Least Reliable Home Search
There are literally thousands of websites where individuals are permitted to manually enter information about properties. This information can be added by a homeowner, by a listing agent, or even by someone totally unrelated to the property. This is an attractive alternative for the owner of the website because it enlists the help of literally thousands of other people in adding "content" to their site. On the surface, that looks like a good thing for you, too, right? It means you have more houses to look at. Here's what you need to know:
- There is no method of validating the information to confirm that it's either true, accurate, or current
- There is generally no system it place to update the information in the event of changes. Once the listing has been added, it may well stay there indefinitely - even if the information no longer applies (for example, when the home has sold or has otherwise been taken off the market).
- Many of the more recognizable websites use this method of adding properties to their sites (so they are among those you are most likely to be using in home search...even though their information is the LEAST accurate or reliable!)
- Among the websites most often using this practice are the "for sale by owner" sites. Remember, the by owner seller is only concerned with exposing his house. There's no incentive for him to remove his "listing" when his home sells
An alternative to the "manually entered" information is that which is "syndicated" from other websites. This is done to provide additional exposure to properties that were initially added to one website, and, because of online partnerships, that information is then fed to an array of other websites. Unfortunately, the person entering the information on the initial website doesn't always even know which other sites will eventually carry that information, let alone how to monitor the information to insure it stayed current! Remember that commercial from years ago that said something like "you tell two friends, then each of them tells two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on"? Syndication is the web version of that concept.
Why would the website owners not want their information to be current and accurate? Actually, there are a number of reasons:
- The ultimate purpose of the site is not to provide you with reliable content...it's simply to attract your attention and keep you on the site as long as possible to increase the odds that you will do something that benefits THEM. The reality is that listings attract eyes...eyes that can be diverted elsewhere
- Often these sites are backed by advertisers who know that the longer you stay on the site, the better their chances that you will click on their links so they can do business with you
- Many of these sites are designed to SELL YOU to real estate agents. As soon as you provide your email address, you become a commodity that they can use to help turn a profit. How does that work? The website offers you listings to view, thus attracting your attention. It also offers to put you in touch with "pre-screened" real estate agents, creating the illusion that the agents they "recommend" are somehow special, more qualified, better suited to provide you with exceptional service. And what exactly does that "pre-screening" entail? It entails just one thing: the agent has agreed to pay the the website for the privilege of being "recommended". That's it! No interview, no background check, no references from past clients, no training requirements, nothing else at all! Sometimes the payment is in the form of a monthly membership fee, but more often it's in the form of a "referral" fee to the web-referrer. Since those fees often range in the 25% to 35% or more of the brokerage received for a transaction, this can wind up being a very hefty amount indeed for the website owner whose only involvement in the purchase or sale transaction was to provide the agent with an email address. Real estate referrals are big business!
- The more homes the site "appears" to have available, the more likely it is you will visit it often to see what's new
Think of it this way. If a site actually has, for example, just 3 properties for sale in a given town, how likely are you to frequent that site looking homes for sale in that town? Most likely, not at all. If, on the other hand, it appears to have hundreds of properties in that town, how likely is it that you will return? No doubt you're thinking it's considerably higher!
Do these websites have a usable purpose to you? Perhaps. They could provide you with a very general idea of the marketplace. You can familiarize yourself with what types of homes a given community might have to offer. But since you don't know what might happen to your information (name, email address, phone number, etc), it would be wise to exercise caution when visiting them. So feel to use them to browse....but do it anonymously!