Realtors Sift Through Online Jungle

When prospective homebuyers think about jumping into the market, they like to see what’s for sale in their price range with the amenities they’re looking for in their geographic location. They typically go online and find various sites promising to make their search easy and quick. Generally, these are empty promises, and one of the Realty World Selzer Realty agents, Tanya Gilmore, was sharp enough to recognize this would be a great topic for me to write about. Thanks, Tanya!

Online residential property databases are fed by a number of sources, some of them reliable, others not so much. The multiple listing service (MLS) is the real estate professional’s database, and it feeds many search engines, but there are other sources that clutter the databases and make it difficult to discern what is legitimately available for sale.

Online search engines such as Zillow and Trulia can sometimes result in information overload. They remind me of when I was subpoenaed by a lawyer to bring all the documents pertaining to a certain case to the courthouse. The lawyer did not understand what he was asking for, and since his position was counter to mine, I did exactly as he asked and brought all the documents—boxes and boxes and boxes of files to the trial. We brought so much information that he had little hope of finding the facts he wanted. He had no way to process so much information in a timely manner.

Too much information becomes useless unless you have a way to sort and filter it so you have accurate, reliable and organized data.

Online databases intended to serve potential homebuyers come in many forms; some include inconsistent data and make it difficult to figure out whether you’re looking at foreclosures resulting in auctions, conventional listings, or pre-foreclosures (properties that are not even on the market yet, but may be soon). Others include relatively uniform data, but only refresh the listings periodically, so the data becomes outdated fairly quickly. When real estate agents input data about a new listing into the MLS, that information is shared with a huge number of sites.

The bottom line is this: so much information requires buyers to spend significant time ferreting out the accurate from the inaccurate, and sometimes from the blatantly fraudulent.

This brings me to one of my recurring themes: choose professionals to help you navigate the sometimes confusing and always complex process of buying or selling a home. Whether you need a lender, insurance agent, escrow officer, contractor, or Realtor, choose one with whom you have good rapport—one you believe is competent and honest—and allow them to sort through all the data relevant to your property search. Their experience should enable them to sort more quickly and effectively through the overwhelming amount of data to provide you with the information you need to make sound decisions.

You may have a brother-in-law who once thought of buying a house and therefore feels qualified to assist you in your home search; trust me, he’s not. While you may hear the sound of a cash register going “cha-ching” each time you review the list of professionals above, it can be costlier not to hire the right help. Some of the costs associated with hiring real estate and associated professionals must be paid up front, but others can be paid upon close of escrow.

Keep in mind that for most people, a home purchase is the largest financial decision they will ever make, and it is not one that happens frequently enough that they really understand the ins and outs and potential pitfalls related to decisions they will make. This is not really a DIY project. Save time and frustration (and potentially money) by hiring competent professionals.

If you have questions about real estate, contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

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