For most people, real estate occupies the greatest percentage of family wealth – far more than investments in stocks or other wealth building accounts.
Back in the 40s, my relative’s grandfather and his brother purchased a very modest two-bedroom cinderblock home in a nice neighborhood in St. Petersburg, Florida as a winter getaway. One brother ended up owning the property after his sibling and his wife passed. When the second brother passed, the property was inherited by his daughter, who is now 89 years old. She intends to either leave it to her grandchild or sell it and leave the money to her grandchild. Either way – she wants to understand the value of the home as much as she wants to understand the value of her portfolio.
An amazing way to keep track of the value of a property asset is through a saved search and a saved favorite. I do this for my relative and keep track of what is happening with real estate values in the neighborhood. I use a combination of three websites to do this.
MLS Consumer Site
I have a saved search on State27homes.com, the consumer-facing website of My Florida Regional MLS. As MLS consumer-facing websites go, it’s fine. The site can do much better. They send me notifications when there are changes in my saved search. The problem with the search alert is that it does not tell me if what changed, I just get a listing sent to me. If it is a price change, I cannot see the price change history.
Because my relative’s home has never been on the MLS, I cannot search for the property and save it as a favorite to see what the AVM would be on the home. This is another shortcoming of State27homes.com. It should be a parcel-centric site that has every property available for search. This is not only great for allowing people to track their home value, but also terrific for SEO.
I would probably delete this saved search if I were not a consultant who provides guidance on best practices for MLS consumer sites. To be clear, this is not an insult. State27homes is one of the best MLS consumers sites in America. Just pointing out how the site can be better.
I am a student of Redfin’s strategy for broker website effectiveness. They have the top broker website in America in terms of traffic, and arguably functionality. A key to Redfin’s success is being parcel-centric.
Redfin has every property in America on their website because they license public record data (probably from CoreLogic) to display on their consumer site. With Redfin, I am able to save any property by selecting “I am the Owner” and receive updates on the value of the property each month.
It is pretty obvious why Redfin is winning with this strategy. They are competing with Zillow’s Zestimate®, capturing potential listing opportunities, or beginning the journey of developing a relationship with the homeowner – a relationship that includes having the owner already registered to their website with contact information. Like Zillow, Redfin is generating sellers leads on properties that are off market.
Brokers who have picked up on this strategy are executing very well using Buyside. Buyside goes even further by showing the number of buyers for this property.
I am surprised that Redfin and Zillow are not doing the same thing. When you have a massive site, the number of people that are shopping in that neighborhood is a key data fact. It is a data fact that makes me bullish on Redfin and Zillow’s long-term success as iBuyers. They know the demand side and they do not need to advertise to drive consumer opportunities.
Another key reason why I love Redfin is that they send me listing alerts in real time, often more than a day faster than State27homes.com. My Florida Regional MLS must be sending out the alerts once a day. Redfin sends the alerts the minute there is a change in the saved search data. As a consumer, I want the data immediately, and I want to know what changed – new listing, price increase, price decrease, back on market – whatever. The first email gets my click. But as a consultant, I am ok with the MLS strategy of only sending the alerts once a day. It allows brokers with IDX websites to send alerts first.
Lastly, Redfin is the best brokerage website in St. Petersburg for my saved search because they display price change history over time. If you look at the home that is for sale in my relatives’ neighborhood, you will see that it first came on the market in November of 2018. After two weeks on the market, the price dropped $10k. The price dropped another $100 in December, then went up another $100 at the end of December. This is a smart listing agent who is using price changes every couple of weeks to stimulate listing alerts on the property to be sent out through all of the saved search sites! The price did not change in January. It changed three times in February, dropping two thousand on one occasion, three thousand on another, before going into contract (pending). It went back on the market in March and has had two price changes.
I could not follow any of that on the MLS consumer site. But Redfin had me covered with price change history.
Zillow is the industry-leading search portal in the world. To benchmark the MLS and my favorite broker website for this saved search, I have also saved my search on Zillow and saved my relatives’ property.
