As of this writing, there are 837 homes for sale in the Austin MLS for which the “Syndication” choice is set to “no” in the MLS settings. That’s 14% of current Austin single-family homes for sale, a sizable number, spanning all price ranges. I applaud those Broker/Agents for not drinking the syndication Kool-Aid.
This means, specifically, those 837 Austin MLS listings are not being fed by the listing agent through the MLS to a syndication aggregator called ListHub, which in turn is the main provider of listing feeds for most syndicators, including Zillow and Trulia, and 60+ others. I single out Zillow and Trulia only because those sites are the biggest and most well-known syndication websites. They are also the two most notoriously aggressive in their efforts and tactics to sell expensive advertising to the same Austin Realtors who freely gave away their work product (listings) to these media websites.
But what the 14% means in practical terms is that if you are a serious buyer dumb enough to only be looking for a home on a syndication website, you are only finding 86% of available Austin MLS listings. Wouldn’t you rather know about all available listings that match your search criteria?
Conversely, wouldn’t you rather NOT be shown incorrect listing data, specifically, homes you find on Zillow and Trulia and other sites that are not even for sale, or that already sold months or years ago but still appear on these websites? Or a home listed for $500K with an “estimated” value of $423K, but which had multiple offers over list price before the listing even made it onto the syndication website?
These websites might be interesting time wasters for tire kickers, curiosity seekers and nosey neighbors, but they are not trustworthy sources of current, accurate real estate listing information. Maybe they are an easy “first look” for casual listing surfers in the very early stages of “thinking about” buying a home, just to get a general idea of prices in a new city or area of town. But real estate listing syndication websites are not valuable tools for a serious buyer. Nor do they offer a relevant advertising venue for serious sellers or their listing agents. That’s because these sites are not designed to help you as a buyer, or to help sellers sell homes. They are designed to sell advertising to Realtors.
And the 14% Austin listing gap is growing as more Brokers and Agents come out of the fog and realize that these syndicators are not our friends. These websites do not, in any way, cause any home to sell faster or for a higher price. So the question is, why do so many Realtors mistakenly believe that these third-party media advertising websites are a good thing? And why do so many Realtors wrongly presume that sellers want listings shown on these websites?
History of Listing Syndication in Austin Read more …
As you have no doubt heard, computer analysis Edward Snowden was so appalled by what he deemed to be egregious privacy violations and spying on U.S. Citizens by his employers the CIA and NSA, that he leaked classified information to the press to prove it, then fled to Russia where he remains.
Would he have been happier working at Zillow? No. He would have been just as appalled.
Zillow does not respect your privacy. The lead system at Zillow, through which consumers inquire about listings, surreptitiously records and collects your private communication with Realtors who respond to your inquiry. This isn’t obvious to a typical consumer because of the way Zillow masks where your emails are really going. I’ll try to keep this technical explanation as simple as possible.
How Zillow Plays Games with Email Addresses and Names
When a consumer on Zillow fills out the “I’m interested …” form, the email that arrives is as follows:
From: Zillow <Zillow@email.zillow.com> (this is what Realtors see in the “from” section of the email client)
In the body of the email it says:
New ContactJohn Doe (firstname.lastname@example.org) is contacting you about a property on Zillow:
I am interested in 123 Main St, Austin, TX 78745. Contacted via Zillow.com
The second line above is the default text in the inquiry box. Most consumers don’t type into this box or ask questions, they simply fill in their contact info and click send with the default blurb. A real serious inquiry. (sarcasm intended)
Next, when the Realtor clicks “Reply”, she sees the following in the “to:” section of the email client:
What Zillow does here is cleverly place the consumer’s email address in the “name” section of the send field. Many email clients (the software you use to send and receive email, like Outlook or Yahoo or Gmail) only show the name in this format, not the strange long email address you see after the “name”. Zillow knows this.
The average Realtor is a 57 year old woman. Not tech savvy. When she looks at where the email is going, and sees the email address (placed into the “name” field), she thinks the email address is the destination address of the email. But really, if you look at the long weird email address after the name/email, that is where the email will be delivered, to the Zillow email server. Read more …
When an Austin Realtor enters a listing into the Austin MLS system, we have to make some selections about where the listing will display online. (See screenshot to the left) Of course it will be an “MLS” listing, available to any other Realtor who is a member of the Austin MLS. But we also have to select which other third-party sites will display the listing.
Recently, in Austin and elsewhere, listing agents have become increasingly frustrated with how listing data is used and displayed, and in fact sold back to us. Some are starting to question whether the current “sharing” of listings to other sites, such as Realtor.com, is in fact beneficial.
The real estate industry was stupid and foolish over a decade ago when it resisted the placement of listings online in the first place. Instead of recognizing where the industry was headed and what consumers wanted, the industry and its “leaders” operated from an old 1980’s “MLS Book” mindset. This opened the door to lawsuits and eventually third party aggregators who saw the void and filled it.
