Saturday, January 5, 2008

Searching for Homes on the Internet

The world of real estate has changed a lot because of the internet. In the old days every real estate office kept a three ring binder with their listings in it. Each real estate agent subscribed to multiple listing books that had all of the listings from other companies in them with one tiny black and white photo for each property.

We'd each get our new book once a week. We were told not to share this book with anyone. It was private Realtor information. Our customers called and made an appointment or walked into the office. We would sit and page through the book together.

"Can we just take this book home?", the customer would say. "No, its not allowed.", the Realtor would say.

Today almost every real estate customer has looked at homes on the internet before they meet the Realtor. The internet caused the Multiple Listing Service to share this information with the public. If the Multiple Listing had not shared the data it would have found its way on to the internet one way or another.

Realtors share listing information under a very strict set of rules handed down by Multiple Listing Service. You will find that the information shared on different Realtor web sites is the same. The difference is in presentation and how easy the site is to use. My favorite site is this one.

What you won't find on a Realtor web site is listings of real estate company's that are not members of the Multiple Listing Service. If you find a "For Sale By Owner" listing it is actually listed by a Realtor who has made a special agreement with the homeowner.

You might have the idea that foreclosure listings show up in special places other than the MLS. Not really. Most foreclosures are listed by local Realtors and you find them mixed in with all of the other MLS listings.

There are web sites that sell foreclosure property information lists. I have seen some of our foreclosure listings on these sites either with the wrong price or sometimes months after they have been sold or closed.

Some services advertise that they have foreclosure information in advance, but I wonder how much of a help that really is. If someone knows more about this I'd love a comment.

So how do you find those listings not on the MLS? That's a good question. There is no one answer. Some non MLS brokers have web sites, there are non MLS for sale by owner web sites. Here is one I found with a few listings not on the MLS. You could look in the classified section of your local newspaper or drive around looking for signs.

An interesting option is a service called "Google Base". It is a database of real estate listings of every kind thrown together. Many MLS Brokers submit their listings to Google base. Non MLS and for sale by owners are allowed to post listings there as well.

If you do a Google Search such as "Minneapolis Real Estate" the results will first show a couple "sponsored" web sites below that it will say, "Find results for Minneapolis real estate in Housing search" with a button that says "go".

Or you could just do a Google search for "Google base".

There are a lot of listings missing from Google Base, but there is the potential to find something different.

If you are searching for real estate yourself on the Internet it will serve you best to choose one Realtor and refer your findings to her/him. This way you have some control over who you work with rather than leaving it to random chance.

If you don't have a Realtor yet, contacting listing agents of properties you find on line could be a good way to find agents to interview.

There are lots of things to be said about choosing a Realtor, but that should be the subject of another post.


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