Last week I was part of a committee meeting at the Maine Association of Realtors to discuss how much Sold data should be released from our MLS to different vendors and ultimately the public.
What ensued was a multi-level discussion that ultimately came down to a philosophical question for Realtors: as technology involves and information that used to be owned by Realtors becomes public, will Realtors become obsolete? A look at the slow progression of data release over recent history reveals that, on the contrary, we will probably save time by allowing consumers to become educated before they contact us.
In the 1980s, when I first began to observe the workings of Real Estate as a child in my parents’ office, our bookshelves were stuffed with volumes of MLS Books, which clients would have to make appointments to come in and peruse. The books were the one comprehensive source of properties that were for sale or had recently sold. And the benefit to Realtors was that we were the ultimate keepers of information. It was nearly impossible to buy or sell without access to our information, and many Realtors sold themselves short thinking that the info was the most valuable thing they had to offer.
Then came MLS, Realtor.com, and the widespread online publication of listings. This was a huge transition, because now the public wouldn’t have to pop by the office to shop for homes – they could look on their own. Surprisingly for some, the number of phone calls into our offices didn’t go down. Of course, street addresses weren’t listed anywhere. That way, listing agents still had some control over their listings, and buyers still had to call in on properties so that they could do a drive-by. Those calls, on one hand, were an opportunity to convert a lead. On the other hand, they were often just people who were working with another agent already and just wanted to know an address – also known as interruptions, or wastes of time.
Then we began to publicize addresses, and calls on listings continued to come in; however, we have found that the calls are much more serious. Customers already know the area when they call, and have either Google mapped the property or have had a chance to drive by. They've also often researched YOU, and are looking for your professional take on the place.
Now we are asked to consider the topic of Sold data. This is a big one, because it threatens yet another reason that the public calls a Realtor – what the home down the street sold for, and similarly what their home is worth. The “free CMA” is a popular listing tool, and there’s an argument that publicizing sold data would decrease its value. However, it would be impossible to provide true analysis of the data in an automated format.
Knowing this, I don’t think that the presence of Sold data online will remove us from the transaction; rather, its presence will educate consumers so that when they come to us for a CMA they have some idea, based in reality, of the value of their home. And as an added bonus, the presence of this data might just weed the dreamers and the FSBOs out of our “Free CMA” queues. Serious sellers will still look to us as professionals to analyze the data, suggest a price that will get them top dollar, and help them get their home ready for sale. Not to mention attract buyer agents, schedule all the showings, help with negotiations, oversee the buyer’s financing, and use our expertise to work through any issues.
What I’ve been hearing lately is that people are looking for Realtors who can machete a path through the jungle of information out there, and get them to a closing table headache-free with their best interests intact. And in 2010 and beyond, that expertise - not our data - is the most valuable gift we have to offer.