Let’s look at the internet choices selected by Realtors when adding a listing to the Austin MLS, and what they mean.
IDX: Allow listings to be displayed on IDX sites. When you visit a listing search page on a Realtor’s website, you are accessing an IDX site. Ours is at: http://www.mlsfinder.com/tx_actris/crosslandteam/ and provides a way for consumers to “search the Austin MLS”. Buyer Agents use IDX search sites to capture leads. If you see a listing that interests you on an IDX site, the “Contact Us” form you fill out goes to the agent running the site, not the Listing Agent.
As of this writing, there are 63 Austin MLS listings flagged “No” for IDX of the total 6,643 homes listed for sale. That’s about 1%, or 1 out of every 100 homes for sale. The percentage of luxury homes is much higher. Of 398 Austin homes listed for $1M or more, 28 are flagged “No” for IDX, which is 7% of the total. So, if you’re searching online for a $1M+ home, you’re only seeing 93% of the MLS inventory.
Some of the luxury Brokers in Austin are not happy with IDX and have voiced complaints to the Austin Board of Realtors and sent around a petition letter demanding changes. Other Brokers in Austin, who like IDX, and whose buyer agents depend on it for connecting with new buyers, responded with a counter-petition. The drums have started beating.
You’ve no doubt heard of Zillow, and know how inaccurate its Austin real estate valuations can be. That’s not completely the fault of Zillow because Texas is a non-disclosure state, meaning when you sell your house, it’s nobody’s business what you sold it for, or what the buyer paid.
This results in limited sold data being available in public records. Thusly, it’s more difficult for third party estimation tools such as Zillow, Trulia and Yahoo to produce an accurate home value estimate. In most states, all real estate sales data is public record and thus there is more data from which to draw conclusions about a particular home value. Not so in Texas. So, with the exception of lower valued homogeneous neighborhoods where value ranges fall within a fairly tight range of size, age and condition, estimates from Zillow (or Zestimates as they call them), can be all over the map, sometimes grossly inaccurate.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with a new valuation tool that mashes up public data with actual Austin MLS sold data. This is called Value Map and is provided by our Austin MLS to its members. I have mine it set up at AustinValueMap.com because the default url is long and ugly. It’s free, no signup required. And so far, I’m finding it to be surprisingly accurate, though of course not perfect. You can also sign up for alerts when a property similar to yours and within a two mile radius is sold. For some reason, though provided by our Austin MLS, you can type an address from anywhere in the U.S., not just Austin. Try it out, let me know what you think about the accuracy of the value for your property, even if you’re not in Austin.
Lending and appraisal companies seem to be trending toward automated valuation system. The Value Map product is used by banks and appraisers all over the country. It uses a proprietary algorithm to determine values. Often, when we sell a house, the bank trusts the value produced by this methodology and won’t even order a full appraisal, opting instead for a “drive by” appraisal, where an appraiser drives by to make sure the house is indeed there, but doesn’t go inside or perform the full appraisal. I think this is dumb.
On the other hand, though it might be inaccurate, the valuation tool won’t commit purposeful fraud, as many appraisers and lenders did during the most recent real estate boom. So it may be, from a bank/lender perspective, the benefit of fraud elimination outweighs the occasional over-appraising of a home. And probably, if the value is way off from the contract price, they’re going to order a full appraisal anyway.
But as a buyer or seller, will there ever come a day when you simply type in your address and it spits out the true market value of your home (what a buyer would pay)? No (except by coincidence), and here’s why.
Read more …
I just received this news flash via email from Zillow:
Home values in Austin increased 8.7%
According to the latest Zillow Real Estate Market Reports, home values in Austin increased 8.7% in the first quarter of 2009, compared to the first quarter of 2008. Nationally, home values decreased 14.2% during this same period.
Uh, sorry Zillow, but that ain’t right. The algorithms or data is being used to produce that conclusion need to be re-examined. Let’s look at some stats for Austin and surrounding areas.
Q1 2008 vs. Q1 2009
City of Austin Sales
Zillow says: Sales prices are up 8.7%
Austin MLS says: Sales prices are down 0.65%
City of Cedar Park
Zillow says: Sales prices are up 2.5%
Austin MLS says: Sales prices are down 3.9%
City of Pflugerville
Zillow says: Sales prices are up 11.5%
Austin MLS says: Sales prices are down 3.76%
You can see where this is heading. Never has it been easier for so many real estate consumers to be so misinformed about the real estate market. Don’t believe news headlines quoting any of these internet sites about values.
Shame on Zillow and these other valuation websites for getting it so wrong. What’s even sadder is that I saw in a listing the other day a Realtor comment “priced $20K below Zillow value”. Huh?
Read more …