How to Be a Techy Home Buyer: Find a Good IDX Site and View All Homes for Sale in the MLS

By
Real Estate Agent with Realty Professionals of America

You need to buy a home, or perhaps sell one and buy another.  So where do you start your search?

Once upon a time - that is, before about 1996 - you simply called or stopped into a real estate office and asked to see the agency's big MLS books filled with home listings in your price range. 

Now, of course, you surf the World Wide Web because everyone knows that's where all the listings are, right? 

Well, maybe not all of them, but certainly the vast majority of homes can be found on the Web.  Since 2002, Multiple Listing Services all over America have put their members' listings online via a program known as Broker Reciprocity (also known as Internet Data Exchange or IDX). 

This simply means that the real estate brokers who control the listings agree to share them with each other, on the theory that by allowing other brokers to display each other's listings on their respective Web sites, the listings all receive more exposure.  And the more exposure any home gets, the greater the chance it will be found by a ready, willing and able buyer. 

In the Delaware Valley, Trend is the MLS created a couple of decades ago as a cooperative among participating brokers to share listings.  Now, it also licenses companies known as IDX vendors to develop and host Broker Reciprocity sites for members.  Each of these vendors then develops its own unique version of the Trend database, and sells that version to real estate agents and brokers for use on their personal or agency Web sites. 

In the beginning of the IDX phenomenon, agents and brokers simply created a link on their sites to the IDX pages.  Sometimes the links were framed and other times they appeared to be integrated seamlessly into the sites that hosted them.  But IDX pages, which often have names like "Search All Local Listings" or "Search the MLS," were always part of an individual agent's or agency's site - and didn't exist on the Web as a stand-alone entity. 

That is, until very recently. 

If you've surfed for homes lately, you've no doubt encountered a growing handful of sites encouraging you to "search here for homes."  These sites promise, in their brief but highly effective link descriptions, that by clicking "here," you'll get to see all the listings in the MLS, plus lots of photos and prices of the homes.  Some even mention that you'll find home values - and this is especially appealing to sellers who want to know what their home might be worth to a buyer without having to call and ask a Realtor for a CMA (Comparative Market Analysis). 

For example, my stand-alone IDX site - www.Search4PA.com - entices visitors who happen to find it on a Google or Yahoo search, with the line, "Search 1000's of Beautiful Homes. Large Photos, Virtual Tours & Maps!" 

Most stand-alone IDX sites have several things in common.  For starters, they usually list every "active" listing within the MLS for the counties covered by their agents.  The moment a home goes under contact, or the listing has expired or been withdrawn from the market, it no longer appears on the IDX site.  So, it can be here today and gone tomorrow. 

For another thing, the listing broker's contact information most likely will be conspicuously absent.  That's because Realtors who pay for their own IDX site want you to contact them - not the listing agency that's graciously sharing the data.  Using my agency's example, we simply insert the words "courtesy of..." alongside the broker's name for every listing that our IDX site displays.  We certainly don't use the broker's phone number on our site, because we want you to contact us, not the listing broker - which is the whole point of Broker Reciprocity. 

Lastly, many IDX sites will ask you to register with your name, email address and perhaps a phone number in order to view the listings.  Known as forced registration, this technique ensures that you will become a lead for the agent fortunate enough to receive your information. 

Some IDX sites - www.HomeGain.com, www.HouseValues.com, www.RealtyTracker.com - sell your registration data to an agent, or even to multiple agents, who then vie for your business.  Typically, agents pay $35 or more per buyer name to receive leads from these third party IDX sites.  It's helpful to know that by registering on these sites, you've become a sales lead for agents.  This is especially annoying if you really don't want to be besieged by agents who will ask by phone and/or email to help you find a home. 

Naturally, all the big national and regional real estate companies - Re/Max, Coldwell Banker, Keller Williams, Weichert, Prudential Fox & Roach, and so forth - have their own IDX solutions built into all their office and agents' sites.  Some, like Re/Max, have developed their IDX systems in-house, while others use existing technology from a recognized vendor.  Keller Williams, for example, uses www.MLSfinder.com from WolfNet Technologies, while Prudential Fox & Roach's IDX is powered by www.NetEconomist.com

Still other sites you may come across on the search engines may seem like IDX sites, when in reality they're nothing more than listings aggregators.  One such example is www.Homes.com, which takes the listings of all the agents who use its services (and the services of its sister companies like www.HarmonHomes.com and www.AdvancedAccess.com) and compiles those listings onto its pages.  Yes, you'll see many homes on aggregator sites, but you won't see every home within the MLS. 

So, if you want to see all the listings in the neighborhoods that appeal to you and the price range you can afford, you need to find and use a true IDX site.  And you also need to understand that, once you've found it, you can build your world around it. 

As an agent who specializes in working with buyers, I'm continually amazed at people who visit numerous IDX sites all offering identical data - even though the data are displayed differently from site to site.  These buyers seem to hope that if they conduct enough searches on multiple sites, they'll ultimately find their dream home.  I've had buyer clients who would email me regularly that they found such-and-such listing on so-and-so's site and would I see if it's still on the market.  Assuming that each IDX vendor updates its data daily, the status of a home appearing on one version should be the same as its status on another. 

