Realtors should have a tool for combing through listings that matches their level of expertise and knowledge of the industry, rather than resorting to using real estate search tools aimed at consumers.
That’s the pitch Realtor.com operator Move Inc. is making to multiple listing services (MLSs) in offering a new "natural language" search interface to them in exchange for MLSs’ historic listings data.
In Move’s talks with MLSs, one thing that keeps coming up is that consumers have the ability to access a wealth of information, not all of which is accessible to Realtors through their own MLS systems, said Curt Beardsley, vice president at Realtor.com.
"One of the mantras we hear is that as a real estate professional, you never want to be more blind when you’re in your (MLS) system than when you are out," Beardsley said.
Realtor.com, the most visited real estate portal on the Internet, for example, provides consumers with a valuation tool that provides access to public property records. The site also serves up school and neighborhood data for individual listings on demand.
What Move’s new "Find" search interface for Realtors is designed to do is provide Realtors with a more sophisticated interface for mining the data Move has put together, Beardsley said.
In putting the search interface through its paces to demonstrate its capabilities for Inman News, Beardsley showed how it’s been designed to be flexible and intuitive to use.
The interface "removes the penalty for making a mistake," Beardsley said, by making it simple to continually modify and refine searches without starting again from scratch.
Search the 91 million properties in Move’s database by entering the term "homes for sale in houston school district over 100K," for example, and you may find yourself looking at five properties in Houston, Miss.
A click of the mouse relocates the user to the intended search area — Houston, Texas — where the 3,679 homes for sale within the boundaries of the "Houston Independent School District" are served up without the user having typed in the school district’s correct name.
Search boundaries can be customized by redrawing polygons on a map, or hovering over a subdivision.
If a search for comparable properties in say, a one-mile radius, doesn’t turn up enough results, the user can adjust a slider to loosen the search parameters to include homes that aren’t quite as exact of a match.
Users can compare neighborhoods against each other (Move has defined about 80,000 neighborhood boundaries, using boundaries licensed from Maponics and EDS), evaluating not only school and demographic information, but details like airport flight paths — a potential noise issue — and flood plains, earthquake fault lines, and past tornadoes and hurricanes.
Properties can be "tagged" — labeled as perfect for a particular client, a first-time homebuyer or an investor, for example — so that they can called up later or included in reports that can be printed up for clients.
The interface can generate heat maps using many criteria — even properties owned by a particular lender — that can help homebuyers or investors make decisions.
The "Find" search interface’s capabilities are so deep, they would probably be overkill for most consumers and perhaps even some Realtors, Beardsley said. …CONTINUED
But it’s easy enough to use — and can access such a wealth of information — that Realtors who gain access to it through their MLS are unlikely to have to go running to a consumer-facing site to answer their clients’ questions, he said.
"We think Realtors will use (the Find interface) for research and to answer questions consumers have," Beardsley said. "They already have their MLS, and we don’t see this as a replacement. But we do think consumers may ask about data they’ve seen on consumer sites that’s not available on the MLS."
As is the case with another national property database being built by the National Association of Realtors, the Realtors Property Resource, the big question about the "Find" search interface is whether MLSs will want to trade access to listing data for the right to provide access to the database to members.
NAR’s RPR LLC subsidiary has recently begun sending licensing agreements out to MLSs, but some say they want more information about how RPR will use their listings data before signing one-year agreements.
RPR says it intends to generate revenue by selling analytics products — including "Realtor valuation model" automated property valuations — to third parties like the government, lenders and Wall Street Investors.
Neither RPR nor Move is offering to pay MLSs for their data, proposing instead to provide MLSs with a search interface providing fee access for MLS members to larger property databases.
Further complicating the situation, First American Corp. also wants to license historic listings data from MLSs, and is offering to share revenue (see story).
Although Move worked with NAR to develop RPR, in the end NAR ended up purchasing technology and licensed data from LPS Real Estate Group.
Move maintains it is not attempting to compete with RPR because it will not sell analytics products to third parties. But Move would profit from having a richer set of historical listing data available on its consumer-facing site, Realtor.com.
Beardsley said Move wants sold data and off-market data from MLSs, because that information is helpful to consumers.
Move already has sold data on about 1 million properties from about 40 MLSs, he said — about one-fourth of the market. But the data Realtor.com gets now doesn’t reveal who the listing agent or buyer’s agent was — information that would benefit both consumers and agents if it were available, he said.
Off-market data is a big issue for consumers because there is often confusion when a property is taken off the market — often because a listing has expired or a home has gone under contract. Although Realtor.com pings MLSs every 15 minutes to update listings, other sites may continue to display properties as active long after they have been withdrawn from the market.
The ability to tell consumers that a home is no longer for sale would boost Realtor.com’s standing as a definitive source of information, Beardsley said.
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