Zillow is slower than Redfin on the timeliness of sending the saved search alerts but faster than the MLS. The information sent from Zillow is pretty much at parity with Redfin. I say that all three have good community information, which is saying a lot for My Florida Regional MLS. State27homes is way ahead of most MLS consumer websites in terms of community information due to the inclusion of Down Payment Resource and TLC’s True Lifestyle Cost.
Zillow has a piece of data on the property history that Redfin missed. And it is a big miss from my perspective. For price history, Zillow tells me that the home transacted back in 1995 (public record), and again in August of 2018 (public record). The home was purchased for $99,100 by Florida Realty Investments – a name indicative of a flipper. From the photos, it looks like the flipper tore the property down to the studs and completely remodeled it. Perhaps the home was distressed or involved in an insurance event (flood, fire, etc). It took them three months to do the remodel before listing the property at $349k. The jump from $99k to $349 is pretty significant. Probably explains the price discounts since November.
Again, this is data that Redfin did not tell me, nor did the MLS. Bonus points go to Zillow for sure. Zillow does not have any public record information on my relative’s property. The property has traded through the county as it passed from family member to family member, but there is no data about those transactions on Zillow or Redfin. Other than Redfin, and brokers using Buyside, firms are missing the opportunity to generate seller leads using licensed parcel data from public record.
Multiple Listing Organizations need to be laser-focused on helping brokers compete. The MLS Policymakers should be looking carefully at this level of detail to understand how they can unlevel the playing field. By this, I mean that MLSs need to ensure that brokers like Redfin who are investing in the best practices to compete online are winning.
Every broker should be able to display price changes from the MLS on their IDX websites in every market without making their websites a Virtual Office Website. In some markets, Redfin needs to force registration by the consumer to see the price changes that Zillow and other portals are not required to force. If the data is out there on Zillow, it makes no sense for the MLS to make it difficult for their participating brokers to leverage in order to compete. Help the broker.
MLSs also need to see if it’s possible to enable brokers with parcel record data already licensed by the MLS. My suggestion is that MLSs go even further in their parcel record data licensing and enter into license agreements that allow the brokers to display the public record data on their IDX websites as Redfin does. Again, help the broker compete.
Broker Public Portal with Homesnap
The best thing that MLSs have done to help brokers compete is to collaborate with other MLSs and brokers in the development of a national MLS consumer facing website. The success of the Broker Public Portal initiative with Homesnap is the most successful collaboration between brokers and MLSs in the history of our industry. The site is better than Zillow. My saved search on Homesnap is the very best, especially when I receive my alert on the award-winning Homesnap mobile app.
A large MLS like My Florida Regional can offer their own regional consumer site and Homesnap. Small to Midsized MLSs probably need to choose one or the other and I have never seen an MLS consumer site that is better than Homesnap.
- Homesnap is parcel-centric – with every property in America
- Homesnap has excellent saved searches
- Homesnap is fast
- Where allowable by the MLS, Homesnap shows price changes
- Homesnap crushes everyone on mobile
- Homesnap integrates with the customer portal in the MLS (unique advantage)
MLS Call to Action
Share this article with your MLS board of directors. Talk about it in your next meeting as a way to review your policy on helping brokers compete. Are your IDX rules supportive for restrictive?
Talk to your tax vendor about a modification of your public record license to allow brokers to get a data feed. If you cannot afford it, make sure that brokers have access to CoreLogic’s Trestle product where they can buy the data license and even an AVM for off-MLS properties.
Give brokers the ability to publish the fastest alerts possible. Under no circumstances should a third party get MLS updates ahead of the brokerage. Listing syndication is different than IDX and the update speed should reflect that. Your broker and their agents need to have data updated on their website and in their back-office systems ahead of the advertising portals so that they are prepared if a consumer inquires. 15-minute updates on IDX are not fast enough. Allow brokers and vendors to pull data in real time. Update the portals on the hour or four times a day. That is plenty fast for an advertising site and gives your broker an opportunity to be prepared.
If your MLS consumer site is mediocre, join the industry leaders in launching the Broker Public Portal with Homesnap. The mission is to make Homesnap a national site. That is the only way that the Broker Public Portal will be able to claw back the dominance of the advertising portals. It is going to take unprecedented collaboration and support by ALL MLS in America. I can assure you that your brokers support it.