Online real estate listings: It’s time to clean up our act

“Honey, I know we’ve been talking about this forever, but I think maybe now really is the time we should buy a home.”


“I know” rates are ridiculously low, but with this economy the way it is” it still feels risky.”


“Look, we’re over thirty. You’re pregnant. We’ve got to get our act together. And how are we ever going to retire without building equity in an asset like a home?”


“I just don’t know.”


“Look, let’s just go online right now and look at homes for sale in our price range that aren’t really for sale and get help buying one of them from a Realtor that knows absolutely nothing about the neighborhood.”


“You know, you’re right. I feel better about this already.”

We have some work to do


I was going through email on my iPad the other day when for whatever reason I decided to look around my neighborhood using the Zillow iPad app.

This app, you should know, is a marvel. It’s elegant, intuitive, and lights up a ton of possibilities for improving how we look for a place to live.

But I ran into a problem right away. A big one.

The first “for sale” home I came across – a cute little place I see every morning walking my daughter to school – was, well ” not really for sale.

It sold over a year ago in fact – on October 1, 2009. I know this because I’ve met the woman who bought it. And because Zillow itself displays this information below the listing!

Here it is, in case you want to make an unsolicited offer on a place in Oakland:

Old listing on Zillow

What if my fictional couple fell in love with this place?

Aspirational whiplash.

But hey, they’re grown-ups. It’s OK. They’ll just select one of the “buyers agents” suggested on this listing to help them find another home in the neighborhood. They look like good folks. And they have lots of “contributions.” Contributions sound good.


Agents on Zillow

But then there’s problem #2: None of these agents truly knows this neighborhood.

I pay attention to the real estate activity around my home more than most people. There are good agents that know this neighborhood inside and out. Diane, Deidre, or Dana come to mind.

But I have never heard of the Realtors promoted on this listing. Never seen a for sale sign with their name on it. Never seen their card at an open.

My couple? They are directed out of a home search dead-end and toward a path that could land them in a ditch.

Yes, those agents are there because they paid to be there. And Zillow’s a media company. All’s fair.

But is all good?

I like Zillow because they have challenged real estate on many fronts. I have said many nice things about them here. And though they are responsible for this particular example, this is hardly just a Zillow problem. This game of real estate roulette is played on many sites.

But let me be clear: this has got to stop.

These are homes, folks, not sweaters. Having your inventory shit together matters. It carries consequences. People don’t want to be messed with. Not people like my buyers. Not the single mother with two kids who bought the home above a year ago and probably has no idea it’s being offered for sale on a site visited by millions of people every month.

Put your dreams away


I’ve been writing about this for years. It’s something I find myself lamenting in conversation frequently.

Am I missing the point? Does no one care? Might my couple be utterly unfazed?

And tell me this: Is this not a solvable data problem? Please, if you’re a real estate data geek, weigh in here in and tell me if there’s just no way to manage multiple feeds in a manner that presents a clear picture of inventory.

Shatter my dream. At least then I can cry into my keyboard and move on.

Sexy and stupid


There’s a lot going on right now in the world of property listings. The rules are changing. And everyone’s jockeying for position.

That’s all great.

I hope, though, that we arrive soon at a place where people walking the emotional and financial high-wire of today’s housing market can at least get a clear view of their next step. Where the cool sites are at least accurate and the broker and agent sites are at least usable.

Seems like we ought to get that right before we move onto The Next Big Thing.

In fact, this is the big thing.