at this from the standpoint of a data collector. Possibly you are looking at this somewhat from the standpoint of a consumer.

    Now let’s take a peek at your beefs from the standpoint of an agent. Let’s be even more specific, since I will do things differently when I am the agent for the buyer than when I am the agent for the seller. Let’s look at this ONLY from the standpoint of the Listing Agent who represents the seller. As the Listing Agent it is my job to do what is best for the seller. Unfortunately, in doing what is best for the seller, I sometimes have to tick off data collectors and buyers who might be looking for reasons NOT to go see my seller’s home.

    First Beef: Bogus Zip Codes

    Did you know that it is virtually impossible to fix an erroneous tax record, quickly enough when you are putting a property on the market, if at all? Let’s say the seller’s agent sees a blatant error there like the square footage is HALF of what it really is or it says the owner just bought it a month ago for half the asking price. Now I know it’s wrong and I can back peddle in the remarks section, OR I can diddle with the zip code or some other thing until the tax record doesn’t do an auto link.

    Now if I were selling your house, would you rather I show the agents in town and buyers that erroneous info in the tax record OR would you rather I diddled with your zip code? If I let the bad info show and backpeddle, you may lose 5% of your value. If I diddle with your zip code, I will tick off a data collector and maybe get a $100 fine from the mls.. Hmmmmm, which should I do? Tough choice.

    Second Beef: Zero showing as square footage

    True story. I go to tax records and see 800 SF. I go to house and see BIG house. I talk to owner who says house is 2,450. I look at owner like he has two heads and say, it’s 1,700 to 1,750. He says “put 2,450”. I say you will get sued. He says I’m an attorney and I have no legal fees, and the guy I bought it from said it was 2,450. He screwed me and I’m screwing the next guy. I told him a thing or two and left. Another agent listed it and sold it.

    Sometimes when square footage is difficult to determine for many, many reasons, agents will put 0 as in, “go figure”. Come and see the house and the appraiser will come up with his answer. Rely on that. Three people can come and measure square footage and come up with three different answers. So sometimes when it is just to nebulous, like with additions that are “three season rooms” with a hot tub…some agents put 0 for liability reasons. I never have, but I see their point.

    Third Beef: What? Latitude and Longitude? Do I look like a sailor?

    Agents do not enter latitude and longitudes. That is an auto function of some kind generated by the mls sysem likely driven by the map feature. If there is no map for whatever reason, there is no latitude/longitude. Sometimes it is because the address is different from the address. Yeah, I said that. Address on building does not match the post office address which has changed for some post office reason. Legal address would produce a map but then when an agent is looking at the buildings in a 15 unit building complex, they won’t be able to find the unit or keybox because the good L/L address does not appear on the building. A completely different number is there instead. Common in large condo complexes. (Another reason for no L/L would be new construction. Address doesn’t “exist” yet in map function technology)

    OK here we go again. You are the seller. If I put the address that will produce the latitude/longitude correctly so sailors can find your condo, no agents (in cars vs. ships) will be able to find it to bring their buyers. Hmmmm tick off the data collector or sell the condo. Again, tough choice. As for your suggestion that agents should WAG it, wild ass guesses can be very dangerous in this business. If I WAG a square footage, I can have to pay for the difference in actual square footage up to two years after escrow closes. WAGging is not generally an option in this business, not for me anyway, unless it really, really helps my client for me to do so.

    I have been representing buyers and/or sellers for over fifteen years and have never relied on latitude/longitude to get to a property. But I have had a listing agent put the “right” address on the listing when the address on the building was completely different. Personally I prefer the “error” you hate, to the alternative, which is looking for the #%&$*# unit for a half an hour :0

    Fourth Beef: No schools noted.

    Unless it’s a one bedroom condo, no agent worth his weight in doughnuts and mochas is going to NOT show schools IF you live in the most sought after school district. Now you are the SELLER/OWNER and live in the WORST school district in the State of Washington or you are in a good school district but the specific Elementary, Middle or High school is that the “worst” in that district.

    Listing the schools by name is NOT required. If you were the seller and my NOT highlighting the schools would sell your home, what would you have me do? You don’t even know about the schools because you don’t have kids. You don’t even want to talk about schools. You just don’t want to offer any information, unless someone asks, that would adversely affect your price since it is not a requirement to disclose that. Would you be wrong?

    As to agents needing to rely on the data “for their livelihood”, when I am the buyer’s agent, it is my responsibility to represent and advocate on behalf of, the buyer. I do NOT do that by relying on information provided by the agent for the seller (listing agent).

    When I list a house, I sing the old ditty once sung by Bing Crosby and Dean Martin. “You’ve got to accentuate the positive and E-liminate the negative and Latch on to the affirmative But Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.”

    All “required” fields are entered. ONLY the optional fields that represent the seller well, are completed. The rest are left blank.

    How many people bought a home they NEVER would have picked from an internet array of homes. MANY. We are not in the business of keeping data collectors happy, sad to say. We are in the business of representing our clients well. Sometimes that is a seller client and sometimes it is a buyer client. Doing each exceptionally well is an art. But I do apologize if ever, in my efforts to represent my clients well, I do things that tick you off

    Good Night.
    Go Sonics!!

  3. Ardell –

    That was a beautiful post. THANKS!!!

    Kent –

    You SHOULD “ride herd” on your agent and demand the best they’ve ever done. That’s what they get paid for. (And why not negotiate that 6%. It’s not like MOses carved teh 6% commission rate in a stone tablet….)

  4. Pingback: Seattle’s Rain City Real Estate Guide » Playing With Rain City Guide’s Real Estate Search Tool

  5. Pingback: Seattle’s Rain City Real Estate Guide » You don’t know the power of the dark side

  6. Robbie,

    I haven’t got my hands on the raw MLS data yet, but man I hear you. I’m in the South Carolina, Myrtle Beach and our MLS (CCAR) is screwed up big time. We were using a couple of third party IDX/VOW providers and all of them were singing the same song to us – its screwed. I looked deeper in to the problems – dang, the Myrtle Beach is misspelled over 30 times 8-O. Man, the person who suggests a table with all the local cities already keyed in to our MLS developers will be a genius.. the same with the schools – why they don’t just make it a selective option rather then – type it in…duh??? Robbie, come on – if people can’t spell the city where they do business you expect them to know what is longitude and latitude? Well, may be I’m wrong.. it depends how you look at it – you can say, hey they have wide imagination and CAN spell their city name 30 different times :)haha… Our current IDX provider gives everyone property mapping solution and they don’t give one to us – because our MLS feed is completely screwed. We have local company that has so far the best IDX/VOW solution because they fixed all the problems – well, their price is about 10K just of the installation and then over hundred bucks a month… they know what they are charging for. But what is it – working on fixing already provided service and re-sell it.. 🙁

    (sorry for my English, it’s my third language and sometimes I have hard time expressing myself)

  7. Pingback: Real Estate » Blog Archive » Data Is King

  8. I’ve got a good one–my fiance is a realtor. He did a search on the MLS for properties offering more than 7% co-op. He found 1 at 5000%, 1 at 3000%, and a few at 300%. We decided to make an offer on the $200,000 condo at 3000% to collect the $600,000,000 co-op. I hope the broker’s E&O insurance will cover that!

  9. Pingback: Danger Will Robinson! | Rain City Guide | A Seattle Real Estate Blog...

  10. Pingback: Blog Wayback - Future of, etc. | Real Central VA

  11. Pingback: The future of, etc. |

Leave a Reply