Austin Rental Home Search – Zillow and Hotpads Worthless

If you’re looking for a home for rent in Austin TX, you are no doubt looking online. And a lot of you are using sites such as Zillow.com and Hotpads.com to browse Austin rental listings. I receive info requests from these two sites more than any other. There are approximately 30+ internet sites to which our listings are automatically fed. Most of the requests I receive are for rental homes (and sales listings) that are already leased or under contract for sale. But as a web searcher, you have no way of knowing status based on what these internet sites show you in the listing details.

For example, if you look at the current Crossland listings displayed on Hotpads.com, there are 10 listings total. Of these 10, half of them currently have a status of “Pending” in the Austin MLS, meaning they are under contract waiting to close (for sales listings) or have an accepted/approved application. We mark these listings “Pending” in the Austin MLS, so agents will stop showing them, but internet searchers don’t know the status and keep inquiring.

So, for the entire 30+ days a home is under contract, or the days that a homes is Pending with an accepted application but awaiting tenant move-in, these listings appear as “Active” or “Available” on the most popular internet search sites, when in fact they are not. In fact,  half the Austin Rental listings that you see on Zillow and Hotpads are already leased, yet you’ll waste your time inquiring about these Austin rental listings because those sites show them as “Available” or “Active”.

What should agents and searchers do about this?

As an agent, there isn’t much I can do. I can’t control the way the listing feeds are displayed on 3rd party sites. We could withhold our listings from these sites entirely, but that would limit exposure, so it’s somewhat of a necessary evil.

But as a searcher, you have the option of searching only on sites that display to you the true current status of the listing. Which sites display status? Not Realtor.com, Not AustinHomeSearch.com, Not Zillow nor Hotpads. The only one I know of, that’s easy to search, is our IDX solution provided by Wolfnet. It will show you the true status of the property, in red letters. See the screen shot below.

Crossland Real Estate Austin TX Real Estate Listings - Pending Status

At present, about half the Austin MLS listings for rental homes are actually Pending. That means they are already leased. So, half the Austin Rental Listing you see on Hotpads ,Zillow, Realtor.com, etc. are NOT AVAILABLE. That makes these websites largely useless and a waste of time since you have no way of knowing whether the home you inquire about is available or not.

This is a failure of the real estate industry and its third party partners to properly care for and curate out listing feeds. In fact, it’s an embarrassment how poorly this is handled. There should be strict display rules requiring the current and accurate status of the property to be included with every listing detail display on all internet sites as a condition of displaying the listing content. This is technologically possible, as demonstrated by the Wolfnet product.

Why don’t all sites display status then? I think it’s because they want to puff their web traffic stats. More listings means more search activity and “listing views”. So when these sites, such as Realtor.com call me and try to tell me Premium Services, which cost extra, they use pitches such as “don’t you want the {meaningless number} of our site visitors to see the enhanced version of your listings and more than the default 4 photos?”

“No”, I say. “I want them to come to my website, not yours, so why would I pay you money to compete for my traffic, using my listings, the status of which you can’t even display properly, which causes me to have to field and respond to an enormous number of worthless leads from people who’s time you are wasting with inaccurate data about properties that are already sold or leased?”

Additionally, I dropped the price of a listing yesterday. The new price is not reflected on Hotpads.com. Neither is it updated on Zillow. Realtor.com at least has the correct price the next day. The new price is also shown on AustinHomeSearch.com and on the Wolfnet product (called MLSFinder). So, on Hotpads and Zillow, you are not even being shown the current list price on listings that have had a recent price drop. This will cause you to miss listings that fall within your upper range that are reflecting the current price.

Bottom line, despite all of the data and information available about real estate online at various public facing real estate listing sites, as a consumer of this data, you’re being fed a lot of garbage and incorrect information. That should make you angry. It makes it harder, not easier, to search online for a home for rent in Austin.

My suggestion is to use the combination of tools that provide the best, most accurate data:

1) If you want to search on your own, without an agent, do so on a site such as our as http://crosslandteam.com/search-austin-realtor-listings/ that will display the current status, so you can weed out the unavailable homes.

This is step one, but on our IDX site, you are not provided the actual contact info for the listing agent. You only get our contact info, because this is a lead generation product meant to get you to call us, not the listing agent. But we don’t help people look for rentals unless you are in a price range above $2,000 and plan to buy in the next year or two, or if it’s our own listing.

So, after you find some addresses or MLS numbers of available candidate properties,  go to Realtor.com or AustinHomeSearch.com and find the same listing, which will display the contact info for the listing agent. You can then contact that agent directly to inquire further and/or see the property.

2) Optionally, you can simply work with a Leasing Realtor in Austin who will set you up a direct portal feed from the Austin MLS, and show you the properties that match your needs. This will provide you with the most current, accurate date, instantly during your search. This is the most efficient way to find a home once you get close to the decision-making point.

In other words, in the early stages, the internet is good for poking around and getting an idea of what’s out there, how much homes rent for, etc., but when you want to start looking and make a decision, it’s best to have a good leasing agent helping you.

We recommend the leasing agents at Habitat Hunters (www.HabitatHunters.com) who are well trained and know the leasing process. Avoid Austin Realtors who’ve never leased a home, as they can really mess things up for you. We deal with a lot of these inexperienced agents. They are terrible and they cause many applicants to lose out on desireable properties because they can’t get the paperwork processed correctly and quickly on your behalf. Use someone experienced if you want the most favorable outcome.

2 thoughts on “Austin Rental Home Search – Zillow and Hotpads Worthless”

  1. Steve,

    Your blog posts are very helpful. My wife and I are relocating to Austin and have been searching for a rental before we buy. I’ve spent weeks figuring out the information you shared. I was so frustrated about Craigslist that I actually blogged about it several weeks ago before coming across your post today. I did sign up for your portal which should be a big help. I thought Hotpads was great (and it is a good tool) but after encountering the issues you outline in this post I’ve learned the hard way.

  2. Diverse Solutions IDX does a good job of this as well. I find most people don’t look at status. They just assume if it is on the web it is available.

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