As you surf the Web looking for homes, you should look for three things in a stand-alone IDX site that tend to differentiate them: 

1) Does the site make it easy to view the listings you're most interested in once you've registered?  Even the best IDX sites take time to load all the listings for a particular search.  But once loaded, is the site consumer friendly and are the data intelligently organized? 

2) Is the information on each home comprehensive, and are the photos large enough and clear enough to give you a feel for a particular home?  Each IDX vendor decides how much data to display for each listing.  When you click the "More Information" button for any home, are you really getting complete data?  Or are you teased further and forced to contact the sponsoring agent? 

3) Does the site automatically email you new listings that match your search criteria?  Many IDX sites permit you to fill out a form with your search criteria and contact information, so you can receive listings via email.  But some sites, like mine, do this automatically based on your initial search.  And it even lets you change your search criteria as your needs change whenever you log back onto it. 

The Los Angeles-based startup company that programmed my agency's IDX site as well as my personal IDX version - www.Search4PA.com, took these factors into account.  When you visit the site, you're struck immediately by its comprehensiveness and its timeliness.  The site gives you an up-to-the-moment count of how many homes are for sale within the six counties of Southeastern PA, and even provides a random example of the listings you'll see. 

Then, as soon as you conduct your initial search, it tells you how many homes it found that match your search criteria - plus another random example of a listing that matches that search.  And at that point, you're finally asked to register.  So, if you want to see in-depth information of all the homes that match your search, plus as many photos as the listing agent has entered into Trend, you either sign up or go elsewhere. 

Certainly, not even close to every visitor to my site, or to any IDX site, registers.  Typically, only about 10 percent of all Internet surfers who find my agency's IDX site even bother to click on it.  And only 10 to 15 percent of those visitors who click on it ultimately fill out the form.  Of those visitors who do register, I'm able to work with only a very small percentage of those buyers, usually no more than 1 to 2 percent of them. 

Why such a small percentage?  It's simply because, when it comes to real estate, the Web is an enormous numbers game.  For every 10,000 surfers who see a "search for homes" site pop up on their screen for their specific search, only one or two of those people actually will buy a home from the agent or broker who owns that site.  And most of those people will take a year or more from the time they start their search until they close on the home of their choice. 

Since August ‘07, when my agency's IDX site went online, we've received well over 3,500 registrations.  If just 1 percent of them buy a home from an agent in our office, that's 35 buyers we'll have helped to find a home.  I've already worked with a handful of these buyers, as well as a few who've had to sell their homes before buying, so I'm satisfied that my IDX site is a very powerful tool that lets me find new clients in a very difficult real estate market. 

Plus, I tell buyers - who've found me through my other marketing efforts - to visit my IDX site if they want to become very proactive about their home search.  Most buyers thank me for providing this service.  It also frees up my time somewhat, since I don't have to manually email listings to buyers via Trend, as most agents do. 

However, I still email listings to some buyers via Trend, because my IDX site doesn't yet have the ability to search for homes using criteria like specific neighborhoods or subdivisions, school districts or zip codes; ages of homes (including new construction); style of homes; lot sizes; and whether a home has popular features like central air, basement, garage and a fireplace. 

It also takes a bit of trial & error for agents to figure out how best to follow up with their leads.  Traditionally, when an agent gets a lead, regardless of the source, he or she phones the prospect - or at least emails them - to initiate a dialogue.  But with a good IDX site, that's not necessary. 

Usually, I let people conduct their searches and receive the automated listings emails for two or three weeks before I bother to call or email them, offering to help.  That's because IDX sites are addictive, and surfers who come upon a good one will stick with it until they're ready to contact me.  Once you're hooked on using a given site, you're more likely to use the services of the agent or broker whose name and contact information is attached to those emailed listings alerts. 

Occasionally, though, buyers - who already are using the services of another agent - will use my IDX site to find and forward homes they like to their current agent.  I know when this happens, because I can see exactly what they're doing on the site and when they're doing it. 

My site's back office lets me see - in real time - whenever a user clicks on a listing email, conducts a new search, clicks on a particular home, or forwards a home to a friend, family member or another agent.  So, yes, Big Brother really may be watching you online.  Although I certainly don't have the time to check up on all of my buyer leads and what they're doing on my site every minute of the day, I randomly spot check to make sure no one is abusing the privilege.  And I've even had to change people's usernames and passwords to prevent them from using the site if I feel they're not being honest about wanting to use my services. 

Realtors like me who use IDX search sites know that we can count on the business these sites generate just as surely as buyers can count on finding them - and thereby finding all the listings within the MLS - with greater regularity.

Comments (1)

Fred Griffin Florida Real Estate
Fred Griffin Real Estate - Tallahassee, FL
Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker

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Dec 17, 2017 07:43 PM