Many of our clients ask this question during their home search: "Why are there listings online that aren't for sale?"
It's an interesting question: shouldn't anything that is being presented as a "listing" of a home be for sale? If a house is listed on a website, shouldn't there be verifiable information showing that it's being marketed and it's available?
Unfortunately, not every real estate website is the same. It's important to have an understanding of the type of site on which you're shopping for a home, in order to know if the information you're looking at is accurate.
Types of Real Estate Sites
There are three main types of real estate sites: Multiple Listing Services (MLSs), agent and/or brokerage websites, and third-party marketing sites.
Multiple Listing Services (MLSs): a Multiple Listing Service is a database established in which real estate brokers input/provide data about properties for sale. In same cases, access to the MLS is for real estate brokers and agents only; in other cases, there may be direct consumer access to be able to log in and see the listings directly in the MLS. Most MLSs also provide IDX (Internet Data Exchange) access to their listing data, meaning the listing data can be broadcast out to other websites (such as agent and/or brokerage websites and third-party marketing sites). Listing data that shows in the MLS should be considered the most accurate information (but still subject to possible human error, as they are manually input; a safe rule of thumb for MLS data is that information is "deemed reliable but not guaranteed").
Agent and/or Brokerage Websites: brokerages and/or real estate agents who are members of a specific MLS may have IDX feeds which pull the listing data onto their own websites in order to allow clients to search for homes directly on their own sites. For example, if you are searching for homes right here on our Buy Sell Live Atlanta website, then you are searching all of the available listings from our MLS, which are being pulled into our site via IDX and updated frequently throughout the day. In other words, the listings on our site can be considered as accurate as MLS data, as the updates happen frequently and soon after the update happens in the MLS.
Third-Party Marketing Sites: Sites such as Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com, and similar are third-party marketing sites. These are sites that also accept/receive an IDX feed of listings, BUT they are, in most cases, not a real estate brokerage (Zillow is now a brokerage, and their site is acting more like a hybrid between brokerage website and third-party marketing site -- more on that below). Third-party marketing sites control the way they show the data -- some may turn off the listing updates that come after a property is listed as a new listing, others may turn off other listing features or listing data points. Additionally, most third-party marketing sites have membership options that allow agents to pay for membership and then highlight their own listings at the top of search results, to receive leads from the website, etc. In other words, the third-party site controls how they present the data and may likely be more to have inaccuracies since they are controlling the way the data is displayed. Finally, many third-party marketing sites also pull in data from other sources, such as public tax records and other public record sources, making them an attractive online destination for consumers but often leads to the data being misread or misunderstood.
Why Is Zillow Different?
Until only recently, Zillow was a third-party marketing site like many others -- pulling in data from MLS with which they have agreements to be able to access the listing data, charging agents a membership fee to be featured as "Zillow Premier Agents" in order to highlight those agents' listings at the top of search results and to give those agents priority access to consumer leads that came into the site.
Zillow is now a brokerage and is operating to sell listings with their own salespeople, so their access to MLS data is now via an IDX search, just like all other brokerages, meaning they now must more closely follow IDX and MLS rules regarding how the data is shared and updated. However, they are what could be referred to as a "hybrid" model, as they still retain some of the features of a third-party marketing site, meaning they still also pull a large amount of their data from other public data sources. For this reason, they are also widely criticized for housing a large amount of data that is inaccurate, and some of that data is homes that are not actually for sale.
What Kinds of Homes May Not Actually Be For Sale?
There might be a number of reasons why you find a home online -- particularly on a third-party marketing site -- and then find out from your REALTOR® that the home is not really for sale.
One reason may be that the home sold quickly and the listing agent has simply not had time to change the status of the home in the MLS yet, meaning it may still show as an active, available home listing on all sources -- the MLS, the agent/broker website, and any third-party marketing site. This is fairly common right now, as homes in many markets are selling quickly -- often in days, if not hours -- and agents may be struggling to keep up with the paperwork side of things.
More common on third-party sites is inaccurate data or data entry points that don't match up with the options in the MLS. Since third-party marketing sites control the data they share and they way they share it, they may not have listing status options that match exactly with the MLS data points. For example, an MLS may have several options to show that a home is not available; for example, our MLS has an option for a home that is in the inspection period and a home that is pending (meaning the contingency on the inspection has ended/been removed), and a third-party site may only recognize the latter option.
Finally, some sites (such as Zillow and realtor.com) actually have a property entry for almost every single home in the United States; in other words, if there's an address listed in public record, there is an entry for it, even if the home hasn't recently or even previously been for sale at all. This can be confusing, because again, logically, shouldn't every property listing online mean the home shown is available? Sometimes it's not easy to tell if the home is on the market or off the market...and what does "off the market" even mean? While it may make sense to the website creators to have every home represented because (a) the more searchable data the have on their site, the better off they are in their placement on search engine results, and (b) hey, those homes may come on the market someday and at least then they already have the data there, pulled from public record and ready to go, the unfortunate by-product of this line of thinking is that it can be confusing to consumers who are actively looking for available homes and want to only filter likely options into their search feed.
BOTTOM LINE: Our recommendation, if you are considering purchasing a home and starting your home search, hire a REALTOR®. Ask for a full consultation with that REALTOR about the your home search needs and wants, the current market conditions, and what to expect throughout the home purchase process. Additionally, ask to be set up on a search in the MLS so that you are getting the most up-to-date and accurate listing information. We, Maura and Ben Neill, always conduct a detailed buyer consultation with our buyer clients, as we think it's important for you to have an understanding of the process, as well as important details like the information above!
Thinking of buying a home -- now or in the future? Give us a call today at 404-994-2181 or email Ben(at)BuySellLiveAtlanta(dot)com.